Monday, July 23, 2012

Changing institutional culture -- thoughts on the Penn State sanctions

I do not follow collegiate sports, generally speaking.**  Nor do I watch major league sports.  I guess you could say I'm not a "team" person because the sports I'm attracted to watching (and playing) are singular activities: golf, tennis, running, biking, swimming.

I am, however, a tenured faculty member at a large southern university that has a very active sports culture (more basketball than football, but we have our share of football fans too).  And as a faculty member dedicated to the education and enrichment of the Southern U. student body, I am very interested and invested in discussions about the place of NCAA sports on college campuses.

Which is why I tuned in to the 9am EST press conference at NCAA headquarters to announce the sanctions against Penn State in light of the Freh report--the report that detailed the failure in leadership to report the sexual abuse that Jerry Sandusky carried out against scores of minor children he purportedly was mentoring.  The failure reached the upper echelon's of Penn State's administration and including the much revered and beloved "Joepa"--Joe Paterno, who had once-upon-a-time been the most winningest coach in NCAA collegiate football.



I say "was" because among the penalties imposed on Penn State were

*The evacuation of the wins they accumulated from 1998 (the date at which the abuse came to light at Penn State and therefore the date that marks the failure of Penn State's leadership to end Jerry Sandusky's sexual predatorship of young boys) to 2011.

*The reduction in scholarships to be made available to their football program (10 scholarships per year for the next four years)

*A ban on post-season games (bowl games) for the next four years.

*A $60 million dollar fine (the equivalent of revenue that the football program typically generates during a football season) to be donated to an organization to help prevent sexual abuse and to support survivors of sexual abuse nationwide.

In a quick google search to reactions based on the announcement by the NCAA words like "brutal," "harsh," "unfair," and "too far" popped up.  Continually there has been a rhetoric of the punishments being meted out hurting innocent victims--the student-athletes and coaches who were not affiliated with the events of the past.  There are others (including the NCAA) who believe that the sanctions will help change the institutional culture at Penn State and other college athletics program.  In the words of NCAA's president, Mark Emmert:
"Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people . . . the culture, actions and inactions that allowed them to be victimized will not be tolerated in collegiate athletics"
[for more on the sanctions, see this New York Times piece]

However, I'm skeptical of whether these sanctions will actually change the culture at Penn State, at Southern University, or any other college or university that fields a major sports team that competes on a national stage, particularly in division 1 sports.  It sounds pretty to say that we want to emphasize education over sports--that we value and privilege academics over athletics.  But I know that if I assign work the night of a basketball game, there's a great chance that only 50% of my students will do the assignment, study for the exam, hand in a complete final paper.  And they will grumble--at me and my colleagues--for not checking the basketball schedule and assigning work on a game night.  And heaven forbid if Southern U wins the national championship--I ended up cancelling class once I realized that students were simply not going to show up but would, instead, be headed over to the basketball arena to welcome home the national champions.

I like the Southern U students very much. They are an incredibly intelligent, diligent, responsible, and respectful group of students.  But they are also fiercely loyal to their sports teams--to call them sports fans is just a shorthand for saying sports fanatics.  When I first came to Southern U, I vowed not to bend to student pressure to revise my syllabus based on the basketball schedule.  After a decade of teaching here, there is a reality that has set in--an acceptance of the culture that I find myself in, a culture that prioritizes and privileges college sports--if not above academics then I'd say it's an event split--certainly academics are not placed about college sports by a vast majority of students.  And I don't think that the culture of Southern U is any different than at Penn State, USC, Michigan, Virginia...pick your Division I school of choice.

However before I end this post, I want to bring focus back to the real people, the real victims, we should be thinking of--the real reason why the NCAA has put sanctions on Penn State: the children (some of whom are now young adults) who were sexually abused by Jerry Sandusky.  We should not forget that the reason we want to change the institutional culture of a "win-at-all-costs" atmosphere is that we never EVER want what happened to the sexual abuse victims to happen anywhere, especially not at a place of higher learning.  Two writers eloquently remind us of who we really should be thinking of today: Joelle Casteix,*** the Western regional director of SNAP: the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (click here for her statement) and Tom Kinslow, a Penn State Alumnus (click here for his essay), who reminds all of us of the lessons we should learn in the aftermath of Sandusky and the Penn State sanctions:
"These are values and mindsets that have to be established in each and every community across the country. Never believe for a second that you can put blind faith in your leaders to do what's right. As we've learned time and time again, people are fallible, and if unchecked they can do great damage to communities and the institutions they are trusted with."

