How I Used Twitter and Ended Up Learning to Write

With Kate Drabinski

We write all the time. We’re academics, so it’s sort of our job. And then there’s twitter. Why bother tweeting? It isn’t real writing, and it will never make it in our tenure or promotion files, so isn’t it a waste of time? Not at all, we say, and here’s why.

1. Twitter keeps us thinking and learning. Real time online conversations keep us moving and going and thinking and seeing others being productive. It is a place where academics can feed for ideas and spurs our micro-creativity. Compared to the traditional academic timeline in which feedback and interests can be months or even years—let’s be honest, Twitter real time conversations enables real time feedback. This feedback and interest in what we, and others, are thinking about inspires our writing.

2. Twitter keeps our offline writing projects moving. Because of those real-time conversations, we stay motivated to keep writing and thinking when we log off. It can also help us to make decisions we might otherwise stew over. Twitter keeps us productive and can jolt us out of those negative phases when we get blocked or discouraged. Sometimes it just takes a single tweet to help get out of bed. Also, a response or favorite from a follower can help us to not feel so alone when we are discouraged or moving slower—to recognize it all as part of the process.  “@drcompton @kdrabinski I feel this!”

3. Twitter forces us to think about audience, something academics are notoriously bad at doing well. We both tweet to multiple audiences–academics, sure, but also activists, students, personal friends, family members, Ashley Judd, Dr. Ruth, fellow bicyclists in the case of @kdrabinski, and fellow sneaker enthusiasts in the case of @drcompton. Tweets go out to all these followers, and part of tweeting well is remembering this and writing in clear ways that will resonate with these different audiences at different times, but never with everyone at all times. These are important skills to remember as we write offline for similarly diverse audiences, and twitter makes us practice on a daily basis.

4. That tiny character count makes us be precise in our writing, another thing academics are notoriously bad at. We’ll leave it at that, for precision’s sake.

5. Being precise means revising, deleting, rewriting, and revising again, the very most important parts of writing well, and the parts too often left for later until forgotten altogether. 140 characters isn’t a lot, and rarely is our thought fully formed the first time we try to force it into that tiny space. We must focus, focus, focus—focusing on what is really necessary and important. We find ourselves deleting, trying again, figuring out what can be saved for another tweet, and what our central point really is. Twitter forces us to revise on the spot, and real skills are developed that translate to our offline writing. After all, a first draft is simply writing to the starting line. The real work is in the revision, and twitter won’t let us forget that.


Professor Stereotypes and Fingernails on the Chalkboard

I have always found stereotypes about professors humorous on a good day-especially within movies and the media.  So much so, in fact, that I have even embraced some of them just for fun. Yes, I do love to wear sweater vests. I wish I did own or have a need for a corduroy jacket with elbow patches. Oh, and tweed. I wish I could justify any purchase of tweed.  Sadly, I live in a hot place and most of the time a shirt with a collar and dark denim with dress shoes or chuck taylors becomes my professional attire. I will however, be requesting a leather shoulder bag from Santa this year…or buying one as my reward for tenure. My other stereotype I would strive to fit, if I were able to ever afford it, would be to live in a Frank Llyod Wrightesque home with amazing landscaping. I mean who wouldn’t–and of course it would be located on a quaint little street that is just close enough to my campus for me to stroll or bike to work and town, but also far enough from away so that I have extreme privacy for my concentration.

