Archive: May 2015

I’ve been researching and writing about breast cancer for so many years that I’ve accumulated a plethora of pink-ribbon-themed items. I’m finished with the baggage. Taking control of my surroundings has been very freeing!

–Gayle Sulik, on Psychology Today

I’m not a hoarder. But I’ve been known, on occasion, to keep things long after they outlived their usefulness or meaning. Like that colorful, Italian bowl with the chipped edge that would be perfect for a huge pasta salad but never sees the light of day. At least I don’t hate it.

Other keepsakes, I despise. Those finely carved mahogany sculptures I bought 20 years ago are still scattered around my house or in the back of a closet. I have nothing against them really, but tastes change. Those books from graduate school, taking up prime real estate on my shelf, are out of date. Unlike my old, yellowed copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, ever reminding me that I am a writer, these objects no longer contribute to my well-being.

I usually realize when I’ve been surreptitiously loathing my stuff. I come to my senses and the purging begins, sometimes immediately. It wasn’t so easy to come to grips with all of the pink ribbon paraphernalia I’ve collected over the years.

I’ve been researching and writing about breast cancer for so long that I’ve accumulated a plethora of pink-ribbon-themed items: awareness magazines, newspapers, advertisements, jewelry, cleaning supplies, teddy bears, M&M bags (contents consumed), and more. Some of these items were gifts to inspire me to keep going with my research. Many of them were gifted to others then bequeathed to me because they didn’t want reminders of their cancer around, or because they too hated the idea of pink ribbon commercialization.

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Part of the Pink Ribbon Collection. Photo by Gayle Sulik.

My collection grew large enough that I considered creating an exhibit on the pink ribbon industry. In addition to my own items and others that would be donated, I imagined a 10-foot in diameter gumball machine filled with pink “I heart boobies” bracelets and a life size replica of “Miss Pink Elegance” from the Thomas Kinkade collection.Pink Lady We’d have posters calculating the profit margins of fundraising campaigns juxtaposed against pie charts of budget allocations from charities, themes in awareness campaigns, and the state of misinformation surrounding the disease. It was a good idea.

But since then, bloggers have taken it upon themselves to reveal, quickly and skillfully, the hypocrisy of the pink ribbon marketplace. Journalists have sunk their teeth into investigative reports about fundraising and other controversies. The Canadian documentary Pink Ribbons Inc. gave audiences the visual and narrative content to illustrate key themes within pink ribbon culture and the industry that surrounds it. Breast cancer organizations that have been resisting the status quo for years gained new traction. Even some of the most contentious scientific controversies entered public discussion with renewed vigor and solid evidence. Pink Ribbon Blues served its purpose.

There remains much to be done with the topic of breast cancer, and I’m glad to do it. But I’m finished with the pink ribbon baggage. It will no longer take up valuable space in my closets, on my shelves, or in my life. I feel lighter already. Taking control of your surroundings can be very freeing!

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What’s left of the Pink Ribbon Collection. Photo by Gayle Sulik.

There are two pinked items I’m keeping though. My very own Miss Pink Elegance, given to me by my dear friend Rachel Cheetham Moro, stands proudly above a pink tennis ball signed by sociologists Phil Brown, Kathy Charmaz, Barbara Katz Rothman, and Heather Laube to honor my book’s “Author Meets Critics” session at the American Sociological Association in 2012. These items represent a different kind of breast cancer awareness to me, along with a sense of connection to those who have supported me in this research all along. That’s enough.


Originally published on Psychology Today »

This is the second half of a two-post series on the pro-feminist and activist Chris Norton at Feminist Reflections by Michael A. Messner. The first half of “Learning from Chris Norton over three decades—Part I” can be found HERE.

Flash forward to 2010. I was now a tenured full professor, pushing 60, a number of books under my belt. I was working with two young male Ph.D. students who in some ways reminded me of myself thirty years earlier—inspired by feminism, wanting to have an impact on the world. Both Tal Peretz and Max Greenberg had, as undergrads, gotten involved in campus-based violence prevention work with men. Unlike three decades ago, this work had become pretty much institutionalized; a guy like Tal or Max now can plug in to a campus or community organization, be handed an anti-violence curriculum, and get to work with boys and men. I figured this was a great opportunity to do a study with these two guys, tapping in to the roots of men’s work against gender-based violence in the 70s and 80s, and contrasting it with the work being done today.

