Archive for the 'Personal' category

Why I can no longer donate to Wellesley College.

Because the undergraduate education I received at Wellesley College has been so important in my life, and because I believe all college students deserve the intellectual engagement Wellesley gave me, I can no longer donate to Wellesley College.

The education Wellesley College gave me has been central to how I understand what it is to learn and to participate fully in the world. It helped me see knowledge as more than a fixed list of things-to-know but rather as a body that was always in flux, always under construction, always in contact with the wider world. It engaged me seriously, as an individual and as a member of a coordinated learning community with my Wellesley classmates, with professors who were building knowledge, not just describing knowledge others had built.

As a professor at San José State University, a teaching-focused institution in the California State University system, I am teaching a very different student population than Wellesley's. Approximately half of our students are first-generation college students. Many of our full-time students work 40 hours a week or more to pay for college (and, frequently, to support their families). A heartbreakingly large proportion of our students arrive at our university with the expectation that a college degree will be of merely instrumental value (to help them get a job, to secure them a better salary at the job they have), having never encountered a teacher who believed in their ability to learn broadly and deeply -- or who believed that they were entitled to learning for its own sake, for their own enjoyment.

These are students who need an educational experience like the one Wellesley provided for me. My mission as a professor is to give them as much of this experience as I can.

This is not an easy task, when budget crises have meant ballooning class sizes and dwindling resources to support instruction. It is even harder when administrators, looking to cut costs, decide it it appropriate to replace live, engaged, expert instruction in the classroom with packaged massive online courses from private vendors like edX.

Courses like those Wellesley College has created and licensed to edX.

I recognize that the faculty involved in creating these courses probably did so with the best of intentions, hoping to share their enthusiasm and expertise with people in the world with no access to college courses other than the internet.

However, the MOOCs they have created have become tools for other purposes, used to "save money" (by eliminating faculty) and to replace meaningful classroom instruction that is working for our student populations.

This serves not to increase access to higher education but to reduce it, at least for the students served by public university systems like mine. At this point in the grand disruptive online experiment, all indications are that MOOCs "work" for self-directed learners, the "ambitious autodidacts" who seems always to be the prime beneficiaries of educational innovations, but that they don't work well for "students from difficult neighborhoods, without good access to computers, and with all kinds of challenges in their lives" -- that is, for students like mine.

Private entities like edX are distributing MOOCs that are being used to replace classroom instruction that strives to give students just a taste of Wellesley's intellectual engagement with an online experience that Wellesley faculty would (I hope) never dream of substituting for their own classroom engagement with their students.

A hallmark of my education at Wellesley was that the subject matter was never just confined to the classroom. Whatever the subject, we were challenged to think hard about its real impact in the world. I implore Wellesley's faculty and administration to think hard about the real context in which the MOOCs they are creating are deployed, about the effects, intended and unintended, that follow upon their use.

By participating in edX without attaching conditions to their MOOCs that prevent their use to replace classroom education that is working and to undermine meaningful educational access, Wellesley College is hurting my students and my ability as a professor to give them some of what Wellesley gave me.

So long as Wellesley College continues to participate in the weaponization of education through edX, I cannot in good conscience contribute another dollar to Wellesley College.

Janet D. Stemwedel
Class of 1989

25 responses so far

A thought for those who are mindful about their legacy in their discipline.

It is possible that, once you shuffle off this mortal coil, people will remember you for your scholarly contributions to your field.

However, it is also possible that they will remember you for your consistently inappropriate behavior, your thoroughgoing lack of respect for the boundaries of the students you were supposed to be nurturing rather than exploiting.

It is possible that, in the fullness of time, the people in your discipline who were given the academic equivalent of the "Grandpa is just that way" excuse for your behavior will come to the conclusion that there was no good excuse for your behavior, that, rather than speaking no ill of the dead, they will describe your conduct for what it was.

As well, they may start to recognize the complicity of the other "grown-ups" in their field who offered the "Grandpa is just that way" excuse for what it was.

If some of those enablers, still living, are mindful about their legacy within their discipline, they might want to reflect on that and make some amends before they, too, go to the great beyond.

