Peer Mentoring: Graduate Women Scholars

I often tell my students that my mentoring does not have an expiration date. It does not. I benefited from some wonderful mentors and I feel indebted to them. I was lucky enough to have a mentor who had the foresight to organize all the women students who knocked on her door. I won’t get the history right here, but essentially she saw that women students wanted similar things from her. So, she decided to get them all together monthly and the group was borne.

I first started attending the mentoring group when I was an advanced undergraduate and continued throughout most of my graduate degrees (two MAs and the PhD). We would meet monthly and discuss issues like: how to put your curriculum vitae together, how to communicate effectively, how to write an abstract for a conference, how to have balance in your life, and so many other germane topics. What worked so well with the group is that it was a conversation. While the sponsoring faculty member had her degrees and experience to share with us, we also had graduate students at all stages of their education participating in the group. We learned from one another.

The rules were simple—we brought food to share and we made sure that when we left there were no dirty dishes or mess in her house. While there we sat around in a circle on the floor or bit of furniture and introduced ourselves and then the topic. We would take a break to eat and then resume the meeting. Continue reading

Due Dates

I’ve been a college instructor for some 17  wonderful years. In this time one thing has changed some. I am witnessing more students assume that due dates are a guideline. This is a problem. A due date is set with good reason by most of us. When I am managing a few courses and try to stagger my marking and if 10-30% of the class turns in late work, it really throws things off kilter.

Not only this, but due dates matter. I penalize students 5-10 points per day with late work and this penalty includes the weekends. My philosophy is that the coursework is a job and we don’t normally submit late work to our job. Of course, there will be family deaths, illnesses, accidents and other unforseen situations, but these are quite rare.

This is a post that I have revised. It was four years old and I am re-reading it thinking about how in the last four years I am not quite as agitated about the late work. I have instituted a new policy–I do not accept late work. At first I thought this would cause me problems–it did not. Yes, I am occasionally flexible when a student contacts me about extenuating circumstances, but my newish policy has worked. Minions make me smile and I hope that they do the same for you.


Getting Involved in Your Community

This post is both for students and non-students. More then five years ago, I resolved (without it being a New Year’s Resolution) to get more involved in my community more so. I am already engaged on campus and within some networks in Political Science and Higher Education. What I wanted to do was expand these networks and friendships off campus in the city where I reside.  To this end, I started to attend more community events and actively networked more off campus.

It is too easy to get lazy and keep on going to the same old haunts and seeing the same people (some wonderful). At first I must admit, it was a little strange. Would I meet people? Would it be fun? Yes, to answer both questions. I have networked, relaxed, and socialized and in the process have met many people. Some of the connections have proved fruitful for former students—yes, I have helped students get internships or jobs. But, it has also been great for me. I feel like I was getting comfortable and not exploring the city and making Victoria my home.

Specific to students, getting involved on campus and networking is not only fun, but can also help you with your future career goals. And, you will meet your peers who are going through the same things that you are. You might even make some life-long friendships. As an undergraduate advisor, I want students to feel like they are part of the campus community. Why? Students are apt to be more successful and happier during their studies. Seriously. Check out the clubs and course unions. And, for community members–come onto campus and network with faculty, staff, and students.

I include a photo below of the wonderful Hudson Mack, who invited me to attend his class at Royal Roads. Thank you to Hudson and his great students! Hudson took the photo.

Janni and Hudson

Book Review: “I Hate Feminists!” December 6, 1989, and Its Aftermath

The book’s title caught my eye. I remember where I was when the news broke that a male student killed fourteen women students on a college campus in Canada. Melissa Blais weighs in on the terrible events that took place on December 6, 1989 in this short, and powerful book. Blais does not makes sense of the tragedy, as that is not the book’s intent. Each chapter examines what took place and the consequences. The chapters are divided accordingly: Introduction, Feminist Participation, Marginalization to Disparagement, Commemorations, Negotiating the Representation of the Massacre, and the Conclusion.

Some have called the events the Montreal Massacre and others have refer to the Polytechnique violence. Regardless of the shorthand this tragedy caused many to take a serious look at targeted violence against women. Of course, violence existed prior to this event, and the fact that the women were college co-eds caused more attention by some. Blais teases apart the ways in which the newspapers covered the events and the consequences of the murder to the feminist and anti-feminist movements in Montreal and surrounding areas.

I read the English translation (thank you Phyllis Aronoff) and doubt that anything was lost in translation. The book is not an easy read, as you will want to put it down and think about some of the points that Blais makes. I read the book and thought about what has changed since this tragedy. I also thought about the Highway of Tears in British Columbia and the missing and murdered women in Juárez. I have mixed feelings. I know that many things have improved, but I think that some have stayed the same.

I have had the honor of sitting on the Dec 6th planning committee at work and this is the sort of work that requires a sincerity of the larger project–stopping violence against girls and women. I recall hearing some engineering students lamenting that they had to be reminded about the event and how burdensome it was to have to do this. I think it is more burdensome to not remember the 14 women from Montreal, and the women before and after them. The commemorations have become about stopping violence and it is crucial to remember this.

