Black Lives Matter Vlog Series: What Can I Do?
19 August 2020
In Jewish texts, we have a famous quote: “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it” (R. Tsafon, Pirkei Avot 2:16). So while an individual can’t dismantle systemic mechanisms of oppression, there are things they can do to not “neglect” the work, even if they can’t finish it. Maybe if one person does it, two others will see and change their behavior, then two more for each of them and so on. Here are two concrete things I am committed to doing in all of my classes going forward. As coordinator of my ASL & Deaf Studies program, I will model these, and talk about them at our Fall (virtual) retreat:
Land Acknowledgement statements in all syllabi.
Anti-oppression statements in all syllabi
Since moving to California, I noticed the tendency for events to begin with a Land Acknowledgements. At first I thought it was kind of faddish, tokenizing, but now I understand why they’re important. We should know what groups were originally on the land we’re occupying and we should acknowledge that they did not cede their land. It was forcibly taken. To craft my statement, I googled for different verbiage but ended up using the model from another California State University campus. Read the phrasing from Chico State’s Office of Tribal Relations here.
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, many businesses and individuals have come out strongly for the Black Lives Matter movement, releasing public statements, adding banners to their websites. I don’t want to start back at school, virtually, after a summer when so much has happened. I want to acknowledge what has been going on in our community, in our world since May. But I also didn’t like the idea of having separate statements for every marginalized group. I crafted a more general anti-oppression statement, again based on phrasing from Chico State.
Are these perfect solutions? Probably not. Are they enough? Definitely not. But they’re a starting point. I will listen to feedback after this first semester of including these and make changes as necessary. This isn’t the end of the work. But this is where I’m starting.
Black Lives Matter Vlog Series: Race and Disability: Intersections
14 August 2020
CW: Police brutality
I’ve fallen into the trap of wanting this vlog series to be perfect and profound and then putting off making it because I don’t have some new insight on the intersections of race and disability. So this will likely be short but, for those of you unfamiliar, hopefully a good list of resources.
First, to state the obvious: deaf and disabled POC experience racism and ableism navigating a world designed for white abled people. At a webinar on early intervention back in June, Dr. Laurene Simms from Gallaudet said that one Black and other POC students faced systemic educational barriers during the initial covid crisis. Maybe students had a cell phone but no computer. This impacts how accessible remote services are; some families have more or less access. Trying to learn through Zoom on an iPhone is hard enough. Trying to learn through Zoom on an iPhone in ASL is even more taxing. The size of the device and even number of devices is irrelevant for those who access education auditorily. But for those requiring visual access, having only an iPhone versus the ability to connect one’s laptop to their big flat screen TV is significant.
So not only does the disease covid itself disproportionately affect Black and Latinx individuals, but the impact of covid and physical distancing causes further educational disparities for deaf and disabled students. Racism and ableism in education.
We know that Black people are more likely to be brutalized in “routine” stops than white people. But Black disabled people are even more likely to be impacted. Here is a non-representative sample of this kind of report, starting with the most recent:
Dismantling racism has to involve dismantling ableism and vice versa.
Black Lives Matter Vlog Series -- White Silence = Violence: The moving walkway analogy
17 July 2020
In Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, author Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum uses what I found to be a partiularly helpful analogy to describe the difference between being “non-racist” and “anti-racist”. She says it’s like the moving walkways at the airport. Racism is moving forward and anti-racism is moving back toward the start of the moving walkway. Members of the KKK, for example, are overtly racist. They’re running on the moving walkway. So not only are they running toward the “racism” side of the walkway, their speed is increased by the speed of the moving walkway itself.
Remember that quote from Angela Davis who said “It’s not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist”. Here’s why. Someone who is “non-racist” is standing on the moving walkway. While they’re not racing toward “racism”, they’re still heading in the same direction and they’re not working to stop those who are running toward “racism”. To be anti-racist, you have to move backwards. And you can’t walk because that will result in net zero change. You have to run.
I didn’t come up with this analogy but until reading it, I don’t think I fully understood what the difference was between “non-racist” and “anti-racist.” That is, no doubt, related to the privileges with which I’ve moved through and experienced the world.
