Category Archives: work

Librarianing Abroad: Two Weeks in South Africa

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I recently returned from South Africa, where I went as a faculty assistant for a short-term study abroad class. Ironically, right after I returned, I saw an article about librarian-led study abroad trips on In The Library With The Lead Pipe. So that’s my next adventure in the works 😉

The sociology course studied the legacy of Apartheid, looking at inequality and resistance from an international perspective. Lasting about two weeks, we split our time between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Our experiences ranged from touring Robben Island where anti-Apartheid political activists were imprisoned to attending lectures at the University of Johannesburg to penguin watching on the Western Cape to visiting Langa township in Cape Town (which I fell in love with and am currently plotting my moving plans) to observing the stark disparities in housing conditions and availability in urban Johannesburg and much, much more. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip and every bit as much of a learning experience for me as I’m sure it was for the students.

Perspective

I visited South Africa last summer, as a tourist, with friends. As such, my exposure was mainly to Cape Town proper and all the beautiful things. I was certainly aware of the troubled history of race relations in South Africa and suspected that there were ongoing challenges, especially given the country’s relatively new democracy and current leadership. Last summer, the driver who took us from the airport to our lodging happened to be black. He told us about how black and brown people largely still live in segregated communities, before dropping us off in what he termed as “rich, white” neighborhood. And it was. Very white, to the extent that we were pretty much the only brown faces aside from wait staff at restaurants. Because that’s what having American dollars does.

So when I returned to Cape Town this summer as part of a study abroad trip, it was to a familiar city, in more ways than one. In some respects, South Africa reminds me of home. There’s de facto segregation. There are white people in denial, complaining about affirmative action. There is white supremacy. There are misguided liberals who want to do and say the right thing, but still don’t ever really interact with the communities they’re speaking on behalf of. There are black and brown people passionately advocating for change, because their lives depend on it. There are apathetic folk. There’s abject poverty that follows the path of redlining in urban and suburban regions. And there was the ever-present clerk or “security guard” to follow me around the store and make sure I’m not stealing anything since, you know, my skin is brown. Therefore, I am a suspect.

But I guess it should remind me of home, since our histories are so intertwined. In fact, the U.S. was one of the countries South Africa studied before implementing Apartheid. Under Apartheid, American leading politicians largely turned a blind eye, while our CIA played a role in training the South African equivalent (as we learned at one museum) and imprisoning those who were against the system. It’s amazing to me how simply desiring to be treated as human can so easily become a crime. And how many people have died, in South Africa, the U.S., and other nations, to try to realize this dream.

Parallels

Race has played a huge role in the development of South African society. Starting with segregated communities following colonization by the Dutch and the British, the emphasis on white and non-white snowballed before culminating in what we know as Apartheid. I found it interesting that there was this alternative history being shared in conversation with South Africans involved in the cultural heritage and tourist industries about how pre-Apartheid everyone lived harmoniously and got along. Me being the skeptic that I am (and having some prior knowledge of South African history), I did some digging around and verified that, yes, segregation was a thing well before Apartheid was formally enacted in 1948. After all, Matahma Ghandi was involved in anti-segregation work in the 1920s…which made me wonder why this story was being told and did the tellers actually believe it? How does creating alternative histories impact the integrity of cultural heritage work? Might cultural heritage and information institutions not be neutral after all? *gasp*

Under Apartheid, race became white (self-explanatory) and black (everyone who wasn’t white. This included black Africans, coloreds, Indians/Asians, and those of Muslim faith). Persons of color residing in communities that were reclaimed or desired for white people were forcibly removed and resettled in segregated townships and homelands under the 1913 Native Land Act. Mind you, white people were the minority in South Africa, but they had political power. Control was maintained in part by limiting access to quality education. Education for non-whites was dismal by comparison, particularly for black Africans. Higher education was primarily conducted in Afrikaans, which very few black Africans were fluent in.

In addition to housing and education, discrimination was seen in criminal justice and employment practices. The racial hierarchy put those of European ancestry at the top. Coloreds (those descending from mixed race individuals) and Indian/Asians (often lumped together) were second tier, while black Africans were regarded as the bottom rung of the social ladder. In the criminal justice system, this hierarchy was enforced, with black prisoners being given worse treatment and facilities than colored and Indian inmates. Black South Africans essentially had their citizenship stripped under Apartheid and were required to carry passbooks at all times. White employers had to sign the books each week in order for them to be allowed in the city, where whites resided. Without  the passbook in hand (or without the signature), blacks could be arrested and beaten. One woman said they got in the habit of saying goodbye to their families each time they left the house, because no one knew if they would return home that evening. Prison was just as much of a likelihood. Sometimes, white employers would force black employees to forego wages in exchange for a signature. Resistance efforts included literate black South Africans forging signatures for themselves or others.

