Category Archives: Teaching

The Cistakes of Allyship

“I don’t believe in allies. I want to see people operating in solidarity. That’s something totally different.” ~ CeCe McDonald, March 2018

 

I know, it’s been a hot second but finally some research and work updates!

In the spring 0f 2018, Leland Spencer kindly invited me to be part of the special issue “Transcending the Acronym” he was co-editing for the journal Women & Language (Issue 41, no. 1).  This special issue assembles critical essays seeking to expand our understandings of the LGBTQ+ acronym and identities. In the issue’s forum section, several of us were asked to respond to a provocation essay by G. Patterson, “Entertaining a Healthy Cispicion of the Ally Industrial Complex in Transgender Studies” (pp. 146-150).  These short forum essays raise, at times, uncomfortable yet important questions and invite future research. Below is an excerpt from my own response to this provocation essay. I strongly encourage you to check-out this fantastic issue in its entirety!

Many of us in the academy desperately need to re-evaluate our commitment to social justice, specifically to rethink the usefulness of “allyship.” As someone whose research engages media representations and the state’s surveillance of trans people, I continue to wrestle with my own subject positionality and questions of accountability. I self-identify as a White, cis, masculine-of-center queer who is a non-U.S. citizen, and has benefitted from class and European privilege all my life. The communities that inform my research are primarily poor, trans communities of color with limited access to housing, health care, and secure employment. Given these differences, I regularly contemplate in what ways and/or to what extent my scholarship is guilty of extracting value from the voices and labor of trans people (of color). It is precisely these questions, which point to gross discrepancies in material privileges, life chances, and survival, that I want to consider here: particularly how cis scholars can, to use the language of Black trans rights activist CeCe McDonald, operate in solidarity with trans people.

            1. Join university committees and actively advocate for genuinely inclusive campus cultures. Too often “diversity” committees function merely as a façade, which allow universities to celebrate diversity and inclusion while ignoring how institutional violences continue to harm marginalized populations. Moreover, those who choose to serve on these committees are often multi-marginalized and faculty of color who are already over-burdened with service commitments. When I joined my campus’ LGBTQ faculty committee, I was not surprised, but still disappointed to find that the majority of members were White, cis, straight folks with “good intentions,” but who had thus far failed to address issues like the lack of gender-inclusive restrooms in the student union or the exclusion of trans people from domestic partnership benefits. While it is imperative that POC and LGBTQ perspectives are represented on these kinds of committees, it is equally crucial that those claiming allyship do the work of researching issues, talking with and listening to trans people, and assertively tackling the concerns raised and solutions proposed by those they claim to be allies with.

            2. Regularly incorporate intersectional trans voices and topics in your syllabi. I consciously incorporate transgender topics in all of my courses. In Introduction to Media Studies, for instance, I discuss how the celebrity of Caitlyn Jenner problematically exoticizes trans experiences and reasserts the narrow confines of “acceptable” trans visibility as White, wealthy, and binary-identified. In my Sports Communication class, we look at how “fair play” rhetoric is leveled against trans women athletes to assess the ways that sports are a political, not just a cultural arena. Constituting a key component of critical and social justice focused pedagogy in the classroom, exposure to marginalized perspectives helps students sharpen their critical thinking and civic engagement skills. Skyping-in trans guest speakers, such as Kye Allums, who was the first openly trans NCAA basketball player, to share their lived-experiences is a valuable way to do so. No matter the class, incorporating the perspectives and experiences of trans people should not be the exception, but the rule.

            3. Use your institutional privileges to invite and adequately compensate trans people. Giving trans people a platform to tell their own stories challenges the hegemonic knowledge production that takes place in the ivory tower. If you benefit from the relative job security of a tenure-track line, consciously use start-up funds and grant money to invite trans speakers to campus. Recently, I co-organized with a student to host the #BlackExcellenceTour featuring CeCe McDonald and fellow activist Joshua Allen.

Securing funding for speakers like these often takes extra time and effort because universities typically do not value the experience of young, trans and queer people of color. In our case, we had to cobble together funds from over ten different programs. Many trans rights activists exclusively rely on honoraria to pay rent and cover basic living expenses. Do not haggle down their fees, especially when your department or school happily pays such fees to “established” public figures. Advertising to the whole community to attract larger audiences to these events is an effective means to enact publicly accessible scholarship that reaches beyond pay-walled academic journals and high tuition fees.

