Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Which to fund: science labs or racial equity?

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

A committee at Berkeley High School in Northern California has proposed eliminating science lab classes—and the teachers who teach them—in favor of funding activities and resources for underperforming students and closing the racial gap in performance at the school.

Writing at the Berkeley High Jacket student newspaper, Chloe Holden explains:

Under the new plan, finalized and approved two weeks ago, the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP) grants currently being used to fund science labs, along with those used in the arts programs, will be redirected to fund a new system of “equity grants.” These grants will be intended to support the Action Plan’s larger objective of student equity at BHS. While it is possible that parts of the lab program may be submitted by the science department funding under the new equity grants, potential of this taking place is currently unclear.

According to the East Bay Express,

The proposal to put the science-lab cuts on the table was approved recently by Berkeley High's School Governance Council, a body of teachers, parents, and students who oversee a plan to change the structure of the high school to address Berkeley's dismal racial achievement gap, where white students are doing far better than the state average while black and Latino students are doing worse.

In the same article, a parent is quoted as saying that the lab classes have been presented to the School Governance Council as enrolling mostly white students.  The article also cites Mardi Sincular-Mertens, a 24-year veteran of BHS science teaching, as saying that cuts will impact her black and Latino students as well; for example, she has 12 African-American male students in her Advanced Placement classes, and black students constitute 17.5 percent of her four environmental science classes.  Latinos constitute 13.9 percent of those classes.

That 17.5 percent isn't a representative percentage of the black students at the high school; Razib Khan offers a pie chart illustrating the school's demographics; it indicates the school is 29.1 percent African American, 36.7 percent white, and 12.6 percent Hispanic/Latino.  As Khan points out, the city of Berkeley is 9.3 percent black, 57.4 percent non-Hispanic white, and 10.7 percent Hispanic.  Compare the two sets of numbers, and it suggests parents are sending their white students to private schools in larger numbers than are parents of black or Latino students.  Cutting the science labs may contribute further to this trend, he writes.

This action will reinforce this tendency; the type of engaged parents which a public school benefits from won't consider sending their child to one which has to slash science laboratories to focus on remedial education. So Berkeley High School is simply accelerating its long death spiral.

More generally, the bizarre racialist logic used to justify the slashing of the science curriculum, that science implicitly benefits whites, is objectionable (at least to me, and likely to readers of this weblog). Our civilization is grounded fundamentally in science. Additionally, Berkeley High School is just a few blocks from UC Berkeley, where there are plenty of non-whites who do science. 42% of the undergraduates at UC Berkeley are Asian, as opposed to 31% who are white.

Science teachers at Berkeley have written an open letter to the school community; they are, of course, protesting the cuts.  From the letter:

This proposal flies in the face of the BSEP mandate and the 2020 Vision. The science labs during 0 and 7th periods provide weekly enrichment and satisfy [University of California] and [California State University] requirements that college prep science classes offer 20% of instructional time for hands-on lab activities. In addition, the extra lab periods provide additional time to support struggling students. The science program meets the goals articulated by both BSEP and the 2020 Vision providing enrichment, support for all students and UC requirements.

The extra time BSEP funding supports allows BHS to maintain an outstanding AP science program. Many of our students take and succeed in three AP level sciences courses as first year courses. Our students’ performance on the AP exams well exceeds the national average. These courses would have to become 2nd year offerings if the labs were eliminated. Approximately 600 students per year enroll in our AP programs. All of our students take Advanced Biology, most take chemistry, physics, or environmental science or anatomy and the extra time provides the support students need to develop a deep understanding of these topics.

Where Asian-American high school students fit into all of this isn't clear from material available online, but I will point out that Berkeley High School has the largest racial equity/achievement gap in the state--a gap that is in desperate need of remediation.

It's not yet clear how the funds generated by cutting science labs will be spent, but Joanne Jacobs writes that one possibility is creating "small 'learning communities,' an innovation that’s failed to show results so far."

