Monday, August 24, 2015

Last First Day of School?

Today is the first day of school for my final year in the MFA program. Third year already! How has this happened? If I don't go off and get any more graduate degrees (and I might--you never know), this could be my last first day of school ever. That makes me sad. I like school. I'm much better at functioning in school than I am in real life. I think it's because school has concrete goals. Complete these steps, do this work, and you will graduate. Real life has no concrete goals. Do this job, indefinitely, until you get bored and decide to do another job. Get married, or don't. Have kids, or don't. It doesn't matter. Perhaps I just need to be better at setting personal goals, rather than letting an administration set them for me. Or perhaps I need to find some other meaning in life besides achievement. Things to ponder later...

It may be the first day of school, but I don't actually have to be on campus today. I'm only taking one real class this semester--fiction workshop with Doug Unger--and it's not until tomorrow evening. I also have thesis hours with Doug, and my translation project with Don Revell, but those both function as independent studies, so we'll probably have irregular meetings at best. I don't teach until tomorrow, either--English 102 again, two back-to-back sessions from 11:30-12:45 and 1:00-2:15. I'm already getting emails from students.

Speaking of teaching, I could use some help from the Internet hivemind. Normally for my students' first paper, I have them read three articles about and write a summary and short synthesis essay regarding sexual assault on college campuses. We have a large class discussion about it first--after I issue multiple trigger warnings, verbally and through emails, and even in the syllabus, as I don't want to traumatize anyone. I chose this subject for several reasons. First, my class is horror themed, and I wanted to touch upon real-life horror, especially a real-life horror that has some relevancy to their lives. I also want them to learn how to discuss difficult subjects respectfully--and the discussion usually goes remarkably well. Finally, I think it's important that someone discuss consent culture with them, as it's not something people normally teach in school. During those class discussions I often learn that my students have some serious misconceptions about sexual assault, mostly because no one has ever talked to them about it before.

I still think sexual assault on college campuses is an important subject, but there are other important subjects in the world, and I'd been teaching that one for three semesters straight. So for this semester, I decided to change it to police violence against black Americans. (You're right--Writing Project I is not the cheeriest assignment.) I'll still issue trigger warnings, of course. My worry is that I'm not as qualified to lead this discussion as I am to lead the discussion on sexual assault, as I'm much better versed in that area. I know I want to start the discussion with the concept of privilege, just so they can understand what it means--I usually have to do that in the discussion about sexual assault as well. But I was wondering if any of you can think of points that I should definitely touch upon, or any resources that might be helpful for the discussion. I'm going to search online to see if there are any guides for teaching about Ferguson, etc.--there usually are sample teaching guides for controversial subjects out there, thanks to the diligent teachers of the world. But any extra help would be greatly appreciated. For reference, the three articles I'm having them read are Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Nonviolence as Compliance," Roxane Gay's "Of Lions and Men: Mourning Samuel DuBose and Cecil the Lion," and Charles M. Blow's "Police Abuse is a Form of Terror."

In other news, I spent last weekend with Lulu at her parents' place in charming Parowan, Utah. It really is beautiful up there, nestled at the base of these rolling, pine-tree-studded mountains. We saw wild turkeys and peacocks. We went garage-sale-ing and I found a first edition of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls for $1. We ate too much food. It was lovely. Though too much inaction gets to me sometimes--I'm mentally better off if I'm constantly doing things. So the break was nice, but I'm glad to dive into the semester and get some work done.

Ah. Getting work done. That's a thing I should probably do. Like, right now. Until next time...

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