In the workplace, people of color were often relegated to labor positions, such as working the sewer or electric lines. Even in those positions, the racial hierarchy was enforced and they were reminded of their “place.” For example, at one museum, we learned that female, black prison wardresses were required to wear a separate uniform, could not advance in rank, and were required to remain on their feet for an entire shift (which would last twelve hours). White wardresses were afforded chairs to use during their shifts. I’m telling you, the detail put into this system would be impressive if it weren’t so depressing.

The legacy of Apartheid is obvious even today. Quality education for children of color in K-12 remains a struggle; student activism against colonialist higher education structures is present. Housing remains an issue, with Johannesburg and Cape Town being overcrowded and under-resourced. Stereotypes prevail that cast black South Africans as lazy and untrustworthy and colored South Africans as thieves. There aren’t enough jobs to go around; unemployment rates are highest among black young adults aged 18-35. Xenophobia towards immigrants creates tension, as Africans immigrating from other countries are seen as better workers (see stereotypes) and hired over native South Africans. It seems you can’t create an unequal system and expect it to go away in twenty years, when it took hundreds of years to create. The problems continue to exacerbate rather than subside. Sound familiar, America?

In Johannesburg, the city center is predominantly black and brown, because of white flight post-Apartheid. The suburbs encircling the city are white communities. One of the most striking things I encountered in Johannesburg was the way that middle and upper class white people (basically all white people, because Apartheid) lock themselves away. They reside in nice homes in white-only neighborhoods, but remain behind walls with barbed wire on top. They hire security guards to patrol the streets around their homes…I couldn’t help wondering what they are afraid of.

Librarianing

In terms of what I did as a librarian and assistant faculty person pre-trip, I engaged in research to compile a packet on the HIV/AIDS crisis for students who might be interested in exploring this as a final project. This packet was made available via Blackboard, along with a few other topics the leading faculty put together on criminal justice and housing reform.

While in South Africa, I accompanied my colleague, the onsite coordinator(s) and the students on excursions to various lectures, cultural heritage sites, and tourist locations. And I talked, a lot, with my colleague about parallels to the U.S. and other nations that attempted or succeeded in building social systems around race. We brainstormed about what to revisit during debriefing sessions with the students and provided “actually…consider….what about…are you sure?” statements to push them to think more critically about their initial reactions. The students were responsible for writing journals a few times a week, so occasionally we bounced ideas around to restructure journal assignments.

Oh, and I said, “Actually I’m a faculty member” about a hundred times when people mistook me for a student. Interesting bit of trivia: in South Africa, “faculty” are what they call colleges within a university. So instead of being liaison to the College of Education here, I might be liaison to the Faculty of Education there. Another trivia fact: I would be in gross violation of the borrowing privileges at the University of Johannesburg Library, because they have stricter limits. Can you imagine being allowed only six items at a time as an undergrad??

Upon returning to the States, I served as the primary contact for questions about the final assignment (my colleague remained abroad) and to provide any research assistance with developing topics. I also accompanied the students home from South Africa. And they all made it in one piece, although it was a little iffy there for a minute, with last-minute security checks. I learned that when you’re traveling internationally, probably don’t tell students to be at the gate ten to fifteen minutes before boarding, because A) They might show up five minutes before and B) There might be a surprise extra screening that will result in actually getting everyone on board ten minutes before the door closes and this will kinda stress you out.

That was my two weeks in brief. There was a whole lot more to the experience, so I could probably write five more blog posts…

Coming out as Black: Negotiating identity in professional settings

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“If every time we felt unwelcome in a space we decided not to stay, then that space would, indeed, be no longer for us. In taking ourselves out of a place, we designate that place as not our own.”

~ Rori Picker Neiss

As a professional of color, I have a lot of experience being in spaces that seem to not be for me. When I say it wasn’t for me, I don’t mean that as a reflection on my ability. I say that as a reflection of the structures, expectations, and allowances of professionalism within those environments.

