Professor ‘Rejects’ the Status Quo: A Case Study

The professor, who is she?

When she first walked in to teach Intro to Gender Studies, students knew she was going to be an engaging professor. She wears scarves in bright colors and prints–a shorthand for collegiate rebellion.

“We need to be critical of the status quo,” claims the white, straight professor. “That’s why, for this course, I’m banning a few words. ‘Society’ is one of them.”

Students, squished at desks that are too small for them, pencils poised, scrawl: “Society is a banned word” at the top of their notes.

Tearing Down the Institutions

Students, paying several thousand dollars to sit in this room, should know that Professor stretches their minds in new and exciting ways. She is only a little emblematic of the capitalist hell scape in which we’ve contained learning. She sends her children to private schools, because public schools–though good enough for everyone else–are not good enough for her precious babies.

Though she believes in free higher ed, she can’t do anything about it. She can only lecture at her students about their privileges. Her own lack of privilege–as a woman, as a white lecturer in a discipline that (necessarily) criticizes whiteness–exemplifies her teachings.

She knows that she strikes the perfect contrast to her student’s entitled attitudes.

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(From The AAUW Gender Studies Symposium)

Inappropriate Student Feedback

Even a perfect professor, however, sometimes receives unnecessarily aggressive feedback. One problematic student, a black woman named Katherine, made the professor’s insides squirm with white guilt. Katherine once called the professor a hypocrite. In front of the class. 

The incident occurred a few months back, when the professor mentioned that she felt that white privilege erased the uniqueness of European cultures, making her feel directionless. “I just feel sad that…white culture is just a kind of void in America.”

Katherine, moved by thousands of years of colonial history and, indeed, facts, interrupted. “Wait. Your ‘white culture’ actively erases other cultures. It’s done that for hundreds of years,” Katherine said, staring at the professor. “…What are you teaching us?”

The professor replied, “Katherine, you’re thinking of this in the wrong way. I’m saying that racism hurts everyone.

“But it hurts some more than others, ‘professor.’ We’re a classroom of mostly white students in a mostly white state–should we maybe try to understand racism before we try to tackle white suffering?” Katherine countered.

“Let’s hear from someone else,” the professor suggested, glancing at the twenty or so white faces in the room.

Then came that word, that awful word, which cut the professor like glass. “You’re a hypocrite,” Katherine said, packing her bags. A few students, following Katherine’s example, exited too.

To the professor’s relief, Katherine dropped the class. Even the best professor can sometimes just have a bad student.

 

Local Man Wondering Why His Mom Is So Stingy

Local Man, earning just enough to pay the bills and to put himself through school, finds himself exhausted by the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps American spirit. “I don’t mind when other people work hard,” he claimed. “It’s just not something I can sustain, you know? I think I deserve some things.”

City on the Hill

After asking for clarification, he shared the story of his great-grandparents; they were English migrants following the church westward to Utah, setting up a farm, and fighting their neighbors for water. They insisted on forming a city on the hill for the world to see and admire, which had to have the nice side effect of making sure that their children would (spiritually and economically) be a step up from everybody else.

Their crumbling headstones read, “Prepare yourselves to follow me.” Local Man saves a photo of those headstones on his phone.

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(Digital Drawing by hawk862, found on DeviantArt)

Great Depressive Episode

Local Man’s grandfather was a bad-ass businessman. He earned his fortune by tooth and nail and grandpapi’s small loan, leaving it to most of his children. He (metaphorically) cut throats and withheld affection from the kiddos, and would scold them for throwing anything away. Local Man never saw the man cry, and he knows his mom probably didn’t either.

Mom, on the other hand, struggles to adhere to her papi’s econo-bad-assery. She only gave love to Local Man, and the city on the hill seemed to deflate when she decided to be an artist. “She’s pretty selfish, when I think about it,” Local Man says.

When I asked Local Man’s Mom, she told me, “That type of optimism ain’t in my wheelhouse. I love Local Man. He’s a good son. But I just can’t sink my life into him, you know? He’s gotta make his own way.”

Time for a Little Feud

“Y’know, some parents try to make their children’s lives better,” Local Man countered. “Tell her that. When I’m a parent, it’s what I’ll do. I’ll understand that my kids deserve my money. That’s the American Dream, you know.”

Your journalist nodded and stammered something about forwarding on an email, or something.

 

Judiciary Candidate Cries Over Pen

After pulling out his calendar from high school, tearfully mentioning how his dad taught him how to keep his schedule in order, everyone knew the candidate stood a chance against the composed, chilling account of his accuser.

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(1982 Calendar Entries, CNN*)

The prosecutor remained silent and silenced.

The session ended, and certain senators held back tears over his incredible performance. “Should we send him flowers? As a boost? He certainly was…pleasing,” murmured the senator from Utah to his compatriot from South Carolina.

Emotions Run High After Hearing

“This is the pen that”–the candidate stopped, a lump in his throat, “I will use to sign my contract when this left-wing conspiracy is inevitably swept under the rug.” The left-wing conspiracy, as it turns out, goes by the virulent name of feminism.

