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One of my “play hard” moments, on an aerial hoop at Cirque Indy.

Welcome to the next installment of my Workaholic Missives post series, wherein I talk about my philosophy behind work/life balance (or lack thereof, as some would have it).

I know it’s trite, but I try to live by the phrase “Work hard, play hard.” I like the website Get Bullish’s take on this: “If it isn’t extremely productive or extremely pleasurable, just stop. Either eat something healthy that takes five minutes, or have a huge decadent meal with friends for two hours. Either go to the gym and work every fucking muscle in your body like an Olympian, or stay home and find someone to make out with.”

Basically, the idea here is that if you’ve got limited time in which to be awesome, either spend it being as awesome as possible, or recharging as aggressively as possible. I know, the idea of recharging aggressively seems weird to some, but that’s how I’ve been exploring work/life balance in the last few years, and I’ve really enjoyed it. This blog post shares some of my strategies for making it work.

As a freelancer, I run the risk of always working. There’s always another proposal to write, a blog post to pitch, or a project to write, revise, etc. I know this is ingrained into me by academic culture to some degree (see my post on normalized weekend work at Conditionally Accepted), but I’ve also had to navigate the “you should be working more!” ethos of freelancing. Piling one on top of the other has not necessarily been that healthy for me.

Luckily, I’m all about the self-care interventions. And sometimes that means aggressive self-care: taking a weekend off to travel because I’m on the verge of burn-out, or scheduling a massage after a lunch date but right before a work date followed by rock climbing (a.k.a. last Tuesday). I take care to always meet my commitments to others, backing out only when it’s really dire, but I match that persistence with a commitment to myself as well: to engage in what is healthy and pleasurable as much as I can possibly fit in, justify, and/or afford.

The “work hard” part of the phrase means that I try not to waste time on things that are not-work, assuming that I have the energy and the mental focus to put in good work. Since I do a range of activities in my freelance life, it could mean deciding whether I have the attention span to do something related to a college class I’m teaching (lesson planning and grading papers tend to take the most focus, whereas small tasks like recording attendance are less strenuous) or whether I should do something on social media that’s less obviously related to a project I’m on, but could help promote my work in ways that might be fruitful later. It could be the difference between “work on my book proposal while I’ve got the brain power for it” and “send out inquiries about a performance opportunity for my dance troupe because those are halfway scripted already.”

The “play hard” hard of the phrase means that I take my relaxation seriously, and I try to fill it with activities that not only recharge me, but about which I’m passionate. That can be a tricky balance: for instance, I truly love dancing, but sometimes I’m just too tired from all my other stuff to really make a serious go of a night out dancing. So it might mean practicing at home a little bit, followed by watching performances by some of my favorite dancers, in order to get that creative charge going. When I’m totally worn out and can’t brain anymore, then I’ll do something low-key that I still really love, like reading a novel or spending time with someone I care about. Watching trashy TV tends to fall pretty low on the list… yes, even I have a few guilty pleasure TV shows, but I tend to combine them with social time (my life partner and I have a list of shows we’re working our way through) or with introvert time (like if I can write in my journal or knit while watching a show).

On the flip side, the “play hard” aspect means that if some relaxation or social activity doesn’t really appeal to me, and I don’t have a good reason to do it regardless, I’m probably going to turn it down. My free time is too limited for me to spend it in an activity that doesn’t serve me.

So, yes, I’m very mercenary in how I make my choices with my free time, in large part because of this need for balance that I perceive. On that note, time to make a shopping run for a dinner party, before working out, before a lunch date, before teaching a dance workshop, before spending the rest of the day working on grading and writing. Like ya do… if you’re me.

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Indy Monumental Yoga

Me being choosy with my time, at an event that combines belly dance and yoga, two activities I fiercely carve room for in my schedule.

In my last Workaholic Missives post, I described how most social engagements pale in comparison to the thrill of saving the world through education and art. That leads to a question I’ll discuss here: how on earth do I figure out what’s worth doing when I’m not working?

The answer: to be calculating and strategic and self-serving, while being up front and honest and not mean about it. In other words, to be mercenary as fuck.