NortonCropOf course, I thought of Chris Norton and MASV. I located Chris online. Ever generous, he agreed to be interviewed. In December of 2010, I drove to his house in Sebastopol, and as I knocked on his door, I wondered how different he’d look or be. After all, I had morphed from a long-haired, bearded youngster thirty years ago to clean-shaven gray-haired, gradually balding, stooped-shouldered guy. I spied him through the window as he came to the door, and as he opened it I was mildly astonished to see that he looked pretty much the same—bristly mustache and full head of hair—reddish, but with some gray mixed in. He also still had the same warm smile, accented now by smile lines around his eyes that, if anything, made him appear even more warm and friendly than before.

We went out to lunch, and did what older guys do: caught up on each others’ lives, shared our hopes, fears, and challenges we’d faced with our kids, commiserated about our ageing bodies. On this latter topic, Chris had more serious news to share than I. He was facing, with strength and optimism, a liver transplant in the near future.

We returned to his home, and settled in for the interview in a cozy cabin-like structure behind his and Mary’s home. We fell right in to a nice conversation, and I used bits of the transcript of my 1980 interview with Chris to prod his memory, and to probe ways in which he’d changed, or not, since then.   Most interesting to me were his reflections on the work that MASV had done so many years ago. He joined the several other MASV men whom I would eventually also interview in saying that he was very proud of the work the group had done. But in retrospect, he said he wondered how effective they’d been, and figured that if the group had it to do all over again, they might have done their work differently:

I don’t think I would go at it at all the way we did then, ‘cause I think in some ways, … I think we were doing something to prove something to ourselves and other people of our age group, and I don’t think we were thinking about, like, what’s it like to be a teenage boy in high school, and what are these images going to do to you when they’re shown up on a screen, and is it going to have any of the effect that we’re hoping to have? And I think it would have been really good to kind of get guys to talk about, well, there’s issues of bullying, issues of, you know, being popular, not popular. I mean, it seems like there could be a lot of things that could have been much more valuable, ‘cause in some ways, I think we almost had this stick and we’re going to beat you over the head with this thing. And… perhaps if they felt like they were more understood, maybe they could be more understanding of women and, and where women are coming from. And I think that would be more the way I would go about it now.

[Back then], we were really just making it up, I mean, it was the seat of our pants… we felt like we should be doing something. We were feeling like we need to be also talking about the same things that the women were talking about—but we basically just took their analysis and presented it. You know, it didn’t—it didn’t feel like it was coming from our core, you know, from who we were, other than maybe from our guilt

And, and you know, I think—having more of a positive vision of what a man should be, rather than going in there and telling men what they shouldn’t be doing—having a more pro-active, having a more kind of like, basically creating an ethic of, “This is what a man should do.” You know, this is, this is a positive thing for a man to do, and also like, what does a man want? You know, rather than like, “Oh, you shouldn’t be bad,” but…you wanna have a good relationship, you wanna have a relationship with someone that’s based on some degree of equality, on some degree of, of mutual respect, of everyone having opportunities, or people feeling good about their lives, about who they are. And, that presupposes having some degree of, of understanding of who you are yourself and what you want. And I felt like we weren’t, back then, we weren’t coming at it from that—it was more sort of like, you know, men are bad—Andrea Dworkin told us this—we know men are bad, we are bad, we’re gonna’ go and tell the high school boys that they’re bad too, for looking at pornography, and that pornography’s gonna’ make them badder than they already are. And, there wasn’t that—I think there’s gotta’ be a positive vision. And you have to have, I mean, you don’t want to be blind to the bad stuff that goes on, but there has to be kind of some upside for doing this, ‘cause I don’t think otherwise people are gonna’ really pay any attention or wanna listen to you.

