Sunday, March 22, 2020

Canvas Discussion Topic: Social Interaction in a Time of Social Distancing

I'm teaching Social Psychology this semester. I set up a discussion in Canvas yesterday that's optional for students and isn't being graded. I want students to be able to share insights about their experiences in a time of social change. I'm hoping it provides a little feeling of community now that we're not in class together in person anymore. Here's what I posted on Canvas in case you want to borrow/adapt/improve it…


This is a totally optional discussion, it's not being graded. Because our course is all about social interaction, I want to give students opportunities to share insights and experiences about how social interactions have changed due to social distancing expectations. It's wild to me that the term "social distancing" wasn't even in the public's vocabulary until about a week ago. Even if we are closely following social distancing guidelines, we still have many ways to interact. So feel free to use this space as a place to mention examples about social interaction these days, and to share any insights or thoughts you have. I'll start....

I find myself texting people more than usual, and I'm using FaceTime to interact with my parents. At my house our family is playing board games, watching movies, and we even played Wii Bowling a few nights ago like we used to when our kids were little. We're also taking walks together to get exercise. My 9-year-old is obsessed with baseball and I love baseball too, so we're playing a lot of catch together and frankly it's good for my mental health. I actually came up with the idea of doing this discussion as a class when we were playing catch together an hour ago.

I wonder how social distancing is impacting our relationships, and I wonder if people will begin to be socially shamed if they aren't practicing social distancing. And I seriously wonder about our mental health as a society if our interactions are limited for an extended period of time. So many unknowns...

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Jettison Your Perfectionist Tendencies

My saying at the moment is "Not trying to break records during a pandemic." In touching base with students yesterday, this is part of what I posted in an announcement on Canvas:

"I remain focused on being flexible and doing my best to adapt to changing circumstances, and the goal remains to complete the course. Let's be honest: we don't know what may change and catch us by surprise, so let's stay flexible and manage our expectations. My saying at the moment is "Not trying to break records during the pandemic" which is my way of saying let's keep things simple and straightforward during these stressful and challenging times. I don't want to pile a ton of work onto my students and overwhelm them. I don't want to heighten anyone's stress or anxiety. And so the mission is to finish the course with integrity, but not trying to be special or "extra" about it."

I also wrote:

"I'll be flexible and lenient with due dates. These are stressful times; yes, I want us to learn, but I'm keeping things in perspective. I love sociology and our course work is valuable, but the much more important thing is our safety, health, and well-being."

I'm picturing my most overwhelmed student with the least amount of access to technology, and going from there.

This morning I recalled something I wrote with Peter Kaufman many years ago. It was a short piece about navigating the path from tenure-track to tenure. One of our tips was to "Jettison your perfectionist tendencies." Peter wrote that tip. I know that because "jettison" wasn't in my vocabulary, lol. I think the advice applies to teaching right now. I don't think we should feel pressure to be all-stars in this moment. I care deeply about teaching and learning but I'm fighting back my perfectionist inclinations and keeping things in perspective. We're all adjusting to rapidly changing circumstances and struggling to comprehend what's happening and wondering if in fact things might not "go back to normal." My plan is to not overdo it in the teaching realm, to make the workload very manageable for students, and to be extremely lenient and accommodating. I'd rather be known as someone who "went too easy on students" than someone who dumped work on them and added to their stress and anxiety.

Monday, February 3, 2020

During Discussions about Gender and Socially Constructed Ideas

When we're talking gender in the classroom (very often), occasionally color will be brought up as something that's socially constructed. I like to quote my nine-year-old, who claims that "pink is a girl color." I argue with him on the point until I realize I'm arguing with a child. But I get my two cents in by saying that people can like whatever color they want. Anyhow, celebrities push the boundaries on fashion and color, and I remain impressed with the pink cowboy outfit that Lil Nas X wore to the 2020 Grammys. It's something I mentioned in class last week when we talked about doing gender. [Source of pic is from the article I've linked to].

Also: check out the pink hat and pink and blue jacket worn by a member of Griselda (from Buffalo, my metro region!) during their recent performance on the Jimmy Fallon show. [Source of pic is from the article I've linked to].

Related reading: "When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?"

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Recommended - Alison Stewart's Interview of Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan

Alison Stewart's Interview of Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan is a conversation worth your time.

A few highlights:

Around the 13 minute mark of the interview, there's an insightful exchange about physical spaces. Think dorm rooms. As Hirsch points out, there are usually four furniture items in a dorm room: bed, desk, chair, bureau. "The only comfortable place to sit is a bed," she says, adding, "beds have meanings." Students need to learn not to make assumptions in a situation when someone sits on their bed. Maybe a person just wants to sit on the bed, and nothing else. In addition, she suggests that colleges create more spaces for students to hang out and socialize in the late hours. Khan then talks about power and control of spaces. For example, older students tend to have more control over spaces. He says: "Younger students are often propelled into spaces controlled by older students and that really can put them at risk."

Near the 18 minute mark, Stewart asks for a definition of "sexual citizens," and Khan answers: "Sexual citizenship is the idea that people have the right to say yes and the right to say no to sex, and that they need to recognize the equivalent rights in other people." A few minutes later, Khan emphasizes the importance of recognizing the humanity of other people (in contrast to, for example, seeing sex as a game or seeing a sexual experience as an accomplishment or triumph).

At 23 minutes, there's a great contribution to the conversation from a caller who works as a consent educator. She talks about the need to reframe sexual experiences to prioritize the safety and pleasure of one's partner. Hirsch responds by addressing the need to improve the way sex education is taught (she says sex ed should be more comprehensive, more inclusive, start earlier, and include teaching people to say no to sex they don't want to have).

On the subject of education, Khan brings up driver's ed as an analogy around the 27 minute mark. It takes a lot of work to learn how to safely drive! Sex ed, he says, is mainly about biology..."It's sort of like imagining that you can teach people to drive by talking to them about spark plugs, it's not particularly helpful!" He also talks about the importance of offering comprehensive sex education, one that empowers young people to talk about sex and to express themselves. And we need safer sexual environments. Back to the driving analogy--like he says, speed bumps help people drive safely!

There's much more in the interview, this is just a glimpse into it, I encourage listening to all of it!

Friday, January 17, 2020

First Day Jitters

20  years teaching and I still get nervous on the first day. That means I still care and I'm still shy. It takes a while to get my teaching voice in shape and to relax and show my personality. I pass out the syllabus on the first day and all that regular jazz and I normally have a set plan with notes and bullet points but on the first day of my Social Stratification class next week I'm going to try to be loose and get right into a conversation with students. Before introducing the subject matter I think I'll ask them to give their thoughts and rough definitions of social class and ask them what they think and know about inequality. And ask them what they see in media (all media, including social media) that informs their views about social class and inequality. I think that will start the course on a good note and establish an environment where we talk and listen to each other. Sure I'll cover the assignments and expectations for the course and other professor stuff a professor does but I think the really important thing is to get them talking and thinking on day 1. I think sometimes we look for fun "icebreakers" but if you think about it, when students are talking and listening to each other the ice is being broken.

Friday, October 11, 2019

When 200 Words Will Do

I love to write but the words don't flow like they used to. A few years ago I was hit hard by writer's block while working on something with Peter Kaufman. Peter was kind and bighearted and offered soothing advice. "Little by little" he said to me, and those were the right words at the right time. I still struggled to get the words out but I wrote what I could, even if it took hours to write a few decent paragraphs.

I busted out of my writer's block after a good night out drinking with my best friend, a night that inspired a short story "Oil on Canvas" that was published at the Sociological Review site.

Since then I've been able to get myself in a better writing groove, though it's much more slow going than what I used to produce years ago. I'll take what I can get. I write when I'm moved. There are countless documents to nowhere. Sometimes the words don't add up. Sometimes they do.

I had some weird dreams last night and hit the couch around 2:00 this morning. I typed some words using Notes on my iPhone. It's become one of my favorite ways to not lose words. Before iPhones I made a habit of keeping a notebook in my car so I could scribble down a thought before I'd lose it. I like to drive. I have a 45 minute ride to work and there's usually sentences that pop into my head, so I write them down while I'm driving. Back to the early hours of this morning...I tapped in more words into Notes, drifted off to sleep, and during the drive to work I wrote more words into my notebook. Older habits meeting new habits.

I'm excited because this is the start to a story I've been trying to write for many years. I've never been able to start it in a way that felt good. I looked at the words on my phone and they seemed like a lot. I uploaded the text to my computer to put them in a Word document. Altogether today I wrote 200 words of the story. I would have guessed I wrote more. But that's okay. I like what I've written so far. Little by little I'll get there. 200 words will do.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The American Sociological Association Meeting in Buffalo

The next several meetings of the American Sociological Meeting will be in expensive cities: San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, and back to New York in 2026. It looks like the most reasonably priced place is Philadelphia in 2023. It's understandable that you want the host city to be an exciting city that people want to travel to. But sociologists must also be struggling with cognitive dissonance. We study inequality for a living. The idea of our national conference taking place in fancy hotels in glamorous cities doesn't match up with our concerns about severe economic inequalities. What about folks who don't get generous (or even modest) travel funds? Can graduate students, adjuncts, and newer faculty afford to attend the conference for 2, 3 or more days?

Are sociologists willing to attend ASA conferences in smaller, less expensive cities? What about a place like Buffalo, NY, which has BEAUTIFUL weather in August (75 degrees here today, baby) and is a 20 minute drive to the majestic Niagara Falls?!?! Don't forget about W.E.B. Du Bois and the Niagara Movement! Shouldn't sociologists take interest in Buffalo, a place that has experienced deindustrialization and population loss? Buffalo has amazing architecture, cool public art, great art museums, lovely parks, reasonably placed hotels, and a ton of places to eat and drink. Yes, the chicken wings are the best you'll ever find, but there's much more to Buffalo than wings and pizza.

Fellow sociologists, we can continue to voice our concerns about overpaying to attend conferences in prominent cities, or we can change our ways. We really should have a serious conversation about where our national conference takes place.