CFC Feminist Care Package for Dr. Robin Turner

Dear Dr.  Robin Turner,

Thank you for being! We at the CFC would like to send you love and support as you are being attacked for doing the work that we believe is necessary for changing our world. When we ask our students to understand that everyone is not white, male, heterosexual, we have then begun to challenge not only systems of power but also the deeply ingrained identity constructs through which folks understand themselves. Unfortunately, sometimes we are caught in the crossfire of students’ reactions to being challenged. It is easier to react than to respond.

We hope you elevate your practice of self-care in this moment, that you reject the implicit demand evident in this student’s temper tantrum that you do the emotional labor around his privilege(s) that he is unwilling to do. Our hope is that you are enveloped in a community of supportive colleagues, administrators, friends, and family members, and that you know that your extended network has your back. We love you!

With Crunk Support,

The CFC

P.S. As you take time to care for your self in this moment, we offer the links below to bring a smile to your face or comfort to your heart!

moyazb

moyabailey.com

16 thoughts on “CFC Feminist Care Package for Dr. Robin Turner

  1. amen! stay strong, keep on! there are students out there that do care and are willing to learn how to challenge their privilege.

  2. Wow. Just…wow. I don’t think I’ve never seen someone miss the point so spectacularly before, especially in the face of such a seemingly eloquent response that addressed the author’s points and concerns before the author made them. That stubbornness and inability to look at a worldview besides his own is going to make that kid a great journalist someday unless something changes …

  3. As a sociologist who regularly teaches classes on social theory, epistemology, race and ethnicity, I am sensitive to the importance of preparing students to think critically about knowledge and power. I would need to know more about Dr. Turner’s syllabus, teaching philosophy and specific instructions to her students, but if it is true that she told them to “disregard their ‘American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status’ when writing and speaking in the classroom”, I regard such an invocation as 1) antithetical to the basic premises of black feminist epistemology and 2) an epic fail in critical pedagogy.

    It is not enough to challenge students to question their own privilege: we must also provide them with the conceptual tools they need to critically unpack and understand relations of power. Perhaps Dr. Turner tried to do this (I do not know) but even asking students to “disregard” their dominant positions suggests a facile and flawed understanding of the relationship between power and knowledge, One need only the most cursory reading of Patricia Hill Collins, not to mention Foucault to understand why we cannot just divest ourselves of our positionality and arrive at an “objective” interpretation of the social world and our place within it. The goal should not be to instruct students to speak and write as if their biases don’t exist, but rather to help them understand the relationship between their subjective interpretations and their objective positions. We need to help students understand how we all occupy both dominant and non-dominant positions and how our privileges and disadvantages influence our life chances, knowledge/beliefs and practices.

    Teaching about privilege and power is not easy. I applaud anyone, including Dr. Turner, who attempts to do this in the classroom. But doing this important work effectively requires a critical, thoughtful pedagogical approach — one that prepares students with the conceptual stepping stones they need to understand, question and challenge forms of domination. All forms of “challenging” students are not created equal – and some methods are problematic at best, counterproductive at worse.

    C.

    • I find this comment problematic, disturbing, condescending, and an exercise in complete and totally missing the point. I have not read Dr. Turner’s syllabus, but I’m fairly certain that she didn’t use the language of “disregarding” identity. Here is the language from the syllabus as quoted in the originally linked article:

      “Language that is truly inclusive affirms sexuality, racial and ethnic backgrounds, stages of maturity, and degrees of limiting conditions,” [...];

      “The syllabus of the class, called Political Science 201: Research and Analysis, goes on to ask students “to write and speak in a way that does not assume American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status, etc. to be the norm.’”

      This syllabus did not ask the student to “disregard” anything. That is what he heard when he was merely asked not to assume his experience as normative. Thus, I’m amazed that as someone who seems to be as knowledgeable as you seem to be, that you missed the fact that the student *translated* the professor’s instructions about interrogating his privilege, about not assuming that his whiteness, heterosexuality, and middle-classness was the norm, into a demand that he disregard his identity.

