Dear Sir,

 

capitol

This blog post is a little different than my normal reflections on life as a mother, wife, professional and sandwich generation member.  This morning I sat down and wrote an extensive letter to my congress people.  I’ve printed these letters and they will be mailed.  This letter will also be emailed and also posted here.  This is also just the first in what will be a series of letters to my representatives expressing my thoughts and concerns about many of the policy directions that impact my effectiveness as a mother, college professor and how I am able to take care of my aging parent.  Further, these policies have me thinking about my own retirement plans.  I share this because it is deeply important that as many people as possible become engaged with how public policy impacts their daily life.  Each and every one of us should be evaluating the proposals and determine how they will matter to you and your neighbors.  Each of us should reach out to our legislators to affirm what we like in a given policy and what we disagree with in a given policy.  They are there to work for us.  Electing these individuals should be just the BEGINNING of our interaction with them.

This is one of my first forays into what I call my visibility in political conversation.  Notice I say conversation–not debate, not fight.  I expect many more of my blogs will be reflections of public policy and mothering.  Public policy and being a caregiver.  Public policy and my role as a social scientist.

______________________________________________________________

Congressman

I am writing this letter to express deep concern about the budget released by the White House this week.  I fully understand that the right to develop our federal budget lies with the Congress and thus my letter to you.  There are many programs and funding lines that this administration wishes to cut that bring me great concern.  Further, there are increases in spending that frankly make little sense to me.  I will outline my concerns below.  However, I should note that these are just SOME of my many concerns that have emerged over the last 50 days.  This list is by no means exhaustive.

First, in regard to specific cuts to agencies.  Under the Health and Human Services, the budget proposes to cut the health professions and nursing training program.  This concerns me because one element of this program focuses on providing incentive and training for rural doctors.  Rural people already have a hard enough time accessing and affording healthcare and yet the administration proposes cutting programs that help ease some of that burden.  For Kentucky it is imperative that we attract doctors to rural areas.  In fact, our universities see this need and are partnering to educate more doctors to place in rural areas (see UK and WKU medical school partnership).  We should be doing everything we can to support these endeavors by our public institutions not work against them. The training program also has a targeted focus on diversity in the medical professions.  Research shows that there is a racial differential in how minority patients are treated, how they trust their healthcare professionals and even how they trust providers such as health insurers.  However, one factor that does reduce this mistrust is having a healthcare professional that not only looks like you, but also understands your culture.  To cut programs that recruit, train and then strategically place healthcare professionals whether to rural areas or to increase the number of healthcare professionals of color is a disservice to citizens.  Further, I only mention two areas that this program covers and there are many more that are just as needed that this money facilitates.  The argument is that these programs are ineffective.  However, I am unable to find evidence of this ineffectiveness.  In fact, I am able to find more research that supports why this work is needed than why the work is not needed.  These are the kinds of programs I want my tax dollars devoted.

Next, also under health and human services, is the reduction of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.  I am sick and tired of federal budgets targeting the most vulnerable in our society.  I do not mind paying my taxes so that they may be used to help our elderly and poor men, women and children keep the lights on.  The elimination of the community services block grants that aid specifically in fighting poverty is unconscionable.   As I understand it, these are dollars that are directed back into the community to address the local needs.  In my own community, we rely on these dollars to help with the needs of our underserved populations.  The non-profits and faith based communities are already stretched thin and I believe it is a good use of my tax dollars to support these block grants and agencies that facilitate groups like Community Action.  Once again, I see the elimination of this block grant as further devaluation of the most in need in our society.  Finally, Meals on Wheels?  Really?  Need I say more?  I’m sorry that feeding the elderly is not seen as a function of the government.  However, as a citizen I do see that as a function of my tax dollars that go to the federal government.