There are also stereotypes I hate. A couple I will not even mention as to not perpetuate them. One biggie that is talked about quite a bit in the media and to my face is how little we work. It is assumed that we work only a few hours a week, make big bucks, and have a cushy life where we just sit at coffee shops all day engaging in various intellectual debates about impractical topics with fellow elite colleagues, coffee shoppers, and if lucky students–which by the way can be very productive in that it stimulates us to think, learn more about what we know and don’t know, and may motivate us to act. All of which leads to new ideas for teaching and research interests and goals. There is also the absent-minded professor stereotype, one of the most common, and also potentially true for me at times. It is still annoying that the assumptions begins with something I would associate as carelessness.  Okay, so I do get so obsessed with my research and the fact that I should be writing whenever I am not, that I do run into objects.  However, I have never fallen into a well or been in a bone-breaking accident. I do usually remember my work and personal commitments and I do keep up on my hygiene. Further, I do like to think that I think of others…or at least their research projects.  If I appear to be resilient to feelings, this is really in large part because I care so much. Sometimes too much for my own health. So, the notion that I only care about MY research and pay little attention to anything else–my students, family, etc. becomes extremely offensive.

This long lead up regarding general professor stereotypes is actually developed out of a recent article I read about how “Pop Culture has Turned Against the Liberal Arts.”  The article largely focuses on the students and stereotypes of liberal arts majors  and I think it’s dead-on.  While I have noticed a great deal more of bias against liberal arts in the past few years, I just assumed it was because I was in the thick of it. I also assume that during economic hard times, liberal arts is often taken for granted. However, the above article re-reminded me of the greater culture students are living.

Thinking back 15 years ago to when I was a wee undergrad, it was mentally harder for me to come-out as wanting to be a liberal arts major to my family, than to come out about my sexual orientation. Also, it seems to be common knowledge among my undergrads and even graduate students that, “it’s ok to major in Liberal Arts if you are going to go on to law school” otherwise you will probably be poor and end-up working for minimum wage. (Side note: law school really seems to be the big fad right now and while I do have some suspicion as to why, my own friends experiences in and with law school coupled with  articles like this really scare me as student after student come into my office inform this is their back-up plan if they can not get a job out of their BA/BS).

The claim to fame most widely boasted for a liberal arts major is that it creates and contributes to skills of critical thinking and analysis–skills that can be applied across settings and time. Yet, at the same time coursework is often conceptualized as less serious, or even worse “easy.” I also think the narrative is quite problematic…in part because there is not one.  My students largely site their parents and family as leading concerns with being a liberal arts major. In fact, I would be as bold to state that most majors at some point in time have been asked “what are you going to do with that?” I know my own family and personal friends outside of academia recognize that I am a professor…but as far as what I really do…  well it just all goes rt back into that big pot of stereotypes.  I will continue this idea in my next blog perhaps titled something like “What I do and Why Liberal Arts Rocks!”


Your Professor has Moods, Deadlines, Bad Days, and Feelings too

It’s common for us to attribute doing well to ourselves and doing poorly to others and or the circumstances around us.  However, something it seems to me that students often fail to fully realize is that professors are people too. Which means we have feelings, moods, and just as many life disruptions as our students.

In college prep courses and tips online it seems to be common knowledge that students should let their professors know what is going on in their lives–when they are having a hard time, and so forth. This way the professor makes less assumptions and often times may have ideas that can help or contribute to easing a students negative emotional state.  In my view, if you are at a state where you are crying in a professor’s office, then there are bigger things going on…and those things really should be the central focus for the student over my class. This is one reason I offer a drop assignment, and for the big life events, we have Withdrawals, Drops, and Incompletes. I know to students these seem like the enemy and as bad things, but they really shouldn’t be viewed that way unless they are being abused. No one is perfect and everyone is affected by life at some point.

It is rarely talked about among academic circles and I would go as far as to suggest that it may even be faux pas for a professor to let students know about their issues.  While, I do let me students know when I will be traveling or have big deadlines, I generally try to distance any negativity going on in my personal world from my professional life and definitely from my students. I am sure my RAs can predict my moods and know when the best times are to approach me about various things…and when to not. Just off of the top of my head I know I can be “short” or what I consider to be task focused if Im on my way to the restroom/coffee, headed upstairs (which is equated with class or Deans and other faculty), or need to leave for an off campus appointment.