      So before you come over here and try to re-teach Dr. Turner how to do her shit, perhaps you need to think again and then step correct. This is not a helpful comment, because despite the evidence offered to the contrary, it assumes that the white male students re-interpretation of events is in fact the one that is factually accurate. It, thus, equates to a demand for this sister to defend her pedagogical practices in a way that is clearly not called for. While I agree with most of your premises about how privilege operates, I’m scratching my head as to what in this article made you conclude that this was a pedagogical failure rather than a student willfully choosing the interpretation that would allow him to dismiss perspectives that as he mentioned, he was already closed to hearing in the first place.

      Peace.

      • Ditto Crunktastic — I certainly couldn’t have said it better myself!

        “Thus, I’m amazed that as someone who seems to be as knowledgeable as you seem to be…”

        “Seems” is the operative word here. Question — what determines “knowledgeable?” A series of alphabets before or after one’s name? Or is it the ideology/pedagogy taught to all of us by the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy so that we might function as automatons in “their ” world, all the while forgetting what our Mamas and Grandmamas taught us? Just askin’…

        “I’m scratching my head as to what in this article made you conclude that this was a pedagogical failure rather than a student willfully choosing the interpretation that would allow him to dismiss perspectives that as he mentioned, he was already closed to hearing in the first place.”

        All one need do, is read the damned comments on his article to see that was exactly the case! And not only was he “closed to hearing” — all the other undercover racists came slithering out the woodwork with him!

        “The goal should not be to instruct students to speak and write as if their biases don’t exist, but rather to help them understand the relationship between their subjective interpretations and their objective positions.”

        No offense to you instructors out there but first of all, I’m of the opinion that those, whose biases are readily apparent, have no real desire to “understand the relationship between their subjective interpretations and their objective positions.” Now I could be wrong, but my lived experiences have taught me to listen to my Mama and my Grandmama after all these years of thinking I’d found out something new. Just sayin’…

        alwaystheself, “sociologist” that you sound like you are, nobody’s asking that you support Black professionals for the sake of supporting Black professionals, but at least, recognize what’s going on, when it’s going on.

      • My comments below:

        >>While I agree with most of your premises about how privilege operates, I’m scratching my head as to what in this article made you conclude that this was a pedagogical failure rather than a student willfully choosing the interpretation that would allow him to dismiss perspectives that as he mentioned, he was already closed to hearing in the first place.<>So before you come over here and try to re-teach Dr. Turner how to do her shit, perhaps you need to think again and then step correct. <>This is not a helpful comment, because despite the evidence offered to the contrary, it assumes that the white male students re-interpretation of events is in fact the one that is factually accurate.<>It, thus, equates to a demand for this sister to defend her pedagogical practices in a way that is clearly not called for. <<

        I'm not demanding that the sister do anything – I'm saying that what I read about the syllabus strikes me as problematic but conditioning this on the very real possibility that her syllabus and pedagogy anticipate/account for/address the objections I raised. Extending support to a sister under siege is great but it is also important to think critically about best practices for creating inclusive learning environments. Any of us teaching on these topics could face irrational and illegitimate backlash, no matter how thoughtful we are about our pedagogy. But the question still remains: is it a good idea to tell students to write and speak in a way that doesn't presume their own privilege before you have taught them how to think critically about privilege? I think doing so has the potential to unnecessarily put students on the defensive, shut down dialogue and plays into the hands of conservative and reactionary elements. We have to help students do the emotional labor of unpacking their privilege — not expect them to just "get it" before they even show up in our classrooms.

        C.

      • I’m scratching my head wondering how my conditional statements (e.g. “I would need to know more about her syllabus, teaching philosophy” and “if it’s true that..” and “maybe she..” ) come across as conclusions to you.

        Re-reading the article, I think you’re right that the student seems to have fabricated the bit about “disregarding identity”. Nevertheless, I still question the wisdom of including language in the syllabus that instructs students “to write and speak in a way that does not assume American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status, etc. to be the norm.’” The line about using “inclusive language” sounds perfectly reasonable for establishing a classroom environment of mutual respect — but getting students to think critically about their biases is something they have to be taught to grasp. We already know this work is a minefield. Students with reactionary, conservative views — and students who have not yet thought through these issues, but nonetheless feel defensive when having their privilege “called out” — will have a hard time being receptive to the kind of intellectual work Dr. Turner clearly is trying to undertake. It isn’t enough to just dismiss students who are hostile to questioning their privilege — we have to actually think about how to do our work as educators in a way that reach even (and perhaps most importantly) these students. Crafting a syllabus that tells them to not assume their nationality, gender identity, sexuality or race/ethnicity to be the norm before the instructor has actually had an opportunity to provide them with the conceptual tools they will need to understand what norms are is problematic.