**I have to add the exception of basketball at Southern U.  Not to watch Southern U. during basketball season is like not being a Red Sox fan when you live near Fenway Park--unheard of and it can be dangerous not to understand the culture of the community you live in.  The second exception, of course, is that I am a Jeremy Lin fan and watched as many of his games as I could during the past NBA season.

***Joelle and I went to UCSB together and is a dear friend of mine--and I am SO PROUD of the work that she does on behalf of victims of sexual abuse.

[Update--July 24, 2012:  Apparently Joe Nocera, NY Times Editorial columnist, is also deeply suspicious/cynical about the amount of change that will happen within colleges and universities as a result of the Penn State sanctions--although he does note that Penn State will have to take a long and hard look at its football program in the aftermath of these penalties.  Whether real and lasting cultural change takes root at Penn State remains to be seen, but I wouldn't hold my breath.  Too many people depend on Penn State to be a powerhouse football franchise--an NPR news report said that the local economy of the Happy Valley will be hurt by these sanctions since restaurants, hotels, shops, and all sorts of other businesses not directly affiliated with Penn State benefits from the football franchise]

Friday, July 20, 2012

T.G.I.F. -- Patsy Mink: Pioneer Powerhouse

While most people have probably heard of Title IX and think of its main application in terms of providing equal access for girls and women in high school and college sports, many people may not know that (1) Title IX was actually proposed with the idea of equality of education for women and covers 10 areas, including equality in sports (2) The principal architect and sponsor of this bill -- a bill that was subsequently renamed in 2002 to honor this congressperson's achievements, is Patsy Mink.

Patsy Mink in the 1960s when she first came to Congress

Patsy Mink was an extraordinary woman.  She was born Patsy Matsu Takemoto on December 6, 1927 and grew up on a plantation in Maui, Hawaii (although it should be noted that her father was one of the few college-educated plantation employees -- he was a land surveyor -- and received a very good salary, certainly better than the laboring plantation workers in the fields).  Mink wanted to become a doctor, but found that a combination of sexism and racism barred her from medical school.  So she got a law degree from the University of Chicago, but subsequently found that a combination of sexism and racism prevented her from being hired in both Chicago and Honolulu.

[Mink was one of 2 Asian Americans and 2 women in her graduating class--she also met and married her John Mink, a graduate student in geology, while at U of Chicago]

So Patsy Mink got involved in politics.  And while the path to Congress would take too long to recite in this blog space, the important thing to know about Patsy Mink is that she became one of eight women in the House of Representatives and, most significantly, she was the first woman of color, the first Asian American woman, the first Japanese American woman, to serve in Congress.

PBS is airing a documentary, Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority, which you can watch on-line through July 31, 2012 (click here for the link to the Independent Lens website and here for a link to the filmmaker's website).  It's truly a wonderful documentary that chronicles the life of a truly extraordinary woman.  A woman who was a true liberal lion--who spoke out against the war in Viet Nam.  Who fought on behalf of women and poor people.  Who always spoke up for what she believed in, even when her opinion was a minority opinion and not well received.  She was one of the 66 people who voted against the Homeland Security bill post-9/11.  And, as noted in the beginning of this post, she fought for equal access for women in higher education--because Title IX forced colleges and universities to open up the admission process in graduate and undergraduate admissions to women, enabling the current equity we now see for women entering medical and law school. 

June 23 marked the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX -- I am a direct beneficiary of its passage.  I am a direct beneficiary of the legacy that Patsy Mink left in terms of her public service, in terms of her fighting for social justice, in terms of her breaking down barriers and showing up as an Asian American woman at a time when that phrase "Asian American" wasn't even in existence and when a woman's place was believed to be in the kitchen not the halls of Congress.  Title IX expanded educational access for women--I don't know the faces or names of the countless women who have been impacted by Title IX, but I do know the face of one woman who was key to its implementation.

Patsy Mink in the 1990s

Four years ago, I introduced a series called the T.G.I.F. Award, which stands for "The Great Impossible Feat" -- and although it's been a while since I last gave out one of these, I think it's very appropriate and long overdue to honor Rep. Patsy Mink for all her many contributions to helping people in the U.S. who would otherwise not have a voice--women, people of color, poor/working class people. 

Thank you Patsy Mink, especially on behalf of all young girls, THANK YOU!

