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typewriter if not now

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”

– Audre Lorde

What keeps me from writing about racial justice? What stands in the way of articulating both the inequities in higher education and a vision for building structures of inclusion? While the fear of getting it wrong looms large, looking foolish worries me far less than doing harm. What I write could galvanize those who prefer white campuses and the insidious myths of individualism and meritocracy.

Back in November, an Admissions officer at the university where I work shared his reactions to the election on his personal Facebook page. His harsh post went viral, prompting conservatives across the blogosphere to point to his words as evidence of “liberal intolerance” propped up by the higher education system. This one employee’s private views became fodder for efforts across the country to gut inclusion initiatives. This is not hyperbole. Remember when the Tennessee legislature voted in April to cut all funds for the university’s diversity office?

At my Unitarian Universalist church, we’ve been grappling with a similar constellation of concerns. A polarized national climate has illuminated the deep and widening fractures in our communities. The choices we make matter. Each time we come together, we have a new opportunity to understand and undo the structures of white supremacy in our traditions and in our congregation.

Indeed, every setting in which we find ourselves offers up avenues for taking steps on racial justice.

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Desire Path

MacDonald Frances Desire Path

Then and this. Now and here.

A pause.

Cool air shivers skin. The bus engine grumbles below plastic seats molded to cup a human’s soft places. Thighs of meat padding bone. Outside, women in a pack bustle down the sidewalk in jeans stretched taut.

The days grow shorter.

Even so, I forget. Forget to stop and touch the zinnia with its five shades of orange tethered to a center like chocolate. Forget to let the crepe myrtle dip across my cheek. Barely notice a fat bee chugging past me towards what bursts from the hedges. A body that should be too weighty for the tissue of wings somehow stays airborne.

I forget that eventually, everything falls. I forget to catch drift.

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Frank Morrison A Student

One of the many benefits of working in higher education is easy access to learning opportunities. On any given day, a dozen activities show up on the calendar. Anyone on campus, and usually community folks too, can drop in on brown bags, seminars, conferences, performances, or dissertation defenses. Cost and distance are taken care of, so the only limiting factors are motivation and time.

I don’t take nearly as much advantage of this abundance as I could, but does this surprise anyone? I’m guessing others out there don’t read poetry or clock enough hours of sleep, both of which gratify a tired soul. As often as not, we fail to act as champions of our own happiness. Sometimes laziness leads the charge. Halfheartedly, of course.

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Welcoming September

The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it’s here is up to us.

Alexandra Elle

peg green flaming chalice

Barely a month has passed since the Board of Directors at my UU church welcomed me into my new role as the Lay Minister for Membership and Outreach. I could just as easily say they approved or endorsed or just plain voted. Yet none of those words capture the experience of stepping into this world of Unitarian Universalist leadership as much as “welcome.”

My family only began attending the local church in July 2015. Many of my fellow congregants carry much more history and knowledge about the workings of the community. I have to admit, when the Reverend suggested I consider lay ministry, I laughed out loud. Little old me? Newcomer? Someone who should rightfully still use a green mug during coffee hour?

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A Frayed Knot

Aksam Gunesi mushroom nest

Sense skates over the damp oil of detangling spray. The film coats my son’s raveled mat. His head is a summer hayfield bleached gold and heavy with dew. At the tips, tendrils going to seed thin and fall away.

Down under all that flower and dust, the stalks twist into themselves. Pile up. Snarl. My fingers burrow to the base of his skull and find the nest there. I begin to brush. Starting at the ends, the gesture is one short stroke. Then another. The brush barks over the ragged rope. Its plastic bristles chatter as if scraped across a guiro’s ridged wooden belly. The boy tolerates this, gripping his nerf gun and re-reading Sunday’s comics.

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This Quiet Plot

Suzie Seitz

Silence is the absence of sound. That is where we start. Then we hear what’s left when a bow lifts from its string, the reverberation humming across window glass and skimming over curved iron rails. Even after it dissipates, sound remains. We cross a bridge from memory to the note that arrives next, if any. This is not a certainty.

The lift carries us. The resonance in our own blood rides over when the bow releases it from its string. The arm lifting belongs to the song. Muscles move the arm. Breath fuels muscle. Pulse syncopates with breath.

Player, instrument, audience, the hollow belly of night. Nothing is silent. Inside the ear, a river rushes. Even in the dark, even alone, we sleep on its roaring banks.

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(c) Peter Copley; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Ethel Leontine Gabain, 1883-1950

I’m parked in the lobby assembling bookcases. Even though we have a facilities staff and work study employees, somehow this falls to me. My students’ dissertations will live on these shelves, so okay. I’m assembling bookcases.

Earlier this morning, I moved another set of bookcases along with their assorted contents. My lovely gay co-worker joined me in hauling this stuff across the suite into the file room because. . . Does there need to be a because? It needs to get done. Tracking down the people whose jobs involve moving furniture – to say nothing of the negotiation this would entail – demands a far greater expenditure of effort than simply doing it ourselves.

Parked in the lobby assembling bookcases means an hour at least erased from the projects my mind and hands could be serving. The article that needs to be written on the relationship between race and the completion rates of doctoral students? Not getting done. The accompanying literature review and data collection to write the article? Ditto. Following up with PhD student leaders on their 9/11 day of service plans? Updating materials that more broadly distribute the cultural capital needed for navigating a PhD? Developing a panel on graduate funding opportunities?

None of it getting done. Because I’m parked in the lobby assembling bookcases.

So when you, Good-Hearted White Dude, wander by, I’m less disposed to chat.

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