The cover story for the March 2016 issue of The Atlantic magazine is “How America Is Putting Itself Back Together.”  The online subhead reads, “Most people in the U.S. believe their country is going to hell. But they’re wrong. What a three-year journey by single-engine plane reveals about reinvention and renewal.” Today I read the article during my train commute to work. It’s a refreshing departure from more negative and depressing analyses in the news, especially surrounding the U.S. Presidential primaries. I wonder, however, why the print version differs from the online version. The print magazine’s table of contents has the same title, but the cover reads “Can America Put Itself Back Together?” [Emphasis added.] The subhead: “A three-year 54,000-mile journey reveals surprising sources of strength.” Hhhmmm.

In recognition of International Women’s Day (March 8) StoryCenter is inviting people to view a powerful new collection of narratives from their Silence Speaks initiative, The Right To Her Story. These stories are available free of charge until Friday, March 11 by entering the code WOMENSDAY to view the collection. The proceeds from online streaming and DVD sales after March 11 support StoryCenter’s ongoing efforts on behalf of women’s rights globally.

Blackasotan is a soon-to-be launched website about the experiences of Black Minnesotans. From its “Share Your Story!” section:

Every creative venture has an origin story. Ours? A lot of shared meals and amazing conversations about our individual and collective experiences of blackness in the frozen tundra, AKA Minnesota.

At some point, we became determined to make this idea a reality. We aren’t the first to try to capture stories through the lens of a place: shout-out to sites like 1839 and Stuck in DC. We also know for sure that we didn’t invent the idea of featuring stories of Minnesotans from communities of color / with underrepresented identities (hello, Opine Season).

But, we’re doing it anyway. An idea doesn’t have to be new to be impactful. And we know these stories that we tell to each other, our friends, families, and co-workers at happy hours and house parties and in the hallways are powerful.

Indeed! Sharing our stories can be useful in so many ways. I came up with a possible story, and sent a note to the editors:

I have an idea for a short non-fiction submission: “30 years a Minnesotan.” I first visited Minnesota in the summer of 1986 after graduating from an all-Black Atlanta high school. Today in 2016 I’m the Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San José State University, but in between I spent four summers in Minnesota as an engineering intern at 3M, lived there for 14 years as a professor (including five years as Chair of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota), and visited at least once a year in the other 12 years. I now consider myself a Minnesotan: I pined for home during my first two years away while at the U of Wisconsin-Parkside, and recently changed my hometown listing on Facebook from Atlanta to Minneapolis. I’d talk about how many think that an existence in a state with a relatively small number of Blacks is extremely limiting, but I found it full of possibilities for Black identity after living in a more regulated all-Black environment.

Blackasotan will launch in April, so they’ll need stories by the end of March. On one hand I hope that I’m not selected to develop the idea into a submission, as I have several deadlines and tasks due in March. On the other hand, it will be fun to write this piece!

One of my favorite books of all time is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I used an analysis of it as my first published article. I enjoy speaking about it with students (the book, that is; I can barely remember an article written 22 years on the past!). Usually these students are enrolled in college, but three years ago a high school teacher in Iowa asked me to interact with her students while she discussed the book with them during Black History Month. After some brainstorming, we decided that she would set up a blog for us to interact: in groups students would post questions to me, and I would answer them. At the end of each response I posed a question to each group, which generated additional discussion. It was a lot of fun, and the students learned a lot, I hope. This year Kris asked me if I would repeat the project with her current group of students in AP Literature, and I readily agreed. Check out our discussions by visiting the course blog!