        To your pt: “So before you come over here and try to re-teach Dr. Turner how to do her shit, perhaps you need to think again and then step correct..”

        I regard intellectual exchange, disagreement and questioning as interaction among equals – that applies in the classroom and certainly among colleagues. Correcting each other’s “steps” is par for the course.

        With regard to this: “It, thus, equates to a demand for this sister to defend her pedagogical practices in a way that is clearly not called for..”

        I’m not demanding that the sister do anything – I’m saying that what I read about the syllabus strikes me as problematic but conditioning this on the very real possibility that her syllabus and approach accounted for the objections I raised. Extending support to a sister under siege is important but it is also important to think critically about best practices for creating inclusive learning environments. Any of us teaching on these topics could face irrational and illegitimate backlash, no matter how thoughtful we are about our pedagogy. But the question still remains: is it a good idea to tell students to write and speak in a way that doesn’t presume their own privilege before you have taught them how to think critically about privilege? I think doing so has the potential to unnecessarily put students on the defensive, shut down dialogue and plays into the hands of conservative and reactionary elements. We have to help students do the emotional labor of unpacking their privilege — not expect them to just “get it” before they even show up in our classrooms.

        C.

      • I can appreciate an exchange of best practices, but if that was your intent, it was lost in the way you delivered your initial comments, which again assumed that the student’s account was the most accurate one. Moreover, we have no idea what happened on the first day of class when the Professor went through the syllabus and explained her expectations. On the first day of class, I tell students up front that we will interrogate issues of race, class, gender, etc, and that these discussions might make them uncomfortable. I then explain what kind of investment that means from them and what kind of investment that means from me. Why should we assume that Dr. Butler didn’t do the same for her students, particularly if she was thoughtful enough to put this kind of language in the syllabus?

        As you rightly point out, however thoughtful we may be, these sorts of reactions are not extraordinary. They are very regular. And since that is by and large the case, I’m unsure whether her choice to leave the language out of the syllabus would have led to an ultimately different end. As the student said in his own words, he paid his $40,000 to be able to speak as he always has. He was not open to new ideas, and that is why he ran away from the course. I do not think that is Dr. Butler’s responsibility. Even though she is the teacher and he the student, when it comes to interrogations of white male privilege by a Black woman, power dynamics are not so easily assessed as lying fully with the teacher.

        I do not think it is the teacher’s job to do the emotional labor of helping students interrogate privilege. Over the several years that I have taught these courses, I have come to recognize that we can do a great job of teaching students about privilege without being responsible for the temper tantrums they throw. It is not a good idea to ask faculty of color to do or participate in students’ emotional labor. I acknowledge students’ discomfort and affirm their right to that discomfort, but I do not allow it to dictate my teaching or our classroom interactions. The ability to draw these kinds of boundaries is critical to maintaining one’s own health as we do this work.

        So my problem with your comments is that they seem to keep laying this student’s reaction at the feet of Dr. Butler, and while I think we have to be accountable for the effects of our pedagogy, when it comes to privilege, there seems always to be at least one student who ain’t having it. And that is a truth we need to tell, above and beyond whatever individual strategies of improvement we can offer to each other. And we need to allow for the possibility, that in fact, sometimes we as women of color faculty are unfairly targeted and disrespected by the virulent reactions of our students. That has everything to do with the fact that we have to fight for the respect and authority that is automatically afforded to our white and male colleagues. I feel like your comments refuse to acknowledge these shifty power dynamics, in favor of a kind of individualist, self-help approach, which demands at base that we assume that we can always control the outcomes by making sure that our pedagogy is damn near perfect. It’s sort of like an Oprah/Iyanla-esque approach to what is happening here, and while it *feels* empowering, my personal sense of that approach is that it forces women of color faculty to internalize student’s inappropriate reactions as personal failures, than as the frequent and frankly predictable result of challenging a student who apparently has every kind of privilege we can think of.

