Monthly Archives: September 2018

Danielle Allen: activism & institutions

One of the things I like about teaching undergrads is helping students think about why they came to college anyhow, and what they want to get out of it while they’re here. Classicist and political theorist Danielle Allen (also director of the Safra Center of Ethics at Harvard, and author of Cuz, the story of her Screen Shot 2018-09-21 at 5.23.27 PMcousin Michael) gave a “radically woke and deeply conservative” commencement speech (video & transcript published in the Atlantic here) that I have shared with my students.

Today it also strikes me as pretty useful for faculty who are thinking about how to support FLI (first-generation and/or lower income) students, how to create a world in which black male faculty can go to the library without being offered directions off campus, and, you know, how to support equity for all sorts of humans who operate on a university campus.

In her speech Professor Allen quoted the Declaration of Independence, which she has been “following” for the past 20 years in her teaching (nontraditional as well as traditional students) and research. In fact, JHU alumna Emily Snell ’11 discovered, working with Allen, a new copy of the Declaration in England in 2015 (more about that here). Anyway, here’s your excerpt:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Professor Allen tells the Pomona graduating class:

It says we have these rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Among which! It’s examples, people!

It’s not a complete list! The job of thinking is not done.

It is your job. All right?

Clarify your values. Maybe you care about sustainability. Maybe you care about gender equality. Maybe you care about free markets and capitalism.

But connect them to the basic question of what is good for our community together. A shared story. And then, don’t forget: Activism is valuable, no question about it, but our job at the end of the day is to build institutions that secure our shared rights. That means understanding the user manual. All right? The institutions. And yes, we can alter them. They’re not given in perpetuity. Originalism is about understanding democratic empowerment, which is about recognizing that democratic citizens build and change their world.

All right?

Where We Stand: Thurs, Oct 25, 5:30-7pm, Mudd Atrium

Please save the date!

We will look at the NAS report on sexual  harassment. How can we adapt and implement its recommendations to further gender equity at Hopkins across the humanities, natural & social sciences, and engineering?

Students, faculty, and staff of all genders are welcome. So are children! Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 9.29.55 PM

Stay tuned for details. In the meantime, we recommend Professor Sabine Stanley‘s 2017 interview in Earth & Space Science News, in which she points to positive developments for women in science. One excerpt for you:

Q: What are your hopes for the future of women in planetary science?

A: Ultimately, I hope that women and underrepresented minorities have equal opportunities. To make this happen, it is very important for them to have strong allies among the majority group (i.e. white men) in the community. My biggest hope is that more white men step up and prioritize improving equity, diversity, and inclusion in our field. We need to stop relying on women and underrepresented minorities to shoulder this burden.

Photo Credit: Sergey Nivens, Fotolio, Adobe Photostock.

Graduate Advising: Drew Daniel on vulnerability and responsibility

The NASEM report on gender harassment has generated well-deserved attention and conversation, including for us at JHU (WFF@H co-chairs will run a workshop on the report at this year’s DLC conference on October 19, for example). One core message of the report: that “the most potent predictor of sexual harassment is organizational climate” (x). Along these lines, Recommendation #5 reads: “Diffuse the hierarchical and dependent relationship between trainees and faculty” (7).

Meanwhile, the lawsuit against NYU German and comparative literature professor Avital Ronell has pressed us acutely on the conditions of these power structures, particularly in the context of a crushing job market for humanities PhDs.

Rather than gawk at wreckage surrounding the Ronell situation, here we consider how to approach “diffusing” the hierarchy and dependency built into graduate student-advisor relationships. Drew Daniel (from our English dept) offers a compelling reflection in“Hands on a Hard Body: Remarks on Graduate Advising as Emotional Labor.” A brief excerpt:

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Graduate advising is intimate and intense. You are forging a bond with someone that lasts for many, many years and has affective highs and lows. Over time, you learn to ride out both the emotional peaks and the depressive troughs. It is a partnership but it is also structurally, fundamentally unequal. One of you is learning how to do something; one of you is advising the other on how to do that thing based on prior experience and presumed expertise. Both parties are catalyzed by the changes taking place in a piece of grad student writing as it emerges in an intersubjective space between unequal collaborators. The advisor must help the grad student bring something new into the world which is the student’s own and which the advisor does not themselves already completely understand.