It’s a word that must be growled, spat, and mumbled. A more reserved phrase, perhaps, is “decency”. Or simply the understanding that women deserve to have control over their own bodies in multiple settings, whether it be a medical clinic or, even, as the candidate pushed out through sobs, “P–PJ’s parties.” It’s truly a horrific scheme, propagated by women for millennia who can’t seem to understand their bodies are not their own.

“This pen,” the candidate repeated, his voice wavering, “is not only emblematic of the official codification of a figure who’s shown demonstrable hatred toward women ascending to the highest levels of government”–again–“but of my family. And me.

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The Pen

This pen, your journalist noted, was leaking ink all over his hand, and had left an unsightly purple stain in his breast pocket that he had failed to notice. It was a disposable ballpoint. This tiny tool of violence against women, like the candidate himself, can be found anywhere and be replaced easily. The only difference is one, however, seems to have a penchant for weeping.

So your journalist, unable to contain herself, snatched the pen from his hand. With security on her tail and her briefcase abandoned, she sprinted away into the sunset, and was promptly fired.

After hearing about this incident, the president seemed unconcerned. “We’ll just find another one.”

*https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/26/politics/brett-kavanaugh-1982-calendar/index.html

“Speak English!” Demands Barely Literate Student

As a white person who wants to “do something” but is also too lazy to critique myself too heavily, I’m curious about the U of U’s implicit xenophobia. However, when I researched further, the xenophobia I found was unfortunately…what’s the word? Explicit.

I caught up with Elías two weeks ago at the freshly sterilized Big Ed’s/Publik on Second South and University Street. The space smelled like artisan coffee and veggie burgers. The perfect place for liberal youths to gather.

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(Photo by Francisco Kjolseth, Salt Lake Tribune)

Meeting Elías

When Elías arrived, I pointed out which beers were best. We then sat down, and he told me about himself.

Elías speaks Spanish at home and English at school. Elías’ accent is negligible. He’s an S.I. for Calculus 3 this term, and explains to me that teaching math is nearly identical to teaching a new language. “When you get a question incorrect or look at a string of variables and not understand at all what’s going on, this was exactly what I felt when I started learning English,” he told me. “Teachers would look at sentences I’d write, would say I did something wrong, and I’d feel so frustrated.” He laughed. “It makes me sympathetic, I guess.”

Good Journalism

Because I don’t care about math, or, really, about Elías as a person, it was time to get to the hard-hitting questions. “Do you think your students respect you?”

His brow furrowed. “What?”

Suddenly, Elías’ phone rang. It was his wife. He spoke for a few minutes with her, and I would have eavesdropped, if I knew Spanish.

“Speak English,” barked a student as he walked past our table and out the door. I recognized him! I copy-edit his papers. They’re incomprehensible. It’s like the man vomits disconnected words onto paper.

“What a jerk,” I said, heroically. “I’m glad not all white people are like that.” I was, of course, talking about myself.

He looked away and swigged his beer.

“What the hell? Is this beer…vanilla flavored?”

Unfortunately, it was.

Cranberry Juice: The Only Line of Attack Against Infection

When I interviewed U of U Junior, Kaitelynne, and her roommates, Ladonne and Kielie, they lounged around their downtown apartment. Several advanced chemical engineering textbooks rested on their coffee table.

When I asked about her grades, Kaitelynne shrugged modestly. “A’s, mostly. Those don’t help with basic wellbeing, though.”

Questionable Education Rendering Women Ill (Seriously)

Like most women who were both adolescents in Utah and sexually active later in life, Kaitelynne has a common malady. “Every woman I know–every one–has had a urinary tract infection at some point,” she says. Ladonne and Kielie nodded, and your journalist is not an exception, unfortunately.

“No one told me I should pee after sex,” she told me. “We spent three weeks on sex ed when I was 15 years old. They didn’t tell the gals that one extremely helpful tip.”

Utah’s sex ed is certainly not winning gold stars. This is, after all, the state in which senator John Valentine made the slightly queasy claim that “[sex education] should not be taught in our schools! Those things should be taught in the home.”*

(Picture of John Valentine by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

“It’s funny, because it could literally kill me. And other women,” Kaitelynne said. “I can make a car engine. Literally. I could take a bucket of pipecleaners and some gasoline and make a combustion engine. But I didn’t know that women should have a post-coitus wee.”

What To Do Next

Kaitelynne confessed that she can’t stop rushing to the bathroom, and it constantly feels as though her kidneys are on fire. “I have no health care, I can’t afford a doctor visit or medication, and I’m constantly in pain,” she admitted. “But I can afford cranberry juice. I have six dollars.”

The beverage, costing roughly three dollars for half a gallon (a bargain!), can supposedly lessen UTI symptoms. Rather than sweet, sweet antibiotics, Kaitelynne takes only juice and optimism, the great American cure-all.

Recognizing the importance of solidarity, Ladonne and Kielie set up a gofundme for Kaitelynne. It has currently raised four dollars, enough for only more cranberry juice.

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(Picture of “medicine” by Organicfacts.net)

“Hey, there’s nothing else we can do,” Kaitelynne says, before excusing herself to use the restroom yet again.