I’d now like to move to education.  Though there are many of the educational cuts (and additions such as money for private school vouchers) that infuriate me there are two I’d like to address.  First, this budget calls for the elimination of the 21st Century Learning Centers because the “programs lack strong evidence of meeting objectives, such as improving student achievement.”  I’ve looked at the literature on after school programs and in particular those studies done following the implementation of these learning centers.  Results are mixed.  However, if you read into those reports, many of the issues cited include the lack of rigorous experimental or quasi-experimental designs to study after school programs.  Thus, is the after school program ineffective or have we not been evaluating these programs appropriately?  Further, in what ways are we working with programs to make sure there is a clear theory of change linked to what they are doing that allows for a clear evaluation?  I would just encourage a further look at this program and rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, consider other avenues we can take to evaluate and improve these programs for children.  Next, I’m concerned with the elimination of the Supporting Effective Instruction State Grant programs.  Providing blocks of dollars to states to allow professional development is an important part of creating a world class education system for all children.  I’ve seen little information of how we would replace those dollars that school districts need to further educate our teachers.  Finally, I am absolutely outraged that this budget director would argue that it does not make sense to feed kids through the schools and there is no evidence of impact.  These are BABIES.  Our future BABIES.  I am horrified that this line of reasoning would even be used.  This is one of those things we do as a society because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO FOR BABIES.  I ask you to do the right thing and I gladly pay taxes so that hungry BABIES are able to concentrate in school because they are not thinking about their empty bellies.  I seriously cannot believe I am having to include this in a letter.

In terms of the State Department and Global Climate Change Initiative, I am just going to say this—climate change is real.  It is exists whether one believes it or not.  Science allows us to say it exists.  Further, as much as people would like to believe there is discrepancy in the science that humans/and carbon dioxide are drivers, the evidence exists.  Can we still learn more?  Absolutely.  But, stick with science on this one.  PLEASE. I want my tax dollars spent on the Green Climate Fund, the Strategic Climate Fund and Clean Technology Fund.

Under Housing and Urban development, I am fundamentally opposed to the elimination of the community development block grants and the Capacity Building for Community Development and Affording Housing program.  To me, community development is a PUBLIC good not a private good for profit to be made.  Developers are not going to invest dollars in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods because it does not make a lot of profit.  Doing the right thing is often times not profitable but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.  Do the right thing.  I want my tax dollars to support these two programs.

Under the Department of Energy, once again let me say—the science is clear.  Climate change is real.  We will need to develop alternative energy sources.  The Advanced Research projects program funds research that private sector businesses will not—again going back to that pesky profit thing.  I do not support any budget that eliminates the innovative technology loan program, advanced technology manufacturing program, or state energy program.

In terms of the EPA, I cannot believe we are considering eliminating programs that restore our Great Lakes.  The plan to turn over these projects to states with no support makes zero sense.  The Great Lakes are not just state resources.  The country, as a whole, benefits from the shipping done in the Great Lakes.  This is a public good and should be restored using public dollars at the federal level.  Further, a 31% decrease in the EPA budget is yet another attack on science and climate change.  It is very clear that this administration is skeptical of the scientific method which is ludicrous.  We can bury our heads all day long, but change is occurring, it is impacting communities and will continue.  Please, do not be like the administration.  Stand up for science.

I now turn to the agencies that are targeted for total elimination of federal funding.  I will start with the Corporation for National and Community Service.  I am a very proud AmeriCorp Alumni.  That program put me on a path to my current career as a college professor and community development expert.  I was paid below poverty wages to do some of the hardest, most rewarding work of my life.  I taught GED preparation and life skills in an Adult Education Center and a local jail.  I saw the challenges of those low income adults and inmates who were re-entering society and I decided that I would devote my life and career to serving those populations.  I went on to obtain a MA in Community Development and then a PhD in Rural Sociology.  I am a proud faculty member at Western Kentucky University where I continue this work.  I know, without a doubt, I would not have taken this path without the AmeriCorp experience.  I am disgusted that this program would even be considered for elimination.