I know a professor (not at my school) who currently hates a particular day of the week because of a mandatory meeting s/her has to attend in the afternoons. It would be easy to imagine that this professor’s morning classes on this day are a different experience than on a different day of the week.  Likewise, this is why I strongly encourage making appointments for meetings even during office hours. If you want to have a 100% focus from your professor, it is good to let them know you are coming and what you are going to want to talk about. This way they can be prepared to fully help you out and schedule the appropriate time to interact with you.  I often have students show up in the last few minutes of my office hours, more so than at the beginning. I use to schedule my hours prior to my classes, but I found that I felt as if I had to rush the students.  Now, I put in a break, but this too is then often eaten into. I also worry about if it is a disservice to stay into “my time” for the student who now expects me to be accessible 24-7.  I know it is a disservice to my writing and family life.

This brings me to a conversation I overheard  at our student union this past week.  A group of caring students were extremely upset about a test they had just taken. They had prepared for the test studying notes, the book, etc. and from their perspective, very little of this was on the test.  These students, (students who worked and expected to make A’s) felt they had failed.  Additionally, they were very upset at the professor.  How could s/he do that to them?  So they were brainstorming their angry emails–which would surely have an accusatory tone.

For me it was clear there were a number of assumptions being made.  The first and most obvious was that they had failed.  I encouraged them to at least wait 48 hours and see if they felt the same after 2 days.  We can get a great deal of new information that really affect our feelings and understanding of situations if we can be patient for just 48 hours. Sometimes, issues can even be entirely resolved.

Or, to even give the professor a chance to return the exams and see what the situation really was–did they in fact fail? In my mind as a professor, there are a ton of things that could be going on or have gone wrong not at all related to the student. It brought to mind this one time when I accidently gave the wrong exam to a class–I had updated and changed a number of questions around specifically for their class and class discussions but then managed to print of the exam from the previous semester that had not been changed. I of course caught my mistake quite quickly and figured out an appropriate way to fix the scenario.  I am so thankful this test was on a Friday, it must have been on a Friday, because I was able to get out ahead of the issue before any students had emailed with concerns. Now, this was a rare case. However, I did make it right.

Often times space, time, and patience can answer questions and ease our concerns.  For me the most tragic assumption is that professors are out to get the student. I find this to be the most tragic, because I know this as a complete myth. Never have I witnessed or heard of this being the case.  I would believe in unicorns first.  I can reconcile that more easily over the above increasingly more common assumption. I have at least scene a goat at a circus that had one horn growing out of the center of his head or they may just be really good at hiding. But above all, believing in unicorns doesn’t put me on the defense, create more obstacles in my life, or waste my emotional energy.





Building Writing Skills from Day 1: Or How I Learned to Stop Assuming What Students Should Know

By J. Wheeldon*

September is the beginning of the school year and another chance for those of us who teach the next generation of scholars to think about what we might do differently this time around. As Profs finalize syllabi and update lectures, I want to suggest that the first few weeks of class is a good time to get a sense of how students understand the basic building blocks of writing. In my opinion these building blocks include: sources, structure, and citations.

Academic honesty has been much in the news of late. Whether it students at well-known schools or evidence of plagiarism by journalists and television personalities, a debate of sorts has emerged on the issue. Some see plagiarism as a function of technological advancements. Students today can copy and paste things from multiple sources, change a few words around (and the font!), and pass it off as their own. Others suggest stealing the work of others is hardly new. While technology may make it easier to cheat, the decision to cut corners amounts to a basic ethical lapse. For these commentators, it this moral question that must be confronted.

Based on a project I conducted while at George Mason University, this resource provides some more details on a step-by-step approach to assist students to plan, research, draft, and review academic papers. For now, I want to focus on the question of how to help students properly cite sources and integrate material into original work. In my experience teaching in multiple countries, states, and universities, one major issue is that students do not know what standard is expected of them. Should they use APA or MLA? Does the Prof want Chicago style or some other strange and/or personal approach to citation? The lack of clarity for students is a function of the lack of consensus among disciplines and the seemingly endless infighting that is a historic feature of the academy.

