30 March 2009

A peek into my long-term plans

I tend to forget to keep people outside of school in the loop on my career plans, or, what I'm actually going to do with my life. I just came across this bit that I wrote in an application essay to be a teaching assistant for next fall, and I think it's a nice bite-size encapsulation of why I'm here and what I'm doing. I thought I'd share it with you.

Intentions, information, and action: these three elements are all necessary in any effort toward social justice and sustainable change. In my experiences as a community organizer, educator, and activist, I have found this to be true time and again. Too often, well intentioned people take action on an issue of injustice, but lack the necessary type or degree of information to ensure success. In some cases, the gap between success and failure is a matter of misunderstanding the social or historical context around the issue; in others, a lack of access to the best available data. In either case, the gap between success and failure is also a gap between mapping one's intentions to "make things better" onto appropriate action to enact change. To bridge these gaps, we need better information.

It is with this understanding that I am pursuing a degree in Library and Information Services, as well as a Certificate in LGBTQ Studies. Librarianship lines every path toward social justice: encouraging critical thinking and information literacy, supporting individuals' and communities' desires and needs to absorb information about their lives, fostering a positive environment for learning, promoting creativity and problem solving skills, and on and on.

It goes on from there to talk about connections to teaching and why I'd be a good GSI (graduate student instructor), but that bit up there is the real kernel of my opus magnum. You'll get to hear more about the practical side of it soon, when I write up the proposal for my thesis research. Stay tuned!

26 March 2009

Loving Ann Arbor, in spite of itself?

I got a really insightful and spot-on question from a prospective SI student, and I thought I'd share the question and my response.

"I went to undergrad at a liberal arts college... where the demographics of the school and town are similar. I am concerned about being a minority student in super rich super white Ann Arbor.

Is race/class a ham-stringing issue in Ann Arbor?"
And here's what I wrote back:

That is a fantastic question. The short answer is this: rumors of Ann Arbor's "political correctness"* have been highly exaggerated.

And I mean this from two perspectives:

1. There are a ton of cool/radical people of color, anti-racist white people, and anti-classist people of all types in town; and
2. Racism/classism are definitely present, but they're not as hidden as one might imagine they are--IMO, just like everywhere else.

There are people who misuse and abuse the concept of "diversity", and there are also a vast number of people who engage and celebrate diversity. AA gets a lot of criticism from people on the right for being too progressive (DP benefits, affirmative action stuff) and from people on the left for being too white-liberal. Here are some thoughts on that:

While AA isn't a large city, it's a highly decentralized one. So it can be hard for people new to the town/school to find a niche, /especially/ if they're coming in as anything besides a freshman. There are FANTASTIC student affairs/student development programs to help freshmen/undergrads adjust to being grown & sexy and learn about social justice and oppression and privilege and intersectionality and all that good stuff. But of course, not everyone gets tracked in that way, so there's a fair amount of resistance that a body might encounter in class or something like that. Still, there is a strong social justice awareness and infrastructure within the division of student affairs, and among the student services staff in most schools and programs (especially at SI).

And then on the grad level, people come from all over the world with all different perspectives-- it's one of the risks of having such highly ranked programs. Pretty much every grad program we have is a top-10 (or top 25 at worst). In a lot of ways, the "leaders and best" moniker really rings true. And, of course (again), this means that we get a bunch of different perspectives, including libertarians and straight-up conservatives and super-right-wing people. We have a super highly ranked business school, which means more conservative people concentrated there, but we also have a very well regarded programs in American Culture (which includes various ethnic studies), Women's Studies, Social Work (#1 consistently for as long as I can remember), and things like that, so we get a lot of freaking awesome/radical/activist/socially aware change-making type folks.

Overall, I think Ann Arbor is an awesome place to live. And I'm saying this as an anarchist trans POC from a rural background. I did my undergrad here, and loved it enough to come back for grad school after living in LA.

I'll be honest: we need more people of color in SI-- and in librarianship in general, and positions of public leadership, and everywhere else. So while I think there are definitely challenges to living in AA as a person of color with a class consciousness, I don't think they're *unique* to this town, and it's a lot better in that regard than most places I've lived. Ann Arbor is not really as rich or as white as it may seem on paper. And, in my opinion, the only way to shape it more towards a thorough social justice orientation is to bring more people in to build educational capacity and raise the level of critical consciousness & discourse.

So, wow, that was a lot! You can tell it's something I think about a lot. :)

Let me know what you think--I'd love to continue this conversation. Also, I think I'd like to post this letter on my blog, because a lot of people share your concerns--is that cool?


*I'm using PC in the co-opted sense, not the original meaning.
I was really glad to get the question, because it made me think critically and reflectively about what frustrates me about being here, but what keeps bringing me back as well.

13 March 2009

Lost in Translation, part 1

When Shri Rama asked Valmiki as to where should he reside as he had abandoned Ayodhya, Valmiki specified about 14 types of residences which were fit for him to reside and these 14 residences covered all the ways and paths of devotion.

Valmiki said:-

1) you should reside along with Sita and Lakshman where people are not tired of listening to your biographical narrative. [source]

I think it's safe to say that literal translations are pretty useless in the realm of spirituality/religion/mysticism/anything that's not literal in the first place.

I was actually just saying this to Andrew the other night, when I was trying to find the full Holi story online so I could tell it to him without missing important details and then having to jump around in the narrative to patch things together.

I've noticed that English tellings of Hindu stories tend to tell either only the literal (see: 1), and therefore miss the spiritual, or only the spiritual, but in a really colonial reductionist/positivist way, and therefore miss the point of its being a story. The former mistakes the model for the phenomenon, as Priya would say (though in this case I might suggest that, more precisely, it's mistaking the vehicle for the tenor). The latter disabuses the notion that the tenor and vehicle have anything to do with each other--it's inconceivable that a cup might be the best way to hold water for drinking, because the focus is on drinking the water.

I'm a big fan of the way Hinduism has been recorded. A word is a symbol that represents the meaning of an abstract concept in order to communicate it outside the self; similarly, a story encapsulates and communicates a more complex concept or idea, or set of them in relation to each other.

And if they hadn't specifically intended to communicate Hinduism that way--subliming conceptions of divinity, life, everything, and universal connectedness into the plot and characters in a story--those old yogis would have just written out some commandments and essays and been done with it.