Next, I am a sustaining member of both PBS and NPR. I believe in the programming these two groups provide.  To see my daughter fall in love with science because of the Wild Kratts and Sid the Science Kid is precious.  In case you haven’t watched children’s television today it is not exactly educational.  However, I can be sure with PBS that she is getting an education.  Further, I see the way her teachers also use PBS and the supplemental materials they provide.  With already limited resources, this is yet another avenue teachers have to make the most impact in the classroom.  To think we would eliminate funding for this program at a federal level is beyond me.  I firmly believe that our government should do more than simply provide a military defense for the nation which seems to be the focus of this administration.  I believe in funding the arts and sciences.  In fact, I really cannot believe that I have to argue for federal funding for these important aspects to our American culture.  I believe in funding public radio which is where I’ve heard some of the best political debates on the issues we face as a nation, heard the leading minds on our scientific innovations and challenges and felt I was getting the best information from not only NPR, but also PBS Newshour.  I believe we should fund these agencies that do not make a profit because then good programming becomes the motivation, NOT how to draw in viewers with yelling matches, wild accusations and material that is not fit for children to watch.

I’ve just listed the other agencies that are also up for elimination that was published in the New York Times, Boston Globe, USA Today, etc.  I’ve seen firsthand the work of the Delta Regional Authority when I lived in the Mississippi Delta (proud graduate of Delta State University).  This region is only behind our Appalachian Region in systemic poverty and these regional commissions do important work.  Are they perfect?  No.  I have some faults in how they conduct business.  However, I do not believe for one minute they should be eliminated.  To see the Legal Services Corp and the Council on Homelessness on the block is yet another example of further marginalizing the most vulnerable in our society.

  • African Development Foundation ($26 million): An independent foreign aid agency focusing on economic development in Africa.
  • Appalachian Regional Commission ($119 million): A 52-year-old agency focused on economic growth in 420 counties.
  • Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board ($11 million): The agency was created by the Clean Air Act of 1990 and investigates chemical accidents.
  • Delta Regional Authority ($45 million): An economic development agency for the eight-state Mississippi Delta region.
  • Denali Commission ($14 million): A state and federal economic development agency for Alaska.
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services ($231 million): Provides money to the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums.
  • Inter-American Foundation ($23 million): Promotes “citizen-led grassroots development” in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • S. Trade and Development Agency ($66 million): Promotes U.S. exports in energy, transportation, and telecommunications.
  • Legal Services Corp. ($366 million): A 43-year-old congressionally chartered organization that helps provide free civil legal advice to poor people.
  • National Endowment for the Arts ($152 million): Encourages participation in the arts.
  • National Endowment for the Humanities ($155 million): Supports scholarship into literature and culture.
  • Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. ($175 million): Better known as Neighborworks America, the organization supports local affordable housing programs.
  • Northern Border Regional Commission ($7 million): A regional economic development agency serving parts of Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont.
  • Overseas Private Investment Corp.($63 million): Encourages U.S. private investment in the developing world.
  • S. Institute of Peace ($40 million): Government-run think tank focusing on conflict prevention.
  • S. Interagency Council on Homelessness ($4 million): An independent agency coordinating the federal government’s efforts to reduce homelessness.
  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ($11 million): A program to provide scholarships and fellowships in social sciences and humanities.

“The president said, specifically, hundreds of times – you covered him – ‘I’m going to spend less money on people overseas and more money on people back home’ and that’s exactly what we’re doing with this budget,” Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters (New York Times).  To me, this budget does not reflect a people first budget.  Just look at his priorities!  They harm the people.  They harm the people I work with on a daily basis–my students, community members and most vulnerable in our communities.

