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Trans*Forming Higher Education Collaborative (Part 3)

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by dr. Saby Labor in Audio, Blog, Resources
June 14, 2020 0 comments

Context note: This discussion was recorded in July, 2019 prior to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, Riah Milton​, and Dominique Rem’Mie​ Fells, and Ahmaud Arbery. To support the Movement for Black Lives, please consider a monthly or one-time donation. To kick off season three, I invite you to join me for a discussion at a gathering of the Trans*forming Higher Education Collaborative in Tucson, Arizona. T.H.E. Collaborative is “a group of transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) educators dedicated to addressing transgender oppression in and through higher education” (T.H.E. Vision Statement, 2018). We centered the work of adrienne maree brown’s book, “Emergent Strategy”, by focusing on three questions. We had a very robust convening around these questions, so you have the honor of digesting the entirety of the discussion in three parts. Episode 31, Part One centers the question: “What does it mean for us to convene across and within geographies and institutional hierarchies?” Episode 31, Part Two centers the question: “What does it mean to build something that has never been built before?” Episode 31, Part Three continues the discussion from part two, as well as centers the question: “What does trans*forming higher education mean to you?” In the spirit of brown’s work, T.H.E. Collaborative centered this Emergent Strategy principle: “There is a conversation in the room that only these people at this moment can have. Find it.”

About our guests:

About Melvin Antoine Whitehead:

Melvin A. Whitehead, Ph.D. will begin his position as a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Student Affairs Administration at Binghamton University in Fall 2020. Melvin’s scholarship uses a critical (power-conscious) lens to address problems related to inequities, power, and privilege in higher education. His research interests include racism, whiteness, and anti-blackness on U.S. college campuses. Previously, Melvin was a librarian at Joliet Junior College, where he worked with LGBTQ+ students to develop a speakers bureau for facilitating campus discussions about gender and sexuality, worked with practitioners to implement intersectional approaches to the College’s Safe Zone Ally program, and pushed for equitable and inclusive changes in campus policies and practices.

About D-L Stewart:

Dr. D-L Stewart is a professor in the School of Education, Co-Coordinator of Student Affairs in Higher Education, Co-Director of Campus Initiatives for the Race and Intersectional Studies for Educational Equity (RISE) Center, and affiliated faculty in the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research at Colorado State University. Over the course of his faculty career, he has focused most intently on the history and philosophy of higher education, as well as institutional systems and structures that affect the postsecondary experiences, growth and development, as well as success of racially minoritized and queer and trans* students. Dr. Stewart examines these topics through intersectional, critical, and poststructural frameworks that incorporate ableism, religious hegemony, and classism alongside racism, patriarchy, and queer- and trans-antagonism. In addition to over 50 journal publications and book chapters, D-L is an author or editor of four books, most recently, Black Collegians’ Experiences in U.S. Northern Private Colleges: A Narrative History, 1945-1965 (Palgrave, 2017) and co-editor with Elisa Abes and Susan R. Jones of a forthcoming text, Rethinking College Student Development Theory Using Critical Frameworks (Stylus, 2019).

About Sy Simms:

Sy Simms (They/Them) is a Black Transgenderqueer afrofuturist who is currently a doctoral student at the University of Arizona.  Sy’s research addresses student affairs practitioners’ motivations and intentions in engaging in diversity and justice work with, alongside, and for marginalized communities.

About Z Nicollazo:

Dr. Z Nicolazzo is an associate professor of Trans* Studies in Education and a Co-Chair of the Transgender Studies Research Cluster at the University of Arizona.  Her work focuses on how discourses of gender circulate in college contexts, which particular attention paid to how such discourses mediate life for transgender college students, faculty, and staff.

About Alex C. Lange:  

Alex C. Lange has an impatient, enduring hope for a just, caring, and thriving world. They are currently a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program at the University of Iowa. Alex’s research examines both those on the margins in higher education along lines of sexuality, race, and gender as well as the forces that pushes those people to the margins, including whiteness/white supremacy, heterosexism, and trans-antagonism. They are a co-author on the book Identity-Based Student Activism: Power and Oppression on College Campuses (published by Routledge) and were part of the collective that authored ACPA’s A Bold Vision Forward: A Framework for the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization. Their collaborative research on queer and trans college student and student activism has been published in outlets such as the Journal of College Student Development and The Review of Higher Education. You can follow Alex on Twitter at @itsAlexCL

About Alden Jones:

Alden Jones is a doctoral candidate at The University of Texas at Austin. Their research is centered around trans* and queer students, faculty, and staff in various contexts. More specifically, their dissertation focuses on black trans* women and femme students and their collegiate experiences.

