Marla Rice-Evans | Al Mohajer

An interview with my very cool mother on her new job as Lebanese American University’s Vice Chancellor. She’s long been my favorite person, and she should be yours too.

Al Mohajer interview with Marla Rice-Evans, Vice Chancellor at LAU.

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Student

No matter what sort of bureaucratic nightmare I have to suffer to work as a professional writing tutor, the frustrations pale next to the exciting, multi-talented students that I get to support and challenge.

I have had an extra vibrant string of students this week–sociological studies on Michael Jackson, human geography of Tanzania, critical analyses of fast food and white pseudo-activism. Community college is obviously more diverse than my tiny liberal arts alma mater, and the students I tutor are no exception. Their opinions and experience often challenge my own academically-steeped politics, and I have to shut my white, Bachelor’s degreed, class privileged mouth and hear what they have to say. It’s humbling to be reminded that queerness and gender non-conformance aren’t the limits of ¬†diversity in my current tutoring job.

Too bad admin is such a mess, because SCCC students rule.

Tutor

I’m trying to not get wildly upset at the SCCC administrators about their totally useless tutor training. The most difficult part of my grumpy energy is that I don’t even know who to direct my comments towards; everyone I’ve tried to communicate with has pointed me to someone else. It almost feels as if they are playing a bureaucratic trick, dangling a treat in front of me as I leap through hoop after hoop like a miniature horse.

The obsession with education psychology has really gotten out of hand–instead of addressing systemic inequalities, educators replace these difficult subjects with frilly, feel-good psychobabble on “self-regulated learning.”

Of course, the systemic inequalities critique would require some self-regulated privilege checks, not to mention some reverse brainwashing.

Grad

So as you know if you follow my every move via social media, I got a big fat rejection email from the grad program I applied to at the University of Washington.

While part of me is surprised–the honors-graduating, essay-planning, highlighter-toting part of me–in many ways, I expected it. My application was viciously progressive, and for a department conservative in any way, my style of scholarship would be off-putting.

(Not to mention that UW accepts less than 5% of applicants for this particular program and offers less than half of them assistantships or financial support.)

When I received the email, I was just about to leave my tutoring job on my second-to-last day before my unplanned three week vacation. Between the stress I had acquired via the palpable anxiety of students in the throes of finals and the general what-am-I-doing freakout that comes and goes once a week, I was overcome; I went home and wept.

However, after a good cry and a bout of cursing &¬†politicking with one of my favorite UNCA professors, his two engaging comrades, and my wonderful partner, I felt better. I always make fun of people for needing institutional validation, but–as in everything–I am really poking fun at that need within myself.

I texted my extended support system: the writing center director at UNCA, my two professors who wrote recommendations for me, the UWC staff who helped me polish and polish and anguish over my personal statement and writing sample, my mother. True to form, they bolstered my spirit immensely.

I spent the weekend no longer worried about the rejection; I stayed up until 2am dancing and talking, I cooked and played with Octavia Butler (the cat, not the author), I went out to eat three different times, I drank some bourbon.

And yesterday I had an epiphany: if the institution doesn’t want me, then I don’t want it either. If UW’s conservatism caused them to select other, more deferential, students, then I wouldn’t be the right fit there anyway.

Further, without the influence of academic professionals who have drank the Ivory Tower Kool-Aid, I can really focus my academic energies on whatever sorts of independent projects I feel inclined towards. Thus, the second epiphany: I’m working on creating reading lists and syllabi for my own independent courses, focusing on subjects that I have always wanted to tackle but have never had access to within the academy.

Who needs tuition, athletics fees, and bossy research advisors when you have the library, a notebook, and…drumroll please…the internet? Independent scholarship, here I come.

Job

Hiring timelines are the worst. I was always under the impression that folks posted hiring memos when they needed a person to start working soon or immediately.

I was apparently misinformed.

Most of the jobs I’ve applied to that I’m really excited about have taken weeks to get back to me, if I’ve even heard back from them. I emailed HR at UW to follow up on a perfect-sounding position as an academic advisor in the English department. It’s been two full months since I applied, and their hiring timeline says “4-6 weeks, sometimes more.” So, you know, just checking in.

Nothing. A canned response of their hiring timeline policy. Ugh.

Not that I’m not OK with working 20 hours a week tutoring. That leaves lots of time for writing, reading, cleaning, cooking, and playing with my cat. Not to mention the other 20 hours that I spend per week on Craigslist, my various social media profiles, Indeed, and wherever else.

It’s harder to be an academic/creative workaholic since our industries are imploding. (And I don’t want to tutor spoiled high schoolers.)

White

In the writing center where I used to work, I helped a white student with an anthropology personal statement for graduate school. During our session, as the student was explaining their choice to focus their studies in anthropology–instead of sociology–they said, “Sociology is Anthropology for white people.”

At the time, I chuckled and continued to talk about passive verbs and abstract ideas, but in truth, the student’s complete misunderstanding of their field really bothered me. My discomfort worsened as the student detailed their research within an “intentional community” of hippies, freegans, and artists.

Later, I stumbled upon some photos of the student with another friend of mine at their Arabic dance class. The two of them sported heavy eye makeup, gossamer scarves, bangles, and jewels fastened to belly buttons, eyebrows, and cleavage. They were posed in artificial, exoticized positions, their white skin dusted with powder to make them glimmer under stage lights.

If Anthropology is not for white people, then who is cultural appropriation for? Was this just another research method to justify the scientific and cultural othering of non-white people? Or was this student caught in the delusion that their neoliberal multiculturalism benefited their scholarship?

Hippies don’t see color, which allows them to appropriate indiscriminately: dreadlocks are fine if your own thick hair dreads itself “naturally”; belly dancing is feminist and body-positive; the only non-white cultures worth studying are “exotic” cultures and their “mystical” religions, not the cultures of the neighborhoods hippies’ intentional communities have gentrified.

While I don’t have a problem with Anthropology, I do have a problem with white scholars saying shit like “Sociology is for white people.” Set down your Sanskrit dictionary and get a clue.

Grad School

Everyone thinks I’m going to get into my grad program except me. In preparation for the inevitability of reapplying next year, I am reading Octavia Butler’s entire bibliography since I’ll write my (nonexistent) master’s thesis on her work and Afrofuturism.

I worry that grad school would cut into my dramatic network television watching though. Thinking of other ways to write and get paid that aren’t being an overqualified intern.

I’m funny! I vary my sentence structure! Pay me to write words!