Vera L. Te Velde, a student at UC Berkeley, is confused--as are many commenters on various blog posts and articles, it seems--how removing classes that benefit one group (white and possibly Asian-American students) is the best course of action in leveling the playing field.  "Berkeley is home of people who are smug about their open-mindedness and intelligence and reasonableness," she writes, "and this is what they come up with."

In the long comment stream at Crazy on Tap, one commenter argued that providing Advanced Placement and honors students with additional class time is unfair to students who don't have access to the science labs, which meet before and after school.  Another commenter replied,

The new argument has been made [...] that there should be equal hours per student, that anything else is unfair.

Obviously the students that predominate the sports classes get far more hours than the regular students.

So, I want to know if you want to eliminate the sports (and possibly music) programs, or if you favor figuring how many hours are involved in that and making sure that all the students not involved get those hours as well.

After all, that is what is fair.

Of course, I want it both ways: I want to see higher achievement by black and Latino students and I want all students to have access to hands-on science.  And, as fellow BlogHer Deb Roby pointed out to me, the two desires aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, as evidenced by the success of Da Vinci Science High School in Southern California.  Both schools offer a "project-based" curriculum that emphasizes hands-on learning, often in groups.  Notably, the Wiseburn School District, which oversees Da Vinci and its twin, Da Vinci Design High School, as well as elementary and middle schools, is one of the few districts in the state to have eliminated the racial gap in achievement.

What are your thoughts?  How should Berkeley High School spend its grant money?  What solution seems most equitable to you?


Monday, December 14, 2009

In which I warm up for Tuesday's job interview by writing about rabbits

Dear academic job interview committee,

So. . . I've been cramming preparing for my 45-minute videoconference with you tomorrow. There's a giant pile of public history books next to me on the dining room table--the end of which has become over the past year an extension of my desk, which itself sits in a corner of my dining room. See, I need the table--which is ridiculously large, really--because my ideas are so big that I need to spread them out across many square feet of horizontal space. It's a bit messy, but what can I say? I'm a visual thinker. (Ask me about different learning styles--ooh, and disabilities---and how I plan for them in the classroom!) Also on the table: books on museums, women in science, history of medicine, and the optimistically titled (at the bottom of an unwieldy stack) Unclutter Your Life in One Week!! Those two exclamation points bother me, but I include them because they are in the original source. (Ask me about how I'm really a historian! Ask me about teaching writing!)

Why I'm writing to you tonight, really, is to point out that, if I'm to believe what I read on the interwebs, the list of questions-I-should-be-prepared-to-answer is very long. And many of the questions are not really that interesting. Do you really want to know what text I'd use to anchor an introduction to public history course? Oh, let's say Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies After J. B. Jackson because it's already on my shelf, it's interesting to me, accessible (and perhaps even engaging) to undergraduates, and it has photos, great photos, like the one on page 230 of a rabbit drive in southern Idaho, circa 1900. The jackrabbits are blurry and headed in every which direction, but they are bounded by fences. As I prepare for a job interview that crosses many fields, I'm feeling that way right now. I don't want to know what happened to the rabbits, which, the book tells me, "migrated irrespective of property boundaries." The book also tells me that "at such moments [as a rabbit drive], farmers often behaved less as individualists and more as communitarians as they banded together to confront the biota that threatened their collective landscape."

Did you see on my CV that I'm both an English major and have a Master's in writing poetry? So you can see this metaphor coming, yes? Because I've been reading a report about the crisis in liberal arts at your university (sorry about the Phi Beta Kappa application rejection!), and I'm realizing maybe the liberal arts disciplines--and here I'm talking about everywhere they're in crisis, not just at your institution--need to stop acting like cornered jackrabbits and more like communitarian farmers.

Let me explain. When you're talking about the importance of interdisciplinarity in this report-on-the-crisis, you seem to really be talking about multidisciplinarity, about housing disciplines side-by-side so that faculty can, well, talk to each other. That's like letting all the herb farmers plant their crops in adjacent plots. Those plots are still going to be savaged by rabbits. (I'll let you imagine who the rabbits might be, but here's an example--increased funding for science labs at the expense of, oh, the language lab.) Adjacent herb farming is multidisciplinary. After all, everyone needs herbs, but in small amounts. They're kind of a boutique thing, an afterthought consumers pick up at the farmer's market.