–Sarah

*John Oliver. “Sex Education”, Last Week Tonight. Timestamp 6:27. Watch Here.

Morahnic Satire: Local Professor Sponsored by Mountain Dew

Image result for mountain dewMany students are familiar with the “fuck it all” taste of Mountain Dew. It’s a staple of final’s week! But now, at many universities, professors are turning to the drink too. As part of their revolutionary marketing strategy, the soda company now caters to the overworked people on both sides of the classroom.

“We’re really looking forward to breaking this new market,” a Mountain-Dew representative told me, in his cedar-lined office at Pepsico. After offering me a bag of cool ranch Doritos, he continued: “Mountain Dew has always been counter-culture, but we had to get out of our parents’ basements somehow.”

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I Just Can’t Pay My Bills, Local Professor Says

“I worked for twelve years to earn a doctorate, another five years as a post-doc, and finally secured a tenure-track position. But it turns out my stable, prestigious job just can’t quite cut it anymore,” claims Chemistry professor, Dr. Jordan. She continued: “The sponsor is really just to take the edge off.”

Dr. Jordan spends roughly forty hours of her week researching, and another forty teaching. Yet, when pouring over the bank statement with her spouse a few months ago, they found they couldn’t make ends meet.

“At first, it did feel a bit like I was selling my soul to the fresh, lemon-lime beverage,” she admitted. I expected her to perhaps say that her mind had subsequently changed, but she didn’t.

Bizarre Classroom Experience

On Monday morning, Dr. Jordan’s Chem 2010 students neatly filed into their lecture hall. Bottle-shaped cardboard cutouts surrounded them. The Mountain Dew logo had replaced Mendelevium (Md) on the Periodic Table Decals. When I glanced a student’s copy of her syllabus, I noticed it was printed in neon-green ink. Unreadable.

The lecture proceeded restlessly. Dr. Jordan would occasionally pause to take a long, refreshing swig of Diet Dew. Her team of three or four grad students would mimic her.

Image result for woman at a vending machine

When the lecture ended, I caught a shifty-looking student at the door, and asked her what she thought. She stammered something about “late-stage capitalism.” Later, I spotted her at a vending machine, purchasing a Code Red Mountain Dew.

–Sarah

Moronic Satire: A Love Letter to Absurdity

Utah is an amalgam of bizarre politics. A few days ago, I drove from Salt Lake to Cedar City, traversing Utah’s broad swatches of nothingness, incredible scenery, and needlepoint Mormon steeples, all under a haze of wildfire smoke.

Liberal Bubbles?

I was driving to participate in the academic conference of Utah’s Shakespeare Festival, planning to talk about disability in the 400-year-old play, The Tragedy of Richard III. This year, the theme of the festival is “Shakespeare and the Other”; speakers were asked to consider how Shakespeare used POC, women, queer characters…demographic “others”, in other words…to make political statements. I, a bisexual woman uncertain of both her sexuality and her woman-ness, and an agnostic atheist, certainly list severely to the left, so I felt the comfort of an echo chamber. We transformed Shakespeare’s politics into our own, and were allowed to do so, protected by our rich liberal bubble. As I spoke, and as I listened to others speak, the phrases “w*nk fest” and “circle jerk” drifted around my mind.

Hiking Culture?

I would drive from the conference to Hurricane, where my friend and I were staying. The first night, we labored up a desert hill, ditching our sandals, our bare feet clopping up the red stone, to see the sunset and Martian hills from a better perspective. When we reached the top, we saw that new oil rigs sprouted from the broad orange fields, adding to the luxurious natural beauty gilt profit and big, beautiful coughs of sand. My friend and I wheezed from physical and moral stitches, staring at those little phallic pricks in the surface of the earth. “The world is ending,” I said, and she picked up some litter. We found a spot to take pictures anyway, stumbled to our house, and turned up the air conditioning.

Empathy Fodder

Tuesday evening, we saw Shakespeare Fest’s Merchant of Venice; a comedy about money and justice, featuring a Jew, Shylock, who sits right on the line of caricature and humanity. I wondered if there were people in this Utah audience who had never met a Jew before, and knew this evening could alter their sympathies forever, for better or worse.

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(Leslie Brott as Antonio and Lisa Wolpe as Shylock, 2018 Utah Shakespeare Festival)

Thankfully, Cedar City’s version of Shylock—and the Jewish actress who played him—carried a history that demanded empathy. We see Shylock lose his family, his money, and his religion; he’s forcibly converted to Christianity. When we saw this happen, several people in the audience gasped. Tears leaked from my eyes. A few seats down, I heard someone whisper, “This is a comedy?” And, because of its absurdity and futility, it is, even if we can’t laugh at it.

For the past year, my home and the world—with all our echo chambers, our pre-apocalyptic environment, and our trials of empathy—has been a comedy that has pushed tears from my eyes. All of us hang somewhere between futility and choice, and, perhaps most importantly, our own comfort, control, and desire. So, because I despair and panic every time I read a headline, smell smoke, and see drills hover over my home state, it’s time to start making some jokes.

With love,

Sarah B.