What are some ways to run the other way on a moving walkway? What are some ways to be anti-racist? There are lots of ways to do this but here is one example that most people can engage in: Identify how you unknowingly benefit from racism
I think about stories friends have told me about how cops treated them when they were pulled over or how they were followed in a store for no apparent reason. These are experiences I never had. At first I felt shock and disbelief. But on examining these stories further, that’s a clear example of how I’ve benefited from systemic racism.
This is just one example. Identify many examples. Then challenge them. One way is to contact your senators, representatives, your mayor and tell them about the types of changes you want to see in your area.
Black Lives Matter Vlog Series: My background
10 July 2020
CW: racism, implied violence against Black people
As the first installment to my Black Lives Matter series, I want to share a bit of my background. On Juneteenth, my husband and I joined a Zoom Shabbat service led by two Black and queer rabbis. One of them, Rabbi Isaama Goldstein-Stoll, shared how she had been “sitting with discomfort”. She was uncomfortable with the events unfolding in the world around us, both because of her experiences of racial oppression and also the ways in which she’s benefitted from systematic privilege. That’s what I’ve been doing as I’ve contemplated this post. It seems like it boils down to the lyrics of an Indigo Girls song: my “southern blood my heresy // Damn that old confederacy…”.
I was born and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. My earliest memories of anything to do with race are tied to very fuzzy memories of going to Mississippi every winter to visit my dad’s family there. This may have been my young brain making note of the fact that there are more Black people in Laurel, MI than in Albuquerque. By current estimates, roughly 61% of Laurel’s population is Black while only about half that is Black in Albuquerque.
I remember on one trip to Mississippi learning that there were only two high schools in town when my grandparents (both born in 1923) were in school. I jokingly asked “Oh were they called High School 1 and High School 2?” Whoever answered me (mother, father, sister, I don’t remember which) was curt: “No, a white school and a Black school”. Nothing more was said on the topic.
Many years later, I remember sitting in my grandparents living room. My grandfather was telling me about how he wasn’t racist because he “hugged a Black person”; meanwhile, his two brothers in Texas “keep guns in the trunks of their cars”.
I talked with my Dad about these memories recently. He didn’t comment on them specifically but did recount a story that was vaguely familiar. When my dad’s sister was in middle school in the late 1960s, she repeated a certain word she’d heard from her mother (my grandmother) at home; a certain slur beginning with the letter N. Her friends were immediately upset that she’d used such a word.
So that’s my Dad’s side of the family.
The story I’d always heard about my Mom’s family was that we were Spanish, settling in what is now New Mexico back in the 16th century. In middle school or high school, if someone called me Mexican, I’d shoot back, “No, I’m New Mexican and my family is from Spain!” I don’t even know where I got that story. It seems it’s not entirely true. When I asked my mom about this recently, she said that her maternal grandmother had moved to NM from Sonora when she was fairly young and may have already been married at the time. So, even if my grandma’s family are descended from Europeans (and they very likely are, given my 23 and Me report), we are not so removed from Mexico as I’d been led to believe. Independent of this revelation about my great grandmother, my own identity has evolved over time, but that’s a topic for another story.
My maternal grandpa loved languages. An amateur linguist, he grew up bilingual and my grandma, as I understand it, learned English sometime around high school. When I learned this, I was surprised that they’d not passed Spanish on to their children. I felt robbed of my ancestral (and yes, colonial) language and wanted to know why. My grandpa told me that they didn’t want their children made fun of the way they had been for their accents; being bilingual wasn’t seen as an advantage back then, he told me. This decision may have come from his being teased as a child for having an accent. It may have also been from seeing his father always working as a train inspector; Hispanics were always inspectors, but never engineers.
