on conferences, on sabbaticals, on taking action

last week I attended the American Educational Research Association (AERA)’s annual meeting in Chicago. Chicago is one of my favorite cities and conferences are one of my favorite things to do. While understandably overwhelming, conferences are places where I connect with friends, make new friends, and develop new ideas. My own participation might spark some ideas and thoughts in others–it remains an important part of my professional development.

(I want to acknowledge that the in-person conference model has many challenges–accessibility, cost, gatekeeping, among others. Finding ways to meet the needs of both in-person and virtual gatherings should remain a priority for our professional organizations.)

when I was catching up with folks, the conversation often moved to my sabbatical, which while technically ending in August, is really ending now. there is too much necessary planning for the fall semester taking place now and it’s not really appropriate for me to hold that up because I’m on sabbatical. plus I’m teaching a maymester class and therefore need to be present. so AERA was in many ways my return to the daily grind of research factory life. a more pleasant, social one, for sure. but a return nonetheless.

and in thinking about that return, my sabbatical and recent AERA attendance highlighted something incredibly important for me. my overall research agenda needs an overhaul. I ‘m still focused on Brown and Black folks’ experiences in education and still focused on institutional critique and still focused on the role of curriculum in both those things. but rather than write inward to my academic community, I’m increasing my writing outward. I’m increasing my collaboration. I’m increasing my local organizing and activism.

we are socialized to the norms of academia and those norms no longer (and really, never) serve us well. public education is under attack at all levels–and stopping that attack will underlie all of my actions moving forward.

The Allure of Sabbatical Yahtzee

Years ago I started playing Candy Crush. I still do play Candy Crush (I’m at level 9606) but at the start of sabbatical, I took up Yahtzee with Friends. The premise is something many of us are familiar with–I’m playing rounds of Yahtzee with strangers on the internet. In addition to regular Yahtzee games, there are additional Yahtzee type games including Treasure Hunt (where your dice rolls reveal hidden treasure–think Battleship), Dice World (you battle a bot for a series of prizes), and Family Feast (where you and your Yahtzee family attempt to win ingredients through Yahtzee rolls to make a bunch of food).

This is a long way to say that I spend a lot of time playing Yahtzee.

Even though there is opportunity to chat, the players I play with rarely do. The only consistent engagement is with the Family Feast group who lets the team know when to start playing. Besides that, it’s just me and my dozen daily games. There isn’t a social component compelling me to play.

And while I’m playing Yahtzee, I often think “I should be reading” or “I should be writing” or “I should be doing anything besides playing a game on my phone.”

But what I’ve come to accept is that Yahtzee with Friends allows my brain to take a break. There is very little thinking needed in Yahtzee (aside from do you play four sixes in your six slot or your four of a kind slot?)–which is a nice break from a life and job that requires a lot of thinking.

The other day, I wrote this Twitter thread about the nature of academic work and how there is no sense of when to stop or rest. Academic projects are relatively fluid and while some have hard stops and deadlines, many do not. Aside from things like posting grades, there isn’t much accountability to getting work done. Because of this, many professors find themselves in a place of constant work. It’s not helpful or healthy. When I attempted to place boundaries around my time and not work on weekends, I was happy, but behind.

When framed within the context of my academic life, Yahtzee makes sense. Yahtzee reminds me that sabbatical is meant to be a break. While I have things I want to accomplish during my time off, rest is one of those things too. And Yahtzee is restful. It’s calming.

May you find the things in your life that are restful and calming and make time for them too.

Starting the School Year: Sabbatical Edition

I’ll spare you the apologies for not posting since January — the spring semester, like most spring semesters, was a blur of personal and professional obligations. Since I knew I’d be on sabbatical for the 2022-2023 academic year, I allowed myself to schedule as many things as possible through August. I don’t intend to let my sabbatical stand in the way of graduate student milestones (so I will still be doing some university work) but getting as much wrapped up as I could felt good.

And now I’m at the start of the school year but without most of the commitments and responsibilities I carry through the fall. I thought it would feel great. But instead it feels scary.

Yes, scary!

Before I go on, I want to acknowledge that having a full year sabbatical is an infinite privilege and I truly believe that *everyone* should get paid time away from work to reflect, refresh, nap–whatever they think will bring some balance and peace to their lives. I’ll continue to advocate for that within Purdue for staff and non-TT faculty. This is written so that I can process a part of my academic world and how socialized I am to the world of work.