Last week, I attended ACRL. Frankly, I came into the conference feeling tired and not much like being there. I was coming out of a couple of emotionally intense weeks, because of stuff going on in my personal life. The last thing I felt like doing was going to sit with a bunch of strange people and talk about the same ol’ conference things. But before I got to ACRL, I attended the #critlib unconference that preceded it. There was a session at the end of unconference that ended up being mostly LIS practitioners of color talking about self-care. One of the things that came up over and over again was this feeling of isolation as an Only, along with all the accompanying issues that come with being an Only: the lack of community, the lack of understanding from administration and colleagues about social issues related to cultural identities, the lack of recognition of work and professional accomplishments, the need to work two or three times as hard in order to prove your existence was/is not a mistake. The microaggressions.

I attended #critlib with one of my good friends, which was cathartic in and of itself. The circle-talk on self-care was good, but I still wasn’t really feeling ACRL. On the second day, though, I ran into one of the women from the #critlib circle and we talked. And then I connected with other librarians of color and we talked. I ended up with a group of conference buddies who redeemed my conference experience. And it was nice to know that my frustrations with the conference and the profession were not all in my head. It also touched something deep inside that I didn’t realize needed touching.

The conversations I had with my professional peers of color at ACRL reminded me of one I had during my intergroup dialogue (IGD) facilitator training this past summer, in which one of my IGD peers of color and I talked about the idea of coming out as Black in the workplace. And what it means to work in a predominantly white workplace versus one with a high percentage of people of color. I volunteered at an African American cultural heritage institution before I started my residency and I remember telling my IGD colleague about how amazing it was to be in environment with so many African American professionals and to not have to feel on guard all the time or to feel like I had to constantly explain myself, my culture, or my existence. Being there felt like home. And that’s not a feeling I often get to have in a professional setting.

One might argue that your workplace shouldn’t feel like home. And I agree to a certain extent. I mean, I’m at work to do my job, get my paycheck, and go home. But when, like in one of my past workplaces, you overhear your white colleagues publicly joking about African American death as a good thing, because then there are less of them around…it does something to your psyche. How likely is advancement, professional support, or even exposure to the right information or opportunities, if the death of people who look like you is fodder for lunchtime jokes? It contributes to a hostile workplace.

I wasn’t always conscious of or vocal about these things, though.

I started my professional career in early childhood education. I worked as a literacy educator with a nonprofit that partnered with the local school system. My first year, I was one of few people of color on the team. The second year with that organization, I transitioned to a different role. For one part of my job, I worked solo in multiple elementary schools. The other part of my job was collaborative in a different school. My colleagues were all women of color. The leadership in our organization were mostly white. Most of the teachers in the schools I worked at were white. Most of the students and their parents were African American.

As an educator, I was trained to teach, but not make waves. I was supposed to be respectable, above reproach. Care for the children, yes. Advocate for them, yes. But also, stay in your lane. And don’t be visibly Black. I had private conversations with African American teachers about how frustrating it was for them to work in predominantly white environments. How they watched their colleagues of color get forced out. The pressures they dealt with. I would talk to white colleagues and hear about how so-and-so was such a horrible teacher, had attitude issues, etc. And then I’d talk to my Black colleagues and get a completely different story from their perspective. And one of my personal miffs: in most school systems, teachers aren’t allowed to wear anything on their heads unless it’s for religious reasons. I used to wear headwraps a lot, before I graduated undergrad. So I was particularly salty about that detail. I got over it, though. But you know who wears headwraps, right? Mostly Black and brown people.

Additionally, becoming a professional in predominantly white spaces meant learning whole new schemas about how to conduct oneself; the language, the ways you interacted with those in seniority. For example, I grew up in a pretty traditional African American community. There, elders were highly respected. You don’t talk to adults any old kind of way and you don’t call them by their first name without a title (Aunt, Uncle, Ms., Mr., Brother, Sister). And there are reasons for this that go back to historical oppression outside the community. It was really hard for me to transition to calling those older than me and those in authority by their first names. Likewise, becoming comfortable with challenging authority and speaking out when I saw something wrong. It took time to get to that point. To make it more difficult, when I encountered older Black adults in my work, if I accidentally step outside the bounds of what I knew to be culturally acceptable, I would be scolded. Because I should know better. I had to know both worlds and when to apply which rules with which people.