Punishing students for plagiarism requires first that Profs clearly articulate the standard required. This means including policies, tips, and techniques on syllabi and in lectures. It may include other approaches as well. For the last 4 years I have been using a citation quiz in the first week of all my classes. Students complete it, and we then talk about what the “best” answers might be and why.

The quiz is below and I encourage you to read through it and think about if and how it might be useful to your teaching. No doubt you will need to adapt it and I would love to see how you improve it. My biggest suggestion is this: Don’t assume. Yes, students should have learned this stuff in high school. Yes, their required writing course or some other departmental specific course should have prepared them. I assure you, however, most do not know as much as you think they should. A quiz is a good way to start a conversation about writing. In my experience, investing in this early in the term pays off later when the endless mountains of essays arrive to be graded.

Let’s help students learn about proper citation practices instead of blaming them for not knowing. Remember, once you build this into your coursework, no student can say they didn’t know how to properly cite sources, and/or that no one taught them. At least not in your class.

*Dr. Johannes Wheeldon (LL.M, Ph.D) holds degrees from Dalhousie University, the University of Durham, and Simon Fraser University. He worked at the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada between 2002-2005 and has since worked for the American Bar Association, George Mason University, and the Center for Justice Law and Development.

He is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University and teaches Philosophy to inmates at the Coyote Ridge Correctional Center. He can be reached at

You can also follow Dr. Wheeldon on Twitter @JusticeLawDev


Additional Resources

Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices is available here:


Self Administered Citation Quiz

Part 1 Source Selection (True or False)

1. ___ Academic sources include articles from peer-reviewed journals, articles from University web sites, non-fiction books or chapters from those books.

2. ___ Its ok to use non-academic web pages, TV shows or movies, and wikipedia as academic sources as long as you cite them.

3. Rank (1 – best, 5- worst) the following sources in terms of academic reliability:

___  Newspapers and magazines

___  Peer Reviewed Journals

___  Wikipedia

___  Non-Fiction Books

___  Government funded websites


Part 2 Citations (True or False)

4.  ___ Copying a sentence or two without crediting the source is not plagiarism.

5. ___ It is not plagiarism if you use information or ideas without crediting the source as long as the exact words are not used.

6. ___ Using specific terminology used by someone else, even a unique word or two, must be set off with “quotation marks.”

7. ___ The author and year of any source used must be included in cases when you summarize, paraphrase, or directly cite the work of another.

8. ___  Page numbers must be provided whenever you paraphrase or directly cite the work of another.


Part 3 Bibliographies (True or False)

9. ___ All sources used in an academic paper do not have to be listed in a bibliography.

10. ___ The information provided in a bibliography should allow a reader to find the source you have used.

Part 4 Read through the Writing Website

Go to:

  1. Based on the website what points on structure, citations, and style did you all ready know?
  2. What points did you not know?
  3. What aspect of the points raised will be the most challenging for you?


To Stay or To Go…

From the start I said it would be either an annoying (drive, $, time, traffic, etc) 2 day over-nighter in Houston or we would evacuate for days probably at least a week.  It would be much like our Gustav experience except that this storm was only a category 1.  We were prepared to evacuate first thing Monday morning when it going to be a Cat 2, but then as we were getting ready to roll out, it was downgraded.  We were already one of the few that were going to leave. Our neighborhood was extremely laissez-faire-faire about the whole situation and our respective jobs had given little insights into whether we would be let out of work and for how long.

I now wish we had gone. However, at the time no one in my neighborhood was leaving and to be honest going anywhere would be pricey. Driving 2 cars or even 1 to Houston (our nearest guest bedroom that could house both of us and our 3 animals) would easily cost us $200+.  It seemed far more reasonable to charge $100 at the grocery store to stock up on water and supplies than it did to evacuate. Sure there would be some discomforts, but it would all be manageable.

