Disability Visibility Project- Interview with Alice Wong

Please give this interview with Alice Wong a read. The Disability Visibility Project is at an exciting intersection of oral history, digital spaces, lived experience, and person-centered historical narratives.


dsc03620 Alice Wong

What is the disability visibility project and how did it get started?

Disability Visibility Project: A Community Partnership with StoryCorps is a year-long grassroots campaign encouraging people with disabilities to record their stories at StoryCorps (3 locations: Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and a mobile tour) celebrating the upcoming 25th anniversary of the ADA in 2015.

As a public radio nerd, I love listening to NPR and one of my favorite segments on Morning Edition are stories from StoryCorps. Last year StoryCorps San Francisco had an event at the Contemporary Jewish Museum where they brought together the actual people featured in some of their most popular stories. At the event the presenter talked about community partnerships and it made me think about the disability community. I went up to someone from StoryCorps and asked whether they had any current community partnerships with a disability organization and they said no. I…

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Compare and Contrast: Accounts of the Origins of Memorial Day

I know that Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer and, as such, I should not be suggesting homework.

That said, take a few minutes to compare and contrast a few origin stories for Memorial Day:

The first is given by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  The second is an article written by the historian David Blight.  Or, if you’d like a different pair, compare this brief article/video clip by the History Channel to this account on Huffington Post by historian Jim Downs.

It may seem like a cheap shot–what historian doesn’t have beef with official governmental reckonings or the History Channel?–but it bears pointing out: There’s still a reluctance in official and mainstream channels to acknowledge an African American origin for Memorial Day–or, by extension, the potentialities that inhered in those earliest moments of commemoration.

So, perhaps today at 3PM, during your local moment of silence, it may be worthwhile to consider the profound depth of commemoration–voiced and unvoiced, recorded and silenced, straightforward and constellatory–expressed at that initial Charleston ceremony in 1865.  Have a happy Memorial Day.

Reblog: “A Whimper,” by Rebecca Schuman, @pankisseskafka

This is a wonderful–and heartbreaking–essay by Rebecca Schuman about leaving teaching. She is consistently one of the best and clearest critics of higher ed in mainstream media. If you don’t know her work, use this essay as a springboard, not only to better understand (adjunct) educators’ many problems, but also to glimpse at the torrent of bullshittery one faces–both within and outside academia–when daring to critique the system.
(But seriously: Haters to the left.)


Last year, I “ended” my college teaching career with a bang–a banging headache, that is, from the copious amounts of sugar I packed down at the surprise party my students threw me on my last day of class at OSU. It was an emotionally-charged day amidst an emotionally-charged time that I will never forget. In the year that followed, because my professional future was so unstable, I vowed to take every opportunity given to me, even if that meant working multiple jobs.

I did, and it did–by the time Fall 2013 rolled around, I was taking on a larger client roster for my coaching practice, I was writing weekly for Slate, and I’d signed on to teach three classes back at the UMSL honors college, where I had had an overwhelmingly positive experience right out of grad school. It turned out to be quite a full…

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Reblog: “Hirsute Phoenix: Conchita Wurst, Beards, and the Politics of Sexuality,” by T.J. Tallie at Notches

This is a great read! Check it out if you are interested in body politics, gender politics, acts of queering–or, honestly, the bigger meanings of Eurovision.

Reblog and Commentary: “What being an adjunct ISN’T like — and what it is,” by Blogenspiel

This essay makes many sound points about the misguided metaphors that pose adjunct labor as slavery. The core argument here–that adjunct labor is not, in any structural or analogical fashion, comparable to slavery–is sound. This is a point that needs to be repeated, again and again: when you pose things that aren’t slavery *as* slavery, you are going to lose your argument, because you clearly don’t grasp the consequences of your words. Put another way, the average adjunct salary of $22,041 is abysmal–been there, done that, TRUST–but that is indeed a salary.* Your advanced degree does not guarantee you success, nor a fortune. Given the decades-long supply-glut in my own field, the rational choice for those in academe is to channel honed skills into non-academic work–or to force open the boundaries of what is considered acceptable academic work. (Or, to get a different job and pursue a passion by other means.)

But, there’s a certain sentiment here that takes away from this argument. The second half’s search for an appropriate analogy could best be summarized as “Some People Have Real Problems: You Likely Don’t (When Placed In Perspective of Others’ Suffering).”

Yet, the aim for a rational short-term choice is how many get stuck in an adjuncting rut. In other words, some of us knew damn well we were getting a “single scoop of vanilla in a cup” when we got into it–but, for some of us, the recession made the job hunt writ-large feel like a giant game of trick-or-treat: an underwhelming dessert is better than a rock. The economic climate is different than it was 5 years ago–enough to see much more promise in pursuing alt-ac, post-ac, and non-ac avenues–but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t still caught in a web of decisions made half a decade ago.