“What you endure is who you are.  And if you just accept and do nothing, then life goes on.  But if you see it as a way for change, life doesn’t have to be this unfair.  It can be better, maybe not for me, I can’t change the past, but I can certainly help somebody else in the future so that they don’t have to go through what I did.”
--Patsy Mink

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Linsanity moves to Houston

As most of the world who follows the NBA or Asian American athletes or the very fine intersection of the two in the singular figure of Jeremy Lin now knows, Lin is moving to Houston to join the Rockets because the NY Knicks wouldn't match the Rockets' offer.

Lin accepting the 2012 ESPY award for best breakout athlete
 The New York Times has a piece that describes the reasons for the Knicks failure to retain Lin, and Jeff Yang of The Wall Street Journal talks about the impact this will have on Asian American fans.  Yang quotes my friend and colleague, Tim Yu, whose astute observations bear repeating in full:
“I don’t care who he plays for — I’m a Lin fan, not a Knicks fan,” says Timothy Yu, an associate professor of Asian American Studies (and Jeremy Lin Studies pioneer) at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. “What I’m mad about is that the Knicks just completely cut him loose — and they’re blaming him for cutting such a hard-nosed deal with the Rockets. The fact of the matter is that even the team that benefited from Linsanity doesn’t believe it’s for real. That really burns me as an Asian American fan. But shed no tears for Jeremy: An Asian American athlete is getting paid like a superstar, because he is one — and that’s cool.”
Like Yu, I am a Lin fan, not a Knicks fan.  In fact, I have been a Lin fan from back when he was playing in the Ivy League and awarded him a T.G.I.F. (The Great Impossible Feat) back in February 2010.  Who knew that just two years later, I'd have caught the fever called Linsanity.

Farewell  Jeremy.  I hope Houston treats you right.  Most importantly, I hope that you have an AMAZING season/career such that the Knicks and all the fans in NYC and around the world will weep at this decision.  I, for one, am just excited to be seeing you play and to know that you are getting what you deserve--a salary and recognition to match your talent!

So long NYC! I'm headed to HOUSTON!!!

[Update: 1:46pm EST:  Just saw an interview that Lin did before the 2012 ESPY awards last week--it's just under 4 minutes and at around the 2 minute mark he gets asked about his impact on the Asian community and talks about what it's like for him as an Asian American breaking stereotypes about Asian American athletes--you just gotta love this guy!]

[Second Update -- July 19, 2012: Just saw this GQ article in which the author, Devin Gordon, talks openly about what no one wants to say was part of the whole Lin-to-Houston kerfuffle: Lin's race and ethnicity played a part in the calculations of Dolan, the Knick's owner, even if subconsciously.  Here's a quote from Gordon that says SO MUCH of what I, and many other Asian Americans, think/feel:
"But here's what I am confident saying about Dolan on the subject of Lin's ethnicity: he has absolutely no grasp of what Jeremy Lin really means as a cultural phenomenon. It does not pierce his bubble. It stirs no emotion in him. He doesn't understand what it means for millions of people in this country, and around the world, to watch the first Asian-American superstar athlete excel on the highest stage, and what it means to have that player wearing the uniform of his team. The pride, the joy, the inspiration, the transformative effect it can have on an entire generation of kids."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fear of a Mixed Planet

This weekend I attended a friend's wedding.  It was absolutely lovely, a lot of fun, and the epitome of this blog--Mixed Race America.  The bride is a white Mennonite from Canada.  The groom is a Chinese American born to Taiwanese immigrant parents.  The guests were a mix of various ethnicities and races--and a great number of them were "foreigners" -- Canadian family members and immigrants (many of whom have since become naturalized citizens) from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Guatemala, Viet Nam, and Argentina.  And there were multiracial guests: white-Chinese, white-Indian, Chinese-Guatemalan.  One of the running jokes was that I was one of the few true "Americans"--one of the few guests born and raised in the United States.

I take for granted that weddings like this happen and that it was celebrated by guests who were African American, white, Canadian, Taiwanese, Asian American, Latino, etc...

So it was jarring to receive this blog comment on an older post I had written back in December 2009 when Philadelphia Cream Cheese put out its first (at least I believe it's their first) commercial featuring a visibly inter-racial couple (in this case a white man and a black woman):

"A close look at the Word of God proves he is against mingling"

[Aside: Shouldn't it be "He" when referring to "God" and how do we know that God is even gendered male and do we even know for sure there IS a God--at least a God in the singular sense?  Couldn't there be gods, Gods, Goddesses, Divinities, a sense of the Sublime Divine?]