I’m going with the definition of mercenary as self-serving, or doing things only when they benefit oneself, not necessarily in the sense of only doing things for money. That’s more aptly communicated by, ya know, calling someone a capitalist. Apparently the Latin origin of the word refers to someone being for hire, and while money came to be important to the definition, the idea of being in something for personal gain remains central to my understanding of it.

Since deciding not to pursue a full-time career in academia anymore, I’ve had to be more mercenary with my time on a professional level. I love academic research, writing, and publishing… but it doesn’t pay like freelance writing does (or at all, really), so I can’t devote very much time to it. I love teaching, but adjunct wages make it so that teaching isn’t the best use of my time either, so I only teach one class a semester. And so on.

I’m not the only alt-ac scholar who’s had to disentangle herself from the lure of academic time sucks with an eye toward self-serving career goals. But I also apply this attitude toward my non-professional life, which is where things get sticky.

Invitation to hang with friends at a bar? Facebook event involving a signing/reading/viewing? Dinner party? Drum circle? Those all sound lovely, but what do they do for me? Since I am not, in fact, a machine (or an ice queen, as rumors might suggest), then an event’s “what it does for me” might be as simple as “helps me relax.” Also acceptable answers include “I get to reconnect with friends,” or “I get to practice dancing,” or “I get to interact with a topic I work with professionally but in a low-key environment where I don’t have to be the one presenting/leading/teaching it.”

Not everything I do is work-related (surprise, I know), but I consider almost everything I do through work-related lenses, applying the same mercenary filters to assess how an activity benefits me or helps me reach a goal. Spelling it out like this can make me sound calculating, but hopefully it also helps the people in my life understand why I do what I do. And maybe it helps others like me feel less alone and outside the norm.

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A selfie as I’m on my way to teach (while undoubtedly juggling a billion other tasks in my head).

For the second installation in my blog series on being a workaholic, I’d like to talk about my lack of social life.

If you know me IRL, you might be thinking, “What?! Jeana, you have a thriving social life, what on earth are you talking about?!”

And… to a degree you’d be right. When there’s an event or a group that I prioritize, I’m there. For example, I’m dedicated to promoting the belly dance community in Indianapolis, so I’m teaching classes two nights a week, spending other nights rehearsing or performing, and so on. I help run a local sex-positive meet-up group, so I’m visible in that community. And so on.

Except I don’t actually have that many personal social commitments. And I prefer to keep it that way.

Part of the way I experience being a workaholic is an intense commitment to, and inflation of the significance of, the causes which are important to me. So it’s not just that I’m an educator, it’s that I’m saving the world through education. I’m not just a sex educator, I’m saving the world through sex education. My research and writing and teaching and blogging and dancing and art are all part of my mission to bring progressive thought and acceptance of non-heteronormative sexuality/gender and bodies of all kinds to the rest of the world.

I have the fervor and zeal of a new convert, and in some ways that’s true: since turning away from academia and pursuing an alt-ac career, I’ve felt newly infused with a sense of purpose and a drive toward relevance. Getting a PhD was fun, but I wasn’t overly concerned with improving anyone’s life but my own for the majority of that process. Now that I’ve hopped on the alt-ac bandwagon, and become more of an activist in sexuality circles, though, I’ve become rather outspoken about the need for more education (sexuality and otherwise) in pretty much every aspect of life. And it fills me with a righteous sense of passion and indignation and must fix this now.

Hopefully this doesn’t sound naive, but I truly believe that educational opportunities and communication skills and tolerance for diversity can help save the world. So when someone asks if I have time to hang out, time during which I could be blogging or preparing a lesson plan or conducting research or networking at a sexuality professionals meetup – all converging toward this glorious end goal of saving the world – of course the answer is no, I don’t have time to hang out.

Be right back, saving the world.

It’s cool to get coffee with you a couple times, but I have more important things to do.

Gotta cancel that lunch date… it’ll be my only time to blog today. And so on.

