Monday, December 12, 2011
As I'm writing about this accomplishment, I catch myself thinking, "elyse, this doesn't have much to do with scholarship or activism, come on..." Ah! Exactly. I am searching and exploring ways to find synthesis and overlap of my own energies. I have never thought of exercise or activity as a way to define myself. It was actually a huge insecurity of mine when I arrived in this hyper-fit city. But now, with some personal goal setting and encouragement of friends, I am happy to think of myself as active and someone who enjoys physically activity. This is another aspect then of how to achieve balance in my life. My whole life. Which includes my scholarship, which includes my activism. See how that works?
But this notion of energy is interesting. It is the end of the year, a time when things are seen to come to a close. We are encouraged to bring some finality to projects, check in with friends and family, take our pulse regarding our projects and goals. This happens in academia (time to apply for the PhD program, many theses and PhD Defenses, presenting my public scholarship portfolio), this happens in the non-profit world (appreciation parties, final fundraising pushes, PR campaigns galore), etc...
Amidst this seemingly inevitable energy (dare I say) vortex, I still find myself drawn to starting new things. Playing music with new people in new situations, running this race, budding relationships; I feel a definite pull towards many new things, even as the air around me is full of murmurs of wrapping up, creating closure and looking inward.
What does this mean for my scholarship and activism? In many ways, they have taken the back-burner, perhaps unwittingly because my energies are so divided right now in both inward and outward looking ways. I also haven't been in touch with SYGW in a while, which feels strange. And, since I transcribed the interviews for my fieldwork, they have sat on my desk looking lonely, but as of yet, not commanded my attention. I have a huge pile of books that have sat on my desk for the entire quarter, their pages longingly wanting to be opened. Instead, at least in the last 3 weeks, I have focused on grading and my TA-ship, very much at the expense of my own work. I did successfully present my public scholarship portfolio (which can be accessed here).
Here, though, I want to be careful. Graduate school has too much of a tendency to make us feel beaten down about how little we are doing, rather than celebrating how much we are accomplishing. My pursuits of late have been incredibly positive for me, contributing to how situated and comfortable I feel in Seattle. They are contributing to feelings of community, feelings of hope and inspiration for collaboration, and general reminders of how lucky I am to be living here, getting support to pursue precisely what is of interest to me. So, perhaps the lack of structure this quarter meant I was not as productive as I "should" have been. On the flip side, I am returning East in a week with a more renewed, refreshed and positive outlook on my time here in Seattle than I've yet had. I have spoken with my other MA colleagues about how we must stay on track and support one another to finish our theses in the spring. I want that process to feel collaborative, even though we are all writing our own projects.
Of course, in writing this, I'm feeling like I'm somehow excusing myself for the abysmal amount of reading I accomplished this quarter. That is rather embarrassing, yes. But, what's done is done, and now I have to move forward, embracing the fact that indeed, the way I live my life is going to inform my scholar-activism. The more balance I can achieve, the more people I communicate and collaborate with, the more I can support my own healthy lifestyle, and the more I can bring compassion to others will all lead to a richer engagement with community organizations and social movements.
On a closing note, it is worth mentioning that today is a historic day here in Seattle, and along the West Coast, as the #Occupy movement is positioning the West Coast Port Shutdown. I decided that I needed to support my students (who I felt I did not support enough earlier in the quarter), and will be holding office hours this afternoon. I feel incredibly torn about this, and would really much rather be at the Port Shutdown. However, it is a choice I've made, and my 60 or so students (many of whom will NOT make use of this time), will at least have the chance to feel supported and well-prepared for their exam tomorrow.
To all my colleagues and friends that are going to the Port: be safe, be smart. This is a very exciting moment for Occupy to show that direct action can be more powerful, in some cases, than Occupation. It will be very interesting to see where this goes.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Sunday, November 06, 2011
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Laura Pulido, my scholar-activist role model, writes that, “how you combine scholarship and activism is linked to how you construct your life.”  This position rings powerfully true for me for a number of reasons. First, I have come to consider myself a public scholar after years of working with and for non-profit programs, and engaging in struggles for social, educational and food justice. Secondly, my academic life has never been particularly academic: while I can excel in school, I have never made ‘school’ the primary site and space in my life. I require my energies to be engaged outside of the walls of the university in order to feel fulfilled, and, in fact, to be the best scholar I can be. Finally, I am beginning to understand that the university / public binary is as porous and flexible in my own life as it is in intellectual debates about how to situate the university and academy.
As a relatively new graduate student, my diverse interests often draw guffaws from my colleagues. How could I possibly be involved in as many things as I am, and still “get my work done?”. Well. As mentioned above, I am learning to navigate the dialectical spaces between ‘university’ and ‘publics’. My university life perforates, interweaves, and contradicts my ‘other’ life in fascinating and generative ways. Through music, I am able to write and engage a part of my brain that pushes my creative potential, and allows me to quiet the analytical part of my brain. Collaborating with musicians also influences and feeds into the way I approach scholarship: put the group first, and it [the work] will always sound and feel better. As Kobayashi argued at a pivotal turn in feminist geography, speaking to the power and politics of collaboration, we need to consider “who speaks with whom, and how?” As a cook, I think about where food comes from, how it nurtures my own body, and how it can be used to bring people together. This emerges in my scholarship as I strive to bring people together to collaborate, share ideas in new ways, and produce new, diverse publics through conversation and engagement. Finally, I am constantly trying to build community in and out of the university. While I admire my colleagues for their insight and analysis, it is equally important to me to engage with folks outside of the university. Is this not the best barometer for what diverse publics think about? Working with and through community allows me to see how my scholarly ideas resonate with those not affiliated with the university. It also raises questions about future collaboration, new venues for displaying my work, and new perspectives to pursue in my own work.