But they never tell you…or maybe you just never remember the little pains and annoyances…we never remember how spoiled we are–or we would have left.  All was alright until the power shut off.  3 days later…everyone I know is scrounging for power and to find a cool place to nap. At least we are getting lots of naps. However, I have discovered I can not live without internet…or the great outdoors.  You just cant take both from me. And this is what this storm did. I can not stay inside for 48 hours straight and remain sane. As a sociologist, I am extremely aware of my privilege. I am over-educated and I have access to a great deal of information, credit, resources and flexibility related to my job.  In fact, it is sort of insulting that I even whined about no internet.  Especially when there are many out there who do not have the options we have.

Many are not so lucky or fortunate. Throughout this storm we had cell service and access to Twitter and FaceBook via our smart phones. My mom sent me weather updates via text, as did our other friends and relatives.  In the course of entertaining myself I found one article on Twitter especially interesting and relevant. It was called Storm Psychology: Why do some people stay behind? This article is quick to highlight many factors that push one to stay, especially those related to access to resources.  “The fact is, many people lack the resources to escape.”  Issues related to the lack of resources are very well known and have largely been studied by social scientists and disaster researchers. They are very real. Even for my household which would be considered above average economic concerns played a part, however, this article also touches on the effect community and state has on our decisions to stay or go.

Two big reasons that played into our decision to stay were that we had little information from our jobs (both dictated by the state) about what would be expected of us and we didnt know anyone else leaving. “And, as the thinking goes, if your neighbor tells you he’s staying, then you might stay, too”  Tack on to that our end of the month finances…and well…we stayed. Let’s just say, I wish I had read this article prior to our decision and in the future I will think about things in a different way. All that being said, it has been an experience–learning and otherwise.


Graduate Students and ECR’s going to ASA

If your going to ASA give this panel a check out:
Professional Development Workshop: ASA Editors Offer Insights and Advice on Writing and Submitting Articles

Description: ASA editors from a variety of ASA journals will provide insights and advice on publishing in scholarly journals, including preparing manuscripts for submission, selecting a journal, responding to revise and resubmit decisions, and deciding what to do if your paper is rejected. The workshop will provide opportunity for audience members to ask the editors questions about publishing.

Saturday, Aug 18, 10:30am-12:10pm

David Bills, editor, Sociology of Education
Karen Hegtvedt, editor, Social Psychology Quarterly
Tim Liao, editor, Sociological Methodology
Holly McCammon, editor, American Sociological Review
Debra Umberson, editor, Journal of Health and Social Behavior

No Problemo

by @DrNicNack

At the end of May, my boyfriend and I took a very long awaited and much anticipated vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with two of our very good friends—the queerprof and her partner. They had been to Puerto Vallarta before and had told us that on their earlier vacation, some family members had noted that there seemed to be a large number of same sex couples vacationing in Puerto Vallarta. As a sociologist, gender and sexuality are topics that are frequently in the forefront of my mind and are subject to a great deal of analysis and discussion in my academic life, but also spill over into my personal life. Being a straight woman who has many lesbian friends, I have become fairly accustomed to being mistaken for a lesbian- there is something, after all, to be said for theories of homogamy in friendship.

