Claim your power

18 February 2018 by Lisa Meloncon

I’m not good with nuance. This is not some great insight. It’s just true. From my upbringing to my life as a consultant to just the way that I am wired, my go-to path through life is direct and as kind as I can possibly be. Among his many countless gifts, my good friend Blake Scott,  has a gift for nuance, and I’ve asked him to teach me how to do it. Alas, those lessons have not taken a hold yet.

So I give you this piece of background to sort of apologize for what will likely be a ham-fisted attempt at saying something that needs a lot more nuance than I can probably give it.

There’s a piece that’s been circulating through social media, “ Why I Collapsed on the Job” by Katerina Bodovski, that is equal turns heart wrenching and rage inducing. It is heart wrenching because I hear stories similar to Bodovski’s from women (and some men) in our little field of tech comm and in the bigger field of rhetoric and composition. It is heart wrenching because her story is not unusual and that leads to the rage inducing.

So the piece above is really, really important for all sorts reasons. Since twitter is where I spend some time, I have done some tweet rants over the last couple of months about the EXACT things that Bodovski writes about. But most importantly about the need to take on this thing she writes about:

I somehow became a silent workaholic…..many of us are socialized into this trait of academic culture. This is how things are done, goes the unwritten agreement.

This is what we have to rail against as loudly, as specifically, as directly, as proactively, as forcefully, and as consistently as possible. Hell, no, this is not the way things have to be done. No.

One of the reasons that I agreed to and have stayed on working with #womeninTC is to work toward changing this very thing. To work toward shifting the culture and the way we approach work and how we train and mentor graduate students and early career faculty. No, it does not have to be this way.

Here’s another line that really, really got me from Bodovski’s piece:

Somewhere along the way, though, I lost the ability to help myself. I’m writing about it now in the hope of bringing attention to the troubles in the ivory tower and to give others the legitimacy to question the things we have come to take for granted about faculty work and life.

We have to question this culture and work toward changing it and shifting it. As the direct and to the point person that I am, I want to just lay out some ideas that I’ve been thinking about.

For tenured folks, who write way too many letters for too many things….

  • call out the over production and point out how it is not necessary based on the guidelines that every department and college and institution has
  • resist the urge to ever compare two people, Just don’t. they are different people with different lives and different career goals. Yes, they may both want tenure, but that process does not look alike nor should it.
  • point out in every letter if this is a disproportionate amount of things. I say again and again: you don’t get extra tenure and all that extra-ness doesn’t necessarily get you to full any faster.
  • Refuse to ask the same people to do things because you know they will get it done. Instead, ask those that never do anything. Patterns cannot change unless you try.
  • Hold people accountable. For the millions of words published about equity it’s glaringly ironic that we don’t hold our colleagues to the same standards we expect of our students and our work. Let me just say it directly: people need to do their damn jobs and if they aren’t, someone needs to tell them. The cult of being punished for competence is a big part of this whole mess. (and hey, I know all the resistance to this not the least of which is “it’s just easier to do it yourself or ask someone else.” You can see the problem with that, right?)
  • Model behaviors for your graduate students. Cause I can tell you right now that we have a MAJOR problem in graduate education and much of stems from the cult of overproduction and the distortion of what it really takes to do this job. (How I can say this you ask? Well, I can say that I took four calls/DMs/messages out of the blue this week from your grad students who ran the range from being in tears to being a ball of stress where nothing was getting done. And these students are at four different programs.)
  • Work to change the documents that should govern our lives if they aren’t reasonable or work to enforce them in humane and doable ways (though from the ones I’ve seen they are. They just aren’t encouraged and/or used to guide our jobs like they should be.)
  • Offer good advice to early career faculty and graduate students and that often means that you need to look outside of your own experiences.

When I admitted that I was having to reboot my life, the bigger takeaway there was this, “But more so, it’s because we have to set a different tone. We have to start trying to shift what is a powerfully unjust culture and system that encourages us to be one dimensional and focused on the culture of overproduction rather than encouraging us to be real, three-dimensional people committed to slow scholarship and being excellent, thoughtful teachers, and kind supportive colleagues.” We can do this shifting in all sorts of ways including institutional resilience.

For those on the tenure track,

Remember that you have agency. So what if you don’t’ get a unanimous tenure vote or a perfect annual review. The fact remains the number of people in our field that do not get tenure is minuscule and most of those have some important back stories that never make the mainstream. The tenure guidelines that I have read and that are representative of the field are all doable. No, you do not have to publish a 100 things. No you do not have to attend every conference. No you do not have to serve of 5 committees at every level.

My point is that you can say no. You really can. You can say no to that extra committee; you can choose not to answer that CFP for a special issue or another collection; you can wait to do that really cool thing (cause the opportunity will come around again) when you have more time and space.

You can make decisions for you and no one else because you do have agency. No one can take that from you.

For graduate students,

You truly, truly can do this job and it not be your entire life and your entire existence. Look for the silent leaders and those people who work at a place you’d like to work at and really find out how this job works.

Some of the patterns you develop in grad school will stay with you so it’s so important to develop good habits for yourself around work and life. Train yourself to do the work by sitting in the chair and trying to do it. Develop some strategies to deal with stress, to plan your time in ways that work for you, to balance out and have a life without the guilt. These skills are started in grad school. Seek out mentors and friends who share these values.

You also do not have to have to try and publish a 1000 things to get a job nor go to every conference or accept every “opportunity.” This time is for you to learn and to read and to think about what the field is and what you want your role to be. It’s precious and it needs to be done slowly and thoughtfully.

For contingent faculty,

Thank you for the work you do in our programs, and bearing the brunt of institutions’ teaching mission. I am thankful for the work you’re doing, and I am sorry for the system that has created this mess. Please take care of yourselves first. (I have much more to say about this issue, but since I’m in the midst of a “book” on it, it’s all too muddled.) So, I reiterate, please take care of yourselves.

Circling back to all of us

….my heart still aches for Bodovski and more so, it aches for the people that I personally know who are struggling within the system and trying to figure things out. The process of determining what is important and how to juggle the multiple demands of this job is one of the greatest challenges. It’s an ongoing challenge because our jobs change at different points for different reasons. I don’t have any answers, and the suggestions I’ve made here aren’t anywhere close to revolutionary. The biggest takeaway is that we need to be reminded that we do have more power than we think we do.

It’s also important to examine behaviors to ensure that you’re not doing the exact thing you’re talking about needing to change. If you are, consider what Bodovski suggests, “But I surely face a challenge of reflecting, regrouping, re-evaluating,and redesigning what and how I do from this point on.”

If you want to strategize on how to regain your own power, please reach out. I’m always happy to listen and plan, and if I’m not the best person to talk to, I’ll find you someone that can help.

Change starts with each one of us, in our own way. Start with taking care of yourself (physical, mental, and what your priorities really are) and then working your way down the list.

Wishing you joy, peace, and health… and the strength to claim your own personal power.



One thought to “Claim your power”

  1. I don’t think I’ve yet read a piece that *gets* the dilemma of tenure track folks in tech/comm and rhet/comp as well as this one does. I wish I had read it years earlier. Setting down that big bag of bricks (marked “try to be perfect”) is my goal this year for myself, but it’s going to take time to break free of bad habits.

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