When I clicked on the commenter's profile, his handle is A.C.W. (American's Culture War), the description of who he is came up as:

"White Christian Male under attach from both left and right"

[Second aside:  It seems unkind and mean spirited to point out the obvious grammatical errors in his handle and profile description, right?]

I'm not going to link to his blog--I think it's best not to give air time to someone whose own views are clearly diametrically opposed to my own views.  I will say that A.C.W. decided that he wasn't content with just leaving a comment on my blog--he decided to take it a step further and contacted me through an email address that I have on my blog (and which everyone who wants to contact me is free to use--just click on my profile page and you can find my contact info--it doesn't have any personal information within it, which is why I use it for this blog).  Anyway, this is what someone named H.J. Rossi with a gmail account wrote to me:

"race mixing is a sin . Not on a sin, its the sin that brings genocide to one race or the other..currently in 50 years the white race will be a minority in the USA
your comment caught up with you"

[Third aside: I cut and pasted it exactly as it was written--he also included a link back to the blog in which he originally commented, which I didn't bother to include since I embedded the link above.]

Now--let me be clear.  I'm not trying to pick on H.J. Rossi.  Yes, he doesn't seem to want to engage in real dialogue and debate, as I encourage, and yes he may have violated rule #2 for comments on my blog--being respectful.  I mean, I don't think that it's respectful in the slightest to say that God is against mingling (by which I'm assuming means race mixing) -- after all, how can he or anyone else nkow what God thinks???  I am, in part, shedding light on Rossi's comment because there is a small part of me that got this queasy feeling when I saw that he took the time not only to leave a comment but to email me--wondering if he was going to take this a step FURTHER and try to find me and harm me--because it's hard to know how to take 

"your comment caught up with you" 

I may be over-reacting, but it sounds vaguely threatening, definitely sinister, absolutely not friendly.

So in part I'm calling on the collective wisdom of my blog readers--should I be worried and/or should I report H.J. Rossi's comment to Blogger and/or to Gmail--is it threatening?  And/or is shedding light on his hatred just putting oil on the fire?  That dawns on me too--that I am giving him exactly what he wants--a platform for his vitriol.  An audience whom he can irrationally antagonize.  So one thing I'm really going to ask folks to do is to NOT leave comments on his blog--to NOT engage him and give him air time.  I'm sure this is why he has his own blog and why he left the comment on my blog and emailed me--he wants to goad me--he wants to get me mad.

I'm not mad.  I'm a bit nervous that he might decide to take this too far and harm me, but mostly I see his comments to me as a reminder that there is still hatred out there.  Rossi may be an outlier in terms of his particular brand of mean spiritedness and his blatant racism--I mean, it's been a while since I've actually had someone tell me that "race mixing is a sin."  In fact, I don't know that I've ever had anyone say those words to me directly or write these words to me before.  Which is pretty remarkable when you think I've been blogging at this site for over five years and this is the first time that a real true died-in-the-wool racist who hates multiracial people, inter-racial couples, and the idea of people of different races being friendly actually leaving a truly racist comment.

Although I don't identify as Christian (I'm a lapsed Catholic who is agnostic and open to various forms of spirituality in the sense that I wouldn't say anyone's faith is better or worse), I think that the Christian thing to do with Rossi is to try to approach him with a spirit of loving kindness rather than rancor or rage.  I'm sad for him--because living with that much anxiety and fear of a mixed race America must be an awful way to live--an awful weight to carry around, even if he isn't feeling it as such.  I suppose another perspective is to wonder about mental health issues.  I'm not trying to be patronizing, but in this day and age, with a mixed-race president and so many inter-racial couplings and multiracial people, you have to wonder whether or not it's a sign of pathology to invoke genocide and sin with the idea of race mixing. 

Finally, Philadelphia Cream Cheese came out with a second commercial featuring an inter-racial couple--this time a black man and a white woman enjoying breakfast in bed--ENJOY!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why blog?

I realize that I've been a sporadic blogger.  I promise that I'm not going to begin every blog post in which I haven't posted in over a week with this kind of apology, but I've been trying to figure out why I haven't felt the need to blog on a regular basis.  I was looking at the stats in my archive (right side bar) and in 2008 I was at the height of my blogging life--I was probably blogging at least twice if not 3 or 4 times a week.  And then things tapered off, with last year as the all-time record low of 34 posts--less than a post per week. 