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A meditation on the expectation of trust.

Jan 05 2014 Published by under Blogospheric science, Personal

You should trust me.

Sure, when the first public word of my bad behavior came out, I claimed the account used theatrical language to make it sound worse than it was and flat-out lied to you that I had never ever engaged in any such bad behavior with anyone else.

But you should trust me.

Yes, I used the cover of friendship, your loyalty and my apparent track record of not-misbehaving with hundreds of women (including you!), of being a good guy except for one single lapse of judgment (which I swore was not as bad as it sounded, because that woman who you didn't know was trying to take me down), to ask you privately to convince a couple other people that I was still a good guy. I guess it was awkward when you discovered I'd split up the list of people who needed convincing and asked other people to do this too? And when you discovered that I described the task with one of the people I assigned to you as "getting her to put down the pitchfork". In retrospect, that probably seemed kind of manipulative of me.

But you should trust me, I totally get how what I did was wrong, and I won't do it again.

Sure, I haven't actually acknowledged that lying to you and trying to manipulate you to protect my reputation and relationships was a bad thing to do. I haven't acknowledged that it harmed you. I haven't said sorry.

But you should trust that I am sorry and that I won't do it again. I shouldn't need to say it.

Yes, it turns out I was also actively putting out disinformation about just how much of the diversity at meetings and workshops in these circles was a direct result of my intervention. OK, I guess I should have suspected that after some of my lies to you started unraveling you'd do the legwork to uncover these lies, too. But I really am a champion of diversity, and the community really would do worse with diversity without my active involvement in it.

You should trust me on that.

And sure, after an extremely brief hiatus from the spaces where I damaged relationships and burned trust, I never clearly and publicly acknowledged the harms I did beyond to those three named women. But trust me, even though I haven't pointed to these injuries, I accept that I caused them, I regret that harm, and I won't do it again.

You shouldn't need an explicit apology to trust me on that.

Trust that I am listening and learning, and that if any of my trusted friends had told me I was messing up and hurting people or community -- even if they had told me it was too soon to try to come back, or that I hadn't done enough to repair the harms I had done or to communicate that I really comprehend those harms -- even if what they told me didn't match what I wanted to hear, trust that I would take their advice very seriously rather than rushing forward, centering my own redemption narrative, and doing further harm.

You should trust me.

And really, how can you question that I understand the size and shape of the harm I've done? Sure, I've let commenters on my blog post characterize distrust of me as wrong, as cruelly refusing to let me move on, as a public flogging, a hanging, a witch-hunt. Sure, I haven't challenged those characterizations at all. But still, you should trust that I understand that I can't demand anyone's forgiveness -- that I'm not entitled to anyone's trust.

Because I really am listening. I really do get it. I really am a good guy.

You should trust me.

13 responses so far

I have awesome friends.

Not to brag (at least, not more than I should), but my friends are pretty great.

When I checked my mail at work today, I found an envelope that contained this note:

Note with text: "Sorry the blogosphere is rough. : (   Audrey."

and these gloves:

Gloves with letters on the fingers that spell FEMINIST.

And I gave thanks for having friends who understand that, some days, trying to get the world into better shape is a slog, but who remind me that it is work worth doing, and who show me (and many, many others) kindness to help me (and the others) find the strength to get the next incremental piece of the job done.

Thank you, Audrey. You rock!

3 responses so far

#ripplesofdoubt and harassment's collateral damage.

For context, in the event that you want or need it, read my last post, and Hannah's, and Kathleen's, and Erin's. (If you want a dash of irony with your context, read this post I wrote after Bora solicited my support for Kathleen and Erin in the wake of some casual sexism in a professional context.)

Then read Karen's #ripplesofdoubt Storify.

This post is about some of my ripples of doubt.

I am not trolling for reassurance -- I recognize that these doubts are not entirely rational. But I'm presenting a peek at what's going on inside my head right now so that you can get a sense of why sexual harassment (among other instances of treating women in the community as not fully human, not full members of the community) is harmful even to those who are not the direct targets of that harassment.