Yet while my grandpa witnessed and likely experienced racism and linguisticism, my mom also remembers off-hand remarks he made about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
When I consider race and racism, another salient memory has to do with the many trips I made driving back and forth between college in Las Cruces, NM and Albuquerque. On that trip, northbound, everyone passes through Border Patrol. There, officers ask drivers and any passengers to state their nationality, and then they wave them on their way. But after a while, I could discern a troubling pattern. During the months of the year when my skin was lighter, in the winter time, that’s all that happened: “Citizenship?” “US.” “Have a nice day.” But in the months when I was more tan (I biked, ran, and swam a lot outside during college, so the difference in my skin tone back then was much more visible than it ever is now), they tended to ask me a lot more questions. “Citizenship” “US.” “Where are you going?” “Home to Albuquerque.” “Why?” “Because I’m visiting my parents.” “Is this your vehicle?” “My parents own it.” “Why do you have it?” “I use it to drive between LC and Albuquerque,” etc. One time, drug dogs searched my car, but I was allowed to stay in the car. There was one time in four years that I was asked to get out of the car. I realize that this pales in comparison to what others experienced at that checkpoint, but I think that speaks to how capricious those officers were. They weren’t really listening to the answer to the citizenship question. They decided based on skin tone whether they’d give you a hard time or not.
So like Rabbi Goldstein-Stoll, I sit with this discomfort. It’s uncomfortable that my grandfather, in an effort to show how un-racist he was as compared to his brothers, actually said something that was still racist. It’s uncomfortable that, while my other grandpa experienced racism, he also showed evident racism toward others.
More than the discomfort of knowing what race relations looked like in my forefathers, is sitting with the fact that my own experience led me to use the “but we’re all one race” line on numerous occasions but most recently in graduate school, not realizing how problematic it was. I’m committed to continued unpacking of my own long-held beliefs/ideas about the world and engaging in anti-racist activities.
Happy Pride 2020
26 June 2020
Happy Pride Month 2020!
We’re having to celebrate a bit differently this year as a result of COVID so I decided to share a video telling my story.
Hey everyone! I’m queer!
It’s been something of a journey. I first came out (to myself) at age 15. I made this self discovery by way of the Kinsey Scale. I realized I wasn’t straight (how exactly I don’t remember), but I was also concerned about labeling myself “gay” (and I wasn’t fond of the term ‘lesbian’ back then), so the scale was helpful in considering how I felt without applying what I felt to be loaded labels. Over the course of two weeks I went from calling myself a 3 to calling myself a 6.
Being gay became a huge part of my identity. I secretly went to an Under 21 group for queer youth from about age 16-18, coming up with a different lie each Friday evening about where I was going. In college, I joined the Stonewall Coalition, known as GLBT at the time.
See that ‘B’ in there. People tend to forget about the ‘B’ (and the ‘T’ but that’s not my story so I won’t get into that here) and are also outwardly caustic to self-identified bisexuals. Not proud to admit it, folks, but I was one of those people. One of my first friends in college was bi. I kept telling her she was a lesbian in denial. I didn’t believe in bisexuality. It seemed like the kind of thing where you’re queer but don’t want the stigma of labeling yourself gay so you say you’re bi as a way to trick people into be more accepting. (I realize there’s a whole lot to unpack in there but I’ll leave that for now.)
So I dated women. I was a Kinsey 6!
And then someone I’d dated came out as trans, i.e., not a woman. Here again, folks, I’m not proud of what happened next. I totally made his coming out all about me: “Ok, but if you’re a man then I can’t be a lesbian!” That kind of comment. So, bad timing on my part. A good question to explore but not in the midst of someone else’s (someone I care about) coming out.
But this issue of “how do I identify now that my partner has come out as trans” is a valid one and is explored in the 2019 “Tales of the City”. In Margot’s case, after her partner Jake came out and began medical and social transition, she realized she was a lesbian, a true Kinsey 6.
That wasn’t where I landed, though I resisted it for some time.
I’m not a Kinsey 6. And that’s ok. Maybe like a 4.5.
But this blog is about teaching! So how does this story relate?
I started coming out to students a few years ago in the context of a chapter we read in my Deaf Culture class “Queer as Deaf: Intersections” by Dr. MJ Bienvenu. This was important to me personally because I wanted to show my students my authentic self but it’s important to me in a big picture way because students need to see representation of different identities in their faculty. Obviously not all of my students are queer but those who are seem to appreciate me sharing (sometimes they come up to me afterward and thank me for coming out or to say “me too”.)
Coming out to students may not be the right move for everyone. That’s ok. But for anyone who feels comfortable sharing that part of themselves, it can make a difference, especially in developing aspirational capital.
