Why I’m Participating in #ScholarStrike

Although I’m not a tenured professor, I am participating in the Scholar Strike for Racial Justice, a mass action of higher education professionals protesting racist policing, state violence against communities of color, mass incarceration and other manifestations of racism. Scholar Strike is meant to disrupt the everyday routines of academia and show solidarity for other workers striking for racial justice. Aside from a faculty organizing meeting, I will not engage in any academic work on September 8th and 9th.

Instead, I will spend the next two days drawing attention to the experiences of Native and Indigenous students in education, as well as highlighting how educational environments play an important role in creating space and opportunity for racial justice.

The Summer That Wasn’t

Hi! I know that I mentioned taking August off but the research factory resumes paying me today and I thought some reflections on the summer were in order. 

I’m on a 9-month contract at Purdue and generally take the summers off. Every fourth year or so I’ll teach a summer course. It’s also not unusual for me to do grant work over the summer (organizing data, doing analysis). But typically I use summer as a time to recharge.

However, I decided to work this summer because we are in a pandemic. 

When I made these goals in May, I recognized they were ambitious. Four new(ish) manuscripts, data collection on two projects, redesigning two courses into a new learning management system, and the most important–submitting my tenure packet. Thankfully, several of them had hard deadlines which made planning easier. I completed the list on Friday.

Working through ten substantial goals led to several key observations.

Observation 1: Having unstructured thinking time is critical in creating intellectual work. Without the restrictions of meetings, or classes (or the travel time and prep associated with those), I could spend hours building arguments in different manuscripts.

Observation 2: My semester-life is not my summer-life and therefore I should not expect the same amount of work product at the end–it’s near impossible without giving up the other things that are important to me (running, food shows, watching Murder, She Wrote).

Observation 3: Working through the summer has made me less anxious about fall productivity. However, this could also be a result of submitting my promotion and tenure documents. I feel less pressure to get things out because I won’t be re-evaluated again for two years (assuming I earn tenure. we’ll cross that bridge if it happens).

Observation 4: Writing every day for an hour works for me.

Observation 5: Writing in large chunks works for me but only at the end of the process. I still plan to schedule my daily writing (60 minutes at the start and end of each day) but will block out large chunks when the manuscript is mostly complete to flush things out, etc.

Observation 6: I’m taking next summer off regardless of the status of the pandemic.

What I’m Reading — August 2020

The semester is starting soon so I’m taking August off from posting to focus on that, but I here’s what I’m reading this month:

Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition — Glen Sean Coulthard

The Obelisk Gate — N. K. Jemisin

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race — Reni Eddo-Lodge

Station Eleven — Emily St. John Mandel

Our History is the Future — Nick Estes

How To Be an Anti-Racist — Ibram X. Kendi

Research as Resistance: Revisiting Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-Oppressive Approaches — Susan Strega and Leslie Brown

The Vulnerable Observer — Ruth Behar

The 19th Wife — David Ebershoff

I’ll report back in September 🙂

Oh! And I love book recommendations so please share yours!

The Helpful Rejection

About six weeks ago, I submitted a manuscript to a fairly well-known journal in my field. Within three weeks, I received a desk reject–the editors did not send it out for peer review.

I can’t say I was totally surprised by the rejection–I was aware the manuscript had flaws. But what did surprise me was the rejection letter.

The editors summarized my article, pointed out it’s strengths, and then provided brief comments on its weaknesses. But in those comments the editors offered a series of high-level suggestions on how to improve the manuscript. Reading through the feedback made it clear which direction I should take the article in and makes me confident to resubmit. Reading their letter felt good because it was useful, constructive feedback.  

Having a manuscript rejected can be frustrating, but doubly so if you have no idea on why or how to improve. Academic writing is not magic  and editors can strengthen the review process by providing this type of feedback with rejections. Previous rejections have left me wondering about my ability as a scholar–this rejection made me excited to work through revisions.

The rejection was also kind–and we need all the kindness we can get right now.

Why Teaching Sovereignty Matters

On July 9, 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma, which held that under the Indian Major Crimes Act, lands reserved for the Creek Nation in eastern Oklahoma constituted Indian Country. This decision was a major win for Indigenous peoples in the U.S.

Legal scholarship is not my area of expertise, so I’m not going to speak to the legal ramifications of the case. Instead I want to address what is glaringly missing from U.S. history/social studies curriculum: discussions on Indigenous sovereignty.

There were several statements from the opinion I thought were important:

Congress has since broken more than a few promises to the Tribe. Nevertheless, the Creek Reservation persists today.

Courts have no proper role in the adjustment of reservation borders. 

In most social studies classrooms, students learn about a handful of key Indigenous peoples, the first Thanksgiving, and if there is enough time, the Trail of Tears. They certainly do not learn about broken treaties or reservation boarders, as the opinion acknowledges.  Students do not learn about the Allotment Act (Dawes Act), the Indian Removal Act, Wounded Knee, the boarding school era, or any of the local/regional/national struggles for Indigenous sovereignty.* Many teachers do not point out that the land America “settled” already had inhabitants on it, that the land did not exist for the exploitation of white settlers. Nor do teachers discuss the brutal, genocidal acts the settlers committed to hold firm to the land.