As a Capricorn sun and moon (if you follow me on Twitter you know that astrology is my jam), I love to work. I get a lot of validation from work, and it’s something I’m pretty good at. But I also need a break. Last year, I chaired several college-level committees that conducted some intensive initiatives, conducted research, had multiple publications, and not to mention also provided ongoing support for graduate students in various stages of their academic careers. Like I said, I love the work but I’m tired.

So imagine my surprise when I realized that I’ve spent the better part of the last few weeks in a low-level panic over being on sabbatical.

It first manifested itself into a fear that I wasn’t prepared for the start of classes. Every time I did something last week I’d internally pause and go, “But classes aren’t ready!” before remembering that there are no classes to get ready for. Now I am trying to create rules for my email, while stressing about missing emails (and furiously checking the Do No Read folder). And I look at the writing I want to do this semester and it’s all “there is no time to get this done!!” I feel very behind on something that hasn’t really even started yet.

Given that I’m usually the person reminding folks that the work will always be there, that almost all emails can wait, etc etc — I am curious (with a dash of mild concern) about my body and brain’s response to sabbatical. Yes, it’s only technically day one. But I think it also indicates how conditioned I am to the fall semester pace. Even as I write this (which is on my to-do list!) there is a sense of urgency around “getting everything done.” I do think that these feelings will temper over time and hopefully be gone at the start of the spring semester, so I am looking forward to that.

I do have lots of goals for sabbatical and one of them is more consistent engagement outside of narrow academic spaces. Expect more discussion here and hopefully I’ll share some new initiatives. Definitely going to make the most of this well-earned gift.

My Semester of Not Working Weekends

Hi Everyone! It’s been a minute, hasn’t it. I thought I came up for air, only to have the semester throw more things at me. I took the winter break off and now we’re back for the second day of the spring semester. My goal, as always, is to post more frequently.

However, to start the semester, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on a little experiment I did during the fall semester and write about what I learned.

The experiment?

I decided not to work on the weekends.

[Before I talk about not working on the weekends, I want to acknowledge that I have tenure. And knowing that I had tenure made it easier to commit to this. I’m not sure that working on the weekends all the time as a pre-tenured professor was worth it, but the reality is that job security makes a lot of decisions easier]

Every Friday starting at 7 pm through Monday mornings, I did no work. I did no class planning/grading, I did no research tasks, and I did no meeting preparation. I did allow myself to read books aligned with work topics, although to be honest, I only read one work book during this semester. I rarely checked email.

Those initial weekends were hard, as I felt a surge of guilt that things wouldn’t get done that needed to get done. But I reflected a lot on what being “done” meant in a work environment where there is always more work to do. And none of my academic work is so essential that it must be done on a Saturday rather than a Tuesday. Soon it was easy to fill my weekends doing things I enjoyed more than work!

Unfortunately, I spent the entire semester behind on certain tasks–like grading. In previous semesters, I used the weekends to “catch up” what I couldn’t finish during the week, and since I wasn’t working on the weekends anymore, that meant I never caught up. I also did not make any significant progress on some of my important writing projects. My work weeks filled up quickly with meetings/teaching/administrative tasks–I tried to limit disruptions to my schedule, but as a newly tenured professor, my committee work increased substantially. I was warned this might occur but I did not adequately prepare for it. And full disclosure–I waste a lot of time on the internet and it’s possible that prevented me from getting as much work done during the week as I could.

However, after the first month or so, I stopped feeling guilty. There is no way for me to finish “all” of my work at any given time because my work is fluid. Aside from grades being turned into the registrar, I have no required hard deadlines. I came to accept that my previous attitude of “work all the time” was based not on the actual parameters of my job, but on these notions I’ve picked up about busyness and workload. Being busy all the time is not a badge I want to wear.

By not working weekends, I also realized that some things just aren’t going to get done. I realized that sometimes I need an extension. All of this is ok.

Some people like working on the weekends. That’s great! I hope that academic people who work weekends are not working the other five days of the week, because that’s a lot of work. I love work! I love working. I love my work. But I cannot love it for the entire week.

I’ve never been one to wade into the conversations about work-life balance, although I do think it’s important to figure out how to prioritize the important things in your life–I like to fitness so I make sure I can do that every day–because making time for the things that add to your life is vital. I hope you have your own strategies that you use to make this happen.