        To the extent, however, that you made your comment in a spirit of good faith and helpfulness, it is appreciated. And to the extent that I did not fully acknowledge or allow for the possibility of that before, I apologize.

        Peace.

  4. Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you Dr. Turner and CFC for the space(s) you hold open with intentional love that allow us to collectively cross thresholds together as we’ll embark challenges and transmute. I am reminded and inspired to breathe.

  5. Dr. Robin, my dear, young sister…Know that my heart and soul are without a thought, in your corner. I understand your wanting to expand the lessons with which we all have been inculcated. It’s hard work, Sister. But I get, from the wonderful work that the CFC has begun with younger sisters (yes, I’ve been paying attention!), that it is an uphill battle given how we’ve been socialized in this country. Know, from an old sister like me, that what you do with, and inspired by, your circle of sister-friends is immensely appreciated! Keep your head up, “Until We Get There.” And we will, because of Black women like you! Today is Shirley Chisholm’s birthday — continue to be “Unbought and Unbossed!

  6. I mostly cosign your last reply. And yes, I can see how my intentions got lost in the snark.

    To this: “I feel like your comments refuse to acknowledge these shifty power dynamics, in favor of a kind of individualist, self-help approach, which demands at base that we assume that we can always control the outcomes by making sure that our pedagogy is damn near perfect.”

    Point taken – and I think you agree that these shifty power dynamics (real as they are) don’t negate the need to develop best practices for teaching about privilege and anticipating the problems we can encounter, especially with students who are already predisposed not to hear it. To clarify: when I say that we need to help students do the emotional work of unpacking privilege, I don’t mean we should internalize their temper tantrums. I’m simply saying that it’s prudent to lay the conceptual groundwork and create an environment in which they can do this emotional and intellectual work without immediately putting them on the defensive or sabotaging our own objectives. And yes I know there are some students who will be on the defensive no matter what we do or what we say. That said, when I’m teaching about power, race, gender or sexuality, it generally works better when my students are able to tell *me* and *each other* which group categories they think are dominant or non-dominant, explaining their rationales and debating the logics of their arguments in critical dialogue with each other. The list of privileged perspectives that Dr. Turner put in her syllabus is the list that my students put on the board 2 weeks ago. Granted, I’ve taught at fairly liberal institutions – but I suspect my students are routinely able to do this kind of critical questioning of power because I very deliberately lead them through sociological concepts for understanding (and evaluating) theories about the relationship between individuals and collectives, relations of power and constraints on agency. We then begin to apply these general theories of social action and order to unpacking stigma, class, race/ethnicity, gender and so on.

    I agree that we shouldn’t “internalize student’s inappropriate reactions as personal failures” and to be very clear, I am not blaming Dr. Turner for this student’s rant – the rant may or may not have occurred without that language in the syllabus. I’m not talking much about the student himself and the diatribes on the article’s site at all because 1) I don’t have time or interest to wade through the bullshit and 2) even if there hadn’t been a rant, I still would have raised questions about the wisdom of telling students to avoid bias in the syllabus before teaching them how to do it. My audience right now is not this student or the reactionary elements – it’s the choir/community of scholars and interested folk who 1) already know that shifty power issues are at work and 2) are going to have to continue the good fight with the meager tools we have at our disposal. This isn’t a “self-help” Iyanla message of empowerment (though I really am kind of in love with you for applying that vivid label to my comments). My point is measured and pragmatic: We do have choices within the constraints we face and while many things are out of our control, our choices matter and they have consequences.

    “To the extent, however, that you made your comment in a spirit of good faith and helpfulness, it is appreciated. And to the extent that I did not fully acknowledge or allow for the possibility of that before, I apologize.”

    Appreciated.

    C.

    • Thank you sincerely for your intellectual generosity here. I appreciate it, and I’m glad we were able to move this conversation to more productive footing. And for the record, I have read your blog before, and I really appreciate the work you do there and have found it helpful to my own thinking about integrating spirituality and scholarship.

      Peace.

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