Thursday, September 30, 2010

The cheap lives of our LGBT youth

One could argue (and the perpetrators likely will) that it was a joke, a prank, to use the camera in a strategically-placed laptop to view and/or broadcast on the web video of a new college roommate being intimate with a same-sex lover. Just as it was fun for students to tease and taunt a 13 year old boy about being a fag, or to simulate sex acts in front of the class with another young gay teen. No big deal, just a little harmless teasing.

But that attitude dismisses the pain that these actions caused the targets of their homophobia, heterosexism, and disdain. This pain drove the subjects of each of these actions to suicide. Four suicides by gay young men, covered in the news, in less than one month.

Tyler Clementi, 18 years old
Seth Walsh, 13 years old

And these are only the ones we know about.

Suicide is highly suggestive, and the LGBT community and our allies need to interrupt this cycle. One online response has emerged, noted in a Salon article:
After the death of Billy Lucas, columnist and author Dan Savage decided enough was enough and launched the It Gets Better Project, a YouTube channel of messages of encouragement and survival aimed at gay and lesbian youth. As he explained in his "Savage Love" column, "Gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay -- or from ever coming out -- by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models. Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids."
I watched about 10 videos on the "It Gets Better Project," and I was moved, encouraged, and reminded of the pain that so many LGBT people have faced in our lives. It is challenging to be queer in our society, and those challenges cause us pain that is difficult for some to overcome. It would certainly be better if people would recognize that their pranks, their teasing, is costly--and the cost is just too high.

I was struck by a quote from local police who investigated the taunting of middle schooler Seth Asher, having interviewed many of the kids who had engaged in the taunting and determined that there was no "crime" with which to charge the youth.
"Several of the kids that we talked to broke down into tears," Jeff Kermode, Tehachapi Police Chief, said. "They had never expected an outcome such as this."

He said the students told investigators they wish they had put a stop to the bullying and not participated in it.
What a very expensive lesson to learn...too expensive. We don't have any more children and youth to give to meanness, hate, and violence.The lives of LGBT youth are not cheap; in fact, our lives, like the lives of all people, are precious. We need to identify ways to interrupt this kind of behavior--in schools, in dorms, in workplaces, in homes, and throughout our communities.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Well, there is always someone who finds an issue that bothers them and takes their response to a whole new level.

After the whole faked rape allegation at Duke University, it was K.C. Johnson. He went from writing a blog specifically about the allegation/trial/aftermath, to writing op-eds and letters to the editor, to writing a book, to tracking down all web-based mentions of his blog or commentary and attacking those bloggers and writers. His attacks on faculty and staff involved in the incident, and on bloggers writing about the incident, were pretty personal, consistent, and scathing. He also posted workplace emails and affiliations for pseudonymous academic bloggers. Worse yet, of course, were all of those bloggy fans who would take over comment sections on other folks' blogs for weeks afterward. In fact, he is still obsessed with the case, posting updates on the lawyers, judges, faculty, administrators, and everyone else associated with the four year old case. (I know something of these attacks, as one of the Duke faculty was a family member and a target of Johnson, and I have watched him go after Tenured Radical when she disagreed with him*.)

Well, K.C. Johnson has a rival for zealotry (though one not nearly so smart, but likely more techno-savvy) in Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell. Calling himself a "concerned Michigan alum," Shirvell has spent the last six months dogging the path of Chris Armstrong, the new gay student body President at the University of Michigan. He created a blog called "Chris Armstrong Watch," on which he posts:
  • information from Armstrong's Facebook page, as well as Facebook and MySpace pages of Armstrong's family and friends;
  • video he has recorded outside Armstrong's house;
  • pictures of Armstrong, some of which have been defaced with swastikas and ugly names
Shirvell's language is shrill as he interprets everything he sees or hears in the worst possible light. He also has protested around town, including at Armstrong's home, with signs decrying Armstrong and his supporters. He called Nancy Pelosi's office to inform them that their new intern was a member of a racist campus group, another of Shirvell's charges.  Most recently, he has moved on to criticizing the local reporter who covered his story (along with the reporter's family members).

Anderson Cooper is the latest to do a story and interview with Shirvell, calling it "one of the strangers stories I've reported on," and he makes it clear how outrageous Shirvell's tactics are for any critic, let alone a state employee.

It is clear that Shirvell gets to express his own opinions as a private citizen, as his boss, State Attorney General Mike Cox notes in his press statement. Yet, is it right for someone to go after an individual so doggedly and in such an ugly fashion? And how can someone in the Attorney General's office be dependable as an unbiased advocate if he spouts such homophobic language in his personal life?

Cooper notes that Armstrong is considering legal action against Shirvell. I am not a lawyer, but the Citizen's Media Law Project notes that the Michigan law requires that a statement be both "false and defamatory" for a charge of defamation. I assume Armstrong will have to show that Shirvell posted untrue, hurtful statements that were not opinion-based or had substantial (partial) truth to them, and that may be difficult. Shirvell is quite smart--knows the law as a lawyer should, and so most entries are based on some "evidence," in the form of pictures, links, etc., and they are laced with lots of opinion.

I feel sorry for Student Body President Armstrong, who probably had no idea that he would become the target of one person's focused wrath just by running for student office in college.  Few 20-21 year old students would be prepared for that kind of attack and invasion of privacy, especially by someone who isn't even a student himself. Fortunately, public opinion is on his side, as are student governments across the Big Ten. I am guessing that little will be done to stop Andrew Shervill from continuing his persecution of Armstrong until he is out of office or graduated. Let's hope he doesn't follow him to graduate school or his first job.

