I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I “got into” academia
, or why I decided to put myself through the sado-masochistic exercise that is a PhD program. The reason isn’t anything prolific or inspiring, but it’s definitely very “me”.
In my second year of undergrad, I was enrolled in a class on youth culture. The prof, Dr. Tim Walters, was snarky, sarcastic (he went on a rant about Uggs in one class, for instance), and often wore band t-shirts and adidas Originals to teach in. He was the quintessential antithesis to your “normal” straight, white, male prof; lacking the pomp and circumstance (=stuffiness) that most of my previous profs had presented while teaching. I switched into two of his classes the next term (one course on popular culture and one course on subcultures), once again loving the content and material as I had in the youth culture class. At some point I had come to the realization that, yes, I could make a living watching movies, reading fun books, listening to punk, and being snarky.
Still being relatively young and a first generation student, the fact that he left the university because he couldn’t get a tenure track job didn’t really resonate with me at the time. It probably should have. Actually, it really should have: the further along I get in my degree the sooner I need to start making choices about what I want to be when I “grow up” if the academic market isn’t something I can get into.
Walters is however still teaching, and technically in a much lovelier climate (BC > Hamilton). I think that his teaching philosophy is not unlike what my own would be:
Because when I was an undergrad I realized that I liked lounging around talking about books and films more than doing just about anything else, and I’ve yet to find anyone who’ll pay me to do that in a pub.
Three other profs that had vaguely similar pedagogical approaches and personalities that also influenced me to consider academia were Dr. Marc Ouellette, Dr. Eva Mackey, and Dr. Rick Monture. If you read their profiles, you would note some overlapping interests between each other and myself. (Perhaps they influenced me in some ways or something?)
I feel that my personality comes out fairly clearly if you read my academic work and while I’m in a classroom. I’m sarcastic, snarky, and pass at looking professional by wearing a band t-shirt with a cardigan and some kind of black Vans or Converse (which is 9/10 on the professionalism scale, obviously). If I’m going to give the whole academic thing a go when I finish the degree, I’m going to have to do it on my own terms. Maybe I’ll wear band t-shirts with a blazer or something*.
More to the (serious) point, is that academia is supposed to be, or I thought it was supposed to be, about challenging the status quo. That meant challenging existing norms and values for the betterment of all. The reality is there are too many people in academia who are complicit in society’s structure and it doesn’t bother them that we live in a world that for the most part lacks equity. The university is a corporate enterprise; certainly much more so than it was when I first started – or maybe I’m just more attuned to it now.
That means taking up space when given the opportunity. As an ally/accomplice this means using the privileges I do have to at times literally talk over those using oppressive language. It also means taking the time to listen to others when they are speaking and recognizing the importance of not talking (or shutting the fuck up, as I prefer to say).
In the subcultures class I took with Walters, one of the texts we read was the Students for a Democratic Society’s Port Huron Statement. About nine years later, the opening sentence still resonates:
We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.
I find it telling to that the SDS’s statement/manifesto lacks any acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples given one nation (the Huron) being named explicitly in the title and the number of Niswi-mishkodewin (Anishinaabe or Three Fires Confederacy) bands living in Michigan. Fifty three years later, and I don’t think much has changed: Indigenous peoples are still being erased in policy, practice, and situations throughout the North American continent.
I can’t see the system getting better without an en-masse movement for change. But maybe, just maybe, by working within the systems we find ourselves in–that is, the academy, at least for me right now–we can start to make a difference in some way. Cross all appendages.
*I do not feel like I belong in a faculty of education. In terms of primary music preference, I have yet to meet anyone that has heard of some of my favourite bands, let alone likes them. Body modification practices are seemingly rare in education, I guess because of the prejudices around piercings and tattoos and how they are seen as “unprofessional.” Not being a K-12 teacher (nor ever wanting to be one) also puts me at odds with the majority of my peers. I am definitely a black sheep here. *bleats*