So I will continue to not work on the weekends, and I’m going to be more conscious of my runaway internet time during the day.

Good luck to everyone out there starting the new semester!

Coming Up for Air, or Life as a Tenured Professor

At least once a week, I make a notation in my notebook about a weekly blog post. I love having the space to work through ideas, to seem “less” academic, and to communicate quickly with folks (as opposed to waiting for the long slog of the publication cycle). Writing this is good for my soul, even when I’m writing about hard or infuriating things.

The experiences people have post-tenure vary. Some folks feel a sense of ennui, wondering where their work goes next. Others experience a sense of depression. When you spend 6 to 7 years working toward a goal, meeting that goal can feel anti-climatic. It’s easy then, I think, to question the amount of life and energy you spent working toward that goal. Earning tenure, apparently, comes with a whole host of complicated feelings.

For me, post tenure life means that I’m expected to be present in many more spaces. I chair two high-profile committees in my college (Faculty Affairs and Diversity*), I’m now part of the Promotion & Tenure committee, and my focus on institutional equity and critical race theories has raised my institutional profile, meaning that I’m invited to talk about these things more often. I enjoy doing this, and firmly believe that tenured professors should do a bulk of the service work.

However, what is taking up the *most* time is supporting graduate students. This will be my post for next week because I have important things to say on this topic–earning tenure makes me much more emboldened in calling out individuals within the institution, not just the institution itself.

Oh, and I’m still expected to maintain the type of research productivity I had while I was an assistant professor (albeit with less anxiety because my job is secure). Sure! Why not? 🙂

Anyway, I plan to carve out more time for writing. There are some exciting things on the horizon and sharing them here makes sense.

* I have feelings about the diversity committee. They can be summed up in this post

It’s Another Academic Year!

Welcome back! The school year has started, so I’m resuming my weekly-ish blog posts. Looking forward to sharing lots of interesting things now that I’m tenured. Woot!

Heads up–today’s post isn’t about my current life as a professor, but how I got started in higher education. Slightly different than my usual posts, but this is where my origin story begins 🙂

My career began in student affairs, specifically university housing. I was a peer mentor, and then RA, at the University of Michigan. I followed that up at Arizona State to study higher and postsecondary education–where I was a graduate hall director in Manzanita Hall. Then I got my first full-time residence life position at a small, private, liberal arts college–Grinnell College. I later went to work for the Department of Residence at Iowa State University before leaving the field completely and moving to the other side of the house–as a professor.

My student affairs peeps know that it generates a lot of paper memories. I have cards, affirmations, notes, papers, from training, meetings, teambuilding sessions, you name it. And while I’ve slowly gotten rid of most things, I’ve kept a few folders of notes/handouts that meant a lot to me. I came across one of these folders last week.

As I shared above, I have “both sides of the house” experience. I was a student affairs professional and now I’m a tenured professor (not within a student affairs or higher education program). And while both are challenging in their own ways, my hardest day as a faculty member doesn’t come close to my medium days as a housing administrator. In fact, sometimes I’m amused by the issues that upset faculty. There is nothing in the functionality of my job that will ever be a true emergency. Nothing.

The same is not true for student affairs professionals.

In January 2005, I was in my second year as a Residence Life Coordinator at Grinnell College. The semester was starting soon, but I was back on campus watching a basketball game with my supervisor and the college president (small schools are like that). The president then got a message a student had died in a car accident (it was winter in Iowa) and gave the same to my supervisor. She showed me the name on a slip of paper: James Ewins. Then she asked if I knew who that was. It took a moment to register. Yes, I knew who that was. He was on my student staff.

JR had this incredibly infectious energy that was all positivity, all the time. But not in a way that made you feel like you needed to be positive–he just exuded this sense that things would be ok. He was a particularly strong leader in our group and we all loved him.

Student death is a hard, and sad, reality of working on college campuses. Students were returning to campus that day and we decided that I would hold an emergency meeting with the staff and tell them that JR had died. So I gathered everyone in my apartment and told them their friend, our friend, had died. For some, it was the first person close to them that had died. I don’t remember much from that evening.

None of my grad school classes prepared me for that. They didn’t prepare me for the weeks that followed, as the campus moved on but the rest of us did not. They didn’t prepare me for helping his parents pack his room. They certainly didn’t prepare me for giving one of his on-campus eulogies. Or for his father to pull me aside and give me a bottle of wine (JR had asked his parents to buy me a bottle of wine as a birthday present–the bottle was destroyed in the car crash–his dad wanted him to replace it for me) while telling me how he punched out a fellow prison employee for telling him that “JR was in a better place now.” JR and his family were extremely religious but felt like all of us did–that JR’s place should still be with us. I will be forever grateful for Grinnell College chartering a bus so that we could drive to his funeral and be safe.

