The Pacific Standard website has an interesting article on how non-profits help close the digital divide, the gap between those who have access to high-speed internet services, and those who don’t. The author notes:

[T]he digital divide isn’t just about potential adopters. There are also barriers on the supply side that non-profits try to bust through, and most of them are mental. One problem is that businesses aren’t entirely aware of the financial incentives that come with getting more people online.

This is an important reminder, as most of the strategies I’m familiar focus on consumers.


One of the TV shows I’m following this year is the dystopian drama The 100. Recently the death of a queer character on the show prompted members of the LGBTQ+ community to launch a campaign to influence TV producers to create better representations of LGBTQ+ folks. Today I discovered a great article about why media portrayals of members of minority communities matter. Among other things, the author argues:

The natural antidote to ignorance is travel; it’s meeting new people and staying open-minded to new experiences. However, not everyone has the luxury of doing that. A lot of people are stuck in their physical environments, surrounded by people who are similar to themselves. This is where the media comes in. It is a form of mental traveling, full of experiences we are unlikely to have in our real lives. However, how likely are we to stay open-minded if the media constantly tells us that the world is violent, evil, and full of people who want to do us harm? What kind of expectation will that create in meeting new people? If the media continues to perpetuate fear, anxiety, and xenophobia it will be minorities who will continue to pay the price.

Many thanks to Tania Hew for telling me about this article!

When I was on the faculty at the University of Minnesota I occasionally served on graduate student committees. The last student with whom I’m working (on his Ph.D.) contacted me today about his dissertation defense date, so the era of working on graduate student committees might be coming to an end, given my full schedule of administrative activities. Then again, I was never the primary advisor on a committee; most of the students I worked with were doing unconventional things and needed a source of support in negotiating with more traditional mentors, so I can probably still serve in that capacity. In the meantime, graduate students are on my SJSU College of Social Sciences student advisory board, so I’ll always maintain some contact with them!

Since February my daily commute to campus has usually included an hour and 10 minute train ride from Oakland to San José. Normally the train operates within 5 minutes of scheduled departure and arrival times. Today, however, the train was 30 minutes late, which popped the short story “The 5:22” into mind. This short story is an interesting exploration of a disruption to a regular train rider’s schedule, especially as one of his regular co-riders also undergoes a significant transformation. I recognize other regulars on my train so I’d have a similar reaction, I think!

I’m kicking myself since I no longer have a copy of a University of Minnesota class assignment based on this short story. The class was on social and cultural expression through the medium of film. I think that I asked students to discuss how and why they would film the short story if they were directors. I’ll have to start thinking about some way to revive that assignment for use here at SJSU.

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.