What have I learned….

I went to the Oxford dictionary and looked up the definition of Pedagogy.  The most applicable entry was “The art, occupation, or practice of teaching.”   I want to be a better teacher when it comes to being in the classroom but also in the real world.  I want to explain technical concepts better for a person that does not have the background.    That is what I do in my real life for my job but also as a parent.

I have learned a lot in the class.  I have collected a lot of “dots” borrowing the terminology from Seth Godin put in his TedTalk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXpbONjV1Jc).  I am trying to collect these dots because this world of the university is foreign to me.    I have spent a lifetime exploring the world around me after growing in ultra-rural Montana.   I lived in upstate New York, the big city of Atlanta, the rocket building city of Huntsville, Alabama, and now the mountains of Virginia.   So, I am not afraid of going to places where I am not comfortable and sometimes not welcomed.   During my travels, I learned to be quiet and listen to the world around me.   This class was just another journey into a world around me because I do not have the background.

I came into the class thinking that I was going to learn the concepts and tips to be a better teacher in the classroom.  There was some of that with the problem based learning and the networking sections.  I think side-ways learningn is included but I am just confused how it works.   However, the vast majority of the concepts of the class is social justice.   I was not familiar with all the concepts and the nuisances of the application of social justice into the classroom.    I got to learn communist ideology from Brazil to environmental activism in Appalachia to black liberation book club.   I heard the terms like “revolution” , “the need to take over the system”, and “you can’t separate social justice from pedagogy.”

When I came to Virginia Tech, I was advised by multiple people inside and outside of the ivory tower of academia  that I need to check my political beliefs at the gates of the university.   In the university that proclaims inclusion and diversity, my opinion is not welcomed.  I watched in the group discussions that if you don’t hold the social justice line that you were debated down.  This class is just a bigger microcosm of today’s society.   There is no civility.   The university is not a place to express your opinion unless you hold the party line.

So, I connected the dots.  I learned that I do not belong in the hallowed halls of the liberal arts university instead of learning how to put a better powerpoint presentation together for a lecture.





An evolutionary psychology approach to deconstructing bias

The reading I did for this week’s discussions covered many topics, of which, I liked Shankar Vendantam’s hidden brain post best. ( S.V is currently producing a podcast for NPR covering social sciences). The main point S.V raises is that bias is traceable to a cognitive process where our mind is trained to see patterns in repeated inputs it receives. So, our first reactions to meeting people who are considerably different from us is fear, suspicion and in general involuntary but  negative judgement.

I think there is more to this argument, as I will try to explain, and back up my thoughts with a few sources. What evolution has done to our minds is that it has wired it so that the tools for detecting confirmation are far more powerful than tools for logical thinking, especially if it requires going against our already re-inforced convictions ( This is the main argument here, and the examples are fascinating!). To make things worse, human beings’ cognitive apparatus is evolved to to scream danger when we find ourselves in new environments. This has been vital for our survival for many years, but is not helping us now, living in a cosmopolitan era. The solution (until our bodies find time to catch up) is to identify and resist and diffuse these misconceptions.

“The Blog” as a living, breathing, evolving body of work

The featured image is of saucer magnolias blossoming in front of Burruss Hall. Like these blossoms that are finally coming into their season, we graduate students are future faculty and we are beginning to come into our own as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the role of a blog is to academia. In this graduate class, like many others across Tech’s campus, blogging is a requirement for the course. Professors point to the blog as a space for sharing ideas, for collaboration, for practicing writing, and for developing a digital presence–kind of like a next generation CV or resumé.  I can get on board for all of that.

I have found that implementing blogging in classroom pedagogy can be difficult without adequate support and reinforcement. For the classroom blogging culture to take off, the instructor has to facilitate the prompts and then make space during course time to talk about the responses. I’m glad I started blogging again when I began graduate school. It has forced me to practice my writing skills on a regular basis–which is priceless, really. Above all else, the blog is a tool.

In a recent article I found by Sara Kjellberg “I am a blogging researcher: motivations for blogging in a scholarly context” she writes about the transformation in academic writing to include non-traditional outlets (such as blogging) in a researcher’s body of work–and she asks the question “Why do people blog?” In her article, she cites different ways that researchers describe how their blogs function: disseminating content, expressing opinions, writing, interacting, and creating relationships. While many may balk at the idea of actually expressing an opinion, I find the concept refreshing and I wish that more academics would exercise their right to free speech. I question whether we can have rigorous discourse without confronting our own bias–we can’t very well bring something to the table to discuss if we are afraid to even speak at all. I liked Kjellberg’s abstract, so I’ll share it. And while it is a little dated now, I think it’s an interesting starting point in the debate over whether blogging should count.