          4. If your research is drawing from the voices and experiences of trans people, give credit where credit is due. I want to reemphasize Patterson’s point about the importance of acknowledging trans people’s intellectual labor. This begins with proper citational practices. For example, when referencing trans and queer of color critique as frameworks of analysis, acknowledging their origins in Black and women of color feminisms should be a given.  This also entails listing our trans research informants as co-authors in our publications. Because individualistic tenure requirements incentivize predatory and exploitative academic behavior, White cis scholars can and should deploy their leverage to undermine academic hierarchies, especially those who are already granted tenure.

Undoubtedly, these are only small and incomplete steps scholars can take to make the academy less cis-centric, transphobic, homophobic, and racist. But in so doing, we can ensure that alternative epistemologies produced by trans people do not just accumulate “diversity capital” for neoliberal universities and individual scholars, but actually benefit the communities from which they emanate. As CeCe McDonald reminds us: “interrogate your privilege, whether it’s your class privilege, your race privilege, or your gender privilege” (interview with the author, 2018). By scrutinizing how our privileges inform and censor our everyday (inter)actions we can become better co-conspirators, and less self-serving allies.

 

To cite this article: Fischer, M. (2018). “The Cistakes of Allyship.” Women & Language, 41(1), 159-161.

 

 

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Reflections on COMM 4000/5000 “Communication and Sport”

My apologies for being super tardy with keeping the blog updated – the Spring semester simply got the best of me, yikes. But I survived year one on the tenure-track – yay. And now summer is here with time for research, writing, and yes – getting that blog updated.

I want to start with some reflections on my COMM 4000/5000 “Sports Communication” class from Spring 2017.

Sports are an integral part of everyday life in the United States. Americans frequently dedicate their time, energy, and money to recreational sports leagues, yoga classes, and athletic gyms.  Furthermore, collegiate and professional sports such as NCAA athletics or the NFL, movies, video games and sports betting as well as fantasy leagues comprise multi-billion dollar industries in the “sports‐media-complex.” The course took as its premise that the experience of participating in and/or watching sports is more than “just a game”: sport not only reflects broader social structures but also actively (re)produces cultural values, for example, about hegemonic masculinities. By the end of the semester students gained a critical understanding that sports are not only sought out for healthy life-styles and stress-relief, but that sport is, and always has been, a political institution. While it may promote athletic beauty or temporarily divert us from our problems, it just as often mobilizes power, disciplines bodies, and reifies structures of oppression, for example, the persistent racism Jackie Robinson faced. Throughout the semester we paid attention to issues of diversity, resistance, and social justice as they have and continue to play out in the world of sport. How we communicate about sport, how sport is communicated to us, and what is communicated by sport each represent critical opportunities to evaluate, critique, and improve our society.

Part of what made this course special for me and my students was our ability to listen to and learn from a variety of guest speakers throughout the semester. Dr. Kate Ranachan from the University of Minnesota talked to us about questions of athletic labor and post-colonialism, specifically in the context of Brazilian soccer; Dr. Michael L. Butterworth guided students through a discussion on race and baseball. Especially memorable was a virtual visit from Kye Allums, the first openly trans man to play NCAA Division I basketball for George Washington University. Kye provided a candid account of the barriers sex-segregated sports  present to transgender athletes and encouraged students to get involved on their own campus to fight discriminatory bathroom laws. Finally, Dave Zirin, The Nation’s sports editor and host of the Edge of Sports podcast, engaged us in a lively discussion on the impact of  Muhammad Ali’s legacy for contemporary social justice activism by athletes such as Colin Kaepernick – who many believe still remains unsigned precisely because of his outspoken support for #BlackLivesMatter.

We covered a lot of topics and theoretical ground over the course of the semester, including why sex sells, but not women’s sports; the erotic gaze in the NFL draft; the impact of streaming deals on traditional sports broadcasting models; and the NFL’s concussion crisis to name a few.

Students’ critical engagements with the political nature of sports really came to light with their final video projects. You can see some of their videos engaging, for example, pay inequality in U.S. Women’s soccer, the role race plays in the coverage of Ray Rice and Ben Roethlisberger, or why Serena Williams deserves the title of Greatest Athlete of All Times below. Enjoy!

 

 

If you’d like to take a look at all of the video projects and want to know more about Communication and Sports, you are welcome to check out more projects and posts on our COMM 4000 Tumblr.

 

 

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The Trauma of this Election

My FB posts last night were mainly rants – so let me try to put a few more coherent sentences together.