Two years ago I posted a note about the commercials in Super Bowl 48 (or, I should say, Super Bowl XLVIII). In that year a 20-year tradition came to an end, as I did not generate notes about Super Bowl commercials during the game. I also didn’t take notes last year during Super Bowl XLIX, or this year in Super Bowl 50. [It appears that next year’s edition of the big game will be accompanied by a return to Roman numerals after a one-year departure.] A change for this year was that I missed a few commercials, including the top-rated spot in the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter. As always, I never got up to leave the room during a commercial, but once I left while the commentators where discussing an instant reply deliberation and found that a commercial was in progress, and I mistimed the start of the second half after the Halftime Show (which I never watch) so may have missed a commercial break. I know, you can watch all of the commercials online — and many before the game itself! — but it’s not the same as seeing them live. Next year I’ll need to sit glued to the tube!

Last week I attended an advisory board meeting for the University of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center’s Immigrant Stories project. This initiative enables both long-term and recent immigrants and refugees to create and share digital stories, which are short personal videos with images, text, music, and audio. After an initial pilot project conducted in the Twin Cities, the project has received funding to go nationwide. I’m looking forward to helping, as it is an extremely timely effort given recent anti-immigrant bias. Hopefully efforts such as the Immigrant Stories project and a full-page newspaper expression of the power of inclusion will help remind folks about our better angels.



Two years ago I posted a note about January-term classes. SJSU’s “Winter Session” of January 2016 classes has come and gone, and I didn’t have much time to investigate it, as I was preoccupied by buying a house. Next year I’ll have to visit a few classes and talk to students about their impressions!

The Pacific Standard magazine’s website has a section called The Sociological Imagination, a “column exploring the bizarre side of the everyday encounters and behaviors that society rarely questions.” In the entry “Why Do We Watch the Same Movies Over and Over Again” the author explores the social science behind re-consumption. It definitely gave me someone new insights!

The SJSU College of Social Sciences fall 2015 magazine is now online, in HTML and PDF formats. Check it out to learn more about the college’s people, processes, and plans! Also, please consider making an investment to assist us in our work. The college mailed an end of the year solicitation letter last month; I’ll reproduce it below. Please also spread the word to others!

December 3, 2015

Dear _____:

I trust you enjoyed your Fall 2015 copy of our college’s Together newsletter. If you have yet to receive a copy, you may view it online: You will meet the college’s eight new faculty members, learn about the revamped Applied Research Center (ARC), and read about our Information Technology Coordinator’s long-term partnership with a local Native American community, the Muwekma Ohlone. The newsletter also includes some information about me, your new dean.

I’m writing to ask you to consider a year-end gift to the college. Your investment of any amount will directly and positively impact the important work of our students, faculty, and staff. As an example, at a recent ARC event, Professor Amy Leisenring discussed her research on parental engagement in San José elementary schools. The college supported this research with a grant; some of the grant money allowed undergraduate students to assist with data collection and analysis. This activity fit well into our college’s priority to provide financial support and opportunities for our graduate and undergraduate students to do actual research. As you can see, much of the research our students engage in is actually done in collaboration with local communities to solve pressing social issues.

Another college priority is to support our students so they can graduate as quickly as possible. A major strategy to accomplish this is through our Academic Counseling Center for Excellence in the Social Sciences (ACCESS). ACCESS provides students with academic advising, as well as tutoring in key social science skills like writing and statistical analysis. Our undergraduate students work 12-18 hours a week as peer advisors in ACCESS. A gift of $105 would enable one of these peer advisors to tutor an additional student for 10 hours. A $6,000 gift will enable a peer advisor to support fellow students for an entire semester!

Thank you for considering a year-end gift to support our work. An envelope is enclosed for your convenience. You may also go to our secured website to give: Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like additional information on ways you can help your college and its students.

Warmest Regards,

Walter R. Jacobs
Dean, College of Social Sciences

P.S. Together, we impact the future of countless students. Please make your gifts today before the year-end tax deadline.

Pacific Standard magazine has posted a comparative analysis of America’s seven most electable fictional presidents. Interesting, but they forgot to include the fictional African American presidents I analyzed in a 2010 article, “30 Years of Black Presidents.”  Of the seven presidents they analyzed, however, my vote is for 24‘s President Palmer!