This is also going to be more stream-of-consciousness than most of my posts. Things inside my head get kind of tangled.

* * * * *

Eight years ago, people who were not my students were just starting to find this blog. A big part of this was because Bora Zivkovic (who had loads of readers, was on lots of blogrolls, and had lots of blogospheric visibility) started regularly linking to my posts.

(Would anyone have found my blog if Bora hadn't promoted it? Did he promote it because it was actually good, or for some other reason?)

And then, I got invited to "sell out" and join ScienceBlogs at its initial launch. Which was exciting, because I was on a network with some very engaging (and very high-traffic) bloggers. I didn't kid myself that this meant I was better than the excellent bloggers I was reading who were blogging elsewhere, but it felt a little like an independent confirmation that my blog crossed some quality threshold. It felt good.

(But the process by which those blogs were selected for the initial Sb launch was opaque to me, and I got the sense later that some of that was shaped by blogospheric tastemakers like Bora -- maybe even by explicit advice from Bora. His judgment is feeling pretty suspect to me, so can I trust his judgment that my blog was quality?)

About a year later, Bora and Anton were planning the first North Carolina Science Blogging Conference, the ancestor of ScienceOnline. Bora invited me to be a keynote speaker. I had never been invited to be a keynote speaker anywhere before. I felt so validated and excited that I jumped up and down on my bed for about five minutes before emailing back to accept the invitation.

(Why was I invited to give a keynote? What real expertise did I have to share on science blogging and its larger significance? Bora and I had never met in real life at that point. I was still in my 30s, and my profile picture was more "flattering" than "accurate". Why did Bora invite me to give a keynote?)

At ScienceBlogs, somehow I developed a reputation as a "voice of reason" kind of sensible person, able to find middle ground where there was some, able to at least grok the impulse driving opposing sides of blogwars.

(In retrospect, I wonder what role Bora played in constructing that narrative. Did people listen to me because he flagged me as reasonable? Was there some ulterior motive for positioning me this way?)

I'm resisting a strong urge to scour my curriculum vitae for workshops and panels I have been on that Bora has also been on, or that I have good reason to believe I was invited to be part of on the basis of Bora's recommendation. Off the top of my head, I'm counting at least four.

(Was it Bora's professional reputation and influence that got me these invitations, rather than anything I had done on my own to demonstrate my own expertise? How on earth could I tell?)

My invitation to blog at Scientific American was definitely due to Bora. There were lots of murmurs at launch (and there continue to be today -- I've seen them on social media, posted literally today) that the way the blogs were selected was inappropriate-to-deeply-flawed.

(That's my blog they're judging as not belonging at Scientific American. It's not good enough to be there, but Bora chose it anyway. What was his game here?)

Bora never hit on me. Bora never veered into inappropriate topics of conversation with me. When we talked about blog network issues, Bora treated me very professionally. When we interacted as friends, he treated me cordially and never disrespected my boundaries.

(But that's not how he treated other women. How did I escape the inappropriate interactions that are coming to light now?)

I took Bora for a real friend -- not just a real friend, but one who grokked systemic gender bias, how important it was to listen to women's accounts of their own experiences, how people's boundaries should be respected. He didn't always get it right away, but he seemed committed to learning.

(While meanwhile, he was ignoring other women clearly asserting their boundaries, telling him to stop.)

He acted like he valued my friendship.

(Maybe he just valued my loyalty and that reputation I had as a reasonable voice in the blogosphere ...)

(Maybe he was using me as cover, a loyal friend who would deny, on the basis of her N=1 personal experience, that he could ever harass a woman or disrespect her boundaries.)

When specifics from what he claimed was his one-and-only instance of harassment came out, he asked me to get particular other people in the community on his side, to reach out to them and get them to put down the pitchforks.

(Appealing to me as reasonable. Appealing to me as loyal. Appealing to me as a friend, who should know, from her own experience, that he couldn't have done this more than once, one tragic moment of misunderstanding.)

(Just as he had groomed me to be. As if maybe that was the point all along.)