So happy pride month! Feeling generous? Consider donating to the Deaf Queer Resource Center!
Black Lives Matter
24 June 2020
CW: Police brutality/murder
So much has happened since my last post was published on 1 June 2020. In response to the brutal murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and more recently, Rayshard Brooks and resulting resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’d like to share a series of posts that address these current events and my positionality in and around them.
As of this writing, I envision four posts:
My background. I’ll discuss my experiences with racism, conversations about race that I remember from my upbringing (and where relevant I refer to a recent conversation I had with my parents about this to kind of check my memory) and how these experiences shaped my views of race and racism. I’ll also address my privileges here and how that has allowed me to not confront systemic racism in the way that much of the world is finally doing now.
White silence = violence. I want to talk about an analogy from Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum that I find particularly helpful for envisioning what it takes to be actively anti-racist. And we must be actively anti-racist because as Angela Davis famously said, “it’s not enough to be non-racist”.
Deaf/Disability rights don’t exist in a vacuum. They intersect with experiences of racism. Here I’ll provide a very brief history of racism within the American Deaf Community
Using my platform: Concrete steps I can take, particularly in my role as a university professor and Program Coordinator, to combat racism.
Obviously four vlogs isn’t the end of the road but I hope it’s a conversation starter. Look for these posts about every week this summer!
Virtual Instruction: Perspectives from a 6-12 teacher
1 June 2020
Leah: Hi everyone! Welcome back to my vlog. I’ve been using my vlog to talk about my experiences transitioning to virtual teaching; I’ve shared some tools and some of my frustrations and challenges. Last week I shared input from several students who shared their perspectives on learning through this difficult period.
Today I’m joined by a special guest, a good friend and former student. Welcome! Thanks so much for joining us! Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself.
Amy: Hello, my name is Amy Mulkey. I work at Sequoia Deaf School in Arizona. I teach middle school and high school English.
Leah: Thanks so much for being here. Can you tell us how long you’ve been teaching?
Amy: I just finished my first year of teaching!
Leah (1:18): All of this happened during your first year? Wow! Congrats on making it through! Now, I’m curious, because the period of transition to virtual learning at my university was very up-in-the-air, with lots of rapid changes and daily email updates. Tell us about your experience as your teaching moved from the classroom to online.
Amy: The transition to distance learning was tough. Teaching in a classroom is so different from teaching online. We had to figure things out as they were happening. We had one week to prepare, set up a new schedule, contact students and parents, and develop online classes. Developing my online classes was the biggest challenge for me. There were so many different resources being thrown at me all at once. I was grateful to have resources but it just became so overwhelming. I wanted to keep my class simple. We had one week dedicated to reading and the next for writing, and then just keep alternating each week.
Leah (2:36): It sounds like some of the challenges you faced were similar to what I and other faculty in post-secondary environments felt as well. But there are also some obvious differences between the populations we work with. For my classes, I adjusted some assignments, extended deadlines, etc, but overall my expectations of students remained the same. And they rose to the challenge. Tell me about what it was like to work with younger students through this; how was that different for you?
Amy: I think the biggest difference between college and grade school was the expectations for our students. College students are used to a busy school schedule. They are expected to already have skills such as time management, problem solving, working independently, completing work on time, showing up to class, etc. My students are still developing these skills. They need a lot of support. At school, teachers can provide adequate support. Also, in the classroom, students have structure and an environment where they can focus and get their work done. Everything changed when we switched to online learning. I was very flexible with my students. I reduced the classwork to one assignment per week. I provided more time to complete work. Also, I didn’t teach anything new. I focused on lessons I already taught.
Leah (4:17): Yes introducing new content in a virtual environment is definitely tricky. How we assess learning outcomes is difficult as well. I suspect something our students had in common is issues with technology: a blessing and a curse, right? What were some of the technological issues you and your students encountered during this period?
Amy: I had a lot of technical issues. I had never used Zoom before. I not only had to learn how to use Zoom, but I also had to learn how to teach with it. I used the share screen feature all the time, but that feature is not deaf friendly. When I shared my screen, I wouldn’t be able to see all of my students, which means I couldn’t communicate with them during lecture. I would tell the students I couldn’t see and to type in the chat box if they had a question. Later, I decided to just join Zoom on both laptop and phone to keep tabs on all my students. Still, it wasn’t an ideal situation. Oftentimes, we would have a lousy internet connection, which wasted a lot of class time.