What you really want is interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity is when you plant marigolds, garlic, and onions among the herbs. I know--maybe you don't want my marigolds (cultural studies) in your lemon basil (military history), and maybe I'm not that crazy about lemon basil, either. But who knows what wonderful, beneficial insects the combination of basil and marigolds might attract? What cross-pollination might occur that we wouldn't get if we had only rows of lemon basil, lime basil, Thai basil, African blue basil. . .ad nauseum with the basil. So let's invite the soybean farmers and the mushroom cultivators and the wheat growers and the cashew guys and the tomato folks. And when it comes time to harvest--what salads! What terrific pasta dishes! What great Thai food! (Do you have Thai food in your city? Because we have five Thai restaurants in my tiny downtown, and I find I need at least three to be fully myself.) And yes, I know the cashew guys are scientists, but to be truly interdisciplinary, we'll need them because science is essential to a liberal arts education.

But back to those questions: Have I answered the book question satisfactorily? Does it matter which book I choose, or are you more interested in what I say about it? Is it a litmus test or an opportunity to share some teaching philosophy? If the latter, why not just ask about my teaching philosophy? Because hoo boy, I could go on about that. And you would be mightily entertained and say to yourselves, lo, after reading CVs until our eyes crossed, we have at last found a wise and convivial colleague.

Oh, my dissertation? Yawn. That's like so three years ago. It's practically a book now. Let me tell you about it. There are no photos of rabbits, but part of one chapter features the woman who ran the San Diego Zoo for many years, and another showcases the professional savvy of Alice Eastwood, who was curator of botany for several decades at the California Academy of Sciences (yes, that Eastwood, the one who climbed six stories of iron banister to save the Academy's botanical type specimens in the hours between the earthquake and fire in 1906. The Eastwood whose account of said escapade I read in her own handwriting in a letter in the Smithsonian Institution archives, just as any real historian would!).

Maybe you'll wonder if I'm an historian of science, then, not really a public historian or a women's historian. Guess what? I'm all of the above. I know--isn't it great?

Here's where I explain how you're getting a great package deal when you hire me. You want a gender person. You want a U.S. history person. You want a public history person. My research into U.S. women scientists' lives and work led me to some really quite profound (IMHO) understandings of what it means to create knowledge and how that knowledge comes to be valued--or, too frequently, not valued, by various publics. I understand what play of forces allows for certain thinking and speaking subjects to emerge. I know how Eastwood's success required as much the adoration of the Bay Area flower enthusiasts as the respect of male botanists. Eastwood succeeded--many of the women scientists succeeded--because she was a public botanist, a public scientist. She democratized knowledge, and it paid off for her. Big time.

Are you seeing the parallels with public history? Networks of amateur historians/botanists, connected through complex webs to professional historians/botanists, all of whom value one another's knowledge as they collaborate on projects that neither group could complete on their own? I'm ready to propose public history collaborations--or maybe even digital humanities projects--with your local museums, cultural centers, and historical societies, which of course I can name because I'm just that terrific with the background research. (Ask me about their exhibition spaces' square footage!)

Let's talk interdisciplinary liberal arts pedagogy. In addition to developing my own graduate and undergraduate courses in five disciplines (literature, writing, American studies, museum studies, and education), I've spent the past three years assisting faculty from across the disciplines (yes, even in the sciences, because I'm just that open-minded) be more thoughtful about teaching. And even about teaching with technology. (Did you note those tech-in-teaching/teaching-in-tech conference presentations--nay, cross-institutional collaborations--on my CV?) If you want anecdotes, you're going to have to ask for them at the interview, but let's just say I have a really fantastic example from my classroom that in a single project considers digital archives, curatorship, material culture, museum exhibits, diverse publics, September 11, Muslim Americans, and a London Tube stop.

I'm interdisciplinary, an experienced researcher, and enthusiastic about teaching; I write well and consider teaching writing a core part of any course; and (because you may ask me about my greatest flaw) I've been criticized for being "democratic (small d) to the core." What more do you want in a colleague who does U.S. public history?