My first LIS job was a private university, which had a predominantly white student body. I was the only person of color on my team and maybe department (there may have been one other, but I don’t know how she self-identified). There were a handful of us on the entire library staff, but it was a very siloed institution. It was here that I first “came out as Black.” Growing up and training to be a teacher, there was a strong emphasis put on looking professional. For this reason, I typically wore my thick, natural hair in braids or twists, I wore small earrings, etc. But while at that institution, a few things happened:

  1. I was deep in the middle of genealogy research. Something about learning who I was and where I came from gave me confidence. You know they don’t teach African American history…anywhere. It’s a niche subject. But as I realized my family has been here a long time and played a major role in building this country; even after being disrespected, mistreated, and forgotten, we’re still here. So you can’t tell me what to do.
  2. Wearing natural hair became more en vogue. I’ve always been natural, but I used to think natural hair worn “out” was not professional. Seeing other people rocking their tresses made me curious to try it.
  3. I began studying African American studies and gender studies as a discipline (self-taught knowledge is still knowledge). The library had a decent collections budget and I voraciously read anything that came in in my interest areas and mulled over things a lot.
  4. I found my voice. The school was a very liberal institution, meaning that people considered themselves open minded (whether they were or not). It was a great environment to start pushing the envelope and having dialogues with colleagues and students about critical issues. The more I raised my voice, the less I was inclined to stay quiet. And there were always things to bring up.
  5. The dress code was very casual. Like, t-shirt and jeans casual. I still tried to be semi-professional, because as an Only…well, you know.
  6. I met other Black women in academia. Let me tell you, Black women in academia are a special breed. Black women in general are some of the most supportive, giving, fierce, amazing people that ever were. Then add the fire and tenacity it takes to deal with academia nonsense on a daily basis and you get the picture. They opened their arms to me.

The end result was that one day I said, To hell with all this. And one day, I came to work with my hair out and hoop earrings. And that was my coming out day. Granted, I think my speaking against stereotypes of Southeast DC, objecting to generalizations about Black folk and microaggressions, and staging a mini temper tantrum over being ignored in staff meetings had already outed me. But it was now complete. And there was no going back. I had some of my best hair experiment days while at that job. My signature earrings made their way into my professional wardrobe during that time. And you know what? I was still regarded as a quality employee. You know what they say about positive-negative reinforcement.

When I came into my current job, I toned it down a bit. At least initially, until I got the feel of the environment. Though I did inquire prior to my first day, whether purple hair would be okay, as I was on a purple braids kick at the time. I ended up showing up with red braids instead. And proceeded to go through purple, red, and blue braids for my first several months. People commented on my frequent dye jobs. I forget that a lot of white people don’t know many Black people and don’t know about extensions. 🙂

It’s also a more conservative professional vibe, when it comes to dress and attire. (I miss my jeans.) Over time, I’ve tested the waters by rocking my fro. Which at times, feels uncomfortable, because I am, once again, one of a handful of people of color. I’ve found that no one has said anything, at least not to me directly, but that some of the white faculty I work with are endlessly fascinated by my hair and the rapid transitions I undertake in styling. I’ve gotten used to the comments about my earrings and take it in stride. I get that I am different. Every day is another lesson in code-switching and identity balancing.

On the weekends, you might find me in a headwrap with sunglasses and wide-legged pants, being all the way Black. Or you might find me in sweats and braids, curled up under a blanket, being all the way introvert and Black.

 

 

Disclaimer: I was talking to a friend some time ago about code switching and the process of “becoming professional,” both within and outside of academia. She encouraged me to write about my experiences. This is my attempt to do so. In so doing, I make no claims of speaking from the black experience, the black female experience, or the black information professional’s experience. Though there may be some similarity to the experiences of others,  I speak from my experience alone. 

 

 

 

In which I return to my lists

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The sun is perfect and you woke this morning. You have enough language in your mouth to be understood. You have a name, and someone wants to call it. Five fingers on your hand and someone wants to hold it. If we just start there, every beautiful thing that has and will ever exist is possible. If we start there, everything, for a moment, is right in the world.

~ Warsan Shire

It’s been a whirlwind semester. Remember how in Cinderella, the clock struck twelve before she had a chance to fully comprehend everything that was going on? I can identify a little bit with Cinderella.