Because students do not learn about Indigenous history in this way, current events like Standing Rock or McGirt v. Oklahoma are not contextualized as *another* action in a long line of actions meant to diminish Indigenous rights, violate tribal treaties, and deny Indigenous peoples their position as sovereign nations within the U.S.

One prevailing theme in my research on Indigenous student experiences is how they must justify and defend their position at Indigenous while in school. Participants frequently tell stories of faculty and peers who deny their very existence (“You don’t really look Native,” “I don’t think that really happened, I would’ve learned about this in school”)–and whose denial rests of their lack of knowledge about Indigenous peoples in the U.S.

Social studies curriculum often positions Indigenous peoples as adjacent to the narrative of early colonial America. The curriculum paints Indigenous peoples as barriers to success, not as individuals who played a large role in the early success of the settlers.

Teaching about Indigenous sovereignty is one key strategy social studies instructors can employ to better prepare their students to understand the full history of the development of the U.S.

I want to acknowledge there are other important critical events in Indigenous history–these are the events that pop up the most in my research. 

My Letter to the Board of Trustees

This is a letter I sent to Purdue’s Board of Trustees this morning regarding the formation of a task force to address racial equity on campus.

My name is Stephanie Masta and I’m an assistant professor in the College of Education, with courtesy appointments in the College of Liberal Arts and the School of Engineering Education. I write to you from a vulnerable position—I am one of the few Native American faculty members on campus and I am untenured. However, a substantial part of my research agenda focuses on the experiences of Indigenous students in predominately-white schools, particularly at the college and university level. My work highlights the importance of institutional accountability in terms of racial justice. It is from my position as both a Native scholar and educational researcher that I share some thoughts regarding the formation of the task force to address racial equality.

Several years ago I read the book Pym by Mat Johnson. The book details the experiences of an African-American professor, one of which is refusing to serve on the diversity committee at his college. He shares “The diversity committee has one primary purpose: so that the school can say it has a diversity committee. They need that for when students get upset about race issues or general ethnic stuff. It allows the faculty and administration to point to it and go, ‘Everything is going to be okay, we have formed a committee.’ People find it very relaxing. It’s sort of like, if you had a fire, instead of putting it out, you formed a fire committee.” The task force needs to be more forceful and powerful than a diversity committee.

We do not need another task force to simply study the impacts of racism on higher education, as the research on this already exists (see Cabrera, 2018; Feagin, Vera, & Imani, 2014; Harper & Hurtado, 2007; Patton, 2016). There is a long-established body of research that points to the inequity experienced by Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students at historically white colleges and universities (see Masta, 2018; Minthorn & Shotton, 2014; Patton, Haynes, & Croom, 2017; Yosso, Smith, Ceja, Solórzano, 2009). In my own research, I’ve found that Indigenous students in higher education experience social and cultural isolation, are expected to defend and justify their existence to peers, and are tokenized by faculty.

History shows that institutions are endlessly forming task forces, making recommendations, implementing a program or two—but with almost no material shift in campus culture or climate. This pattern makes it easy to believe that at some level, universities are more invested in maintaining the status quo than they are in embarking on the radical transformation needed to make our institutions places of racial equity.

The Purdue community deserves a task force willing to rise to the challenge of the current times and address Black, Indigenous, and Latinx student, staff, and faculty needs. Doing real work means admitting there is real work to be done and committing to all the steps it requires, discomfort and all.

As such, I encourage the Board of Trustees to consider the following suggestions when convening and charging the task force:

  • Create a task force make-up that consists of and prioritizes the voices of racial equity scholars, graduate and undergraduate students, and Black/Latinx/Indigenous community members, and also includes individuals with institutional decision-making power (e.g. financial).
  • Conduct a careful review of peer institutions’ diversity task forces and programs to know what has worked and not worked at similar institutions.
  • Provide ongoing and public financial and institutional support for initiatives put forth by the task force.
  • Include a review institutional policies and practices to identify those that harm Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students and a make a commitment to address these policies and practices.
  • Communicate frequently with students, staff, faculty, campus stakeholders, and community members about the status and progress made by the task force.

Thank you for your time.

I would like to thank Jess Roff, Elizabeth Leonard, Amy Ariel, Anne Kosseff-Jones, Sollie Flora, H May, and Mary Parker for their comments and suggestions on drafts of this statement.

The Fetishization of Historical Actors

As someone who studies how we talk about a particular type of history (Native/Indigenous) I wasn’t surprised when I found myself typing the following tweet: “All statues are is visual proof of the never-ending fetishization of single actors (which starts in elementary school, particularly the ‘founding fathers.’ they should all come down.” I deleted it because I didn’t want to risk some random person replying with a treatise on the importance of George Washington. I don’t care about George Washington 🙂

But everyone’s attachment to statues (or more specifically, the people the statues represent) does demonstrate how engrained the notion of single actors is within our U.S. social studies/history curriculum. Part of my research focuses on how teachers and students discuss Indigenous and colonial content. Not suprising, most of the lessons and the class curriculum center on the singular individual. Students learn about Squanto but not the many tribal communities. Teachers discuss the “founding fathers” but fail to mention any one else. The curriculum fetishizes these people as if they are solely responsible for their acts and then this fetishization takes an outward approach through things like building names, statues, roads. I’ve long thought that we should teach history conceptually (e.g. genocide, colonialism), and only include specific historical figures in relationship to these concepts. Perhaps this is a project for the future.