I’m sitting at the airport right now Philly-bound for NCA; honestly, I’d much rather be NWSA bound because I know that in Montreal I would be surrounded by a supportive community of folks who get that now more than ever we need intersectional feminist and critical race approaches to this right-wing resurgence. Despite COMM’s persistent conservatism in many areas, I look forward to drink, mourn, process, and strategize with those precious ones who share my sentiments at NCA. After all, what we have witnessed in this election is an anti-intellectualism on an unprecedented level.

The spiral of silence (to quote a famous COMM theory) proved deadly last night and had all the pollsters wrong. Who showed-up last night? The silent racism, white supremacy, misogyny, white anger, homo- and transphobia viciously reclaimed their voice to power. A backlash none of us could really imagine – backlash to eight years of Obama, to socio-cultural shifts that clearly made a lot of folks angry and unable to grasp, to the government “dictating your health care” and “taking your guns away” among so many other things.

Yes, Clinton was far from perfect, represents the status-quo and should have never been nominated by forward-thinking Dems in the first place. We all knew we were going to be fucked, yet a Trump election just didn’t seem fathomable, and now on November 9 it is reality.

You can blame the third party voters, write-ins, and POC folks allegedly not showing up and/or voting for who they were supposed to all you want – but what we really need to acknowledge is the fear Trump successfully incited in so many white middle-class communities, especially across the MidWest.

I get it. Some of my rural Minnesota folks are hurting: the manual labor jobs barely pay enough to make a living, “the Mexicans” are causing “trouble” in your small towns, “things aren’t the way they used to be,” “Somalis are rude, greedy, and terrorists,” “Obama has brought sin upon this country by giving the gays all the rights,” … and the list continues.

We need to get out of our “liberal newsfeed bubbles” and start talking to each other. Explain to those who consistently vote against their own interests why Trump will not be the messianic outsider who will fix all that’s broken.

Trump is not the exception – we are seeing a widespread resurgence of right-wing nationalism in all of Europe as well, responses to austerity politics and refugee crises. These are fragile times. While I believe in the strength of our democratic institutions we need to acknowledge that all the checks and balances are basically controlled by Republicans (which is different from when G.W. was elected in 2000 under equally divisive circumstances). I said it last night without trying to be polemic, but please remember that Hitler was also elected democratically into office.

Finally, on a personal note: I’ve never felt scared by election results until last night. Shit all of a sudden got very real. My legal status as a non-US citizen all of a sudden seems to pose a real precarity. And let me be very clear – I fully acknowledge my white German academic cis-privilege that will in all likelihood not make me the target of Trumpian vitriol, nonetheless I feel vulnerable. And I feel really scared for all the dark and brown lives that are not protected by white privilege, but have worked their asses off to realize their personal dreams and better their lives here in the U.S.

To all my queer, POC, immigrant, undocu and feminist warrior students (and they comprise the majority of my classroom at CU Denver) – please know that you are not alone.  We will continue the difficult conversations that we were already having in our classroom, we will process together and share our perspective, we will learn from one another, we will strategize and we will organize.

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#femfilm16’s Feminist Video Essays

Teaching GWSS 3307 Feminist Film Studies in Spring 2016 was a lot of fun!  The class covered a lot of theoretical ground: from Mulvey’s psychoanalytical take on the male gaze, post-feminism, bell hooks’ oppositional gaze, post-colonial film theory, or Butler on gender performativity — we did it all!

After live-tweeting several movies (including Tangerine, Cabin in the Woods, Vertigo, Legally Blonde and many more) and creating a Storify for Fifty Shades of Grey – my students created their own feminist video essays for our final project. Among their awesome topic choices were: Nikki Minaj’s play with the male and female gaze, the media’s racist portrayals of the the demonstrations in Baltimore following Freddy Gray’s death, freeing Kesha, a critique of the sexualization of Belle in the Twilight series, Lesbian Stereotypes in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, #OscarsSoWhite, or the rise of Revenge Porn.

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For most students this was the very first time they were tasked to actively engage in media production processes: from recording and cutting their own audio, remixing different music video clips, to editing with iMovie or FinalCut Pro.While some initially grumbled about the amount of group-work required for this project – in the end they all seemed relieved of not having to write a standard 15 page research paper and were quite proud of their accomplishments. Some groups even wrote their own scripts, casted their own actors, and shot their own 5 minute parody of The Bachelor.