I had a lot of good intentions for this semester. I was going to reflect each Friday on my instruction for the week; I was going to keep up with my blog; I was going to be on top of all the things….in case you haven’t guessed, none of that happened. I scheduled, planned, and taught classes and then scheduled, planned, and taught some more. The lightning spark reflections happened only in my head. But even if I never got to write any of it down, I did learn some things from my first semester of permanent-track employment.

Each year, I make a long list of things I want to accomplish or focus on throughout the year. I check in with myself periodically over the months; sometimes I add things to the list. I let other things go. At the end of the year, in December, I check in for the final time and celebrate my accomplishments and create a new list for the next year. I’m in the process of writing my 2017 list, but I wanted to share some of my  work-related list items that were either formal or informal “wants” for 2016:

Apply for jobs in the fall – I think I can safely cross this one off the list. I was offered and accepted a permanent track position at Towson University in July, so I get to continue to work with wonderful people in a supportive, creative environment. Excited to see what happens in the next few years.

Learn a new skill or brush up on an old skill – This semester, I’ve taught sessions for incoming freshman, seasoned upperclass-ers & grad students. I’ve worked with a lot of different faculty members and had to adjust my instruction to stress different skill sets in different classrooms. I also guest lectured in a few sections of a School Library Media course. What a cool way to be involved in the future of education and library practitioners! I was also a mentor for our student leadership program at the library and served on a hiring committee or two.

Cultivate new experiences (#NoRegrets) – In Spring 2016, I taught an undergrad course as an adjunct at one of our sister institutions. This semester (Fall 2016), I’m co-facilitating a course-integrated intergroup dialogue group. It’s been challenging and rewarding at the same time and I’ve learned a lot about myself as an educator, learner, and individual. Pretty neat experience. For next semester, I’m planning a student symposium with a theme of activism and resistance in the 1960s, which has also allowed me to get out and connect with others on campus with whom I might not ordinarily cross paths.

Get published (article, book, whatever) – I’m really excited about having a book chapter proposal accepted. It won’t actually be published for a few years, but I’m crossing it off my list nonetheless.

Be smart, keep learning – I’ve discovered so many new authors, talked to new people, and been exposed to many new things this year. I presented at some conferences and listened to people present at others. It all makes my learner’s soul very, very happy. Regardless of formal education, I believe everyone should be learning always (and we often are, even when we don’t realize it). Formally speaking, I also went ahead and applied for a Ph.D. program, to start in Fall 2017. We’ll see what happens. *fingers crossed*

I.

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“You are you even before you grow into understanding you are not anyone, worthless, not worth you. Even as your own weight insists you are here, fighting off the weight of nonexistence. And still this life parts your lids, you see you seeing your extending hand as a falling wave— I they he she we you turn only to discover the encounter to be alien to this place. Wait. The patience is in the living. Time opens out to you. The opening, between you and you, occupied, zoned for an encounter, given the histories of you and you— And always, who is this you? The start of you, each day, a presence already— Hey you—”
― Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

I’m bad at publishing blog posts in a timely manner, so I started writing this at the beginning of November:

Last weekend, I participated as a staff facilitator in the university’s social justice retreat. It was a beautiful experience. I had the opportunity to work with college students (grads and undergrads) who were passionate and invested in making the world a more inclusive, welcoming place for everyone; regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, citizenship, national origin, language, socioeconomic status, or belief system. I got to hear their life stories and share some of mine. It was intense and mentally exhausting, but also so meaningful.

During that weekend, I re-learned the power of stories and of seeing, really seeing people for the individuals they are. I was humbled by the openness with which these young people came. And they challenged me to try to do better, again. To be recommitted to living out my beliefs. And to strive to stand boldly for what I believe in: human dignity and the right to be seen.

One of the students in my small-group made a comment on Saturday about the reality that America could elect a leader with fascist views. Up to that point, we’d been laughing and being fairly lighthearted in our chatter. When she said that, we all sobered up and the reflections in our minds would be read in our eyes: What would this mean to America? What would this mean for me?

To get to the retreat, we drove through ardent Trump supporter territory. There were signs every other foot. Some big, some small, some hidden by overgrown fields ill-suited to staying in their places. I even saw Trump/Pence signs on the lawn of a church. The irony is that their mission statement (because I looked in up) included a focus on ministry to at-risk populations. I wondered to myself how they defined “at-risk.” 

And then there was the huge Trump sign in a field, with the “T” missing and a notice that it had been vandalized by the intolerant. What defines tolerance and intolerance?