Chris’s statement very neatly encapsulated about thirty years of change in the ways that men now approach doing violence prevention work with boys and men. In Some Men, the book that Max Greenberg, Tal Peretz and I wrote from this research, we chronicle the grassroots of this activism—set in place in the 70s and 80s by community groups like MASV—in part because it is important to honor the foundations of positive social change. But it’s also important because today’s younger activists, however savvy and pragmatic they may be about the ways they approach boys and men with their message, may also have lost something very important that earlier activists like Chris Norton had: a grounding in a larger view of social change that viewed their efforts to stop sexist violence against women as intricately connected with efforts to humanize and bring justice to the world.   For groups like MASV, feminist work with boys and men, Chris explained, was an integral part of a larger transformative movement:

… an important way of sort of humanizing socialism, or getting rid of some of the hard-edged more Stalinistic tendencies that some socialist movements could have. And it also just made a lot of sense [for] those of us too, who also were rejecting militarism and the traditional terms of being masculine or man, and were looking for some kind of a new way—when I came to Berkeley initially I was involved in the anti-war movement, and lived in communal houses, and we’d gotten involved in the food conspiracy, and—it was all part of this whole, you know, sort of community, alternative society in a way that we kinda’ felt like we were creating it back then.

In retrospect, like many radicals of his generation, Chris expressed frustration with the current prospects for transformative social change.

I think I’ve retreated some degree from utopianism. But I do feel that it’s definitely possible to have a far more egalitarian society than we do. And I just, I feel like—and that’s part of my frustration too, is those of us who feel that way haven’t found ways to be very effective in putting forward that vision and, and making that vision something that’s attractive to people, and making people realize that what we’re living under is not actually that great for a lot of people, and it’s very difficult for a lot of people.

Part of my goal in writing Some Men with Max and Tal was to encourage today’s anti-violence activists to re-connect to that larger vision. It is stories from this generation of activists like Chris Norton that help to keep alive this larger vision.

The community bonds that sustain that vision were palpable when I attended Chris Norton’s memorial service in 2012, after he had succumbed to cancer.  Included among the scores of family and friends celebrating Norton’s life were a handful of MASV men—guys who in their youth had pioneered anti-violence work. Now considerably older, they shared a sense of pride in what they had accomplished so many years ago. Following MASV’s demise, they had gone on to do other progressive work: Chris Anderegg worked for years helping women’s DV shelters with their finances; Larry Mandella created workshops for fathers; Santiago Casal did community organizing to get a memorial built in Berkeley for civil rights leader Cesar Chavez. All of them, in their own ways, were clearly in it for the long haul.

Still today, I am not and probably never will be much of an activist. But I hope that my research and writing makes some small contribution to progressive thinking, and progressive social change, a contribution that both honors and learns from the brave and important work that’s been done in the past by the doers of the world, like Chris Norton, whom I so admire, and whose collective work helps to make the world a better and more just place.

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Messner2013cMichael A. Messner is professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, and author (with Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz) of Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women (Oxford University Press, 2015).

This is the first half of a two-post series on the pro-feminist and activist Chris Norton at Feminist Reflections by Michael A. Messner. The second half of “Learning from Chris Norton over three decades” will be published on May 21, 2015 @ 9:00am EST (and linked here).

The guy at the front of the room was saying stuff I’d never heard a man say before, especially to a room full of young college guys.   Through my basketball-player-eyes, I sized him up to be at least 6’5” with the broad shoulders of a power forward. He had medium-length reddish hair and a ruddy face dominated by a bristly mustache that left his mouth a bit of mystery. And what words emerged from this mouth! With a style that seemed simultaneously gentle and passionate, he urged these young guys to think critically about their own relationship to pornography. BlackBlueBacked up with a slideshow that depicted popular album covers (The misogynist public billboard promoting The Rolling Stones’ album Black and Blue was one of them), he pointed to the links between sexual objectification of women, men’s use of pornography, and men’s violence against women.

This stuff was hard to hear for young men—and I include myself in this. It was 1980. I was 28 and in recent years had come to define myself as a “pro-feminist man.” I’d even been in a men’s consciousness-raising group in Santa Cruz. But like many younger men like me who were awakening to feminism, I was still struggling with my own deeply engrained erotic attachments to conventional sexualized imagery of women, as depicted not only in Playboy and Penthouse, but pretty much everywhere around me. So here was this giant guy standing up there, calling us out—calling me out—on my shit. What struck me most, and what made it possible to hear what he was saying, was how he spoke as one of us—self-reflexively talking about his own immersion in a culture of eroticized sexism and violence against women, how it affected and continued to affect him. He revealed that he was part of a group of men, Men Against Sexist Violence (MASV), that did educational work on sexism with boys and men—in schools, on the radio, in prisons—while also supporting each other to become pro-feminist men. (As I watched him in action, the punster in me wondered with a private chuckle whether the other members of his group were so, well, massive.)