(Maybe I wasn't actually a valued friend -- not really, not valued for myself so much as my usefulness in a crisis.)

(And maybe my work never was that good.)

(And how can I trust my own judgment, about my own work, my own friends, my own community, if I could have been so wrong for so long about Bora?)

Edited to add:

There are also profound ripples of doubt in my head about why I didn't see the harassment that was happening, what I did to make myself unapproachable to people in the community who who targeted -- who I would have liked to help in some way if I could have. Those are far more painful to me right now, and words fail me when I try to spell them out. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you folks. You didn't deserve to be harassed.

39 responses so far

This is not a post I want to write.

I think sexual harassment is bad. I think other kinds of harassment, especially those that work by way of power imbalances, are bad. That's a position I stand by, and I hope I still would even if I had not been sexually harassed myself, and even if I didn't count among my friends an alarming number of people who had been sexually harassed.

We'll never know about the truth of that counterfactual claim, though, given that I have been sexually harassed (in more than one professional field), and that the number of people I know who have themselves been sexually harassed seems only to increase.

I know what it is like not to be able to share details of my own experience for fear of the professional repercussions it could have for me. When the person who harasses you has enough power that he could literally destroy any chance of a career for you in your chosen field -- when it's clear that your professional community values that person a lot and that it hasn't even gotten a chance to know you, let alone to value you -- choosing to go public looks an awful lot like choosing to burn your own career.

So mostly, you don't.

Maybe, eventually, once you find people within the community you feel like you can trust, people who've given indications that they value you, you share some of the details. Probably you wait for some sort of sign that these are people who, at least in principle, agree that harassment is bad. And probably, as you're naming your experience, you avoid naming the perpetrator, just in case there's a longstanding professional relationship that you didn't know about.

Because even people who are against harassment in principle can be damned loyal to their friends.

But often by the time you're ready to share some details with someone, you've so internalized the apologia that comes out when people do tell that you aren't even sure if you can call what happened to you "harassment". You wonder if, objectively, what happened to you can really be as big a deal as it feels like it is to you -- if the fact that it feels like a big deal to you, one that you can't just shake off, means that something is wrong with you.

Some days, when you start to notice how much harassment there is, how many of your peers (and mentors) have been harassed, and how little that seems to faze your community, you maybe even start to wonder if harassment is just the price of admission to the community, if shaking it off is the kind of skill people in the community need to cultivate to survive.

The landscape we bump up against every day discourages us from making a fuss.

It encourages us to use the most equivocal language available to describe our experience, if we talk about it at all.

It reminds us that we're weak if we can't shake it off, that we will be blamed for not finding some way to prevent what happened to us even though someone else did it to us.

It underlines that push come to shove, people are going to side with someone with more social capital, even if that person did something that the people siding with him are against in theory -- and that people are going to trust their own gut feeling that the person who harmed you is a good guy over the most careful and accurate recitation of the facts, even over what they see with their own eyes.

Not speaking up is the most rational move in most circumstances. Jennifer L. Berdahl, a Professor of Organizational Behavior, notes that

It's individually adaptive to go along with or try and act like members of the majority group when one is outnumbered. There are even rewards for criticizing others for not doing the same. But this individually adaptive behavior perpetuates the status quo.

So, if people aren't brave enough, or fed up enough, or whatever, to risk the individual harm that comes with speaking up, we are likely to be stuck with how things are right now. And some days, how things are right now is indescribably shitty.

The proximate cause for my writing this post is that writer and playwright Monica Byrne described her own experience of being harassed and named an influential member of the online science community, Bora Zivkovic, as her harasser. In a statement on his personal blog, Bora confirms the facts of Ms. Byrne's account, describes the measures put in place at Scientific American to address the professional harms to Ms. Byrne, and offers an apology.

I have known Bora for years. I have respected his professional judgment. I have deep affection for him and for his wife. I count him as a friend. He has never harassed me.

But that doesn't mean that I am going to offer apologia for his bad behavior. It doesn't mean I'm going to preemptively disbelieve Ms. Byrne's account, not just of what happened but also of how it affected her.