Despite this topic being such a prominent part of my life, something happened on our trip to Mexico that I found both surprising and interesting. During one of our excursions to the market to buy some jewelry and other souvenirs, The Queer Prof and I got into a discussion with a shop owner, a man named Lionel Richie. We were shopping around and decided to buy some jewelry from him, and while we were talking and checking out he asked us if we were “good friends or girlfriends?” We replied, “good friends!” and he then proceeded to inform us that “in Puerto Vallarta, it doesn’t matter. Girl and girl, boy and boy, it’s no problem.” He kept talking about how in Puerto Vallarta, it was okay to be in a same sex couple and that it didn’t matter. It was, apparently, no problem. We appreciated his sentiment and laughed off his comments, and then proceeded to analyze the interaction as we were leaving the market. Not one minute later, we were approached by another shopkeeper who was trying to entice us to purchase some of his items, and we started talking to him as well. After a very short time, he asked us if we were girlfriends. We again said that no, we weren’t, to which he replied, “not yet?” and laughed. We said that no, we were just good friends, and nothing more. He told us that in Puerto Vallarta, being in a same sex couple is no problem and that “only God can judge.” We talked a bit more with him and then left, as we couldn’t wait to get back to our respective partners (who were eating oysters and drinking beer on the beach) to tell them about these crazy incidents.

As we were recounting the stories, we were then inclined to wonder what it was about us that led those two individual shop keepers to assume we were a couple, and then be so bold as to ask about it. Did we look like couples they had seen before? Did they think that someone who was fairly queer looking and someone who was more traditionally feminine looking must be a couple together? And what prompted them to both tell us that being gay was okay in Puerto Vallarta? We decided that the answer could only be one of two options: first, maybe they really were okay with all forms of sexual orientation and expression in Puerto Vallarta—at least in the shops. In fact, on a tour we had taken the previous day, we learned that there was a specific gay area in town called the “romantic zone” and we later ate dinner at a restaurant in the “romantic zone.” Rainbow flags were proudly displayed in windows and on balconies and while we were there we saw a variety of very stereotypically flamboyant gay men. Was it that Puerto Vallarta was a really accepting city, or was it more pragmatic than that? Like a heterosexual couple, same sex couples take vacations, and would be likely to take a vacation to Puerto Vallarta if that sort of destination struck their fancy. As a town that makes a living through the tourism industry, locals would obviously be well advised to be accepting of a group of people who are bringing business to the city and stimulating the economy. However, why these men felt the need to so vocally express their sentiments is something that we will continue to wonder about and as our friends later saw after we left the vacation early, girl and girl (or boy and boy) may not actually be “no problem.”

The Wrong Side of the Pier

By the QueerProf

Sitting at the same restaurant across from the shops on the beach as the day before, my partner and I saw a “problem.”  This problem began innocently enough and not as a problem. Two young girls were wading in the waves—holding hands.  In fact, we did not even consider issues of sexuality initially. There were a number of families and children playing in the water and these girls (most definitively not out of high school) could have been best friends, cousins, etc. However, eventually, hand holding turned to splashing which turned into wrestling which turned into kissing and then full on make-out kissing rolling around in the sand.  At this point most of the tables and families were watching.  Little was said at first, but then more and more comments and jokes came. I cannot speak directly to the comments and jokes as I do not speak Spanish so well and the loud crashing of the waves and music and general lively beach atmosphere muffled many of them.  I was actually a little impressed at how comedic the crowd found it, rather than disturbing—I mean the kind of disturbing that stems from repulsion and leads to violence. This couple was also quite persistent and enthusiastic. This behavior went on for a good long while at least 15-20 minutes without interruption. This type of PDA would have drawn a great deal of attention even for a cross-sex couple. I was actually impressed at how quickly many of the tables and families went back to their previous interactions.