It’s a harsh reality of my world that most people aren’t as interesting to me as my work is. There are exceptions, of course, since I’m not a total hermit: the people I make an effort to stay in touch with, to include in my life, to see somewhat regularly. But the majority of the people I encounter, while lovely individuals, simply do not hold my attention in comparison with (or rather, in competition with) my work.

I do this mental math every time I receive an invitation to a social event, whether it’s a group thing or a one-on-one hangout. I hate to admit this publicly – or at all – but it’s what happens in my brain.

If this is the price I pay for helping to change the world through education, well, I’m kinda okay with that. I try to train the people in my life to not take it personally. Not sure how much success I’ve had, but ah well… since this is is Workaholic Missives post I can point people toward it in the future, right?!

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Me, in front of my bookshelf. Because my books are part of my workaholic lifestyle.

This post marks the beginning of a new blog series I’m writing, titled Workaholic Missives.

I’m writing this series because:

  • I’m a workaholic
  • I don’t think being a workaholic is necessarily a bad thing
  • I don’t have the time to explain to every individual in my life what this is all about
  • Hence it’s easier to blog my thoughts on being a workaholic, and send links to everyone I know

Granted, that last sentence is a bit flippant, but only in the sorry/not sorry sense that seems trendy these days.

Honestly, I love being a workaholic. I think it’s enriched my life, and made my time in academia as enjoyable and productive as it could be, given how exploitative an institution it is. I derive a profound sense of value from filling my days (and let’s be honest, nights, because I’m writing this at 11pm on a Sunday) with work.

But – and this is what I’ll explore in the series – being a workaholic takes its toll on other aspects of my life. I might feel personally fulfilled, but people who feel they have some right to my time feel shortchanged. My relationships (family, friends, romantic) have often suffered as a result of my workaholic attitude.

I have a mixed reaction to this. On the one hand, why would I waste time on someone who doesn’t get my values and doesn’t appreciate me for who I am? I’ve dated far too many people who’ve been initially attracted to my independence and drive, only later to condemn me for being too independent and too driven, hence threatening or not invested enough in the relationship or whatever. Those people clearly were not for me. On the other hand, I get that there’s more to life than work. The time I get to spend with loved ones is limited, since our lifespans are limited. I derive a different sort of pleasure from emotional and social interactions than intellectual/work ones, and I know that I have to get better at finding a balance.

It seems that ambivalence is my natural state, so I’m digging in and exploring it. If you’re a workaholic, or have a workaholic in your life – particularly of the academic flavor – then perhaps this blog series is for you. Stay tuned for the next installation, on why maintaining relationships is especially tough.

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Dressed for the academic classroom, posed in front of my voluminous bookshelves.

I’ve had this website for a few years now, and the tagline at the top of the site has always been: “Jeana Jorgensen, PhD. Folklorist, Writer, Dancer.”

Now that’s changed.

The three main words haven’t changed. I may not be seeking full-time employment in academia anymore, but I haven’t stopped being a folklore scholar. In fact, just last month I attended a small working symposium on digital trends in fairy-tale scholarship. I’m a little cranky (to put it mildly) in the general direction of academia right now… but being a folklorist is too ingrained into my identity for me to ever give up identifying as such. It influences how I understand the world around me, how I learn, and how I teach.

Similarly, I’ve been dancing for over half my life, and I plan to dance for the rest of it. I now direct a professional troupe, Indy Tribal, and I’ve learned tons from my students about trust and teaching. Dance is somewhere between a hobby that pays for itself (YAY) and an all-consuming passion, and as such it’s an essential part of my identity.

I’ve grappled more with the title of “writer” than the previous two. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in 4th grade, but I gave up writing fiction and poetry (my primary two loves) in favor of nailing nonfiction skills in grad school. And it worked. I wrote and published a lot. Recently, though, I’ve been getting back into the idea of writing more for pleasure, and returning to some of my early ideas about writing. But no matter what I’m writing, or for which audience, writing has been a constant in my life. I write for myself in the form of journals; I write for various blogs; I write endless to-do lists; I write scholarly articles. It’s a part of me at this point.