I rarely gave much thought to this fetishization, or how it manifests itself in life outside of schools until two years ago. I was conducting a study in a classroom and the teacher was discussing George Washington (they loved GW). Anyway, they said several times that GW was elected by the people unanimously. That didn’t sound right to me so I made a note to double check this later. They continued to repeat this fact throughout the day. However, as I was packing up, the teacher said to me, “hey, I bet you’re wondering why I told the kids that.” Taking the opening I said, “yes! I was curious because I thought we didn’t do the popular vote until Adams.” To which they replied, “yep, that’s true. but telling students how GW was actually elected is complicated and doesn’t fit the narrative I have of Washington.”

Which is to say that it might behoove statue lovers everywhere to remember that what they learned in schools were very much likely the narratives teachers wanted to tell–and if we knew the true stories of these folks, no one would get a statue.


The Reluctant Writer

Confession: when I first drafted this post I titled it “The Intrepid Writer” and then looked up intrepid to confirm it meant what I thought it had meant…and no! It does not! I thought intrepid meant cautious or timid, instead it means fearless or adventurous. And while I’d like to think I’m those things in other parts of my life, it certainly doesn’t describe my writing life. At all.

But reluctant does.

I like to joke with people that had I known being a professor was just writing an endless series of mini dissertations I might have chosen a different career path. but since my plan B option is running a food shack, and the pandemic makes *that* option challenging, I’ll continue with my ongoing mini-dissertation writing.

I don’t want to go into the “publish or “perish” notion present in academia, but I do feel pressure to write consistently enough to have one or two things published yearly. This means coming up with new research projects or re-analyzing data on old projects. I try not to have too many new projects going on at once. And let’s just say “try” is a doing a lot of work in that sentence 🙂

So last week, I decided to address the overwhelmed feeling I had about my current writing by mapping everything out to my research agenda. I’m collecting data on two grants (I did not include the potential publications from these projects in my list) but when all was said and done–I have 10 manuscripts in the pipeline. Two are under review (thank goodness!), two due by August 15th (so deadlines!), and six in various stages of development. Doing this helped calm my feelings that I’m “not doing enough”…but it also means I need to re-commit to a more focused, structured writing practice.

Not sure what the takeaway is for this post aside to remind people that writing isn’t magic, it can be overwhelming especially when it’s an important part of your job, and planning your writing can make you feel better.

Seeking Manuscript Reviewers

I’m guest editing an issue of the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education featuring manuscripts authored by graduate students using critical/Indigenous methodologies. if you’re willing to review, please provide your information here.

For many students, this is their first solo-authored paper, and the first time they’ve explored this part of their scholar identity. Reviewers should be thorough, but constructive.

QSE will manage the review process and I expect reviews to occur sometime in mid-August/early September.

Please pass along to colleagues who might be interested in supporting graduate students in the academic writing process.




The Diversity, Inclusion, Equity Paradox

First, I know that it’s typically referred to as “diverity, equity, and inclusion” because DEI sounds better than DIE. but honestly, DIE is how I feel when campus conversations arise on this particular topic 🙂

Below is an except from a keynote I gave in February.

I want to say something about the status of diversity, equity, and inclusion activities within higher education. And I do so recognizing that diversity, equity, and inclusion work is important—I have many friends who do this work and in doing this work make their organizations and institutions better and more supportive for Brown and Black folks. But I want to share this quote from the book Pym, by Mat Johnson: “The diversity committee has one primary purpose: so that the school can say it has a diversity committee. They need that for when students get upset about race issues or general ethnic stuff. It allows the faculty and administration to point to it and go, “Everything is going to be okay, we have formed a committee.” People find it very relaxing. It’s sort of like, if you had a fire, instead of putting it out, you formed a fire committee.”

Often times these diversity conversations focus on two things 1) increasing awareness around the status of Brown and Black folks and 2) developing programs (usually in the form of mentorship programs). And I think we should invest some time in recognizing that a) there is already a substantial amount of awareness about the status of Brown and Black faculty, staff, and students in higher education and 2) programs do not necessarily bring about systemic change. Which means that many university diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts are designed to maintain the status quo with a bit more access—not change the structures completely. Knowing this is important because it gives us a different lens we can use when thinking about our own locations and what we can do to heal and redress the type of trauma institutions maintain.

This is a critical point–colleges and universities are very well aware of what they need to do to address inequality. But doing these things would “cost” white faculty/students access and privileges. An inherent contradiction–one that white people generally see no point in resolving because again, the systems benefit them.

This, I think, should be a call to action for white faculty and staff who consider themselves allies or want to engage in allying behavior–make decisions in the best interest of Brown and Black people even if it means creating a professional disadvantage for yourself. Start there. Explain to people why you are doing so. Point out the systemic inequities and make your personal actions confront them.