The Lady in Red

However, there was one lady—the lady in red, who was extremely concerned. So much so that she went to get the police.  The police took their time in coming and they took their time in analyzing the situation. The frolicking was still taking place, although the passionate kisses had simmered down. Three police people showed up to address the situation from a nearby substation—two men and one woman. The female officer was a solid butch woman although we cannot speak to her sexuality, we identified her as a probable lesbian.  It appeared that the two men were there to supervise while the woman was there to “have the conversation.”  The men hung back with the lady in red, while the female officer approached and spoke to the girls. The men were light hearted about the situation and seemingly empathetic to the lady in red’s concerns. The three were smiling and chatty while they looked on as the female officer spoke with the girls. We were unable to hear what she was saying, but she did point toward the people on the beach and the families. She further pointed down the beach a few times. It seemed she was suggesting they go elsewhere and perhaps on the other side of the pier as she motioned down the beach and over something. The girls seemed surprised by situation and were in shock with how to deal with the interaction. Eventually, one of the male officers—who seemed to be the supervisor—also made his way to the girls.  He reiterated via hand motions that they should just move down the beach to the other side of the pier to what we later realized was in the romantic zone and soon to be established gay beach.  The girls still in shock and clearly effected by the situation, gathered up their clothes and walked down the beach in the opposite direction of the Romantic Zone.  I wish I could remember if they were still holding hands.  I do remember that their smiles were gone.

A million miles a minute…

This week I guest lectured in a colleague’s marriage and family course.  Assigned with the task of “discussing gay and lesbian families,” I wanted to cover gay/lgbt/queer families, issues of access to resources, social tolerance, methodologies, and of course you have to discuss the health and well-being of the children.  However, I only had on hour to build a rapport, to cover the foundational issues–why families are important social institutions, lgbt/queer terminologies, defining lgbt/queer families, and then get into the more substantive issues I wanted to cover. While I think I gave them some good information, especially foundational, I know I didn’t get to cover the things I most wanted to discuss like the ins and outs of the same-sex marriage debate, “families of choice,” heteronormativity, and more. Most of all, I think I left most unsettled because I failed to leave time for questions. My options were to speak a million miles a minute or trim…

Guest lecturing is a tricky thing. In many ways, it makes me think of job interviews except less formal.  Over the weekend, I worked on my lecture and spent a good deal of time thinking about what I wanted to wear. (Dress really affects my confidence in the classroom–and for a one time meeting/talk it is paramount that I feel good about what I’m wearing. I am not talking so much from a style point of view, rather a practical point of view in which I do need to look different from students, but more importantly I need to not be worried about if my zipper is down, tripping over chords–I’m a klutz–and how my shirt is hanging/tucked).

When guest lecturing, I always plan to have too much rather than too little to talk about. In fact, normally in this sort of situation I would have set up 2 half hour lectures. This way you can roll with the mood of the class and various levels of talkativeness. You can also taylor to their interests.

This past Monday, I forgot almost all these “tricks.”  To be honest, I think I was just eager to please and couldn’t wait to have some more in class interaction. It really kills me that we didnt get to have the Q&A at the end. I will never make that mistake again, even if it means setting the timer on my phone.

Too Much Fun?

Is it possible to have too much fun in or with a class?  I found myself thinking a little about this question over the past year.  I am extremely lucky to be in a department where they want me to teach courses I love to teach and it seems that lately I have had more and more students with similar interests as mine–all of which has really lead to a fun and thriving work environment. I do feel I am being productive as are the students, however, I cant help but to occasionally wonder are we having too much fun?  Of course, everyone enjoys occasional laughter in class but could there be too much? The idea of laughter seems to in many ways juxtapose the ideas of professionalism and seriousness associated with a stereotypically conducive learning environment. As a professor who looks young and wants to be taken seriously, I often worry about what laughter in class means, especially at the end of the day.  However, laughter can also be extremely useful.

As a student, laughter (or should I say jokes and fun stories that led to laughter) always helped me to remember lectures and concepts, and remain engaged throughout the duration of the class and the semester. In fact, my favorite courses, and often the courses I got the most from generally also included a quick-witted professor or a hillarious study group where we all had the same end goal of doing well in the class. I have not doubts that overall laughter largely contributed to my learning.