Now, however, I’m adding the tagline of (Sex) Educator to this website. I have a separate site devoted to my sex education work, but I want this site, which is my main web presence, to reflect that this is a part of my identity too.

See, I didn’t set out to become an educator of any sort, let alone a sex educator, but it’s evolved into a huge part of my identity, and it’s time I recognized that.

I’ve become a person who will have a conversation about rape culture with just about anyone, in the hopes that even though it’s an emotionally fatiguing topic, maybe someone will reach a new understanding of it. I’ve decided to keep adjuncting in large part because even though it’s exploitative labor, I love teaching too much to remove that venue from my life. I teach dance two and sometimes three nights a week, much to the consternation of my life partner and anyone else who likes to see me socially, because I just can’t get enough of it. I educate on gender and sexuality topics for little to no pay more than I should, not just because I’m still establishing myself in the field and am taking those pay-in-prestige opportunities for exposure (mixed bag because of undecutting, I know), but also because  this knowledge is too damn important to not be sharing at every chance.

This is why I’ve added “Educator” to the site tagline, with “Sex” in parentheses. I’m an educator who also happens to be a sex educator. I love making knowledge and concepts accessible and relevant… and I’m particularly good at unpacking the tangled mess of gender, sex, and sexuality, thanks in part to my upbringing. At one time, with only a few years of sex education blogging under my belt, I balked at calling myself a sex educator. Now? I embrace the title.

Anyway, I’m still deciding if I visually like the addition of (Sex) Educator to my website header, but I’m probably going to keep some version of it. It’s been neat reflecting on the process of getting here!

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In both the academic classroom and the dance classroom, I’ve noticed that small class sizes present unique challenges and rewards.


  • More time to engage with each student. In dance, this means more posture and technique corrections for everyone. In college, this means getting to interact directly with each student more.
  • The class material can be paced and arranged differently if it suits everyone. Due to the fractal nature of American Tribal Style® Belly Dance, it’s possible to alternate between focusing on the individual movements or on the group structures of the dance in a given lesson. That gives me a lot of flexibility as an instructor, and with a small class of students, I can tailor the lesson to their level and their needs. Similarly, I can redirect a lesson plan in the academic classroom if a small-ish group of students has done the prep work and is ready to go to a new place.
  • I get to know each student better, both as individuals and in the context of their needs in the classroom. In dance classes, this means I can keep track of who has which injuries, who needs special attention to posture, and so on. In the academic classroom, this helps me remember everyone’s disciplinary background and call on them by name (because learning a new class’s names at the start of every semester can be tough!).


  • When people don’t want to participate, a small class can stall. This is worse in the academic classroom than the dance classroom, I think, because in dance classes I can always come up with more drills and more ways to practice. In the college classroom, it’s hard to get people to talk if they don’t want to talk, and if there are fewer potential talkers, well, it’s more likely that there’ll be awkward silence.
  • Sometimes I talk too much. Because of the above point, where a class can stall if there are fewer people contributing, I might get nervous and go off on a tangent or rant. In my Trust and Teaching post, I talk about how teaching should always be about the students’ needs, not mine, but I sometimes lose sight of that in anxiety-inducing situations.
  • It can feel like there are too many possibilities for what to cover, and then I feel paralyzed with indecision. If I’ve got a small, smart group that’s doing the work, and we can talk about anything, then how do we choose what to talk about?

Overall, I enjoy teaching small classes, even though they present some distinct challenges. I feel like the personal engagement between instructor and student is part of the reason why face-to-face education (as opposed to online education) is effective. Small classes afford more of that engagement, so I’ll usually take a small class over a big class, challenges be damned!


Well, between this and my Taboo Topics in the Classroom post, that makes 2 teaching-related blog posts this month! I guess with the semester winding down at my university, I’ve got teaching on the brain. I had a really wonderful class full of very bright and engaged students this semester, so maybe this is my way of processing some of the learning I did alongside them.

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This file was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution image from Wikimedia Commons. Thanks to user Stefan-Xp for sharing it.

Over at my sex education blog, Sex Ed with Dr. Jeana, I have a post called Syphilis in the Social Sciences Classroom. In it, I describe the ways in which syphilis has proved to be a relevant STI for me to bring into my anthropology and gender studies classes.