I agreed with everything this guy said in his presentation and I admired his courage. I wanted to talk with him, maybe become friends with him, and for sure I wanted to interview him for my new research project for grad school—in-depth interviews with men in pro-feminist men’s groups. After the talk, I introduced myself. He greeted me warmly and immediately agreed to allow me to interview him.

Chris Norton was his name, and it turned out he was a guy of middle class origin who had moved to Berkeley in recent years, taken up work as a carpenter while also immersing himself in the progressive politics of the time. I had initially imagined he might become a basketball buddy, but we were only two minutes into our interview before he assuaged me of that illusion. When I asked him about his boyhood relationship to masculinity, he said,

…in sports, I didn’t feel like being aggressive often times and for instance I’m tall and was supposed to be good at basketball, to stand under the hoop and get all the rebounds, and it just didn’t work out—and people’d get pissed off at me for not getting all the rebounds—and then we wouldn’t end up winning and I’d get resentment back, and frustration from people, because I wasn’t doing what I was expected to do and then I’d feel bad about myself and think, “Well I guess I’m a failure, I’m not strong enough or not aggressive enough, maybe there’s something wrong with me or wrong with my masculinity; I’m not a man.”

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Longtime comrades and SF Bay Area pro-feminist pioneers: L-R, Larry Mandella, Men Against Sexist Violence (MASV); Tom Berry, Berkeley Men’s Counseling Center; Chris Norton, MASV; Dana Francis, Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE).

My 1980 interview with Chris Norton not only helped me to complete a study toward the goal of getting my Ph.D.   It also helped to me begin to clarify the sort of person I am. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed thinking of myself variously as a socialist, a radical, a feminist, a progressive, an advocate for social justice. But mostly I don’t do much with these political commitments. Oh, I’ve marched in a few protests and paid dues in some progressive organizations, but I can’t stomach meetings and I hate the grind of building and sustaining organizations. I live so much inside my own head; I read, I write, and the most public thing I do is to lecture and occasionally write an op-ed on some social issue. But this guy, Chris Norton, though he had nearly identical politics as mine, was an opposite character type, a type I admired, even romanticized—a doer, a man committed to acting in the world rather than sitting around thinking about things.

In our interview, Chris spoke of the tensions of being a pro-feminist man, of struggling with how to integrate his commitments to feminism with his daily life as a carpenter, where he worked with men who didn’t always share those commitments. He spoke of MASV’s internal discussions of sexism and pornography, and of his own complicated relationship to feminism and other progressive politics. When I asked him if he called himself a feminist, his response revealed his ongoing self-criticism at his own internalized sexism, while also telegraphing what would become his next major political commitment:

I used to; I don’t know if I do right now. Just because I think I’ve been seeing a lot of limitations to feminism or some of the lacks that it has as far as dealing with class and other things… Some feminists, a certain branch of middle class feminists are sort of like “I want more of the pie” and as someone who’s real interested in changing class relationships and in a more thorough-going revolution I don’t really want to identify with that and I don’t feel real supportive of women executives and women in those positions… In my experience in Latin America, seeing the need to deal with class relationships—I see that as a real difference. The starting point of feminist consciousness between the U.S. and Latin America is really different. I think that any kind of revolutionary movement in the US has to pay a lot of attention to women’s issues, just because that’s where we are. But I think there’s like a bourgeois women’s movement that’s really self-centered and on some level I don’t think I’d call myself a feminist—I think I feel guilty about using that term when I have so much (This whole thing about looks)—I feel guilty because I have so much of this stuff that feels unresolved in myself—It’d be dishonest to call myself a feminist.

It’s two different things. On one level I have objections to some of the tendencies that feminism has and on the other hand I don’t think I’m good enough to call myself a feminist. When we were in the radio collective we called ourselves “pro-feminists,” [which] means that you’re supporting feminism, but not being women, we couldn’t be feminists.

Chris continued working with MASV for the next couple of years, but was shifting his attentions to Latin American solidarity work. I got together with him—maybe around 1983 or 1984 or so—and he told me he was planning to go to El Salvador to work as a freelance journalist, covering the brutal U.S. war that was attempting to suppress a popular uprising. At the time, following the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, there was good reason to believe in the possibility of a succession of victorious liberation movements in Latin America. It was the mid-80s now, and Chris wanted to be a part of this history. He told me he dreamed of being in San Salvador when the victorious FMLA marched in.