The number of scholarly blogs on the Web is increasing. In this article, a group of researchers are asked to describe the functions that their blogs serve for them as researchers. The results show that their blogging is motivated by the possibility to share knowledge, that the blog aids creativity, and that it provides a feeling of being connected in their work as researchers. In particular, the blog serves as a creative catalyst in the work of the researchers, where writing forms a large part, which is not as prominent as a motivation in other professional blogs. In addition, the analysis brings out the blog’s combination of functions and the possibility it offers to reach multiple audiences as a motivating factor that makes the blog different from other kinds of communication in scholarly contexts. (S. Kjellberg, 2010)

Recently, there has been no shortage of discourse about what constitutes scholarly writing–or blogging for that matter. A quick VT library search for recent publications (published in the last 12 months) yielded a staggering number of results. For the search terms “academic writing” with scholarly & peer-review filters, 40,447 items were produced. 38,200 of these were journal articles. Using the same parameters, the search terms “publish” and “journal” together produced 30,246 results with 30,009 being journal articles.  “Blogging” with the same parameters (except no time limit) produced 119,304 results. With a 12 month cap, there were 9,832. “Blogging” + “scholarly” produced 2,192; restricting results to the last year yielded 134. Flying at 30,000 feet, these numbers are huge. Every discipline has their own way of talking about the place, use, and framework of blogs in the academy. How do we even make sense of it all?

In academe–at least for us up-and-coming scholars– we are under intense pressure to publish. All I hear all the time from every direction is “publish publish publish.” The buzz phrase is “publish or perish” and there is no shortage of writing about that, either! I know I should be doing more–or at least getting into it–but publication is a lengthy process and frankly, I’m new. I just haven’t cut my teeth yet.

Not too long ago, the Architecture program was hosting applicant interviews for a faculty vacancy, and some of the applicants (JR faculty) were boasting upwards of 30 or more publications. And all-stars in the field are claiming 150+ publications over a 25-30 year career! That figure is scary to a graduate student like myself or anyone in my cohort–because we worry that if our merit is distilled down to just one factor (publications) that might tip the scales in our favor, then we are all in trouble. I don’t believe this will be a problem for me forever, because with time and continued research (funding), I will be able to produce those coveted publications.

In spite of this, I know that I shouldn’t just rely on having publications in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals–and I certainly can’t just wait around as I rack these up over time. No, that doesn’t make sense for me. If that were the case, I could probably expect to produce 8-12 +/- papers during my time in graduate school. Maybe? For me this isn’t enough. I want to engage in another style of writing and communication. I want to produce something to show that I haven’t been sitting around with ideas locked in my head. I want to share; the solution that works for me is blogging.

I think blogs are great. They offer a means to share research and writing with the public (isn’t that part of a land-grant institutions’ mission?) Blogs are typically user-friendly and come with many features and tools that can help the author communicate their ideas in a rich format. No, they’re not peer-reviewed in the way that journals are peer-reviewed, but I invite anyone and everyone who finds there way to my blog to comment, challenge, and participate in the conversation.

While some authors may worry about perfecting each post, I am not. This is a flexible platform. If I make mistakes, I can fix them. If I change my mind or choose to take a different stance, I am able. This blog is my place to share ideas and reflections on topics related to science, landscape, and higher education–to name a few. It is a testament to evolving ideas, new concepts, and growth as a whole person. I like to think of this blog as proof that there is progression in academic writing and thinking; the blog is an opportunity to visit research ideas before full projects are conceived.

When the time comes for me to be weighed and measured, I hope that my blog is part of that collection of tangibles reviewed by search committees. It is important that they know and understand who they’re getting, for instance, and a blog is the perfect place to begin to tell that part of my story.

This post’s featured image was taken by me this morning as I was walking into my building (Burruss–Northwest side facing Cowgill Hall). Isn’t Spring wonderful? Last year, freezing conditions took all these beautiful blossoms before the trees had time to put on their full show. Fingers are crossed that we are allowed to actually enjoy them this year!

Difficult Conversations: Report from CHEP

Members of the Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence partnered with the Academy of Teaching Excellence to host a packed session on facilitating difficult conversations in the classroom at last week’s Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy. The write-up is below: Standing room only for the @VT_GrATE panel discussion on having difficult conversations in the classroom! @VTCIDER …

Log Jam No More

Never mind why it’s been so long since I’ve posted (insert long whine here about being over-extended, distracted, and just plain tired….). It’s the first week of #OpenLearning18 and Mindful Learning week in GEDI. Causes to celebrate for sure. And as my planner helpfully notes, “Done is better than perfect.”  So…… While everyone is moving …

Seeking Knowledge on Diversity & Inclusion

I’m taking a course this semester called Diversity for Global Society. It is part of the Virginia Tech Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education Initiative and this course is designed to introduce students to concepts in diversity, inclusion, and equity and how they relate to higher education–both here at Virginia Tech and from a global perspective.