People make mistakes, even people who are our friends. People who do great things for a community can also do great harm to individual members of that community -- and, by extension, to the very webs of trust within that community that they worked hard to build.

I'm not going to stop being Bora's friend, but I'm not going to try to minimize or excuse his behavior, either.

I'm going to keep caring for him, but part of that will involve me continuing to hold him to a high standard -- because I know he can be that good, and I'm prepared to do what I can to help him do that.

I'm not going to cut Bora off as irredeemable, but I'm not going to center his redemption over mitigating the harms caused by his bad behavior. I'm not going to prioritize telling the world about his redemption, since I understand redemption as a quiet, personal, daily effort to live the standard one endorses.

I'm not going to argue that anyone else should forgive Bora or trust Bora. That's a personal matter, and I'm not equipped to make that call for anyone else but myself.

I am going to argue that, within our communities, we should look very hard at the power gradients that enable bad behavior that doesn't seem like bad behavior to the people committing it. We should interrogate the factors that make it dangerous for targets of bad behavior to speak up. We should recognize our tendency to focus on intent and ignore actual effects. We should notice when we get sucked into the familiar narrative of apologia and cut that out.

We should hold each other to high standards and then get serious about helping each other reach those standards. We should keep tinkering with our culture to making being better to each other (and to ourselves) easier, not harder.

Being good can be hard, which is one of the reasons we need friends.

I stand with others who have been harassed. And I hope, as a loving and honest friend with high expectations, I can help bring about a world with fewer harassers in it.

30 responses so far

In which Argentine tango puts a valuable skill in my parenting toolbox.

Mar 01 2013 Published by under Passing thoughts, Personal

The skill in question is creeping across floorboards silently. (It's all about how you shift your weight as you move your feet, and that's something about which my tango teacher was a little bit obsessive.)

Being able to creep across floorboards silently is the skill of mine which (I dearly hope) has finally convinced my eldest offspring that it is totally not worth it to sneak onto social media or online games before the day's homework has been completed. Because it is hard to fully enjoy that social media or gaming when your stealthy parent might appear behind you without warning. Which means maybe doing the homework first, efficiently, could allow one to enjoy being online without fear of detection and consequences.

In a perfect world, you'd think logic would be persuasive enough. Since the world isn't perfect, I've made my peace with being a stealthy mother.

4 responses so far

#scio13 aftermath: some thoughts about the impostor syndrome.

I didn't end up going to the Impostor Syndrome session at ScienceOnline 2013. I told myself this was because it would be more professionally useful to attend Life in the venn - What happens when you're forced to wear many hats? since I have recently added a hat of my own (Director of my university's Center for Ethics). But, if I'm honest with myself, it's because I felt like too much of an impostor to contribute much of anything -- even useful tweets -- to the impostor syndrome session.

I have felt like an impostor since at least high school, and maybe before that.

I have known, since at least my second year of college, that the impostor syndrome was a real phenomenon. It was even the topic of my term paper in Psych 101. But knowing that the syndrome was a real thing, and that it involved a mismatch between one's actual accomplishments and how accomplished one felt on the inside, didn't make me feel like less of a fraud.

It probably goes without saying that I had a flare-up of the impostor syndrome in my first Ph.D. program. I had another flare-up in my second Ph.D. program (although I was maybe a little better at hiding my self-doubt). Going on the academic job market in philosophy made me feel like perhaps the biggest fraud of all … until I went up for tenure.

The frustrating thing about the impostor syndrome is that it makes it utterly impossible to tell whether your successes reflect any merit, or whether they are pure luck.

Whether the potential others see in you is real, and could somehow be converted to something of value (if only you manage not to blow it), or whether your only actual skill is talking a good game.

Whether piping up to share what feel like insights is reasonable, or whether you are just wasting people's time.

I worry that what it might take to overcome my own impostor syndrome is an actual flight from reality. I know too many smart, accomplished people in my field who have not met with the recognition or success they deserve to believe we're working within a pure meritocracy -- which means it's unreasonable for me to take my own success as a clear indicator of merit. I also know that past performance is not a guarantee of future returns -- which means that even if I have done praiseworthy things in the past, I could blow it at any moment going forward.