I wanted to help—to support Chris, to contribute to the revolution—but of course I’d not stray too far from the local comfort of my oak desk, the very same one upon which I now rest my hands as I write, more than three decades later. I organized a big launch party for Chris at my rambling old rented house in the flatlands of Berkeley. The idea was to gather Chris’s friends and political comrades, as well as some of my own, for a fund-raiser to help Chris get to El Salvador and begin his work as a freelance writer. We cooked up industrial-sized vats of spaghetti for the event, and Chris presented an inspiring El Salvador slide show that outlined the political struggles and stakes. As it turned out, Chris and I had lots of friends; the house was packed to the gills with supporters. And, as it turned out, Chris and I had very few friends who had any money. The pittance we raised may have paid for Chris’s first handful of notebooks.

But he got there. During the latter half of the 1980s, Chris wrote from San Salvador, freelancing for the Christian Science Monitor and other magazines and papers. When I would see Chris’s byline in the CSM I would smile and shake my head in admiration. During those years, still glued to my desk, I wrote my dissertation, prepared articles for academic journals that would hopefully secure me a job, and started my salaried faculty job at USC. Oh, I attended anti-Reagan demonstrations in the early 80s, protested U.S. interventions, donated tiny amounts of money to Latin American solidarity and other progressive organizations—but never did I put my body on the line in the way that Chris Norton did. My admiration for Chris grew… but somewhere starting in the early 1990s, I lost track of him. Immersed in my academic career, building a family in L.A. with Pierrette and our young sons Miles and Sasha, Chris’s life and mine headed in different sorts of directions. I’d think of Chris occasionally, wondering what he was up to.

Part II will be posted on May 21st, 2015 at 9:00am EST and linked here.

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Messner2013cMichael A. Messner is professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, and author (with Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz) of Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women (Oxford University Press, 2015).

 

diplma and capWhen my daughter went into her final year of college, I started feeling a sense of trepidation about what would come next. She was a Sociology major (yay!), was into the arts (yay again), and had lived in New Orleans for four years (cool). Fortunately, she lined up an internship her senior year and now two years later, things have worked out pretty well.

But you never know. In an economy that rewards those in STEM fields and business, the seniors I now teach are predictably in panic mode as they face a very uncertain future. Regardless of all the internships and community service experiences they are accruing, there’s no avoiding the dour statistics for young college graduates. When one student came to me, asking for advice about applying for a consulting job that was way beyond her reach, I found myself counseling her about the virtues of working in a coffee shop. So what if she’s an international relations major!

Hudson River Psychiatric Center
State Psychiatric Center

My first “real” job after graduating from  college was working in a state psychiatric hospital. This seemed like a “natural” place to be, since one whole side of my family was riddled with serious psychiatric disorders. Between an aunt with agoraphobia who never left her house, an aunt and an uncle who had “manic-depression” (now called bipolar disorder, a more “respectable” name), and a mother who struggled with clinical depression and alcoholism, I was quite at home working in an institution for people with severe mental health problems.

job 6When I graduated, the state psych hospital was hiring tons of young college graduates. This was in the early ‘70s, when thousands of patients, people who had spent years, sometimes decades, living in inside the walls of state hospitals, were released into the community in a move to “de-institutionalize” them. The motive was humanitarian, but the reality for many of the patients was downright cruel because many of them were unprepared for life on the outside. Nonetheless, it did mean that a lot of my friends and I had jobs when we graduated.

I was hired as the institution’s dance therapist. I had been a dancer for many of my young years, and my professional goal – if one could call it that – was to somehow combine my interest in helping people with my passion for dance. I lucked out, since the field of dance therapy was just emerging, and one of the first certified dance therapists in the U.S. was willing to train me during my senior year of college.

I worked with people who were still living “inside” the institution, as well as out-patients who were being transitioned into a day treatment program. Because I was a professional dancer in a mental hospital, many of the institution’s rules did not seem to apply to me. Or at least that’s what I thought and how I behaved… More than once, I led a group of patients in a snake line through the hallways, wearing a leotard and tights. We seemed off-limits to criticism, as this “crazy” activity was “therapy”! It felt downright revolutionary!