All of this came flooded back because I found the JR folder–with the cards, notes, pictures. I held on to it because I didn’t want to forget. But you can never let this go. It stays with you. It informed how I relate and approach students.

There are certain professor things I’m fastidious about–others, not so much. How can I be, when I was confronted early in my higher education career with the fact that life is fleeting?

I generally have a reason for these posts–but to be honest, I am not sure what I want you to take away from this one. The pandemic has definitely changed some of my feelings about the start of the school year–but I also know there’s a new group of students who are excited about what the future holds for them. I left student affairs because the demands of the job shifted into areas that were not my strengths. But I credit my time in student affairs with making me the type of professor I am today.

Take care of yourselves out there. See you next week.

Fighting for Shared Governance

On Friday, the Purdue Board of Trustees (BOT) approved a civics literacy requirement for all undergraduate students at Purdue campuses. For the past two weeks, I’ve worked along side my fellow colleagues in the AAUP to protest this vote. The faculty did not approve this requirement and the branch campuses received no notification or opportunity to provide input. This move is not only a complete overreach of the BOT power, but is politically motivated to serve the whims of a conservative, racist university president. Here is a summary of actions that got us here.

Critics of our protest claim its because we’re against civics literacy. Honestly, I could care less if the university adds another graduation requirement. The university is full of requirements that are, at best, performative. Students will find a work around to this requirement, much in the same way I’ve found a work around to the multiple certifications I have to complete each year (my work around–using the answers I’ve saved from the first certification, because the questions do not change). The issue is not the requirement.

The issue I’m protesting is the complete disregard for the will of the faculty. The history of this decision is clear–the Purdue WL Faculty Senate voted no on this proposal and now the BOT is doing it anyway. Overriding the faculty is insulting and demeaning to the important role we play in the academic and curricular decisions of the university.

It’s also a very dangerous precedent to set. I know some of my colleagues think “it’s just a graduation requirement.” But what happens if the BOT decides to overturn the university’s promotion recommendation? Or decides to remove the very process that protects our academic freedom? Faculty governance has been eroded by state legislatures, boards, and university administration for decades. The goal is clear: allow neoliberalism to destroy the role of education in our society. This ideology harms the important work universities do, and it especially hurts student learning. Universities are not businesses, in the same way that students are not widgets.

The BOT responded to our protest by arguing (I’m paraphrasing broadly here) that the BOT had sole power to enact curriculum decisions, and the number of faculty against this initiative is small. Again, I’m sure many faculty do not see this as inherently problematic–but would their perspective change if we weren’t talking about a civics literacy requirement? Would faculty be on board with a unilateral decision to implement a social justice and equity requirement? Maybe I’ll start a campaign for the BOT to institute this. After all, they have the “exclusive authority to prescribe the curricula.” The BOT is also highly committed to equity as evident by their task force, and the large financial commitment to the task force initiatives. Surely I will have their full support, as they have already done this very thing! Right?

I’m wrapping up my summer class right now and then I planned to go off the grid to write some things I desperately want to write. Instead, I’ll be on the grid more often, to continue fighting for shared governance. While tenure provides me the time and the protection to do this, I’m frustrated that I have to.

I’ll end with this–important things are worth fighting for. So that’s what I’ll do.

The Proverbial Summer Break

The first time my mother suggested that I didn’t work in the summer because “you aren’t teaching a class,” I politely explained how academic life goes–that while no, I wasn’t teaching, I was still working, catching up on the various reviews and manuscripts and proposals that languish during the academic year. While I don’t ascribe to the belief that writing can only take place in large chunks, what last summer taught me is that having unstructured time is incredibly important for the type of thinking that certain projects require. And this summer, I am teaching a summer course (right now, actually) and it’s tough to do anything else but manage the course–we meet four days a week for four weeks.

Last summer it didn’t make sense to take a “break” from things because it wasn’t clear that there would be things to break for-I had made various travel plans in early spring, only to watch them all dissolve as the pandemic continued to go unchecked. And while there are more things for me to do now as a fully vaccinated person, people and places are still catching up.