In my classroom it seems that laughter largely derives from a number of different places.  One place is a place of nervousness. Sometimes, I or the students will share humorous examples or stories to break tension. These moments are generally very short lived and can be quite awkward but they can really open the door to a greater discussion on the particular topic at hand. Even the idea that we are nervous about publicly discussing said topic can lay a foundation for the discussion or future discussions.  This is especially the case in my more controversial courses of methods, social statistics, and sexuality studies.  However, I also see a great deal of laughter from academic jokes and comments where students are relating or apply material in clever ways.  I greatly enjoy these moments when you can see the synthesis of material and the personality of the student.  I also really appreciate the bad jokes…the ones that don’t quite make it but were a valiant effort.  These moments say to me the students are engaged, trying, and comfortable in the environment.  I have done my job to set up the parameters of a safe and practical learning space.

Laughter effects my research too. Over the course of this summer I have spent a number of Wednesday nights at a colleague’s house taking part in a reading group on female masculinity. This past Wednesday was especially filled with laughter. I almost want to say we were down right giggly, however, that feels like a word that shouldn’t be positively associated with academic pedagogy. But why is that? I am certain that this group has contributed to a continued education for me, in addition to boosting my summer work morale and bonds with my colleague and student. The group has contributed to me reading and re-reading pages and articles I would probably in all honesty put-off until “I needed to.” I have thought about various passages and readings in ways that would apply to the group’s interests rather than just to my own. Further, it has been an amazing amount of fun having a free space in which to just think and talk about issues from the readings (and our lives–work and otherwise) at our leisure.  While I do have some direction with regards to what I want to get from the overall experience of a reading group, it is also nice to just read and allow your mind to be free from that tight task-orientated focus that it often acquires when you are working specifically to address a single question or issue.  On the whole, I think the group has spurred more questions, inspiration, and motivation for everyone involved.  I also think the laughter has largely contributed to the continuation of the group and its productivity.  So, in the words of a Daryle Singletary song:

“Too much fun? whats that mean?
Its like too much money theres no such thing
Its like [too much coffee] or too much class
Being too lucky or a car too fast
No matter what they say I’ve done
I aint never had to much fun”


Legal Recognition of Gay Families Could Improve Outcome for Children

Today the Houston Chronicle published my first op-ed.  Co-authored with Amanda Baumle, we wanted to speak to what I think is fast becoming an infamous article that was claiming to find difference between parents who have had same-sex relationships and those who have not. The article’s findings insinuated that parents who had had a same-sex relationship were less good compared to those that hadn’t.  This sparked a heated academic debate on the blogosphere and among my academic colleagues in large part due to its questionable methods and polar opposite findings from what the greater discipline at large has found in the past or would expect to be find–that based on sexual orientation LGBT/Queer parents do not significantly differ all that much form their heterosexual counterparts.

And to think that I almost didn’t write anything at all! I thought I was late to the party.  Most of my concerns with the article were being addressed, but then this article and its findings became sensational news and made it to the lay audience. I have been told, though I did not witness it first hand, that it was covered on various news channels in TX and picked up by the View and other national media sources. At this point, I really wanted to speak to the issue, especially within my home state where friends, family, colleagues, and the queer community has been so supportive of me and my work. Furthermore, the research partner and I knew we had something extra to contribute with our current work that qualitatively addresses structural constraints, especially as related to the law, on lgbt families.

I do not want to re-hash the article or its merits/lack of merits here…as I feel most of my concerns have been addressed. As such, I thought I would just link to our commentaries and my favorite commentaries from others for y’all to check out.

From my keyboard, you can check out the op-ed (linked above) and my co-authored post on Social (In)queery:  How Not to Study Families.

From others, I really like this piece from the Atlantic along with two posts from Philip N. Cohen’s Family Inequality blogBad Science on top of Stigma for lesbian and gay parents and Time Travel: Regnerus study timeline suggests superhuman abilities. These pieces really outline the overall story surrounding the article, my academic and methodological concerns, along with the structural issues at hand–sociologically and politically.

It has also been covered in the following:  The Washington Times (where I first heard about it), the New York Times, and Slate has a whole series of articles on the topics beginning here including responses from Regnerus.