Wednesday, December 18, 2019
December 18, 2019: Book Talk Recaps: Student Responses at Four NY Colleges
[Since I’ve been on sabbatical this Fall, in place of my usual semester recaps series I’ll be recapping some of the many book talks I’ve gotten to deliver over the last few months. Leading up to a special weekend post on what’s next for We the People!]
In mid-November, I had the unique opportunity to give four talks in four days at four NY colleges. Thanks so much to my hosts: Hilda Chacón at Nazareth College, Bill Waddell at St. John Fisher College, Justin Behrend at SUNY Geneseo, and Brian Sweeney at College of St. Rose. The whole week was wonderful, but the best part were the responses and questions from students at each institution. Here are four exemplary ones:
1) Indigenous Histories: A student of Mohawk heritage offered the first response and question at my first (Nazareth) talk, and I can’t imagine a more important starting point for this week of conversations. Although two of the eight chapters in We the People focus on Native American histories, my book talk does not feature them in its few examples; I think the book talk works well as is, but that means I always especially welcome a chance to think and talk about exclusion and inclusion when it comes to indigenous communities. And, to be clear and is the case with every book talk and every response I get, the chance to learn from the perspective, experiences, and knowledge of audience members, as this young woman potently illustrated.
2) UBI: Some questions, like that first one, push me to think further about topics I’ve already considered; others take the conversation in compelling directions I had not yet thought about. At St. John Fisher, a student raised such a question, asking whether the concept of a universal basic income (UBI) might not help alleviate the kinds of economic conditions that can contribute to the rise of exclusionary attitudes. While I’ve thought and talked a good bit about how times of downtown and recession seem to foment such attitudes, I had never approached the subject from that angle, and it led to a very interesting conversation about both the intersections and the distinctions between class and ethnicity/race.
3) Heritage and Change: At Geneseo, the first question came from a student as well, and she asked a particularly complicated and important question about how the tension for 2nd generation immigrant Americans between maintaining a cultural heritage and moving toward a broader “American” identity relates to exclusion and inclusion. Some of the first classes I ever taught, as an adjunct at Boston University, focused extensively on the personal narratives of such 2nd generation immigrants, so it was nice to be able to return to those voices and experiences and apply some of my newer work to them. But one thing I’ve come to realize, through much of that work and also through pedagogical experiences like my use of a multi-generational family project in multiple courses, is that every American experiences some version of this tension between heritage and change, between the old and the new, between what we inherit from the past and what we might move into in the present. So to me, that’s a common ground that can link all American identities, even if it plays out differently in distinct cases to be sure.
4) Developing Our Perspectives: At St. Rose, one of the last questions (and thus one of the last questions of this wonderful week) came from a student who was wondering how I had developed my own perspective, what had led me to both the content and the argument of the talk and book. While of course there are many factors, the inspiring truth that I could share with him is that the most significant factor is precisely communities and conversations—like those at these book talks, like those in my online spaces (including this one, Twitter, my online writing gigs, and more), like my colleagues and students at FSU, like my adult learning classes and programs, like NEASA and NeMLA, and more. Every book both reminds me of that vital influence and adds another layer to it!
Next talk recap tomorrow,
PS. Ideas for other places I could talk or write about We the People? Lemme know, and thanks!