The environment in which a person grows up and the culture experienced therein results in many underlying assumptions, misconceptions, and biases that influence the way a person experiences the present. This background often influences a person’s experience of diversity, inclusion, race/racism, class, economy, and equity. In this class, we address these issues head-on in a way that helps us grow into better people who are equipped with the knowledge to be able to navigate the world as global citizens.

I’ll be frank. As I’m writing this entry, I keep thinking, “there’s no way that I can describe this course better or more concisely as it is described in the syllabus.” So here is an excerpt from the GRAD 5214 syllabus:




So this post is about a couple of things.

  1. First, as I mentioned above, I am taking Diversity for Global Society this semester. It is being taught by Christian Matheis, the Director of Recruitment and Diversity Initatives at the Graduate School.
  2. Second, I wanted to share my experience at the James Thomas lecture that was hosted by the sociology department last Friday.
  3. And the third thing I wanted to share was a couple of articles I found relating to some civil rights incidents that Thomas discussed in his talk.

I know that my understanding of diversity and inclusion will likely change over the course of the semester as I learn more about topics, approaches, and the lived experiences of those who confront/are confronted with diversity issues in their day to day life. With that in mind, please remember that I am human. I am trying to grow as a person. I may make mistakes along this journey, but I am trying to learn the appropriate language, terminology, and frame of mind required to truly see diversity and inclusion in a way that I haven’t been able to before. Join me this semester for an exploration into what it means to be a global citizen and why diversity is so important for the success of a global community.

I went to James Thomas’ (University of Mississippi) public lecture “Diversity Regimes in Higher Education” last Friday. It was forwarded along by the professor and I am really very glad that I went.  His lecture provided a more in-depth understanding of how diversity and inclusion initiatives and programs are playing out in higher ed (at least at the one particular university in his study, “Diversity University”).

He talked for an hour and a half, setting up his lecture with stories, quotes, and memorable moments from his experience. As an ethnographer, he stated that it was the best way he knew how to relate what he had observed and had come to understand.

I will (attempt to) share with you all the notes that I took from his lecture. More or less as I wrote them. I took pictures of lecture slides, too… and I pretty much captured all that he shared with the audience. I did this for two reasons: to share with my class and so that I would have a take-away to have on-hand for future reflection. I want to preface this with the understanding that I am attributing these ideas to Professor Thomas. I was only jotting down statements or points he was making as they struck a chord with me. I wanted to be able to share my experience with the class and so this is just rough note-taking and for the most part, lacks any synthesis from me. With that said, understand that some of what I include may be a direct quote but unless I know it is from an indicator in my notes, I will generally not be including ” ” here.

So without further ado, here are the take-away points and interesting highlights from Thomas’ lecture “Diversity Regimes in Higher Education” starting with photos I took during the talk of his slides. I cut half of one off close to the end–not sure how that happened!






Notes I jotted down during the lecture:

  • History: 1962 Battle of Oxford, James Meredith; 2012 Obama’s reelection–both inspired riots
    • viral racist tweets
    • 40-50 students transformed into a crowd of hundreds
  • University of Mississippi claiming strides for diversity & inclusion, but body/public behavior are in conflict
    • Acts don’t fit the culture
    • Cognitive dissonance between what is being said, done and understood
  • Fatigue is an issue (with respect to whites being tired of talking about race.)
  • Diversity’s articulation process–how it is communicated–matters
  • Development of values can help ease the issue
  • Education empowers us to rise–or so U.S. Americans believe
  • Racially diverse campuses are better for white students than minorities. Diverse campuses teach white students about other cultures; minority students still face daily. microaggressions & isolation
  • By the numbers, colleges are more diverse, but campuses are still experiencing racial hostility & it is everywhere.
  • Minority faculty have similar experiences as students. (Microaggressions, isolation, etc.)
  • His research focused on diversity’s processes; so it can address the underlying issues (looks at diversity workers vs diversity as it is experienced.)
  • “Sociology that makes the familiar strange.”
  • Studied those who were most involved in diversity initatives.
  • Universities must demonstrate policy and efforts toward diversity to fulfill legal obligations without making any actual changes.
  • “Race consciousness” as a concept/state of being/understanding.
  • Diversity & inclusion has been defined, organized and deployed in higher education; there are concerns with engagement issues.
  • Focus on material transformations that must take place to achieve equity, diversity, & inclusion.
  • Question whether the work we are doing is doing what we hope it will–addressing the inequality in higher education (and actually making a difference.)
  • Diversity regimes perpetuate exclusion because they don’t fundamentally change behavior or the institution.
  • If diversity means so many different things, it ends up being so broad it is hard to act on it and/or change policy



  • Absence of oversight & the resultant frustrations.
  • Departments, programs define their own meaning; some focus on diverse educational experiences, diverse geographic background, diverse in race, etc.
  • Any number of criteria can count as diversity.