For all the silence around STIs today in the U.S., you’d think STIs were a taboo topic – and for many they are. As I’ve already discussed, teaching sex education is not the same as encouraging sex, despite the claims of those who believe that teaching about something is the same thing as endorsing it. Add in the (unwarranted) shame and stigma of admitting that you’ve got an STI, or are even interested in learning more (“for a friend,” right?) and it becomes clear that simply talking about STIs is a revolutionary act in many contexts.

I’ve taught plenty of taboo topics (non-monogamy, BDSM, trauma, Freud, feminism) in my college classes, and while there’s no magic trick to getting it right, I’ve found a couple of things that tend to work well for me. Here are some of my favorite strategies:

  • Explicitly acknowledge that teaching about a topic is not the same as endorsing it. This is one example of how I’ll often use verbal communication to the point where it seems way too obvious to even bother saying, which is why I go ahead and say it anyway. I’d much rather sound a tad silly than risk misunderstanding.
  • When introducing the topic, ask students what their impression of the topic is. Perhaps we old fogies are clinging to taboos of our day, while our students might be pretty well over something. Or maybe they’ll shed some light on an aspect of the topic that hadn’t occurred to us.
  • Try to find that balance between acknowledging that a topic is controversial, and introducing it as just another thing people do, hence worthy of scholarly attention. Take, for instance, my approach to kink in the classroom in my blog post And Then I Brought Up Flesh Hooks. Normalizing human sexual behavior – especially when it’s been stigmatized – is a huge mission of mine as a sex educator and an educator in general, and thus I try to talk about things in a not-terribly sensationalistic way. Again, if people are doing it, it’s worthy of study (from the hybrid social sciences/humanities perspective that I’ve come to as an interdisciplinary folklorist and gender studies scholar).
  • Give students time to respond to the topic in a less-structured way, such as journaling, doing an in-class writing prompt, or talking in pairs. Allowing them to process their feelings in some forum other than talking in front of the whole group, or having to answer directed questions from you, can be beneficial.
  • Frame the conversation with a set of rules, boundaries, or guidelines for respectful discussion. I like to remind my students that it’s okay to disagree with me, with the reading/texts, and even with each other, so long as they do it politely. In certain conversations I’ll emphasize that no one’s required to share anything about their personal lives, but only to engage with the material as it’s handled in the class. The way I do this, it’s less about creating a “safe space” where everyone feels 100% comfortable and nurtured all the time, but rather creating a space where people feel supported in speaking up, and where it’s okay to challenge and be challenged.
  • Divide students into groups and have them debate different facets of the topic. Again, this might bring up ideas and issues that I haven’t even considered.
  • Give them an opportunity to make up classroom credit if a topic proves to be triggering or emotionally activating. This might be listening to a podcast, reviewing a blog post, watching a TED talk, or something along those lines. Since I deal with sexual topics a lot in my classroom, I tend to have a lot of these options floating around my brain at any given moment, in case somebody needs to pass on participating.

At risk of being snarky, I’m sure it helps that I have white, middle-class privilege and thus can bring up certain topics without being seen as too offensive. At the same time, being a woman means I probably come across as nurturing and supportive when I don’t necessarily think of myself that way, which may help students feel more comfortable during difficult discussions. I’m not thrilled about these areas of privilege, but I have to acknowledge them, and I might as well try to use my privilege to benefit others, by creating unique educational opportunities.

I’ve never had anyone tell me not to teach a topic, or that I was being too controversial, or that I would be penalized for anything I taught. But I’m sure there’s a first time for everything. In the end, I try to keep in mind that teaching is less about my experience (as much as I might feel like a bad-ass for handling touchy topics with grace) and more about the students’ experiences, and that helps me navigate some of these tricky subjects. In the end, if it doesn’t benefit them, why am I doing it?

What about you? How do you handle taboo topics in the classroom?

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Me at the ICFA Banquet with my dear friend Austin Sirkin.

Me at the ICFA Banquet with my dear friend Austin Sirkin.