It’s now post-election and Trump has been named president-elect. There have been many newspaper articles, blogs posts, social media rants, and frantic tweets about the ramifications about the election. I’m not going to add to that right now.

What I do want to say is that while attending the social justice retreat I was challenged in ways that I did not expect to be challenged.From that experience, these are the things I learned:

  • “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
    • Never assume that you know someone’s life story, the things they wrestle over, or their perspective, just because of how they look or what you perceive to be true from prior experience.
  • “We’re all stories in the end.” – Steven Moffat
    • As the retreat coordinator said, it’s not facts that change lives, it’s stories. The more we take time to engage with others on a genuine level, the better off we all are. It doesn’t mean we’ll all agree on everything (spoiler: we won’t). But it is hard to ignore someone’s humanity while listening. Build relationships and take time to be present. It’s about dialogue, not debate. Debate has it’s time and place.
  • “No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue. Yet we push just the same.” ― Jay Asher
    • During the retreat, we had little paper bags in which we could leave (positive) comments for other people to recognize the brave, supportive, or noteworthy things they’d done during the weekend. At the end of the retreat, everyone had a chance to retrieve their bags and see what notes others had left for them. Sometimes I forget that other people besides me can see me living.
  • “A life is not important except in the impact is has on other lives.” ― Jackie Robinson
    • Also, on the last day, we did this activity. Maybe it sounds cheesy; maybe it was. But it was also humbling and warm-fuzzy feeling to realize that the things I did, just going throughout my day, meant something to someone else. And vice versa.

I have a quote wall in my apartment with sticky notes of phrases and ideas I want to remember (also perhaps cheesy). Each of these quotes went on my wall and hopefully it will serve as a constant reminder to me to, in the words of Luuvie Ajayi, “Do better!”

 

Where I’m at.

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It’s officially been one month since I assumed my new role. Classes start again in about three weeks. And it’s my birthday month. Yay birthday!

Before birthday (and the start of classes), though, comes a lot of prep work. I’m in the process of emailing faculty from the liaison departments I inherited. Our library is also in the process of switching over to Libguides from an in-house system, so I’m creating course guides for my assigned TSEMs and creating shell course guides for classes I’ve confirmed instruction for, but haven’t nailed down the specifics yet.

I have to admit, I still feel weird emailing professors and saying, “Hi! I’m your new liaison librarian.” But the more I get “Oh, that’s awesome. Can you come teach a session?” the more it sinks in. Part of my role involves supporting student retention and success, so I’ve been reaching out to faculty members teaching classes that either haven’t had a library component before or haven’t had a library component in a long time. Which is cool, because I’m basically building from the ground up.

weeding

It seems there were a lot of problems

We’re also in the process of weeding the general collection. I’m working with the American History section (E in LCSH), which includes gems like the ones on the left. Also, can I add “a distinct negro strain” to my list of phrases? “Flavor of blackness” is also on the list. I found most of them in the archives 🙂 I’ll have to find them and share them at some point. Good stuff.

Also, I decided to take advantage of a few MOOCs*, because I like learning and I wanted to brush up on my education background knowledge, for a few reasons. A.) I work with the teacher education program on campus and it’s been a little while since I’ve actually studied education, besides leisure reading of articles and blogs. B.) I came across the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute a few weeks ago and was fascinated by the concept of a program that encompasses applied research, a school, and a teacher training academy. C.) I found an online course taught by
the director of the UC Urban Education Institute. and D.) I’m planning to apply for a Ph.D. program that will in part be focused on education and literacy. So I’m taking two MOOCs. One is Critical Issues in Urban Education  (offered by The University of Chicago, as mentioned) and the other one is Literacy Teaching and Learning: Aims, Approaches and Pedagogies (offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a focus on multiliteracies. Yes please.) 

So that’s what I’m up to. Oh, and I’m presenting at a conference next week, so I’m mentally preparing for that. Also, I can’t wait!

 

 

 

*MOOC = Massive Open Online Course. Interestingly, I’ve seen a few articles recently that describe MOOCs either designed in part (or whole) by students or that feature student contributions. I wonder what possibilities exist in that with information literacy and developing instruction modules for distance learners or larger classes where possibilities for F2F instruction are limited. Hmmm….

 

New job!