But that’s the irony: A shitty choice is a still a choice. Further, that kind of choice reveals an interconnected system of opportunities for choice that go far beyond what could be exercised–or often imagined–within slavery.

Hence, the main argument here needs to be shouted from the rooftop (from every ivory tower?): You want change? First acknowledge your own privileged position–and the luck in being alive here, now–and then realize that your life and career are incomparable to slavery. You win no sympathies through that tactic, especially by using it around people who *literally* know better.

It’s evident the author understands the dilemmas that millions of Americans in shitty, underwhelming non-academic careers face. For academics, however, the advice trends toward “You made your bed, now lie in it, because at least you have one.”

*Income is an estimate given by U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce. See: Andrew Erwin and Marjorie Wood, “The One Percent At State U: How Public University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor” (Washington, D.C.: Institute for Policy Studies, 2014): 10.


I’m a little late to the party on this, having recently been at the Zoo and now madly working on what could be the most scary presentation in my life to this point; however, I want to take a little time to address a seriesofinterestingposts, one of which really and truly pisses me off. I can’t be bothered to look back and find any number of other posts that talk about how academia screws graduate students, or how nobody warned them and now they’ve wasted their lives and money. I’m just… PEOPLE, what the FUCK are you thinking??

In case you’re a first-time visitor (it happens), I have spent time as an adjunct and VAP. Several years, in fact. I now have a full-time job. By many people’s estimations, my own included, I probably shouldn’t. I did a lot of things wrong during my (very long)…

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Link: “Tufts University Will Pay Students To Take A Gap Year”

Link: “Tufts University Will Pay Students To Take A Gap Year”

This brief entry from the Huffington Post notes that Tufts University, located in Massachusetts, has plans to fund “gap years” for admitted students. The formal idea of a “gap year”–where students take a year between secondary school and university to travel, volunteer, and explore their world before formally beginning college studies–isn’t big here yet, but it is in the United Kingdom.

Further, Tufts will be footing the bill for admitted students’ gap years:

“This ‘gap year’ program launching this fall will pay for housing, airfare and even visa fees, which can add up to $30,000 or more.

Students selected for Tufts’ 4+1 program can defer their admission for a year while remaining tied to the university through video chat and email. Tufts will work with volunteer organizations to create packages that fit students’ financial needs.”

The idea of funded gap years is intriguing--especially as it may serve as a way to redefine how we see young adulthood. In other words, we already see higher education as a necessary milestone or rite of passage, but we don’t quite have the cultural milestone of spending time in young adulthood understanding one’s place in the world and serving others.

Of course, there’s a healthy amount to question here, too. It’s fair to argue that colleges and universities are already the spaces where students should be devoting time to service and reflection: why create a whole new system when liberal arts education should be doing just that? Further, Tufts is one of the most expensive schools in the country to attend, with tuition alone well over $45,000/year: which students are going to benefit most from this?

This is not to say that every student who attends Tufts could already afford to travel the world. Far from it: this seems, at the very least, to be a great way to give admitted students with fewer economic means certain opportunities that their wealthier counterparts could easily attain. Anything that levels the playing field in higher ed can’t be fully bad.

But it does raise a few key questions: What will this system look like when it is translated to public universities, or larger private universities? Can it be translated, or will it be another way to keep colleges in “tiers” of perceived quality? And, how will this “gap year” idea be influence U.S. culture and economics: Will this help redefine young adulthood in the U.S., or will it just be a new version of the “semester study abroad”?

Reblog: “The Trigger Warned Syllabus,” by Tressie McMillam Cottom

This is an excellent essay by Tressie McMillam Cottom. Her work–which you can find at tressiemc.com–is overall superb. This piece, written last week, is a great analysis of how the trigger warning, a mechanism originally used to prevent sudden and unforeseen interaction with potentially traumatic material, is now being used “as a tool to rationalize away the critical canon of race, sex, gender, sexuality, colonialism, and capitalism.”

If you are critical of the for-profit education movement–or are a critical thinker in general–check out her work.

“But I’m on tl;dr mode”: McMillan Cottom makes the key point of this particular essay quite clear:

“Trigger warnings make sense on platforms where troubling information can be foisted upon you without prior knowledge, as in the case of retweets. Those platforms are in the business of messaging and amplification.
“That is an odd business for higher education to be in…unless the business of higher education is now officially business.”