As most people who know me know by now, ICFA (the annual meeting of the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts) is one of my all-time favorite conferences. I get to present on and learn about cutting-edge fairy-tale scholarship, as well as overlapping areas like fantasy literature, children’s literature, science fiction, fan culture, and so on. I get to see some of my favorite people, scholars and writers and artists alike. I get to regale people with stories and meet really amazing writers who have thoughtful things to say about folklore. And since it’s in Orlando, I get to enjoy some nice weather and also meet up with some of my family members who are in the area.

Last year, I came out as post-ac at ICFA, which went far better than I could’ve hoped. This year, I continued that trend of engaging people in conversations about adjunct activism and awareness, and being quite open about my new career as a sex educator. I even got to dispense some relationship advice, and talk about how ideas from the history of sex education are relevant to everything from Twilight to other vampire fiction to speculative fiction set in World War I! People flocked to see my paper (despite the early morning slot it was in) and requested a copy if they couldn’t make it, so that helped me feel validated as a scholar still, even if I’m not doing scholarship full-time or trying for a full-time academic job. I guess it helps that I’m researching the sexy TV show Lost Girl!

One of the other notable things that happened at ICFA was  the huge amount of scholarly compersion I experienced. I’ve written about compersion before – the feelings of happiness we can experience when our partners/lovers/loved ones are happy by someone else’s doing – and I think it applies here.

So while my list of things that I enjoyed at ICFA in the above paragraphs may sound very self-congratulatory, fear not, I was also very moved by the successes and joys of my colleagues. I got to witness and be a part of the inception of a new group devoted to Fairy Tales and Folk Narratives, which is a major step forward for our interdisciplinary bunch of scholars. I got to cheer on colleagues who are going to play a major role in next year’s ICFA specifically dedicated to Wonder Tales. I got to introduce people working on similar themes – say, disability studies – in disparate textual fields like science fiction and fairy tales. That connection might’ve happened without me, but I still felt great about having the social contacts to make sure that scholars who should know each other’s work will from now on.

I got to hear about the success of one colleague who’s working to unionize adjuncts on her campus. I got to hear about another colleague’s book coming together. I got to support another colleague as she prepares to start a family. I got to congratulate yet another on the formation of a new relationship.

These reminders of other people’s joys and successes that have nothing to do with me are always a pleasure. Even though academia is largely run on a limited-good model wherein we must compete for increasingly dwindling resources, it’s still possible to be happy for each other when these successes occur. Perhaps it’s even easier from a vantage point on the margins, when I’m less affected by the drama and politics of being invested at the full-time level. Another reminder as to the importance of context, eh?

While this may not be the most polished blog post ever, I wanted to make sure to get my thoughts written out and shared while I’m still feeling the post-conference glow. The addition of compersion to my normal maelstrom of conference feels – elation, intellectual stimulation, despondence when it’s over – is a welcome one, furthering the alchemy that makes ICFA the amazing experience that it is.

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Me walking on... onto a pier in Lithuania. Like ya do.

Me walking out… onto a frozen pier in Lithuania. Like ya do.

Before bursting into tears, I managed to shut the door to my office.

The shared computer I normally use to print my lesson plan wasn’t working, and I didn’t know if it was one of the other adjuncts who used the office who’d mucked it up, but I didn’t have the right permissions to print off any other nearby computer. One of the tenured faculty took pity on me and let me print my lesson plan from his office. Normally tech frustrations aren’t enough to make me cry, but there was also some stuff going on in my personal life that enhanced my feelings of helplessness, so out came the tears.

As I sobbed, I remembered thinking: At least I have an office to myself, unlike when I was teaching at ____ University.

Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day. I am not walking out, though I am recycling a (relevant) lesson plan and planning to talk to my students about what adjuncting is and how it fits into some of the power dynamics we’ve been discussing in related topics in our anthropology and gender studies curriculum.