About S Simmons:

Black, trans*genderqueer, educator, advocate, spouse, friend, and Beyoncé fan. S. Simmons is originally from Chicago Heights, IL and is the eldest of three. Dr. S, as he is affectionately called, is a first-generation college graduate and earned their B.S. and M.S. in Psychology from Iowa State University, and PhD in Higher Education from Loyola University Chicago. Over the course of their career, S has held several positions within higher education including Admissions Counselor, Pre-Collegiate Program Coordinator for gifted and talented students and students of color, Educational Program Specialist for the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Program, and assistant director and interim director of a Gender and Sexuality Center. In all of S’s roles, he has provided leadership and guidance on diversity, inclusion, and equity efforts within and across departments. Apart from leading in higher education, S is happily married to Danielle for over 11 years and they have a cute dog, Drake, yes like the rapper, that joined the family over 8 years ago. Ask anyone who knows S and they will tell you S is passionate, caring, and leads with love.

About T.J. Jourian:

Dr. T.J. Jourian is an unaffiliated scholar, advocate, and educator with Trans*Formational Change, LLC. Motivated by intersectional, collaborative, and liberatory movements and frameworks, his mission and scholarship centers trans and queer people of color in achieving the democratic and freedom-seeking potential of higher education institutions, non-profit organizations, and other entities. T.J. is also the events and resources coordinator of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, a Quaker organization serving Meetings in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Show Highlights: 

  • Review the recap of the first and second parts of this episode 1:03 
  • Listen in as our guests discuss imagining trans possibilities within institutional hierarchies 3:04
  • Learning about how hierarchies can dehumanize downwards as well as upwards by turning some people into “super-humans” 15:08
  • Engage with our discussion on how we imagine transforming higher education 23:36

Notable Quotes:

  •  “What does it mean to be people who have to, even in this space and out of this pace, navigate through the hierarchy that comes with our positions? Does that possibility of trans thinking, envisioning—how does that thinking play into how we are hierarchy-wise?” – Sy  4:51  
  • “The critical connections feel like all of us deciding to do the ‘lift while we climb’ thing to create something somewhere else.” – Alden 6:45
  • “Going into my nineteenth year as a full-time faculty member and senior scholar, it feels very performative in a lot of ways to walk in all of that. It’s very heavy…. What, to me, that represents is that I spent almost half of my life learning how to function within a certain system and structure, to navigate certain barriers and all of that bullshit—I’ve learned how to live in the bullshit…. I think that’s had a deleterious effect on my ability to see otherwise, to fully imagine.” – D-L Stewart 7:18
  • “When I think about disrupting and dismantling [hierarchies], I’m open to being wrong, I’m open to being called in. I’m open to a different way of doing things…. Connected to my trans-ness and being able to do gender differently, I’m can do every fucking thing differently.” – S Simmons 10:16
  • “I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve been trying to be a thief…. For me, engaging with hierarchies has more and more meant, how can I steal and re-distribute? What are the ways I can engage with particular hierarchies to steal thing, then to re-distribute them in ways that allow us to exist in perhaps more comfortable spaces or to be able to imagine differently?” – Z  Nicollazo 12:49 
  • “The way I construct certain scholars and people and groups of people as super-human also is a dehumanization tactic that makes me not see their liberation bound up with mine.” – Alex C. Lange 15:15
  • “It’s not just that hierarchies dehumanize people in this sort of downward way, but also in the upward way that make feel an abdication of responsibility that I have to name and take out again more intentionally.” – Alex C. Lange 16:11
  • “To get to leader-full communities, it requires folks to refuse leadership.” – D-L Stewart 17:28
  • “Rock stars get isolated, lose touch with our vulnerability, are expected to pull off superhero work, and generally burn out within a decade. No one has time for rock star tears. I’ve talked with other leaders who’ve gotten bumped into rock star status as young organizers, and almost all of us share a few core experiences. People stop seeing us. We became a place for longings and critques. We lost touch with the fact that it’s okay to make mistakes. Then we made the biggest mistake of our lives, and we learned the hard way that rock star status is a cyclical thing. It becomes its own work, maintaining and promoting the rock star in the organization.” – adrienne maree brown 18:17
  • “Sometimes, it’s not even about a body of work. It’s just about a body.” – Z Nicolazzo 20:13
  • “…How trans students are more often than not made to be superhumans to teach everyone about gender…. We are both creating the knowledge of gender and how to be trans in education, and at the same time, what does that mean for us as people who lose their humanity in that process?” – Sy Simms 20:21
  • “I think about transforming higher education as a process of poking holes in the wall of the academy, so that it’s as porous as it is in reality… You can walk in and out of campus, just walking around as a normal human being. You don’t have to be a student. But we don’t conceive of our work as that porous in our communities. I just want to poke holes in the walls to let some of the messy out and let some of the good stuff in.” Alden 23:36
  • “How you do anything is how you do everything.” – S Simmons 24:27
  • “If I want to transform higher education, then that means, how do I transform the class that I teach? How do I transform my relationship with my advisee? How do I show up in a service role? ‘Small is all’—that’s where the change happens, not at a 30,000-foot view.” – D-L Stewart 26:17
  • Inspirational quote from adrienne maree brown: “I want a future where we are curious, interested, visionary, adaptive.” 28:02

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