While working in an institution wasn’t where I “landed” professionally, it was nothing short of a profound experience for a 21-year-old. I fell in love with schizophrenics who were smart and spoke in metaphors that seemed poetic and deep. I’ll never forget one of my out-patients, a diminutive woman named Ruth, who spent her entire adult life in the psych hospital. Ruth held her body like a tight fist, and stood all day, rocking rhythmically back and forth. I feel teary when I think about her. Another person seared in my mind is a tall, broad gentleman in a perpetual cowboy hat. People called this man of few words, “the Captain”. job 7One of my most glorious days was when I took “the Captain” for a drive in the country, with two other patients. Outside it was minus forty degrees – this was Central New York in winter – but inside the car, with sun shining through the windows, it felt warm and protective. He said little throughout the drive, just smiled…

By the time I was hired to work as a dance therapist at the state psych center, sociologist Erving Goffman had already published his seminal book Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. One of Goffman’s greatest contributions was his critique of what he called “total institutions”, which included mental hospitals and prisons, those institutions with a high degree of regimentation, and an elaborate privilege system. He described relations between staff and patients (or inmates) as caste-like, with detailed “rules” of deference and demeanor.

I knew nothing of Goffman while I was working in that first post-college job. But after studying this brilliant sociologist in graduate school and using his analyses in a class I now teach, it all comes back to me. I lived what Goffman described. Drawing upon those earlier experiences, I could now understand his theoretical frameworks. One of my favorite co-workers, a friendly and clever guy named Willie who was the janitor, surely understood Goffman’s analysis when he changed his first name from Willie to “Doctor”. Whenever anyone wanted his services, they would yell “Doctor”. He always came running with a smirk on his face.

Despite the draw of my first job, I realized within a year that I wasn’t going to last. I was too young, too inexperienced, too overwhelmed with it all. While I found the people interesting, I had no real training. And even though I was a good listener, I fought back tears every time a “client” expressed sadness or joy. Ultimately, what drove me to work at the psych hospital – working with really troubled people – became the reason I had to leave. It wasn’t the right fit, even though it seemed so at the beginning. With a far more robust economy than we have today, I saved up enough cash that year to travel Europe for nearly a year, so that’s what I did!

job2As my father used to say, everything we do in life accrues and has meaning. This has to be true, as well, for college students who are saddled with debt and graduating to a lousy economy and a dearth of employment opportunities that “fit” with their majors. A number of my friends are living at “home” (where they grew up) and working in unpaid internships that they hope will lead to a paid job. I know one person who dropped out of college in her freshman year and learned how to do organic farming. Now she’s running a business where she creates peace gardens for interested clients. I know one person who couch-surfed for a few months, and then got a job sailing someone’s boat to the Virgin Islands. At one point, during an intense storm, he wondered if he was even going to make it… I can imagine that he’s not the only one feeling that way, although perhaps for different reasons.

When I think about my own daughter – and all the young people I encounter these days – what I wish for them is the courage to follow their passion, and then feel okay about whatever job or internship (or whatever) they find, knowing that those things may not be the same thing. At least for now…

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Endings & Beginnings

May is full of beginnings and endings — graduations from high school and college propel students on to new endeavors.diplma and cap

Chasity is a student who will always hold a special place in my heart. She’s talented, passionate, and hard working, and while I’m sad that we’ll no longer be part of each other’s day-to-day, I’m excited to see what the future holds for her.

It has been an exciting year, and I’ve enjoyed watching Chasity grow. She has worked with me as a research assistant; we traveled together to a conference where she received a national award. Chasity received our department’s Undergraduate Sociology Student Research Award, served as president of our Sociology Club, and won another award from our university’s Multicultural Center.

On Saturday she’ll walk across the stage and receive her diploma, marking the commencement of her undergraduate studies; she’ll move away with her fiancé and her new chapter will begin.

Working with Chasity as a student has been an honor and I’m incredibly proud of her. At the same time, it’s bittersweet. As teachers, we’re expected to teach and guide our students. But as I reflect on the past year, I’m also reminded of how much our students teach us. Chasity has been my student. She’s been my mentor as well. I’ve learned so much from her about social justice, activism, and staying the course. Teaching in the Deep South has been an adjustment for this Northern transplant, and students like Chasity remind me why I push through.