But wait--if you act now, you'll also get my thoughts and expertise on first-year seminars; my experience advising faculty on student learning outcomes and assessment at the course, departmental, and institutional level; and an insane willingness to serve on committees. (Again, check out that CV.)

Oh, and if you want to slyly let me know that you've been doing some sleuthing and have read this blog, simply work into your questions the phrase "Tell me about the rabbits." (Only this time, I promise a happy ending; I'll bring the marigolds.)

Yours in interdisciplinary collegiality and mixed metaphor,

Leslie M-B

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Let it. . . ???

Check out tomorrow's forecast--I've never seen the snow icon on my Mac's dashboard. Too bad it's mixed with rain. I don't want sleet. . .

The last time I remember it snowing here was in January 2002, and it was a pretty little dusting, though I must admit I was unprepared to ride my bike through it. Brrrrrr!

A job interview walks into a bar. . .

Just as I've been ready to throw in the tenure-track towel, a search committee has decided to give me a chance. I have a videoconference interview in a little over a week.

And it's in a history department.

Let me repeat that: a history department.

The competition for history jobs is, even in this cutthroat market, exceptionally insane. Over my three years of academic job searching, because my CV doesn't bear a Ph.D. in history, I suspect many copies of it have met recycling bins tout de suite.

Which renders this opportunity particularly extraordinary. I'm trying to walk the line between getting my hopes up too high and being self-defeating. For me, that's a very fine line.

But let's be optimistic for a moment, shall we? The position is tenure-track, and it is in public history and gender history. The institution offers a really distinctive M.A. that overlaps with museum studies—which is just about perfect, both in terms of what I do and where I want to go with my teaching, research, and practice.

The department seems to really value teaching, too, which is fabulous.

Of course, as is always the case in an academic job search, there's the matter of where. It's in a state where I may have camped once as a child, but beyond that I've never visited, and it's definitely a place that, while beautiful, many people would consider flyover territory. But so is my beloved Iowa, so color me intrigued. Politically, it's a staunchly red state, with Republicans holding every major office at state and federal levels, with the exception of one Democratic congressperson in the district where the hiring institution sits. (But that same district voted 69% for GWB in 2004.) The politics wouldn't be a deal-killer, actually--I learned a few years back while living in the Young Women's Christian Home in D.C. that I very much enjoy talking to, and learning from, people who hold beliefs very different from mine.

But I get ahead of myself. For the present I have a stack of a dozen books about public history next to me because while I certainly understand the issues facing museums of history and culture and I am familiar with the kinds of natural and social history interpretation that happen at, say, national parks, and while I have kept abreast of developments in digital history, the finer points of, for example, historical reenactment, genealogy, corporate histories, battlefields, and video games/simulations may be lost on me.

I also have a smaller stack of books relating to the subfield of gender history into which I've been wanting to dive headfirst, but into which I have instead been wading very slowly. I need to outline my next project, even as I must refocus on revising and shopping around my diss.

And of course I have a dissertation to reread. A dissertation elevator speech to revise. Answers to draft to typical first-round job search questions. Syllabi to dream up. Nervous breakdowns to experience.

And the biggie: I need to articulate why a Ph.D. in cultural studies—or maybe especially my degree in cultural studies—prepares me to "do" history and to prepare grad students for jobs in public history.

Any tips you want to give on interviewing via videoconference, or references to books, articles, and other resources I absolutely must not miss on teaching public or gender history, etc. would be most appreciated.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Campus Security Across the U.S. Needs More Transparency

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

This week a commission investigating the campus shootings that killed more than 30 people in April 2007 at Virginia Tech released an addendum updating an earlier report to the state's governor. The findings reported in the 210-page document are disturbing. In the three hours between the initial killing by Seung-Hui Cho of two students in a dorm and his massacre of 30 more people in a classroom building, campus administrators made several errors that resulted in the additional fatalies.