So I have to ask myself--why blog?  Why do I keep this blog--and what do I want to do with it?

I suppose I've been thinking A LOT about blogging because for part of my new book chapter I've been reading a lot of blogs (part of it deals with blogging--not ready to talk in specific details about the book chapter yet, so I think I'll just leave it at that) and I've been remembering back to 2008 when I was blogging on a regular basis and I had this whole community of people leaving comments and probably folks who were lurking and linking back to my blog.  And I met so many amazing people--fellow bloggers like Tenured Radical and Tami from What Tami Said and the folks at Love Isn't Enough.

What was different in 2008?  I was on leave (technically I was on leave from Fall 2007-Spring 2008)  I was beginning my book manuscript (the same one that I'm still working on).  Which makes sense that in 2009 it dropped off as I was in the thick of teaching and writing.  And then BAM, April 2010 I get my cancer diagnosis.  So it, again, makes sense that 2010 and 2011 were not going to be big blogging years for me.

And now I find myself, 5 years from when I started this blog, on another year-long leave from the classroom--this time finishing the book project on racial ambiguity (back then I thought I was writing about passing).  I also find myself missing having a regular community of commenters and being a regular commenter of the blogs that I used to read on a daily basis.

I guess I've also been thinking about this because my friend "D" sent me this link from The Guardian about the need for more minority scholars who blog (click here) and I am, of course, reminded (as the article alludes to) about the whole AWFUL and RACIST blog post that happened on the Chronicle of Higher Ed and Tressie Mc's wonderfully astute and insightful and intelligent analysis and response to it (click here--out of full disclosure I should also say that I'm proud to call Tressie a friend and I knew her back before she was blogging so elegantly and eloquently)

What this all means is that I really hope to be blogging more regularly and to be reading blogs more regularly.  There are some mighty smart folk writing about race--and I want to be part of that community again.  Or perhaps more accurately, I want to be a more active participant in that community.  Here's to good intentions!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Featuring: Deann Borshay Liem & her future film Geographies of Kinship

It is July 1 -- the middle of summer.  The time of year when, if you are an academic who is working on a project, you wonder and worry about how much time left before the start of the school year and putting your research project on hold.  In my case, I am blessed with enormously good fortune.  I will be on sabbatical all next year.  I will not have to teach fall or spring semesters.  I am not teaching this summer or next summer.  I am simply researching and writing.  The goal: finish the book.

I start here because I'm in the thick of reading about adoption.  Mostly U.S. adoption.  Mostly transnational adoption.  Mostly transnational/transracial adoption between white American families and Asian adopted children (mostly girls, mostly from Korea/China).

There's a lot that's applicable to a blog called Mixed Race America in terms of these kinds of issues.  I will say that historically, in the U.S., multiracial children have had the hardest times being placed for adoption and that many agencies had very racist restrictions against placing multiracial children because the idea was that (1) you should match children to parents -- blond headed blue eyed boys with blond headed blue eyed parents  (2) if you matched successfully you would never need to tell your son/daughter that s/he was adopted.

Multiracial/mixed race children obviously complicated points #1 & #2.

But I'm digressing.

The point of this post is really to highlight an exceptional filmmaker: Deann Borshay Liem.

Liem has two documentaries that chronicle her adoption from Korea: First Person Plural and In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee.  I teach First Person Plural in my classes, and I had the pleasure of seeing In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee when Liem screened it at the Association of Asian American Studies conference two years ago (I've since purchased a copy).  Both are remarkable films--very moving, very thought provoking, very insightful into the politics of transnational adoption and the complicated layers of belonging and family-feeling in transracial adoption.

Now Liem is working on a new documentary, Geographies of Kinship: The Korean Adoption Story.  I've embedded a video preview of the film below:

Currently, Liem is looking for financial support to finish her film--which from the looks of the trailer is going to be an incredibly powerful, moving, and important film.  She has a Kickstarter campaign and there's 30 more days for her to reach her goal of $75,000 (she's already raised $14,000+).  If you are as moved by the trailer to her film as I was, please consider giving, even just $5 to her Kickstarter campaign (and you can find the page here).  Of course for $100 you can get a signed copy of the film and the satisfaction of knowing that you helped a very talented filmmaker finish what is sure to be an excellent film.

Finally, let me leave you with a video interview that Liem did with POV after her initial film, First Person Plural was picked up by POV/PBS and was showcased at film festivals around the U.S.: