It's Not WHAT Academics Read...It's That They DON'T
by Kathleen Lowrey
As an academic, I am leery of efforts to institutionally correct for what is broadly described as “wokeness” in higher education. Such attempts aim at substituting one literature with another literature: instead of, say, “critical race theory”, universities should promote the greatest hits of the Western canon (sometimes shallowly conceived of as consisting of something like a combination of Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Sowell).
Having been a professor for over twenty years, my experience among academics is not
that they are reading and teaching the wrong things but that they simply don’t read
widely enough. What surprises me about my colleagues is not that they express views
with which I disagree but that they so consistently express views which are provincial,
out of date, and poorly informed.
When it comes to debates around sex and gender, many of them give the distinct impression of having spent the past decade dwelling under a suburban glam rock. Take an email I received from a recently-appointed university administrator who is also a feminist professor of philosophy at the Canadian institution of higher education at which I am employed, the University of Alberta:
You are invited to attend the Gender Pronouns and Cultures of Respect Virtual Training Session on March 13 from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. This session will be for faculty members only.
The Faculty of Arts has been providing a number of these sessions hosted by Dr. Tommy Mayberry from the Centre for Teaching and Learning.
We’ve all done it. Said the wrong pronoun, used the wrong name, and/or otherwise referred to someone in some sexed/gendered way and immediately wished we could take it back. (And, guess what? We are all going to do it – we’re all human; we all make mistakes.) So, how can we get ahead of these mistakes in our daily communication practices and activate in ourselves inclusive ways of thinking and speaking for gender and sexed identities?
In this session, we’ll start with some grammar and linguistic history to identify where these words come from in our language and how they work (and don’t work), and then we’ll discuss impacts and impasses of privilege and inclusivity to get us into some strategies for positive engagement with gender pronouns. We’ll wrap up by highlighting pronoun awareness and cultures of respect to ultimately reflect on whiteness, marginalization, trauma, and continued struggle.
Please register for the Faculty member session HERE.
Everyone is encouraged to attend.
Any questions please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
MARIE-EVE MORIN, Dr Phil Vice-Dean and Professor of Philosophy she/her
What is striking about this email is its earnest conviction in its own cutting-edge hipness. No one reasonably conversant with the state of the women’s rights debate around pronoun usage could write this sort of chirpy evangelical messaging about learning the one true way to avoid “mistakes” in this domain. It gets worse when you click on the embedded link to learn about the presenter.
Tommy Mayberry, PhD
Executive Director email@example.com
Tommy (he/she/they) is a scholar, professional, and academic drag queen with a background in diverse teaching and instructional facilitation in academia as well as industry. As a sought-after speaker on the topics of “Gender Pronouns and Cultures of Respect” as well as visual pedagogies and LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, Tommy has presented their scholarship and research findings nationally as well as internationally, in places such as Oxford, Washington DC, Tokyo, and Honolulu. They strive to embody and model decolonial, anti-racist, and equity-driven intersectional visions and leadership.
Tommy was a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow during their PhD work and is also a recipient of the University of Waterloo’s Award for Exceptional Teaching. They are co-editor of the book RuPedagogies of Realness: Essays on Teaching and Learning with RuPaul's Drag Race (McFarland 2022), and they serve as a founding incorporator and director of a new
not-for-profit organization for educational development across this nation we now call Canada.
The cheesy, cornball womanface in Dr. Mayberry’s side-by-side profile photos is, for anyone who has read anything remotely critical of gender ideology, excruciatingly embarrassing. It is a cruelly obvious indicator of a lack of political and intellectual sophistication to suppose it to be dashingly avant garde, as a great number of my university colleagues, lamentably, do.
Dr. Mayberry was appointed to the directorship of the U of A’s CTL while still ABD (that is to say, before he had earned his PhD, and was still enrolled in a doctoral program). Now note the qualifications of his second in command:
Cosette Lemelin, PhD, MEd
Assistant Director firstname.lastname@example.org
Cosette has 18 years of experience in Educational Developer roles in a 20-year career in adult and post-secondary education at three universities (the University of Winnipeg, the University of Manitoba, and the University of Alberta). She has a Master of Education (2003) and PhD in Education (2016) focusing on adult and post-secondary education. Cosette’s unique specialities include teaching within health professions education (with a focus on clinical practicum teaching and learning), classroom management, and varying aspects of interpersonal communication in teaching and learning. Cosette calls herself a “Teaching Coach” for university instructors and faculty members striving to improve their teaching one class, one activity, or one interaction at a time. Cosette is the 2019 recipient of the University of Alberta Excellence in Learning Support Award, and received the award again in 2020 with the CTL Team as part of their COVID 19 Response.
Dr. Lemelin (whom, let me hasten to say, is someone I don’t know at all – I don’t want the observations I make here to get her in trouble at work) is a woman who earned her doctorate twenty years ago and who has two decades of experience in the field. That she is relegated at this University centre to second banana, supervised by a much younger, much less experienced man, isn’t cool and cutting edge. It’s a regressive self-own at an institution run by scholars too callow to notice.
The styling Mayberry has chosen -- a sparkly purple top with stars, a ton of slap, a long tressed fire engine red wig – would be ludicrously impossible workplace wear for a woman academic. You don’t have to have read very widely or deeply in the debates around sex and gender to know this. The fact that my colleagues don’t immediately notice it tells you everything you need to know about their reading habits: that they are embarrassingly shallow.
Universities exist to allow people – some for a few years, others for their entire adult lives – to assimilate old knowledge and generate new knowledge. When the people running them begin to behave in ways that make it self-evident that they aren’t bothering on either count, the answer is not to officially switch out the reading you wish they were doing; it’s to realize they are only just barely ever reading anything at all.
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