 Mentoring & Recognizing Our Students

Mentoring relationships are often seen as one way, but I see them as reciprocal. Naturally, there are appropriate professional boundaries, but this does not mean our students do not impact or mentor us. They come to us from different parts of the world; they share their stories. When we are open, we learn.

This post serves as a thank you and a tribute to Chasity, as well as a testament to the importance of mentoring, with emphasis placed on what our students give us. While our job is to help students learn, learning is not just a give and take relationship. We are human. We teach sociology, where many concepts are personal for our students and ourselves. Emotions can not be removed from the learning process. We build relationships with our students, and we care about them.

I want to write this post within a framework of feminist mentoring, but today words fail me. This post is from the heart. At times, I think as faculty we are negligent in recognizing the talents and humanity of our undergraduate students. We may not take the time to tell them how they’ve changed us, taught us, and pushed us to be our best. We all need positive reinforcement and this is especially true of our students.

 “I Just Do It”- Social Justice to Unitechas and me cropped

Each year, SWS requests nominations for the Undergraduate Student Activism Award and Chasity was an obvious choice. Her work on campus speaks for itself. She’s served as a diversity peer educator, worked with the Gay Straight Alliance, engaged in research on racism, women, and mental health. She’s worked tirelessly with the Sociology Club and the Multicultural Student Center, volunteering and mentoring numerous students. She’s part of Model UN, and these are only the things I can remember. She does all this in addition to being an exceptional student.

For Chasity’s nomination for this award, I received letters of support from faculty and staff across campus. As I wrote in my letter,

“Chasity is dedicated to social justice, and is able to use a sociological lens to frame her inquiries. But most importantly, it is not just her experiences that fuel her activism, but her desire to build bridges among diverse groups, to relate to and understand people, and she does so in a professional, reflective way, serving as a role model to others who strive for equality.”

As the letters of support attest, Chasity takes a lead role in advocating for social justice and equality, and she does so with professionalism, empathy, and self-reflection.

Chasity is humble and her work is never self-serving or simply for fame. She does it because she cares deeply for others. She is passionate about social justice. This was beyond evident when we were working on her resume. I asked about her work and she responded, “I just do it; I don’t think about writing it down.”

The world needs more people like Chasity. Chasity is about action, authenticity and living her values. Students like Chasity inspire me to be better — a better person, as well as a teacher and scholar.

Mentoring Our Undergraduates

Chasity has helped me become a better person, but also teacher and scholar. She can tell you what I have helped her with, but this post is not about that. It’s about showing our own humanity and appreciation for students, particularly undergraduate students, who often get left out of the conversation about mentoring and positive relationships. I’m grateful to have been able to work with so many wonderful students in my teaching career. Mentoring undergraduates does not have to take away from our research or teaching. Seeing the humanity and positive attributes of our students can do wonders for their development and by actually listening to them, we can grow professionally and personally.

I encourage you to reach out to students who’ve made a difference in your life. I’ve learned so much from many of my students this year, but today is about Chasity. Join me in congratulating her as she walks across the stage on Saturday and begins an exciting new chapter.

For Chasity

A poet, I may not be, but this is the best way I can tell you and the fabulous folks who read this blog about you.  Here goes…

You have my support and I am forever grateful.

After intense teaching days, you were there.

With a smile, words of wisdom, reminding me how much you learned.

You were the voice of reason when I was ready to run.

You listened and reminded me why I do this important work.

You were the calm during a long day of travel, despite your lack of sleep.

You even didn’t poke me when I snored!

You made me proud; you made me laugh; I cried when you won your award.

You made quite the impression with your authenticity, professionalism, and knowledge.

You worked hard collecting, coding, and analyzing data.

Your awards were numerous,

And you deserve every one!

You have made an impact.

On me,

On your peers,

On your mentors,

On our department,

On campus.

As you move forward, I will miss you,

Yet you will forever be in my heart,

Guiding me, reminding me to build bridges and advocate for justice.

I’ll hear your words to me — you’re worth it!

Never forget how wonderful you are.

You’ve made a difference.

Life is not always easy,

New chapters bring new challenges.

But you are ready.

You are strong and intelligent,

Resourceful and creative,

Empathetic and caring.

You will be okay.

But always remember,

As you care for others, you’ll need support.

Don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Your family, friends, colleagues, and peers,

Will be here for you.

Be brave and take care of yourself.

Chase your dreams!

Congratulations, Graduate!

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