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Roughly a year ago, I was interviewing for jobs and sleeping off my grad school fatigue, trying to figure out what to do with my post-MLIS life. In July 2015, I ended up accepting a two year residency at Towson University and moving to the Baltimore region.Within that role, I’ve had the opportunity to complete a rotation in Technical Services, Research and Instruction, and part of a rotation in Special Collections and Archives. I learned a great deal in each division and count the residency as a valuable part of my early career formation. However…

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Professional me

I won’t be completing the remainder of my residency, because I’m excited to announce that I have accepted a permanent status (same as tenure-track) position as a Research and Instruction Librarian!! As of July 1st, my position became official. I knew coming into the program that there was no guarantee of post-residency employment, but I’m really happy it worked out for me to stay.

Within my new role, I will responsible for liaising to the College of Education; supporting student outreach and support, with a focus on retention of at-risk populations; and assessment of instruction programming. And you know what they say, other duties as assigned.

So here’s to the next few years of greatness as I work on building my dossier 🙂

Race, gender, war, and integration

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“You have to see this.” I’ve uttered this many times over the last few weeks. It’s interesting the things you find in a university archives.

In my archives rotation, I’m working on creating a K-12 curriculum plan. The idea is to highlight collections that could have possible ties to the Maryland Common Core curriculum, with an eye towards critical thinking, investigative research, and problem-based learning. Additionally, materials that I’ve located may also (or alternatively) be used for materials surveys or “white gloves sessions” hosted by the archives staff, as a part of academic coursework. Themes that I’ve identified as possible foci are desegregation/integration in the state of Maryland; race and gender during WWII; technology, transportation, and industry; and construction and expansion.

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Elementary school in Hurlock, MD circa 1935 (image via Library of Congress)

Within the topics of integration and desegregation, I’m selecting materials that highlight attempts to integrate public education institutions and responses to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. A 1954 Maryland Board of Education study on integration in response to the Supreme Court decision begins, “Maryland has always been considerate of its colored populations. As a matter of fact, the State was considerate of the Negro race when most of its representatives within the confines of the State were not citizens but slaves…” Sounds promising, right? The report detailed how the state of Maryland had a “long and honorable record” as a part of the Union and they were more than happy to comply with desegregation, as soon as it was required. Further, while the Supreme Court considered the psychological effects of segregation on black children, no one considered that the Supreme Court in determining that segregation was unconstitutional, “abrogated a right of the majority group” and that integration may “cause emotional disturbances in those white children who have lived in a segregated world with […] a clear conscience.” The committee wished that the Supreme Court would take this into account in deciding their final mandate. Gradual desegregation was the committee’s recommendation and hope. Equal rights are, of course, important… *sarcasm*

Some other interesting finds include minutes from the State of Maryland Board of Education meetings, including advice/opinions from the Attorney General of Maryland and the Board of Education members regarding the legal implications behind desegregation; minutes from the Maryland Board of Trustees of State Colleges and Universities; and correspondence and notes within presidential papers.

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Case listing in archived index (image via Maryland State Archives)

Additionally, though Towson began integrating in late 1955, there was at least one African American student who attempted to gain admission prior to 1954. In 1950, F. Vernon Roberts applied for admission on the grounds that Coppin State’s educational experience was not on the same level as Towson’s and he wanted to have access to advanced courses that Coppin didn’t offer. Roberts was refused admission. Because he suspected it was on the basis of race, he filed a lawsuit with the Maryland courts. The outcome isn’t known (the actual court records are at the Maryland State Archives), but presumably he was not successful, as he completed his degree at Coppin a few years later. Roberts went on to become a principal in the Baltimore City school system.

The discussion around integration continued within the Maryland States Colleges and Universities for the next fifteen to twenty years, with predominantly white Towson trying to figure out how to attract more students of color and predominantly black Morgan State trying to figure out how to attract more white students, so as to be in compliance with mandates from the Supreme Court and the Board of Education. In 1968, Morgan proposed that students at Towson be required to take 9-12 credits at either Morgan State or Coppin State prior to graduation. Towson proposed that they offer scholarships to attract more students of color.  It’s not yet known what the outcome of these suggestions were. I find it interesting that these are the same discussions that continue to be had in 2016. I guess it’s hard to undue a race-based system that still supports so much of the national economy and infrastructure.