There is one aspect of this budget that I do support and that is the increased funding for Veteran’s Affairs to serve our men and women who served.  However, I absolutely do not support yet another increase in military spending that focuses on making more bombs and planes.  The United States already spends more on military infrastructure than the next 8 nations combined in military spending.  We could decrease our military spending and STILL be the country that spends the most on military infrastructure.  I think back to the monumental speech that Eisenhower gave on the need to balance public and private wellbeing and the need for a solid defense.  It seems to me, this budget is heavily weighted on one side and completely ignores the other.  I also do not support any funds for the building of a ridiculous border wall.  Do we really think it is feasible to build a wall along a thousand mile border that is owned largely by private property owners and will impact wild life migration?  Do we really expect another country to pay for this wall?  Why would we take OUR tax dollars to fund such a project?  History shows that the “walls” built in earlier administrations were fraught with problems including technology that malfunctioned when birds flew around it and still left major gaps.  The smartest approach would be immigration reform.  But, that is a subject for yet another letter.

This budget, in conjunction with the horrific new GOP lead replacement for the Affordable Care Act (which I will address fully in another letter), only further solidifies my commitment to fighting against these measures.  This is only the first detailed letter you will receive from me over the next four years.  I may sit on a different political aisle than you do, but you are still my representative and it is still your duty to also represent me even if that means compromise.

It is with deep hope that you go forth and fight for many of these programs that are so vital to local people and communities.

Peace be with you.

What Do you Do for a Living?

education

 

This morning I was reading the comments about the firing of a university professor in Missouri. This post is not about that situation. What I was astounded by were the comments people were making about university professors. Here are just some of the lovely words: stupid, dumb, libtards, ideologues, brainwashers, faithless, godless, lazy, cushy jobs, all deserve to be fired, not worth our time, not worth our money and I could go on and on.

It’s not the first time I’ve railed against the way people talk about this profession. But, maybe I do not do enough to educate people about what exactly the job of a university professor entails. Maybe I do not do enough to dispel the stereotypes (like we are all sitting in our ivory towers, collecting a pay check doing nothing). But, then again maybe this wouldn’t do any good because it seems that these days we are happier with our over-generalizations of the world and explaining the world through sound bites and memes.  I’ve certainly seen it with other professions. But, I’m going to try.

I’ll tell you this much. These perceptions of our profession matter as we are going through this budget battle. It matters if our legislators believe these stereotypes because they will make decisions based on those and not the reality of the university professors across this state that devote their lives to educating our young people so they can compete in the 21st century economy. Research tells us that it is often perception, not fact that rules the halls of policy making.

I first want to start with the perception that we do not want to be here. Or better yet the perception we do not want to be in the classroom teaching. Like any profession I encountered some that were better at the art of teaching than others. But, they always had time for me and were passionate about the material they were teaching. I encountered professors that did not spend much time in the classroom. Why? Because they were doing brilliant research and making a difference in our social world in that way. They were making the key medical breakthroughs. They were inventing the next round of engineering technology. I also encountered wonderfully passionate graduate teaching assistants (who, by the way, contrary to public perception all have a Master’s degree and are working on a PhD. They are not just some person off the street we stick in the classroom. In fact, as a starting point they all have more education than many of the hard working teachers in K-12). Are they young? Mostly. Are they inexperienced? Yes. But show me a profession where new people are not inexperienced. I also work with wonderfully committed adjunct faculty who, in some cases are practitioners in their field, but in other cases are the under-appreciated and under rewarded backbone of our universities. . In my lengthy educational career I’ve encountered 1 professor that I thought should probably retire and their heart was just not in it anymore. I’ve encountered professors that probably needed some work on their social skills. I’ve encountered professors that are not always the best communicators. But, I do believe every profession in our economy has the same. It’s called working with people with different personalities.

I’ve debated hard ideas in the classroom as a student and as a professor. It is not brainwashing to talk about different perspectives. It is not brainwashing to ask students to consider how empirical research matches up with public perception. It is not brainwashing to ask people to stop over generalizing. It is not brainwashing to ask students to critically reflect upon the messages in the media. It’s not brainwashing to help them develop good analytical skills. It is not brainwashing to teach in an in-depth way about the effects of social structures on our daily lives. It’s called education.