Update: Check out Armstrong's class response. Below is an excerpt:
“I will not back down. I will not flinch. I will not falter. I will not succumb to any unwarranted attacks. What I will do is I will carry on with the utmost pride and vindication,” Armstrong read aloud to the assembly from a written statement. “I, along with the rest of this assembly, were elected to this body to represent the University. And nothing said about us, or regarding our personal merits, will waive our commitment to serve the student body.”

*An aside: After seeing the way Dr. Johnson has gone after other bloggers, I almost hate to even bring his name, and his blog, up. But it was the first thing that came to mind when I heard about this story.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Current excuses for not working on the articles

  1. The book on the Kindle is calling to me, and if I hurry and finish it, I can then concentrate on writing.
  2. I needed to get the tenure review finished and out the door, so it won't stress me.
  3. I am preoccupied with my future in the profession and what my next job could be.
  4. I would rather prepare for my upcoming conferences, even though they are weeks away.
  5. I can't seem to decide which of the many articles I need to write should be my first.
  6. There is more literature I need to read on the topic(s).
  7. I am on sabbatical. Shouldn't I just enjoy the time a little?
  8. Oh, my god. I am not writing! And my sabbatical is slipping away! I am a total loser.
  9. I should call my friends and get them to help me think this through.
  10. Maybe I should just blog about this.
  11. Oh, look, it is time to end my workday.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Looking for a job after tenure

I have been talking to several friends who are a few years post-tenure who are thinking about looking for new jobs. Their reasons for the searches are varied: one wants to be closer to his aging parents, another has never really felt at home in her university, and another has been commuting back and forth between the college town and the home she shares with her partner, several states away. I have had similar thoughts after not getting the administrative job I had hoped to land in my own program. But none of us actually HAS to leave, which is a different (and undoubtedly good) position to be in when looking for a job. And most of us are loath to make a big mistake, like leaving a known, stable, relatively good job for a new position in a viper pit. As a result, I can tell you that all of us are a little uncertain about the process.

One issue we are facing is how to weigh the location against the type of institution. All of my friends are at R-1 public schools. Are we willing and able to move to a SLAC? Are we committed to public schools, or would we work at a private school? A religiously-affiliated school? How important is being near family? Friends? A decent dating pool?

As a group, we also seem to be struggling with how to approach this search. Do we treat this kind of search like any previous job search: follow the ads in the disciplinary website and the Chronicle, submit the letters and CV, and hope for an interview? Or is it different, as a senior faculty member with specific location concerns? Obviously, as senior faculty at our current institutions, we need to be clear in our letters that we would expect an Associate/Full position (and I would talk about needing tenure with the Dean, if I landed the campus interview). But does it also make sense to reach out to the Dean or Chair to find out if positions might become available, if they knew we were on the market?

I do know, as a former search committee member, that several of our more senior hires came about through back channels. A senior woman was hoping to move into our area, so she reached out to the Dean and expressed interest in a position. Another senior hire was the result of a phone call from that person's current Dean to our Dean, letting us know that he was looking to move, was a steal, and we should consider him. In each case, the CV came from our Dean to the committee, and it went from there. I have also heard of other hires where a person at one school wooed a faculty member from another school to make a move.

Yet, even while my colleagues and I know these stories, it is difficult to believe that they could apply to us. Sure, superstars might get recruited, but would a Dean or Director really make a space in their program just in order to hire us? Would they turn an Assistant line into an Associate or Full line for us? And what makes someone desirable as a senior hire? Is it just federal grants and kickass publication numbers, or are there other factors (e.g., national reputation, awards and honors, administrative prowess) that might make us attractive to other big schools? I have been shocked at how my colleagues, who I find VERY impressive on paper and lovely in person, underestimate their marketability and attractiveness to other institutions. And I think we also forget how nice it is for a Dean or Director to hear that someone really wants to work with you at your institution.

I am convinced that this issue is compounded for someone like me who wants to work in administration. If I go on the market next year, I will certainly go after jobs listed in the usual places. But I think I also need to reach out to the leaders I know in my discipline and let them know I am interested in a move. I am hoping that perhaps someone who might have filled an administrative job from within might reconsider if they knew I would be interested in the job.

Anyone out there looked for a job post-tenure?  Any lessons you want to share? Any Deans and Chairs with advice? My friends and I are happy to learn from you.

Friday, September 03, 2010


I would just like to add my congratulations to the faculty, staff, and students at Eastern Kentucky University for finally winning domestic partner health benefits! The university paper describes the ten year fight to get domestic partner benefits. Ten years (and a new leader) after the faculty senate voted almost unanimously (there was, of course, one principled holdout) for the proposal, the benefits were finally approved.

I am especially proud of the students, whose advocacy helped tip the approval...
Three years ago, a group of students in the Queer Theory and Politics class embarked on a project examining the lack of domestic partner benefits at Eastern. The group soon took up the cause, staging rallies and passing around a petition that acquired more than 1,000 signatures, Miranda said. They then presented their findings to President Whitlock, who ultimately signed off on the measure.
As someone who has dragged my partner through three states for jobs, I recognize how important DP benefits are. My partner spent 6 months for no insurance coverage at all, and then spent another year or so with only a private, catastrophic coverage policy that cost a lot of money. Even now that her job pays for a small single policy, we still worry about the limitations of the coverage. If my school woukd adopt DP benefits, our lives would be MUCH better and more secure.

The numbers of colleges and universities with DP benefits are still small, but they are growing every year. Until we have wholesale healthcare reform, we need to continue fighting for equal coverage. Congrats to Eastern Kentucky! I never thought I would be rooting for the Colonels, but today, they are helping to lead the way!