So as I carefully considered these things–what I wanted my summer to look like, what things I have to complete this summer, and what non-work fun there is to be had–I’ve decide to prioritize new creative writing projects (more on these in the fall), more reading time, more outside time, and less computer time. I’ve tried to post weekly for much of the last year–it’s been a great outlet as I think through some ideas and perspectives I have. (And full disclosure, I started this because I was worried I might not get tenure and figured that having my work more publicly useful would be beneficial.)

This has all been a very long way to say that I’m taking a break from posting weekly, and plan to do monthly posts for June, July, and August. I also added a new page (“What I’ve Read”) to keep track of all the books. I’ll update that periodically, too–but hope to have more in-depth posts on some of the books I’ve read.

Make time and space for yourselves, however and whenever you can.

What I Read — April 2021

Despite reading over 1000 pages of student proposals/dissertations (which requires attention and commenting), I managed six books this month! A few comments…

  • The book on money was super fascinating and I’d recommend it–very easy read. The authors have several other books as well that I plan to check out.
  • I didn’t know much about The Midnight Library when I got it from the library–I enjoyed the premise a lot as someone who wonders about similar things. I really enjoyed the ending. If you read it and want to talk about it, let me know.
  • The World Doesn’t Require You made me uncomfortable in a good way. I keep thinking about the book and what I learned from it. Here is the review from NPR, which is a good summary of my own thoughts.


The Midnight Library — Matt Haig

The Run-Walk-Run Method — Jeff Galloway

Running & Being: The Total Experience — George Sheehan

The Fuck-It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy — Caroline Dooner

Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter — Dan Ariely & Jeff Kreisler

The World Doesn’t Require You — Rion Amilcar Scott

More Than Just Saying No: Why Academic Boundaries Matter

When I first started at Purdue in 2014, I was also training for my first marathon. This came up during a brief conversation with a colleague–I think he asked me how I was adjusting. Anyway, after I mentioned this, he looked at me somewhat sternly and said, “how do you have time as a new professor to train for a marathon?” I probably mumbled something about being an early morning runner (which I am), but was taken aback that someone thought that my work as an assistant professor could not leave time for running.

One of the more enduring challenges I experience as a professor is how to manage my time. There are many great resources out there on managing time (for example, this one ) and they generally offer advice on one of the best ways to do this: learning how to saying no. Learning how to say no sounds good in theory–but it’s not that easy in practice, especially when we acknowledge that different asks mean different things. For example, I was incredibly grateful when a colleague agreed to be on a student’s dissertation committee a week before the defense because of a completely unexpected situation. Sometimes no doesn’t make sense.

Given that no doesn’t always make sense, and is sometimes not feasible, I’ve started to think through academic boundaries that don’t rely on “no.” These strategies are evolving and are not set in stone, but they’ve made it much easier for me to control my time this semester.

  1. Dedicate two days to meetings. Aside from a few standing meetings (our college/department faculty meetings are on Fridays), I hold all of my meetings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This makes for long days but it also means that the other days of the week aren’t broken up by meetings.
  2. I do not accept same week meetings unless it’s an emergency. There are not many emergencies in the research factory, which helps, but my entire week could fill with meetings if I let it. So I don’t.
  3. I build reading time into my workday. My job requires a lot of reading and I used to save it for the end of the day–this just means I’m working long into the evening.

Academic boundaries are particularly important in the summer, when the university isn’t paying me, but I’m earning salary for my grant projects. So this year I reached out to everyone I work with to let them know that I’ll continue to read/comment on writing/proposals/etc, but from June 18 through August 13, I’m unavailable for any meetings and am only skimming email once a week. It’s been hard to remind people of this boundary as they attempt to schedule with me (“it’s just one meeting!”) but this summer I need to focus on my own things and I’m going to do that.

When thinking through your own academic boundaries think about what matters to you, not what the academy tells you is important. Several years ago I was told to stop being on so many student committees. But many of the committees I’m on are those of Brown and Black graduate students who seek me out because they are Brown or Black, or are doing work on race/equity. Given the extremely low numbers of Brown and Black faculty, I consider supporting Brown and Black students to be one of the most important functions of my jobs. So I politely told my department chair that reducing my committee commitment was non-negotiable. And I’ve maintained this.

In blog news, I think I’m moving to a Friday posting schedule–not sure what the summer will look like. After all, I’m setting some work boundaries 🙂