The initial report focused on the campus's failure to recognize the danger posed by Cho's mental illness. The new report looks at the response of administrators and campus security to the campus emergency, as well as state and federal laws that allowed a mentally ill person who posed a danger to himself and others to purchase firearms. Among the report's findings are:

  • "Cho was not legally authorized to purchase his guns but was easily able to do so," even though under federal law he was disqualified from purchasing firearms; Virginia law is less clear. Federal law also prohibited him from purchasing ammunition; Virginia law offered no such restrictions.
  • "Virginia universities and colleges do not seem to be adequately versed in what they can do about banning guns on campus under existing interpretations of state laws."
  • The probability was very low that a double-murder on campus would be followed by a massacre; the only campus mass murder in the U.S. in the preceding 40 years was the sniper attack from a tower at the University of Texas. That said, the report's authors write that "the VTPD had the probabilities correct, but needed to consider the low-probability side as well as the most likely situation." Furthermore, "The police did not tell the Policy Group that there was a chance the gunman was loose on campus or advise the university of any immediate action that should be taken such as canceling classes or closing the university. Also, the police did not give any direction as to an emergency message to be sent to the students."
  • Most police chiefs consulted by the new report's authors agreed that locking down a campus of 35,000 people is not feasible.
  • At least two administrators informed family members about the shooting before alerting faculty, students, and staff on campus.
  • After he first heard about the shootings, the chief of the Virginia Tech police department was unable to reach the executive vice president's office for 17 minutes.
  • The office of the university president was locked down 48 minutes before the massacre in the classroom building occurred; the classroom building in question was not locked down.
  • One of the students shot in the dorm survived for several hours following the shooting, but her family was not notified of her injuries until after she died.
  • Administrators cancelled the collection of campus trash 21 minutes before students and faculty were warned about a gunman on campus.

On the possibility of lockdowns, from the report:

A building can be locked down in the sense of locking the exterior doors, barring anyone from coming or going. Elementary schools practice that regularly, and so do some intermediate and high schools. At least some schools in Blacksburg were locked down for a while after the first shootings. Usually, a lockdown also implies locking individual classrooms. Virginia Tech does not have locks on the inside of classroom doors, as is the case for most universities and many high schools.

A message could theoretically be sent to all buildings on campus to lock their doors, but there was no efficient way to do this at Virginia Tech. It would have required calls or e-mails to individuals who had the ability to lock the doors for at least 131 buildings or sending people on foot to each building.

I am not an expert in campus security, but I do know from working on a campus that most students and faculty have phones with text messaging enabled. The university could have made better use of a subscription service that allows it to send blasts to all cell phone users, or even begun text-messaging those who had opted in to such messages. As it was, the emergency alert system was in the midst of a major upgrade that April. However—and this is really startling—even if the messaging system had been fully enabled, campus police did not have direct access to it; they would have had to request that an emergency alert message be sent from University Relations or the campus's policy group that handles campus emergencies. Regardless, if a message had been sent, word would have spread from student to student like wildfire. While this opens the possibility for panic, it also may have inspired some students and faculty to either not venture onto campus that morning or to bar the entrances to their classrooms and dorms.

Many people are calling for the resignation or firing of Virginia Tech's president Charles W. Steger, as well as for the removal of those who should have been accountable for alerting the students, faculty, and staff to the presence of a gunman on campus. Writes Blue Virginia,

This is unacceptable; it's time for somebody to be held accountable for the fact that immediate notification of the threat posed by a murderer on the lose was not provided to Virginia Tech students, staff, etc. on that horrible day in April 2007. If it had been - and also if Cho's "long list of frightening writings and aberrant behaviors" had been looked into and dealt with aggressively - perhaps this wouldn't have been the "deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history?"

If you or someone you know or love works on a college campus—and particularly a campus in or near a state with lax gun-purchasing laws—the new report should be required reading. If your campus does not already have regulations about guns on university property, ask why. And definitely read this post by Historiann, who points out that women are too often left out of these discussions:

Well–what do actual women students, faculty and staff at Baa Ram U. think? Does the reporter bother to talk to any actual XX chromosome people? Not according to the version of the story published in the Post. No, all of the “student leaders” quoted in the story are men, as are all of the faculty members in the story and the one member of the Board quoted here. But, we’re supposed to trust the “student leader” who said, “I’ve had many say how it makes women feel safer on campus, knowing they can conceal and carry.” (”Many say?” Did this guy even talk to a single woman? Or is he quoting just more men who claim that more guns make women feel so much safer?)

