I had an experience the other night that I think serves as a great metaphor for how I think about education. I shared this with one of the graduate students that I work with and she thought it was a great metaphor as well. It doesn’t hurt that it talks about food.
I believe that in some ways, we need a radical reimagining of what education looks like. Not that it is broken in the way that alarmists from the right often cite, but more in thinking through the various ways that education, particularly at the post-secondary level, is built on the legacy of chattel slavery (Wilder, 2013). Moreover, we have had a long history of not changing this but attempting half-measures to welcome into the university those communities that have bene historically left out (Ahmed, 2012). Finally, it has been well documented that those within these institutions attempting to instigate change have been some of those in the most (financially) precarious areas of institutions (Adsit, Doe, Allison, Maggio, & Maisto, 2015). Those areas of institutions seen to engage in “identity politics suffer funding cuts and closures, while science and technology programs [were] spared” (Adsit et al., 2015, p. 21). Programs that acknowledge identity politics are considered a financial drain on the institution, rather than possible sources of revenue. While fairness is the goal, the reality is that “precarity is unevenly distributed in today’s corporate university” (Adsit et al., 2015, p. 21), because the programs in danger are the ones that are not seen as financially sustainable.
Departments that engage in “consciousness-raising as an explicit commitment are disproportionately affected by institutional cuts” (Adsit et al., 2015, p. 25), such as my former work in a multicultural center. The corporatization of higher education continually undervalues certain forms of knowledge production, often in fields more populated by those who have been historically marginalized (Adsit et al., 2015) and, those who are more inclined to engage in social justice and consciousness-raising activities.
Through all of this, my work has largely been to radically reimagine education as a space where we acknowledge the colonial past of education (Willinsky, 2000) as well as the role that chattel slavery had in the formation and continuation of post-secondary education (Wilder, 2013) and to move past its history as a space to educate elite white men (Thelin, 2011) to something more radical. To imagine the not yet here, but the then and there that might be is a moment of hope for something that could be (Muñoz, 2009). To that end, the food metaphor that I began with came about when I was out to dinner to celebrate the culmination of internships for the second years in the program I teach in. We had dinner at a local pizza shop, and one of the students (very wisely might I add) decided to skip dinner and order desert instead. They ordered something called a sweet extinguisher. It’s a hot cookie baked in a cast iron skillet topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. While I’ve not historically been a fan of sweets (like some internalized body shame tbh), my partner is. My partner was playing single parent, cooking dinner and bathing our one-year old and putting him to bed so I could be here with the students. So I thought it would be nice to bring her a sweet treat after a hard day.
I had this thought initially to do this, then thought to myself that doing so might be “impossible” due to the nature of the design of the dessert. The graduate student who ordered it told me that I shouldn’t think that way, and that “all things are possible”. I told her that I loved her attitude and that I was going to ask the server. The server initially said that she too didn’t think it would be possible. So resigned that my partner and I would not get to share in the amazingness of the sweet extinguisher, I started to figure out what I could get instead for her, as I had already told her I was bringing her something. The server comes out a few minutes later and said that she had spoken to the cook, and that the cook said that they could do it for me.
So, the value of this story is related to the standpoint (Haraway, 1988) from which we come. I am not a cook, and what I wanted was not possible in my mind. The server was not a cook, and in her mind what I wanted was not possible. My graduate student reminded me to imagine that all things are possible. While this story is in some ways silly, and I was complicit in many ways in this story (the dessert came in two things of styrofoam, and was the server only trying to help as she felt we might not tip as well if she couldn’t make this happen). Another perspective is that the perspective of others helps to reimagine what might be possible. To that end, my hope in working with future student services professionals is to help us learn how to be killjoys (Ahmed, 2017) and to challenge the very structure of education. To radically reconceptualize education and to problematize the university (Moten & Harney, 2004).
Adsit, J., Doe, S., Allison, M., Maggio, P., & Maisto, M. (2015). Affective activism: answering institutional productions of precarity in the corporate university. Feminist Formations, 27(3), 21–48.
Ahmed, S. (2012). On being included: racism and diversity in institutional life. Durham ; London: Duke University Press.
Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press Books.
Haraway, D. (1988). Situated knowledges: the science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575–599.
Moten, F., & Harney, S. (2004). The university and the undercommons: Seven theses. Social Text, 22(2 79), 101–115. https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-22-2_79-101
Muñoz, J. E. (2009). Cruising utopia: the then and there of queer futurity. New York: NYU Press.
Thelin, J. R. (2011). A History of American Higher Education, 2nd Edition (2nd edition). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Wilder, C. S. (2013). Ebony & ivy : race, slavery, and the troubled history of America’s universities / (First U.S. edition.). New York : Bloomsbury Press,.
Willinsky, J. (2000). Learning to divide the world: education at empire’s end (1st edition). Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.