Apparently universities are issuing guidelines to help professors consider adding “trigger warnings” to syllabi for “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” and to remove triggering material when it doesn’t “directly” contribute to learning goals.” One example given is Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” for its colonialism trigger. This from New Republic this week.

I have no desire to enter the fray of online discussions on trigger warnings and sensitivity. I have used trigger warnings. Most recently, I made a personal decision to not retweet Dylan Farrow’s piece in the New York Times detailing Woody Allen’s sexual abuse. I was uncomfortable shoving a very powerful description at people without some kind of warning. I couldn’t read past the first three sentences. I couldn’t imagine how it read for others. So, I referenced the article with a trigger warning and kept it moving.

But, I’m…

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Link: “Rule targets for-profit colleges over student debt”

Link: “Rule targets for-profit colleges over student debt”

The Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration is cracking down on for-profit institutions and their seeming inability to translate education into access to the middle-class.

Or, rather: The Obama Administration has reached a breaking point with for-profit schools that use federal loan and grant money, only to produce graduates who are unable to ever pay back their student debt.

As the article notes, “for-profit colleges can receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from federal financial aid programs”–which, by virtue of being for-profit, means that the government is essentially fueling the success of these institutions through student loans. But, let’s be clear: the real victim here is not the government, but the millions of students who are left in crippling debt after being sold a bill of goods by both sides: take these loans, because education is the ticket to the middle class; take these courses, because this credential is the ticket to the middle class.

Hence, what’s at stake here, as usual, are two recurring themes in educational history and edu-policy: the meaning of educational credentials and the meaning of middle-class success.

Educational credentials are always a political topic, because the meaning of a degree is always in relation to the economic, social, and cultural forces of any given moment. Hence, the vitality of for-profit schools amid the Great Recession shouldn’t have surprised anybody: The seemingly-limitless discourse on the “new economy” and “new rules for new times” spawned an antagonistic relationship between the public and traditional modes of higher education. In other words: If what it takes to get employed is a college degree, then that degree is more useful if it can come cheaply and with a direct line between in-school training and required on-the-job skills. As we drag slowly out of economic crisis, the concern has shifted slightly. STEM is still fetishized, as are direct-line training programs, but there seems to be a greater awareness that educational credentials designed to work in a “new economy” only go so far when the structures of the “old economy” are still around.

As indicated by the proposed changes to loan-to-income repayment rates, this debate is also about the meaning of entering the middle class. That is, what is the meaning of being in the middle class if one is left nearly broke, for years on end, repaying the loans one took out to get a credential that one assumed would lead to a decent job and economic comfort?

Ideally, these reforms will lessen debt peonage, but yet, the question remains: If higher education is a key priority for the continued vitality of this nation, and if higher education is the key barrier for entering the middle class–however hazy that term may be–then why do the hurdles remain so high for those on the outside trying to get in?

Link: “Why the SAT is really changing: It’s facing tough competition from the ACT”

Link: “Why the SAT is really changing: It’s facing tough competition from the ACT”

Writing for the Washington Post‘s “Wonkblog,” Jia Lynn Yang uses quantitative data to point out another possible reason for the College Board’s recent decision to redesign the SAT: it has been eclipsed by its main competitor, the ACT.

As Yang points out, the proposed changes to the SAT will make it considerably closer in content and structure to the ACT. Further, Yang stresses that “competition between the SAT and ACT isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game.” In other words, while the ACT may now be a more popular admissions exam than the SAT, both tests are more popular than ever, each with well over 1.5 million annual test administrations.

What’s worth further scrutiny, however, is the language of competition that runs throughout discussions of college admissions tests. Beyond the obvious element of choice here, how does the ongoing “SAT vs. ACT” competition speak to the marketplace orientation of higher education? In other words, there’s something greater here than dueling systems of measuring college readiness: this is a fight over a rich and growing market, one in which millions of dollars and webs of businesses are at stake.

Higher Ed, Diversity Rhetoric, and Microaggressions: Five Questions With Aphrodite Kocięda

Today, I chatted with Aphrodite Kocięda, who just released the first episode of her webseries Tales From the Kraka Tower.  (Full disclosure: I know Aph outside of the blogosphere.) In this pilot episode, viewers watch Lakisha Wisniewski as she begins graduate studies at Kraka University. Admitted to the Diversity Department, Lakisha soon realizes that academic life at Kraka University is far from the progressive image portrayed on the school’s website.

Below, you’ll find the first episode of Tales From the Kraka Tower. You’ll also find our interview, in which Aph discusses her own experiences in higher ed, the rhetoric of diversity, and academia’s blindness to its own micro-aggressions.