Leah (5:47): All of that sounds really frustrating. What you just described is one huge reason I opted to use pre-recorded lessons and different ways to engage in real time, but obviously that approach doesn’t work for all topics or for all groups of students. It’s important to take the pulse of each group, so to speak, and figure out what works with each one.
Now, since all this started, I’ve shared a couple of posts on issues related to Zoom (Part I & Part II) and that was actually what led to this collaboration! You commented on one of my Instagram posts that you had a lot of thoughts on that and now here we are! In one of my previous posts, I talked about Zoom fatigue. What are your thoughts/experiences with that?
Amy: Most of my students (and I) experienced Zoom fatigue. As we got closer to the end of the year, I noticed a decrease in attendance. When students did attend Zoom class, they would sometimes keep their videos off and just participate through the chat box. That was perfectly fine with me.
Leah: Yeah that sounds like a win. I know for me, everyday was an exercise in flexibility. Whenever a situation would arise, the solution was usually some sort of flexibility. That became my new normal.
The last thing I want to talk about is some of your take-aways. What lessons do you hope to keep from now on, no matter what happens, and what would your ideal virtual classroom look like if you are indeed teaching online come Fall?
Amy: As of now, my school plans to return to campus in the Fall. But if we remain virtual, there are definitely some things I’ll do differently. This year, my priority was getting students to come to class. Class time is so important. I get to see my students, check in with them and see how they’re doing. In class, students have access to ASL. Most of my students’ parents don’t sign.
Honestly it’s hard to say exactly what my ideal classroom would look like without knowing what the schedule will be for next year. This year the schedule wasn’t great. I saw students twice each week for 30 minutes with periods 1-3 on Mondays and Wednesdays and periods 4-6 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But that’s not enough time to cover all of the material we need to get through. If we have the same schedule next year, I’ll assign more out-of-class work to help us make the necessary progress. Another thing is that I’ll require at least weekly one-on-one check-ins with my students via Zoom. This is a valuable time in which I can provide much-needed support.
Leah: You know, I had really good success with required check-in appointments. Students could choose how they wanted to communicate with me: texting (this was the first time I gave students my Google Voice number, which was an interesting experience), email, or video. And would you believe it, texting was the most popular! It was a good way to communicate with my students. I really valued that one-on-one check-in time.
Is there anything you want to add about this experience, focusing on the secondary level?
Amy: I want to say that I’m really proud of my students. Many of them have siblings. Sometimes if they’d miss a Zoom, it turned out it was because they were taking care of their siblings. Others weren’t able to join Zoom due to technical issues but they were patient and persistent and worked really hard!
I also had an amazing support system, which was so helpful. We all worked together to support one another.
Leah: Yes, a good support system is important all the time but especially now when we’re physically apart. It’s so nice to hear from one another and learn from others’ experiences and expertise. I really value that.
This is one reason I enjoy making my vlogBlog posts, to start these conversations. I hope our discussion here continues with educators serving pre-K all the way up to graduate students. We have to use each other, our knowledge and experiences to teach one another to do what’s best for our students and really help them thrive.
Thank you so much for being here and I hope you’ll come back again!
Amy: Thank you for inviting me.
Student Voices: Learning Through COVID-19
25 May 2020
Happy Memorial Day! The Spring semester is officially over and I’d like to take some time to reflect on my vlog to date. Thus far, my posts have been related to my own experiences teaching through this public health crisis. I’ve talked about some tools for teaching, the perils of Zoom, and how to keep our bodies healthy in our non-traditional work setting. Many schools across the country, including my own, have announced that virtual instruction will continue for the Fall semester. But, an important set of voices is missing from what I’ve discussed so far: that of students. That’s what I want to address today. After all, what good are these teaching tools I’ve talked about if students don’t find them helpful?
I developed a short survey and sent it to students in all three of my classes, explaining that this would be for a blog post. The prompt read:
Briefly describe your learning experience through COVID-19. Some example questions to answer: What helped? What made it more difficult? What resources do you wish were available? Was there anything in particular that made things bearable (or as bearable as possible)? Please share any other comments as well. You may type your response, or share the link to an unlisted YouTube video.