Now, Pulido might be referring to leading a rich, if sometimes frenetic life (like I appear to be living!). But, I would argue her words are meant to reflect the ways that we place ourselves in the spaces of activism and social struggle. She states that the ways we engage with community organizations and social justice work will directly influence the type of scholarship we engage in. From her perspective, fully immersing oneself will lead to a more accountable, and more reciprocal relationship with organizations and movements. Additionally, Pulido challenges the assumption that one’s contribution to organizations be in a purely academic form. Sometimes, we need to just ‘be a reliable supporter/member who could provide whatever assistance was needed.”
Aside from my diverse interests mentioned above, the way I construct my life around activism will be and has been at the core of my work as a public scholar. Through involvement with a wide array of organizations, I have come to question the ways in which non-profits speak to and serve diverse publics of their own, and the ways that their more ‘public’ voices often contradict and push back against actual lived experiences of the individuals that make use of and are targeted for programming.
A number of my portfolio documents already speak to this commitment to non-profits and social justice work. I also propose new collaborative projects that will challenge my own assumptions about publics (as ones I work with), and publics/audiences. In “Open Arms”, I write about the ways that this organization appeals to its volunteers and fosters a space for active citizenship. This artifact documents my first “scholarly” engagement with a non-profit; through participant observation and qualitative interviews, I was able to uncover volunteers’ feelings about the organization and their motivations for volunteering. Following this piece, my letter of intent for the Public Scholarship Certificate explains how I have begun to question and challenge the dichotomy between my identity as a graduate student and as a community member in organizations. I see the public scholarship program as a way to more clearly articulate this ‘split’ identity, and how to best make use of my skills, motivations, energies and ‘social capital’, as Pulido writes. My letter of intent frames how I saw myself starting out as a budding public scholar, and also draws heavily on my previous contributions. Finally, “Community Gardening – Research Proposal” is an artifact of my first attempt at articulating my research interests in a formal proposal. This is an interesting artifact for two reasons: 1) I was writing to a new public: that of the review committee. I had to craft my proposal in a way that conveyed my motivation and commitment to public scholarship but in language that ‘made it count’; 2) in thinking through a budget, work timeline and interview scripts, I had to think specifically about the methodologies I would have to employ, as a scholar engaged with non-profits and their participants. Up to this point, collaboration had felt more theoretical. In writing this proposal, the realities began to hit home.
Now, there are additional artifacts that I can draw from that speak back to Pulido’s insistence that sometimes service work, and providing ‘whatever assistance is needed’ is the best use of our resources and energies. “Urban Farm Map” and “Spatial-Jobs Mismatch” are both demonstrations of artifacts that emerged by using more quantitative skills, like GIS and spatial analysis. From a pedagogical perspective, the teaching I did with Admission Possible (lesson plan), the Community Design Center of MN, and Mapping Youth Journeys all document more of a praxis oriented scholarly engagement. In teaching about food systems, college access, and spatial injustice, I was able to inspire critical thinking and raise questions about access and equality.
Pulido’s words lead to only one question for me: where do I go next? I’ve been very intrigued by new digital media and digital scholarship. Sharon Daniels work “Public Secrets” is a brilliant project that allows the viewer to create their own non-linear narrative, (as opposed to those of documentaries, articles, presentations, etc.) This idea of allowing a public to emerge through the work is incredibly powerful, and has far greater implications for transformative social change. I would love to learn more about multiple ways of producing and sharing knowledge with and for diverse publics.
Finally, to me, living where I work is of utmost importance. While many geographers look ‘outwards’, I feel more comfortable and accountable by doing work with the communities I live in and engage with. For me, this means working towards educational justice, food justice, and a more public and critical attention to youth voices. Through my work with Seattle Youth Garden Works, I will develop a pilot program of collaboration and recommendations. Through interviews with youth, collaboration with leadership, and digital media, I hope to provide recommendations that capture the voices of youth in the program. By taking their knowledge seriously, I use my skills and resources as a graduate student to improve the programming to more accurately reflect the needs of youth. Ideally, I would love to create an interactive website and database that would allow non-profits to share their insights and inputs from youth.
At this specific time and place, I am still creating space for myself in a relatively new city, building relationships across disciplines, diverse publics and communities. I have much political work and also ‘soul-searching’, (as many feminist geographers write) ahead of me, before I will feel comfortable with how I’ve constructed my life as a graduate student, musician, activist and community member.
 Pulido, L. 2008. Frequently (Un)Asked Questions about Being a Scholar Activist in Engaging Contradictions: Theories, Politics and Methods of Activist Scholarship. Ed: Charles R. Hale. University of California Press. p. 346
 Kobayashi, A. 1994. Coloring the Field: Gender, “Race”, and the Politics of Fieldwork. The Professional Geographer 46(1) 73-80.
 Pulido, 356
Monday, October 24, 2011
Apparently today was Food Day, a national endeavor to push for more healthy, 'real food', including the Real Food Challenge, seen across.