One of the points raised in this conversation, about teaching South Asia in the academy, is that we think a lot about how to create safe spaces for students, where they can productively think and learn and grow, but we don’t have nearly that kind of attention to the safety of faculty.
Someone asked me after the panel, “Where is the duty of care for us?”
It’s a good question. There are days when I’m exhausted by the topics that come up in class, days when I’m driving home with Kevin and I comment enviously that it must be so much easier not having to deal with any of this in a math class. I chose this work, of course.
And I think it’s incredibly valuable having me, in my brown, queer, female body, standing up in the front of the room, for a variety of reasons. But it’s tiring. I’m tired, people. And there are days when I am not sure I have the emotional fortitude to engage as directly with the material as I would like.
(It’s easier on the page sometimes, but even there, especially if you’re active on social media, it can get vicious and frightening. Ref: Meghan Elison‘s recent essay on the topic, that I posted to my wall a few days ago: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/writing-with-my-keys-between-my-fingers/)
At the end of this panel, I ended up standing up and talking about a few incidents I’ve experienced recently, where hostile students were aggressive enough towards me that I was actually a little worried; I ended up talking to both Kevin and my chair about those incidents, documenting them. I don’t think either will turn into anything, but it was unnerving.
As we discussed in the room, every single professor of color there has experienced similar incidents, and it seemed, unsurprisingly, that the women among us had experienced more of them. It’s gotten worse in the last year or two. America under Trump, I suppose, and an emboldening of background racist ideas that live in people’s subconscious.
We talked about strategies for combating it, and I do think some of it can be lessened with appropriate framing of the class in the first days of the semester. Talking about background racism up front, discussing privilege, defining the terms. I already do a lot of that, but one professor said she gives them handouts at the start of the semester, and perhaps I should add that too, just so there’s something authoritative on paper that they can reference, rather than perhaps half-listening to the words I’m saying. It might help.
I particularly want to call out something helpful Rahul K. Gairola offered. I’d said that I found myself wondering if I’d done something differently in my teaching that led to these incidents (been more blunt, let a little more of my frustration show, perhaps?) — and he said that that while he appreciated my self-reflection, that I shouldn’t give in to gaslighting, or as he called it, gas-white-ing.
If I thought I was suddenly getting a lot more hostility from a few of my students, I probably was. And it almost certainly had nothing to do with anything different I’d done. The world has changed a little since Trump’s election. That’s all.
So now we resist, and come together in community to strategize, to seek and give support. Sometimes to grieve. I’m glad I was able to take the time to attend SALA, to attend this panel. It made me feel a little less alone. I hadn’t even realized how much these incidents had bothered me, until I got up and started talking about them.
Documenting this all here, in the hopes it will help someone else. Onward, to another semester on Monday. I’m teaching postcolonial lit., and writers of color in SF/F. Plenty of fraught material to come.