 

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Overall, I was really impressed with the line-up of final videos: students were able to apply the theoretical frameworks we discussed throughout the semester in a very engaging manner by presenting on-point critiques of current pop culture. The analytical and technical skills at play were awesome!

My advice to colleagues who have shied away from media production assignments because they seem too hard to manage and delegate effectively: with the right preparation, tech support, and clear guidelines – they are a lot of fun for both students and instructors.

Thank you also to all the friends, family members, and significant others who joined us for our final viewing party!

Below are some of their amazing videos – be sure to check them out! You can also access all videos on this YouTube playlist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feminist Film Studies

cinema-media-studies-MA

I can’t believe the Fall semester just flew by the way it did – and spring  is already here! Well no spring temperatures in sight in Minnesota at this time. Between dissertating, job applications, conferencing, and serving on various committees, I can’t say that I was bored not teaching last year. But now I am really excited to be back in front of the class room. This semester holds a special treat – I get to teach a large lecture Feminist Film Studies class in the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Department at the University of Minnesota.

GWSS 3307 Feminist Film Studies is an upper-level film analysis and theory course which surveys multiple approaches to feminist film theory (including, for example, semiotics, psychoanalysis, critical race theory, queer theory, and ethnic studies) to examine movies:  from Hollywood Classics to contemporary “blockbusters,” independent films, documentaries, and web series. Over the Spring semester, students will watch Vertigo (1958), Legally Blonde (2001), Fire (1996), Zero Dark Thirty (2013), Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) and Tangerine (2015) among other movies. While the course takes constructions of gender as a central analytic and seeks to problematize conventional notions of femininity and masculinity, we are also considering issues of sexuality, race, class, ability, nationality, and film aesthetics.

 

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As a media scholar I’m especially interested in integrating multi-modal writing assignments and digital technologies into the class room that foster students’ media literacy, prepares them for various future careers, and shares our knowledge with a wider public.  For the Film Studies class I, therefore, decided to design a WordPress course blog for our class where students write blog posts and engage with each other throughout the semester – here is access to GWSS 3307 Feminist Film Studies. Assignments include blogs about the oppositional gaze, a review of a movie they watched in theater,  as well as the application of media examples. Students get to tinker with the technology and learn how to effectively integrate audio-visual materials into their writing.

Another important component of the class integrates students live-tweeting about the movies we watch. All tweets are archived under the hashtag #femfilm16 . I’ve assembled tweets and commentary on the first film we screened, Vertigo,  in this great Storify – check it out!

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Finally, students will be producing their own feminist video essay as a final project: they are asked to identify a narrative, representation, cultural ideology, political economy issue, or industry convention permeating popular media that they want to critique. Drawing on the concepts and theories we’ve engaged throughout the semester, students will be asked to create an alternative view-point about their chosen media object/text(s) and issue a call to action. They will produce a 5-7 minute video in whatever format they see fit – whether it’s a vlog, remix, fan-vid, parody, music video, voice-over commentary, or public service announcement. I’m excited to see what creativity this project sparks and I look forward to share some of their final products with you in May!

 

 

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Teaching Media: Fostering Students’ Civic Engagement via Video Production

COMM 3201 “Introduction to Electronic Media Production” is an introductory course at the University of Minnesota that enhances students’ media literacy by combining theoretical knowledge of aesthetic composition principles in television and film with applied media production skills in a multi-camera studio. In the Fall of 2014, students in my COMM 3201 section were asked to do something a little different: for their final project students had to write and produce their own public service announcement engaging a social justice issue.

Class discussions about racialized media representations and the nationwide #BlackLivesMatter protests spurred an interest in Samantha Cabrera, a graduating senior majoring in Communication Studies, to craft a script titled “I see Colored People.” Drawing on her own experiences as an immigrant student of color at the University of Minnesota, the PSA reveals the functions of “white privilege” and asks viewers to be conscious of race in U.S. society.

Samantha: “People tend not to see color to comfortably avoid the obvious differences in everyday life and media. When I came to the U, I noticed how my experience was that much harder than it was for other students.” Using many of the skills and techniques learned over the course of the semester, Samantha and her group successfully produced a high-quality PSA in the Rarig Center: “I am proud of our PSA. It’s all about the exposure to new ideas and points of view and hopefully this is what this PSA did for the rest of the class too.”

Check out the PSA “I see Colored People” here:

http://mediamill.cla.umn.edu/mediamill/display/999236611

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