One of the things that came out of my reading this book was that I found out that my colleague, Maureen Bradley wrote some thoughtful work about the events. And, Bradley’s work is cited in this book. I encourage you to look at Bradley’s website about her other work since. Overall, I Hate Feminists is a book is worth reading and then thinking about the different ways that you support anti-violence efforts in your community. The book lingers–as it should.


Blais, Melissa. 2014. “I Hate Feminists!” December 6 1980, And Its Aftermath. Translated Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott. Toronto, Canada, Fernwood.

Mentoring Grad Students

I have been having more conversations with graduate students about life after graduate school. Not all of them are interested in the traditional career path in academe. I don’t blame them–the job market for full-time work in higher education is dismal. There is lots of work for contingent (part-time) faculty, but that doesn’t really provide a stable income. I know this well, as for most of my academic career, thus far, I worked part-time. Sometimes this work was between three different departments at three campuses, ergo the term “freeway flyer.”

I do think that we need to be more responsible with our mentoring of graduate students and part of this includes not suggesting graduate school as a viable option to some students. There, I said it. Graduate school is not for everyone; however, some will figure this out on their own. I am referring more so to being honest about the psychic and financial instability of graduate school. Lately, I am seeing more undergraduates entertain what they are referring to more “practical” programs like advanced degrees in Public Administration and even a few are entertaining MBA programs. I think this is a good thing–let them branch out into different degree programs. An advanced degree in Political Science is useful, but it is not the only option.

I have been pleased to see an ongoing threads and hashtags on Twitter #PhDchat #gradchat #NewPhD. These short conversations are interrogating degree programs and what we think needs to change. These are important conversations.

We need to be more honest with our graduate students and make sure that our institutions offers different types of job training or workshops. And, if the student does want to go into higher education, we need to do a better job mentoring. This can be tedious, but meeting one on one with the students is really worth the time. This is part of an ongoing train of thought for me.

50 Shades of Meh: Women in Pop Culture

I can recall reading about women’s fan fiction with great interest. The cultural studies work about shipping and the Kirk/Spock love triangle was fascinating to me in the early 1990s. When fan sites began to devour (pun intended) the Twilight series, I did not think this was anything particularly new or exciting. Then, the fan sites frenzy gave birth to E. L. James and her 50 Shades of Grey series. I read the first book carefully and pretty much yawned through it. The writing was similar to the Twilight  series, which was no surprise given that this book came from one of the fan sites. The book was painfully difficult to read as it was obvious that the author was not familiar with the norms in this SadoMasochism (SM) or Bondage and Discipline (BD) community. BDSM as the abbreviation.>

Right about now, most readers will think one of two things: huh and wait, how do you know about this? Well, my MA thesis was about Women and Consent. This does not make me an expert, but it certainly makes me interested in the series, the movie, and conversations related to consent in pop culture. I have been mulling over a few things about the book(s) and now the movie, which apparently has made some real money. This series has popularized grey ties and re-ignited conversations about BDSM, and the popular culture depictions of a BDSM relationship. Now, if you want to read well-written books in this area you can see the Erotica Booklists or see what Susie Bright suggests–many know her by her alter ego, Susie Sexpert.

The BDSM issue is an extremely divisive issue for feminists. In the 1980s, the sex debates/sex panics/sex wars * culminated with the emergence of “anti-sex” and “pro-sex feminists.” The lack of cohesion and agreement among feminists and others centered around the definition and understanding of women’s sexuality. One of the problems was that feminist epistemology has never been unified in terms of defining what constitutes women’s sexuality. The various sides of the debates acquired their own definitions of women’s sexuality and furthermore, what constituted a feminist sexuality. -there is one feminist sexuality? No. And, if you have followed sex positive discussions, this is still not ironed out.  For ease of discussion, though, I will refer to the two major sides of the sex debates.>

There were different, heated opinions regarding women’s exercise of power and consent. Can women consent? The anti-sex side viewed women’s sexuality as something that male-identified society defined, controlled, and used against women. By contrast the pro-sex camp acknowledged women’s power to pursue pleasure and exercise sexual consent with others in SM sex or non-SM sex. Subsequently, women’s bodies were interpreted as either a site of domination or power among the two loudest or most prominent factions. And, this might shed light on how sex positive debates are at times fraught with controversy, when perhaps they should not be.

Feminists need to take consciousness raising to the level of self-education of women’s various sexualities. It is self-effacing for feminists not to make coalitions among one another and acknowledge the diversity of the movement and identity. We must understand the history and struggles behind women’s sexuality and how this aspect informs women’s identity in society. Clearly this does not require a monolithic feminism with feminists united in one belief. Feminists must work toward developing an inclusive theory of sexuality that includes pleasure, desire, and autonomous consent to sex thinking of women as having sexual agency.

In the future an inclusive sexual theory that embraces various sexualities and sanctions sexual consent as part of women’s sexuality is auspicious. Continued research into theories of sexual politics and consent is justified and needed in the hope of someday securing equality and not playing with the same tired tropes about male dominance of women, as witnessed with the 50 Shades series. This is one of the many reasons why I think: 50 Shades of Meh. I read the book, and do not have to see the stylized version of the book from Hollywood. My safe word here: no.

*Yes, I linked to Wikipedia. It is a good synopsis and written for the lay audience. <Do not be cheeky.>