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African American WAACs, Lts Harriet West and Irma Cayton going over recruiting schedules in 1942 (image via National Archives)

Within the areas of race and gender during World War II, I am currently looking through the World War II collection. During the war, Towson administrators sent newsletters to the college alumni, staff, and students who were serving in the armed forces. In response, the alumni would keep in touch, relaying some of their job duties and experiences during the war. The collections includes correspondence, news clippings, photos, and ledgers. Its interesting to read how the men versus the women talk about and navigate their time in the military and in military support roles.

Hester Brown, female Naval Yeoman, recounted, “I have relieved a man for sea duty and my feeling was a mixture of emotions when the time came for me to say goodby to him. I was a proud WAVE, and yet fearful that I might not be able to fully take that Bluejacket’s place here. As I grow more accustomed with my job, that fear is being overcome.”

“Three of us from Texas were the first WAACs on the field.” wrote Helene Davis, WAAC Link Trainer,  “Don’t think that wasn’t a thrill. The boys were so glad to see us for they expected us to take over the KP [kitchen patrol]. We soon straightened them out on that score. Most of us are taking over office jobs, but you’ll find WAACs doing most everything except flying the planes.”

Sibyl Davis, WAAC, wrote, “After feeling like the Army’s unwanted step child for over a month, I feel a little better now that I have a job that doesn’t make me feel like a scullery maid, even if it may be temporary.”

From Dorothy Farmer, WAAC Sergeant, “We are fortunate in having quarters in the temporary BOQ–Bachelor’s Officer’s Quarters–where most most of us have private rooms. It is very much like a school dormitory except we aren’t allowed to have curtains or fancy bedspreads and pillows. Everything is strictly GI, and woe to us if any dirt or dust is found anywhere on Saturday morning inspections. We all ought to make immaculate housewives when this is all over.”

“I am convinced that women are learning more from this war by being a part of it than they could have any other way.” Gwendolyn Felts, Pfc. and WAAC recruiter, wrote enthusiastically to Dr. Rebecca Tansil, “Perhaps this is the greatest assemblage of women for one ultimate goal, peace, ever known in the era of democracies…Say this is beginning to sound like an argument and somehow I don’t think you need any persuasion.”

For many women, the opportunities afforded during World War II, both in military service and in civilian positions, exposed them to a variety of jobs that had been typically reserved for men. Once the war ended in 1945 and men returned from active duty, most of these women were forced to revert to traditionally feminine roles. An emphasis on the woman in the role of homemaker and wife prevailed during the “golden age” of the 1950s, before being challenged during the push for civil and equal rights of the 1960s and 1970s.

Lack of opportunities and prevailing prejudice on a national scale limited employment options for African Americans for a very long time.  Even in service to the military, there was an obvious color line. Both the Marine Corps and the Navy began integrating their ranks during WWII, but the roles people of color were allowed to fill tended to differ greatly from that of their white comrades and serving in segregated units was a given. For a time, the only role the Navy allowed black soldiers to play was to serve as mess attendants, cooking and serving food. By the time Towson janitor, John Gwynn (featured on the archives’ blog here), joined the Navy in 1943, they had expanded their options somewhat. Though being a person of color, he was still limited to a service role

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John Gwynn in uniform, circa 1943 (image via TU Archives)

similar to the one he had at Towson. He wrote to one of the Towson staff members of his work at the Naval Officer’s Club as being, “very much the same as I did there at school.” Meanwhile, mention was made of his joining the Navy in the newsletter sent to Towson affiliated military personnel, but the manner in which it was communicated gives a clue of the racial climate of the time. There was an elementary school (Lida Lee Tall School) located on the grounds of Towson, which has a long history as a teacher preparation college. The students of the Lida Lee Tall School were said to have done their part to support the war effort by “giving” Gwynn to the Navy.

Though African American men and women still faced Jim Crow laws and unjust practices in their homeland, they were willing to join in fighting for democracy abroad. It was with great disappointment that they returned after the war to find the same social conditions they had left. While white soldiers returned to fanfare and celebration, African Americans, especially in the South, were quickly reminded of their place and, in some instances, killed, for stepping out of it. Unwilling to settle back into this scripted existence of blackness, many departed the South in droves for better opportunities up North and out West, while other began to fight for change in their communities, spurring the Civil Rights  and Freedom movements.

I’m still sorting through materials and alternately laughing, shaking my head, and Googling things in fascination. I can’t wait to see what I stumble across next!