And I also worry that maybe I don't really have impostor syndrome, in which case, the reasonable conclusion, given how I feel a lot of the time, is that I actually am a fraud.

So, yeah, it's one of those topics that feels very relevant, but is perhaps relevant enough that I'm not really in a good position to benefit from a discussion of it.

How's that for a paradox?

* * * * *

Tweets from the Impostor Syndrome session have been Storified here.

3 responses so far

Dispatch from #scio13: Tweet me maybe?

So, last night at ScienceOnline there was an Open Mic Night, masterfully MC'd by Jacquelyn Gill and David Schiffman. There was a lot of talent on display, but also initial issues with the sound at the venue. (Scott Huler and Brian Malow were the committed empiricists who figured the issue out ... it turned out something was plugged into the wrong hole. (Insert gratuitous punchline here.)) The evening culminated with a inspiring dance lesson from John Rennie, who is without a doubt the science journalist you want to teach you how to dance.

Anyway, as conveyed on the Twitters, I made the (almost surely ill-advised) decision to get up and sing at Open Mic Night. While I am pleased (and relieved) to report that I didn't end up in the Shatner zone in the chorus, a sound engineering issue meant that I lost half of my first verse. So, here are the lyrics to my song about social media, set to a possibly recognizable tune. (If you don't mind, imagine me singing it in tune.)

I threw a post on my wall,
Only been blogging since Fall,
Your "like" pleased me most of all,
And now you're in my feed

I'd trade my soul for a link,
I'd kill to hear what you think,
I'd even write you with ink
'Cause now you're who I read

FriendFeed was slogging,
Tumblrs were reblogging,
G+ hangouts, I'm no quitter,
Mention me on Twitter, baby?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet me, maybe?

It's hard to match your
Traffic baby,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet, maybe?

And all the other blogs,
Try to shake me,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

My comment got voted down,
Emoticon was a frown 🙁
You took my logic to town,
But still, you're in my feed

I didn't give up the ghost,
Redeemed myself the next post,
Got linklove, I shouldn't boast,
But it's what I need.

Bora Z retweeted,
Ed Yong said to read it,
SiteMeter ebb and flowing,
Holy crap I'm linked on BoingBoing!

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet me, maybe?

It's hard to match your
Traffic baby,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet, maybe?

And all the other blogs,
Try to shake me,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
My stats were so bad
My stats were so, so bad

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
And you should know that
My stats were so, so bad

It's hard to match your
Traffic baby,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet, maybe?

And all the other blogs,
Try to shake me,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
My stats were so bad
My stats were so, so bad

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
And you should know that

So tweet me, maybe?

6 responses so far

An open letter to our county transit agency.

Jan 24 2013 Published by under Environment, Passing thoughts, Personal

Dear county transit agency,

I appreciate that you run "school route" busses in our town to help students who live quite a distance away get to the junior high and high school. In these times of woefully inadequate school funding, when school district-run school busses are a misty watercolor memory, lots of kids depend on the school route county busses to get to and from school -- including my kid.

I reckon someone at your agency appreciates that the school route busses present an outstanding opportunity to groom future generations to be enthusiastic mass-transit users. Before most of them have drivers licenses, you have a window to convince them that busses are a fast, reliable, and affordable alternative to cars. These kids have been raised as tree-huggers, so they're receptive to this message. Heck, the car line of the damned in front of the junior high, every morning right before school and every afternoon right after school, is doing yeoman's work to make that case for you.

Except, here's the thing: you can only persuade these kids that mass-transit is the way to go if the school route bus actually comes when it's supposed to before and after school rather than disappearing without a trace and leaving a whole lot of kids standing at the bus stops wondering if they will ever make it to school, or if they will ever make it home.

Honestly, for all of their typing with their thumbs and talking like LOLcats, these kids are smart enough to connect the damn dots.

With extreme irritation on behalf of my stressed out kid standing in the rain waiting for busses that never came on multiple occasions,

Dr. Free-Ride

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