The report also offers another opportunity for any university's administrators, faculty, staff, students, and the surrounding community to reopen conversations about violence, safety, and security on campus. This conversation needs to include protection of students in several contexts. For example, the University of California at Berkeley is investigating the actions of law enforcement against student protestors. As you can see at 38:25 in this video from Democracy Now, officers beat students with batons; there are reports of several observers and protesters with broken bones.

Virginia Tech and UC campuses aren't the only ones who need to reexamine the extent of violence on their campuses. Check out this article by Elizabeth Manapsal highlighting the history of murder and violence in the Ivy League. Remember the September murder of Yale student Annie Le?

Even more puzzling and frightening, many universities seem to be actively engaged in covering up the level of violence, and particularly sexual assault, on campus and within the university communites. The Center for Public Integrity released a report earlier this week showing the following:

  • "Many victims don’t report at all, and those who do come forward can encounter secret disciplinary proceedings, closed-mouthed school administrations, and off-the-record negotiations. At times, school policies and practices can lead students to drop complaints, or submit to gag orders — a practice deemed illegal."
  • "Students reporting sexual assault on campus routinely say they face a host of institutional barriers in pursuing the on-campus remedies meant to keep colleges and universities safe. The result, say experts, is a widespread feeling that justice isn’t being served, and may not even be worth pursuing. Crisis counselors described barriers as overt as a dean expressing disbelief; lawyers pointed out failures as subtle as an institution neglecting to provide access to a professional victim’s advocate to guide students through an intimidating process."
  • "Limitations and loopholes in the federal mandatory campus crime reporting law, known as the Clery Act, are causing systematic problems in documenting the numbers of campus-related sexual assaults, the Center found. The most troubling loopholes involve broadly applied reporting exemptions for counselors supposedly covered by confidentiality protections."
Your thoughts?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Teaching while Mentally Ill

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

Imagine trying to teach while voices in your head are telling you your students are trying to kill you. That has been a reality for Elyn Saks, a professor of law, psychology, and psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the University of Southern California's law school. This week Saks published an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education documenting her personal experiences with mental illness in academia.

Over the past few days, links to the article have been moving through academics' e-mail inboxes like wildfire. There's good reason why. Not only does Saks share some pretty startling experiences and talk about how she has overcome these challenges, but she also opens an interesting discussion on whether, when, and to whom an academic with mental illness might disclose her illness. Here's an excerpt:

The first question you must ask yourself is whether to tell your chair and dean. I can think of arguments both in favor of that, and against.

One of the pluses would be the psychological benefits of not having a secret and being able to be open. More practically you might be able to get extra support, or formal accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). You would serve as a model for other academics in your department and your students.

There are, of course, real pitfalls to telling, too. There is a tremendous stigma, still, around mental illness. People may believe, consciously or not, that you are unreliable or even dangerous, and they may fear you. They may think you can't do the work or your scholarship isn't good, even if it is very good. That may not be intentional on their part but can nonetheless have a big impact on your work life and your prospects for tenure.

Saks is the author of a memoir, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness. (You can read a review of the book by a writer who has schizoaffective disorder herself at Femi-Nation.)

Mental health has become a big issue on college campuses. Campuses with unusually high rates of suicide have worried about distressed and distressing students for several years, and the shootings at Virginia Tech in the spring of 2007 raised awareness nationally of student mental health.

That said, aside from mental health centers for faculty and staff on some campuses, there has not been significant attention paid to the mental health of those who teach students. Anecdotally, there is evidence that mental illness in academia, particularly depression and anxiety disorders, are not uncommon. Years ago, I attended an academic talk on mental health, and the presenter mentioned he was studying four disorders in a particular (nonacademic) population: major depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, and dysthymia. Someone asked what dysthymia is—it's mild-to-moderate, long-term depression—and those in the room exchanged knowing glances. Finally, someone said, "Ohhhh. . . It's what we all have."