Optionally, students could indicate if they wanted to be quoted by name in the post and/or if they wanted to discuss this further at a later date. I received 11 responses. Here, I share some common themes that emerged in student responses. Where I have permission to share a name, I highlight the experiences of particular students.
One recurring theme was that it was hard to be self-motivated. Without the structure of a formal classroom, it was hard for students to focus on their work. This was sometimes related to a student’s new living situation. Maddi said attending school from home made it especially hard to film ASL videos because there were tons of background distractions.
Several students talked about having big families and how that made working difficult. One student explained that while her family (of 10) tried to understand her need to focus on her studies, they thought she had nothing but free time. This is an experience Briza, a recent grad with a minor in Deaf studies can relate to. She said that her family thought she was on vacation. They didn’t understand that she was working and not just playing around on her phone and laptop. Other students, including Deaf Studies major Hannah who works at CAL FIRE are essential employees and still required to report to work during these uncertain times. This impacted how they engaged with courses.
Lauren, a rising senior in Deaf Studies, said that she wanted to do well on her assignments, but found this difficult for some of the reasons noted above. She also shared that when professors weren’t flexible with due-dates, it was nearly impossible to submit the quality of work she knew she was capable of. (This sort of ties in with my recent post about “working hard”.) This leads into the next theme of what helped with virtual learning during this difficult time.
The main thing that helped students during this transition to virtual learning was organization. Professors who were organized, regularly shared reminders, and checked in with students were most helpful. Relatedly, a buzz-word that came up on several students’ responses was “flexibility”. Flexibility with due-dates, with making some assignments/exams optional, offering extensions, etc helped students to practice self-care and to prioritize their work. This also helped mitigate the effects of their difficulty focusing and lack of motivation, which sometimes resulted from a sub-optimal study location.
I followed up with Briza after the semester was over to get a few more details about her experiences. One thing she added was that it helped to not have everything on Zoom. She felt that the classes that had a mixture of Zoom days, activity days, discussion board days (as examples) were the best. In particular, she noted that in courses where there was no element of engagement (like discussion forums), where there were only Zoom lectures/looking at notes, she felt she learned 75% less than she might have in the traditional classroom. (This is one of where “more Zoom is better”; think about equitable alternatives that actually increase learning outcomes!)
Despite these little things that helped, learning online was still difficult. One student mentioned wishing that Sac State left study rooms in the library open.
Tech issues, particularly related to the internet, were a common theme among respondents to my survey. Especially when students moved home, they experienced more issues with the internet, which further disrupted their ability to access and participate in their courses. Even when the internet worked, some students didn’t have sufficient bandwidth to participate in video conferencing on Zoom or Whereby, another multi-user platform. During an already difficult time, these issues added to student stress. In response to submitting an assignment late due to technical difficulties, one professor replied with “too bad”.
Overall, students indicated that they were satisfied with the way Sac State responded to this crisis (I’ve heard some horror stories from how other universities dealt with their respective closures). As I wrapped up my conversation with Briza, I asked “What 5 things do you want professors to know about online learning from your perspective?” Here’s what she said:
We all have our own distractions at home, so it's hard to meet up at certain times through Zoom
Encourage us to do some kind of required discussion to elicit critical thinking and making it more engaged
Not everyday has to be a "Zoom" meeting with a PowerPoint, it can be a canvas discussion day or an activity day (if possible)
That teaching online is gonna impact our learning, so the students that were "Star" students in class, might not do as well online. I know of some that started getting really low grades (for different reasons) but nonetheless they did worse online than they did in class
If I could, I'd like to say to all of my professors that they're doing the best that they can in these trying times, so good job to them. If it's been rough for me, I'm sure it's rough for them. I feel like students didn't take into account their perspective of everything
So, to all my fellow faculty, let’s keep checking in with our students throughout the Fall semester with informal surveys and either formal or informal check-in appointments. Learn (and really listen) about what’s working and what’s not. Adjust when necessary to make the most out of a situation we can’t control. And above all, provide multiple opportunities for students to engage in your course, other than Zoom.