My colleagues work HARD to provide relevant experiences, internships, study abroad, community based research, community partnerships, for our students. These things do not just happen. It requires us to be in the community making connections so that we can place our students. I spend just as many hours evaluating the quality of an argument made as I do correcting grammar, helping to make them better writers, providing opportunities for public speaking, teaching basic math so we can do statistics. I spend time in my office talking about ideas one on one. I spend hours preparing good lectures, activities, and readings for students. More times than I can count I was quickly restructuring class because of a major event in the world that they needed a space to discuss what happened. I also spend a good deal of my time as a cheerleader telling them they CAN do this and they CAN become a college graduate. I spend time connecting them with career counseling, financial aid, mental health services, been called on to accompany students to a difficult court hearing, written dozens and dozens of letters of recommendation, cried with students who’ve experienced loss, jumped for joy as they’ve accomplished their goals. And, in my spare time I also do research. I serve our local community and university in my position as professor. I serve on boards, committees, attend multiple events just to support the residents of our city. I do all of this in the capacity of a professor. The idea that we are all sitting around “doing nothing” is preposterous. The idea that we only teach 1 class a semester is ridiculous. We wouldn’t be educating the sheer number of students we do if every professor in the United States had a teaching load of 1 class per semester. Professors that have that kind of load are in their labs the rest of the time WITH students. Just because they are not in the traditional classroom does not mean they are not teaching.

Let me say again—I am modeling the experience I had in higher education from my Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s degree and PhD. My colleagues are modeling the same thing. We learned this from our professors. I am listening to the activity going on in my halls right now. I’m hearing advising appoints happening, calls being made to bring more classes to our students, and I am about to start a morning of skype and conference calls with my students who I teach online as I do every Friday morning. I am modeling what I experienced—the great professors I had that did the same for me.  And, I’m not giving this laundry list of what we do as a list of complaints.  I am giving it for people to understand the role we play.

If you do not know what is happening in our halls of higher education—ask. Visit. Come see for yourself.

Do we get this business of higher education right all the time? Absolutely not. Are we sometimes our own worst enemies? Sure. Do we heatedly debate the ideas of what higher education should look like? Yes. Does this debate get ugly sometimes? Yes. Do we have people that do not always represent our profession in the best light? Yes.  As an institution do we need to be more flexible to change?  Yes. Do we work with people we do not always agree with?  YES.  Do we sometimes view the world differently?  Yes.  But, is that really a terrible thing?

Do not take the over-generalizations and stereotypes as the measure of what we do. Do not take that as a measure of the amazing women and men who walk into the classroom every single day to teach the young adults who will be leading our future businesses, designing the latest engineering and medical innovations, solving our hard social problems, policing our streets, teaching our children, making judicial decisions, and creating new ideas about how we want to be as a society.  And, when you hear these misconceptions–speak up.  Just as you should when you hear anyone lumping every single person into a single category.  SPEAK UP.  SAY SOMETHING.

And by the way, I just got off the phone with a former student who just had to call to tell me about a new idea she’s had to work on and see if I had some more information that I could share.  THAT is what your professors in higher education are supporting and doing.

Owning Success

 

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Today I attended a women in leadership conference at my university.  It was a fantastic day of both learning from some very accomplished women in academia and talking with others recognizing  we share some common characteristics when it comes to how we operate as women leaders.

I took a lot away from today.  Women are less likely to own their success.  We are more likely to downplay accomplishments.  Further, we are less likely to apply for jobs if we do not feel we meet the requirements 100% where men will apply for a job when they only meet 50% of requirements.  I gave real thought to what I want to do in academic leadership.  I thought deeply about work/life satisfaction.

But, there was one take away that fit me like a glove and something I’ve decided could be detrimental to the future I want to make in academic leadership.  I am not very good about owning success.  I am terrible at taking credit for things I’ve accomplished.  Anytime someone points out things I’ve done I 100% of the time talk about the people who opened doors for me.  I am not exaggerating when I say I doubt I’ve even uttered the words, “I’m successful.” I am incredibly uncomfortable talking about the time and energy I’ve devoted to my career and the outcomes I’ve had.