Many commenters on Saks's Chronicle article shared their own experiences. Wrote one,

Thank you for this brave and thoughtful piece. I struggle with chronic depression and find that academe is probably one of the best places for me, because of its relative flexibility (compared to many other workplace environments). However, I'm still not quite ready to be "out." I agree that coming forward would probably be a good thing, but it also presents more risk than I'm ready for. I really admire you!

Another has faced greater challenges:

I very much appreciate your article and walking the reader through an actual experience you probably have had many times. I suffer from chronic mental health issues, although not to the severity that you do. But nonetheless, they do have an affect on my ability to work at times. I do not feel safe in disclosing any of it to my academic employer. I often hear comments in the work place about people who "are depressed or whatever" are just weak and need to toughen up. I have attempted to get consideration for my "general health issues" in scheduling of courses and my duties as a program chair without much success. In fact, I have found the responses to be hostile. We need more people like you to come out into the open and speak up so that more of us in the shadows can also come out, without resorting to ADA or legal action, which I know in the end will be used against me one way or the other, because I don't work in an institution with tenure (proprietary college). Thank you.

A commenter on a post at Historiann shared her own experience of not getting support when she needed it:

Fried from post-partum depression but afraid that taking a semester’s unpaid leave would jeopardize my future tenure bid, I jumped back into my job 8 weeks after giving birth–with disastrous results. (My female chair’s attitude: “I made tenure as a single mom. You have to give up your life and do what it takes. DO IT.”)

It's tough for graduate students, too, whether they teach or are students. Wrote one woman with a disability that may be a mental illness on the blog Rate Your Students,

Ever since my diagnosis, I have prayed to every god imaginable that I could be "normal" again. And most of the time, I am. I'm properly medicated and as healthy as I can be. But, you have *no* idea how humiliating it is to approach a professor (especially a mentor or a "shining star" in your field of study) and say, "Hi. I'm abnormal. This here sheet of paper gives me accomodations for which most students would maim a nun. Please, oh pretty please, don't put as asterisk next to my grade when I earn yet another A." Because that's how I feel - I work my ass to the bone taking an overload of course hours, studying endlessly, researching for seminars, while working to pay bills and to gain experience - but every time I EARN an A, part of me feels like I don't deserve it...because there's still a socially accepted stigma about mental disorders (as is evidenced often on this blog.)

The grad student blogging at PhD Depression also connects the ways an academic life, and particularly the pursuit of a PhD, can contribute to a major depressive episode.

Dr. Isis also has a must-read post in which she responds to a scientist suffering from depression. In it, she not only offers sympathy, but also some concrete suggestions for accommodations, including some that may be made under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She also links to a post by computer scientist Mark Chu-Carroll, who also has depression. His post is also worth a read, as in it he considers why people have no problem watching him take pills for one illness but not for another:

Somewhat over 1/2 of the people who hear that I take an antidepressant express disapproval in some way. Around 1/3 make snide comments about "happy pills" and lecture me about how only weak-willed nebbishes who can't deal with reality need psychiatric medication.

I confess to being thoroughly mystified by this. Why is it OK for my stomach, or my heart, or my pancreas to be ill in a way that needs to be treated with medication, but it's not OK for my brain? Why are illnesses that originate in this one organ so different from all others, so that so many people believe that nothing can possibly go wrong with it? That there are absolutely no problems with the brain that can possibly be treated by medication?

Why is it OK for me to take expensive, addictive drugs for a painful but non-life-threatening problem with my stomach; but totally unacceptable for me to take cheap harmless drugs for a painful but non-threatening problem with my brain?

What about you? How have you seen mental illness addressed on your campus, in your or your child's classroom, or in your workplace? Is it stigmatized? And what are you doing to cope or to help?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Patrick Stewart on domestic violence and men as allies

A powerful and revealing talk by actor Patrick Stewart on his abusive father, his childhood, and on men as allies:

(as seen at ScientistMother)