Then again, I’m currently working as an adjunct in the way that I think it “should” be done: it’s not my main income stream. As I’ve written in the past, comparing academia to a very expensive hobby for those of us who aren’t full-time, trying to make it in academia can be very time-consuming and financially all-encompassing. Now that I’m more aware of this reality, I’m able to allot my time and resources better. I seek part-time work to fill in the gaps in my adjuncting schedule (and paycheck), and I’ve adjusted my expectations accordingly (a process I document in my blog post series at Conditionally Accepted).

The system is very broken. My place in it is very unstable (especially since I teach about gender and sexuality, always touchy topics – though perennially popular ones!). Under different circumstances, I might’ve walked out (I’m already canceling a class this semester so I can attend a conference, and I want to reserve an emergency/sick cancellation possibility, etc.). As my anecdote above shows, many adjuncts lack the institutional support they need. The fact that I was so grateful to have an office to (temporarily) call my own, when I was having a break-down before class (which I don’t recommend, by the way), boggles the mind.

I definitely support other walkers-out… but I think, right now, it’s best for me to go in, and teach, and be generally awesome, and gently encourage my students to consider where their tuition money’s going.

Because if other tactics aren’t working – activism, unionizing, and so on – perhaps getting the people paying tuition (students and/or their parents) to start asking the hard questions might get us somewhere. Maybe it’ll take a combination of these things. I don’t know what’ll work, if anything’ll work. But I’m trying.


More resources:

NAWD awareness-raising slideshow presentation

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP)’s background facts on contingent faculty 

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This won’t be as citation-laden as many of my posts on academia are, so please feel free to ask if you’d like references. Mostly, though, I encourage you to sit back and enjoy the rant.

As a scholar, I engage in a lot of qualitative research, ranging from fairy-tale interpretation to studying the numinous in dance. I love me some qualitative research – but even then, I’d like to note that there are methods, theories, and disciplinary frameworks to keep us from wandering off too far into hyper-subjective la-la land.

I really loathe bad scholarship (view one of my rants on the topic here), but obviously that’s a somewhat subjective judgment. I get annoyed when people make erroneous assumptions, such as that everyone is equally knowledgeable about folklore (you’re not), or that all folklorists are good for is writing children’s books (we’re not). Ungrounded assumptions have no place in the academy, in my view.

So, with those two admissions up front, I have to say: I really hate it when stuff that is not empirically, well, anything gets discussed as though it’s valid in an academic context. I am all for personal exploration when it comes to spirituality, religion, and Jungian-type analysis. Hell, I’ve published on Tarot (though I’ll note that it was a historical overview of Tarot iconography in light of feminist spirituality, so, something that can be examined in terms of evidence and theories). I’m not saying that all inward-looking work is useless, or irrelevant, just that I dislike seeing it in a university setting.

Two examples come to mind: the works of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, and the practice of Tantra. My folklore mentor, Alan Dundes, had a lot to say about Jung Campbell, but what I’ll point out here is what Jung himself has said: that archetypes are essentially unknowable. I’m sorry, but if something is unknowable, then it cannot be empirically investigated and thus is has no place in academic discourse. Use it all you want in your personal life, but keep it out of my peer-reviewed journals and accredited schools, please. In terms of Tantra, I just. don’t. get. it. I’m not sure if I’m more dumbfounded that anyone believes that there could be an unbroken chain of cultural transmission that’s thousands of years old, or that it’s being promoted within academic settings as something that can be empirically conceptualized and used. I’m all for reaping the benefits of mindfulness, deep breathing, and connecting with people via eye gazing… but why not just call it those things?

Again, I like qualitative research. I think it adds a necessary complement to quantitative research. I love working in the humanities as well as the social sciences. I think art is incredibly important. I recognize that there are subjective components in the classroom, and those are often incredibly important to the student’s overall learning experience. But if there’s not some empirical aspect to what you’re doing, if there’s not some way to replicate the study or teach it or even to use language accurately to define or discuss it, then I don’t want it in official academic discourse.

It’s entirely possible that I’m missing something here, or overlooking some important function that “woo” stuff serves as a complement to the rest of what happens in the university. But mostly I’m annoyed that this stuff gets airtime when it doesn’t really stand up to the same rigor that the rest of what we’re supposed to engage with does.

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