Today, I realized that it is ok to claim my success.  Yes, I’ve been very, very fortunate to have amazing mentors.  I’ve had incredible opportunities presented to me. I have a fantastic support system. But, today I recognized that I walked through the doors and I have worked very hard to get to where I am.  It was not luck.  It was not chance.  I intentionally worked toward my success.

I’m a numbers person and three statistics that were presented today really made me think about this idea of owning success.

.3 percent of Native Americans hold a PhD

2 percent of the US population hold a PhD

Only 30 percent of tenured professors are women

When I look at those stats I realize that I need to own my success not just for me, but for the young women I am committed to mentoring. I need to model confidence.  I need to model that it is ok to share about the long road of work it took to get to where I am.

I’ll still struggle with this.  Even now, I read this and think, “UGH, I sound like such a big head. What an ego.”

But, I look at the picture at the top of this post and know that I owe it to my students.  They need to hear about our stories and know our successes to strive for their own.  Until today, I’d never thought about how downplaying my success perpetuates a cycle.

So, from now on I will still recognize the beautiful collaborations I work with, but I will also acknowledge my own hard work.  And, by writing it down and making it public it makes it more likely I will follow through.

 

Could you Get on the Bus?

do it now

 

Each time I teach Collective Behavior and Social Movements I show the documentary, “Freedom Riders:  Could you Get on the Bus?”  This documentary brilliantly tells the story of the Freedom Ride movement and gives extraordinary insight into what compels people to join social movements.  But, not only what compels people to join movements but what drives them to put themselves at risk, even in the face of death, for a cause.  I’ve watched this documentary no less than 20 times now over the course of my career and every time it forces me to consider my own commitment and passion when it comes to social justice issues.  But, today it caused me to think, “What is my bus?”  How am I participating in creating a more just society.  Have I lost my motivation?  What am I really doing?

Most often when we think of social movements we think of participation being in the form of protests, petitions, organizations that promote change, etc.  I haven’t participated in a social protest or march for some time.  I don’t often write op ed pieces speaking out on those social issues I am passionate about.  I see fellow colleagues that do those activities quite well.  Their words inspire.  Their participation in protest inspires me.

I look at our global society today and so many situations break my heart.  I still see us wrestle with racial inequality.  I see our girls inundated with messages that are detrimental to their definition of self.  I hurt for the poverty I see not only in my own backyard, but also the world.  I become infuriated when in 2016 a city such as Flint, Michigan is without clean drinking water–a basic human right.  I cannot even comprehend or wrap my mind around the suffering of those children, women and men making the journey from Syria.

Then, I listen to all the noise I hear and see on a daily basis.  I hear the ideologues.  I hear the media screaming.  I see the memes.  So much of this closes off people to really talking through and listening to the reality of people who are unlike us or have experienced life in a much different way.  It causes us to define hard social issues as simple, “either you are with us or against us” causes.  It causes us to think that a simple picture or meme can really explain complexity of social life.  Just because people have a different experience than us does not mean our experience is wrong or their experience is wrong.  But, it does mean that we must talk about why they differ.  It means we have to do more to understand each other.

In all of this I’ve decided that my bus is the classroom.  My bus is allowing students a quiet space to have these debates.  To learn from each other.  To have the opportunity to grow.  By creating that space it may mean I take the hot seat for allowing controversial conversations to happen.  I may make some people mad. I may be told we shouldn’t be talking about those kinds of things.  But, I will stand my ground.  I will take the criticism.  I will allow people to think what ever they want of me.

If I come to the end of my career and I’ve continued to allow a space for students to talk then I think I’ve contributed in some small way to fight inequalities.

I cannot recommend this documentary enough.  It is the story of struggle, determination and love for fellow man.  It is hard to watch.  It is hard to digest.  It is hard to wrap our minds around.  But, it is indeed OUR history.  It is OUR story.  To ignore that does a great disservice to the young people who put themselves in harms way to make a change.  Embrace it.  Own it. Learn from it.