Staging of Difference


New research he is working on: “Racial Diary Project” where students are asked to record racial incidents–positive or negative and include details on the event.


Thomas brings up important questions that I think we all need to be asking ourselves when it comes to diversity & inclusion (and in general about everything…):

  1. Is the diversity & inclusion work we are doing actually achieving its goals?
  2. How is the result of this diversity experienced by the people who live(d) it?
  3. What can we do to actually make a difference for diversity & inclusion in Higher Ed?


Every time I learn something new, I try to apply that knowledge. On issues related to diversity & inclusion I am no different. I come from Mississippi, but I did not attend the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) nor can I say I am even fluent in all the civil rights history that happened in my home state. I know a few facts here and there, but it has been a long time since I have been an active learner of civil rights history.

(Upon reflection, I realize it’s time now for me to read a primer at least–and make effort to keep that knowledge alive inside me. How can I claim to want to do better if I don’t even understand the past?)

Since the Thomas lecture, I have been researching the events he mentioned that happened on Ole Miss’ campus. I will attempt to tell a little bit of the story about them here and will also offer a couple of interesting links to continue reading about the history of race relations in Oxford, Mississippi.

In 1962, there were riots over desegregation when James H. Meredith attempted to enroll at Ole Miss following a lengthy court battle which resulted in the college being forced to let him attend after it was determined that the only reason why he was denied admission was because he was black. Meredith, a 29 year-old U.S. Air Force serviceman, had to be escorted onto campus by U.S. Marshals, which sparked the riot. Two men were killed. The next day, Meredith was allowed to enroll in classes.

There is a brief synopsis by the History Channel on their This Day in History story from 2010: Riots over desegregation of Ole Miss.

Pressing a little further, I found the most interesting essay written as a reflection on history 50 years later: Legacies of the Battles of Ole Miss: The Meredith Crisis and the 1965 Southern Literary Festival. The author, anonymous, was a first year graduate student when Meredith enrolled and was at Ole Miss during the same time he was. The author describes his experiences as a graduate student and member of the Mississippi National Guard, who was called that day to perform riot control on campus.

An excerpt, the last paragraph:

I conclude with a postscript. This has been an essay about personal history, which, like all history, usually can be understood, if at all, only in retrospect. So I offer a retrospective impression. Flash forward to several years later. I am back on the Ole Miss campus to participate in the annual Faulkner conference. One late afternoon, needing some exercise, I go for a jog around the campus. Returning to the Alumni House on the eastern edge of campus, and now walking, I pass the Lyceum and cross the area which had been the scene of the 1962 riot. The stately columns of the Lyceum are now smooth and white, showing no trace of the bullet marks that were visible for months after the riot. The scene is calm and quiet and clean: no tear gas, no burning vehicles, no angry and screaming mob, no threatened reporters, no uniformed soldiers. A squirrel moves leisurely across the grass; a mockingbird sings her heart out in a nearby oak. Continuing on, I pass a picnic table at which are seated a young man and a young woman, students I presume, sharing a late afternoon snack. Both are African Americans, and they are obviously enjoying themselves: relaxed, laughing, happy in each other’s company—and completely indifferent to the white man walking past. I wonder if they know the bloody history of this spot of ground, if they’ve ever heard of James Meredith or Cleve McDowell or Cleveland Donald or the other blacks who paved the way for their attendance at this institution. Probably not, I suspect, but does that really matter? What matters is that they are here, and welcome, and safe, and unafraid, entirely at ease in this place, subject to no threat of harm or censure. Not fifty yards away stands the Confederate soldier high on his marble pedestal. He too is calm and peaceful in this new world, and I like to think that he now celebrates with us not the divisions and conflicts of the past but the brighter, nobler promises of the future we always yearn and strive for, and sometimes possess.

Thomas also talked about how in 2012 there were riots in response to President Obama’s reelection. On these riots, a Time article “Did University of Mississippi Students really ‘Riot’ over election results? From what I understand, there were both protesters and gawkers at this riot.

I ask myself, what can I do to create a more inclusive environment among my peers and students? Although I geared this post towards topics in Higher Education, I still want to emphasize that diversity and inclusion are principles I value and am committed to supporting.

I strongly believe we are but one race: the human race.

Image Credits

“Diversity in Higher Ed” Vector People

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