Tuesday, March 17, 2015


It's that time again- finals week.
For some it's just the end of the quarter. For others it's make it or break it time. For a lot of professors this is a sort of blow-off week. I say this because I have seen a trend over the last five years. That's to say that the final exam isn't used to demonstrate the knowledge one has accumulated over the course of the allotted tim as often as when I was an undergrad.

Maybe this is one of those "when I was a young sprout" stories. Really, I did like it at the end of the semester we had a big test. I'd study my head off and get a great grade.  It was affirming, like a pat on the back and an 'atta girl'. But really, from a curriculum standpoint, a cumulative final exam can help students review what they know and help them to relate that new knowledge to other knowledge so it has a greater chance of sticking.

But teachers in some places, with far too many adjuncts, have a hard time investing themselves for a longer run. A favorite strategy in the English department is to give a take-home final and not even meet the day of the exam. The mandate rule is that you have to meet with your class and engage in meaningful activities for the final exam. But given the pay, the hours, and the lack of oversight, is it really a surprise that sometimes teachers give a final that can be turned in online and be done with it? You can get an extra few days of vacation and planning time that way. It's tempting.

Today I gave the second of three comprehensive finals. It took my class, on average, about 2.5 hours to thoroughly complete and it's mentally taxing. Their hands were tired from writing. I handed out gum and owl stickers to lighten their moods, played classical music, and reminded them every hour to stretch and look around to avoid eye strain. One of my online friends asked why I would do such a thing.  It's a good question. But I promise the answer is not that I enjoy twisting a knife and making my students uncomfortable.

Have you ever done something hard and found out you had more in reserve than you thought? A lot of times our curriculums do not challenge students enough.  When they walked out of that classroom, there was no doubt in their minds that they can write well enough to find success in college. 

This is not the only goal in my teaching life, but it's an important part of why I do what I do.

Now to go grade all the things. Finals is exhausting for more than just the students.

Monday, March 9, 2015

We Need Change at The University of Oklahoma **UPDATE**

**Update is at the end**

Hi Friends:

If you're used to my usual mild discussions and observations about life, you may want to skip this post. Because something happened which touched a nerve for me; dealing with racism is part of my life's work. 

Yesterday, a video went viral showing  fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma chanting a racist chant. I won't link to it, I won't tell you what the words are. But it's not good. It makes me feel a little sick to think of. If you want to see, google SAE or Sigma Alpha Epsilon and University of Oklahoma. The national SAE chapter revoked their membership and the university cut ties with them. But that's all. A quick fix for a national embarrassment. Perhaps this will blow over. 

But I hope that this is where we begin a constructive conversation about race and racism and institutional change. OU doesn't even have a diversity officer. Nor do they have a diverse faculty or staff or student body.

I have been told that letter writing is still a thing and that it's effective in bringing about change. What happened with SAE is not an isolated occurrence. It's part of a systematic problem. But we can we do about it? 
I wrote a letter to President Boren this morning, calling for creation of a Diversity Officer (and office!) at OU. Please write him too. The email address is actionline@ou.edu. There is a diversity enrichment program at OU, but it's really insufficient. 

Strike while the iron is hot; this is our best opportunity to fight back against racism and oppression in the OU community!

Dear President Boren: 
As an alum of the University of Oklahoma (Ph.D., Education, 2011), I have always been proud to call myself a Sooner. My fellow graduates and I always boast of our attendance at the flagship university, an oasis of tolerance and academic excellence in Oklahoma.

But not today. Today I feel ashamed. I felt nauseous when I viewed the SAE video.

I expect better of our campus, our greek life, and the culture at OU. We can do better, and we must.

Here are two suggestions I have.  First, please read the introduction to my dissertation. It details my observations of the systemic racism seen in my classroom at OU which became the impetus for my research topic. The dissertation itself deals with racism and white privilege in the college composition classroom. 

More importantly, I hope that you will open a diversity office with a chief diversity officer to educate students, faculty, and staff about systematic oppression and to attract more diverse employees and students to the institution. The diversity officer should be supported financially and ideologically by the university. 

Punishing one branch of one group is effective for a day. Educating, enlightening, and demanding equality for everyone is preferable if you want to improve a part of the culture. 

The university's home page claims that "OU students benefit from a diverse, vibrant campus and community, and an exciting global heritage". Please remove this mark on our university.
If I can be of service, please do not hesitate to contact me. 

Dr. Mindie Dieu
Class of 2005 and 2011

Since I posted this, I have learned that President Boren kicked the SAE off campus. They had until midnight to vacate premises. Their sign was taken down and many of the young men were recorded by local reporters saying how embarrassed they were. Somehow, I just don't think that's enough. 

Football coach Bob Stoops and his players walked off of the field yesterday as a protest, and the group OU Unheard staged a silent protest. I think this has put some pressure on the administration.

President Boren took it a step further. He told Wolf Blitzer that this was not an "isolated incident", but that he can't just expel students for this unless he can prove they have created a hostile environment for others.  You can read the news report here

Additionally, the house mother- who went on with Boren- reported never hearing such things from the students' mouths. Yet the Lost Ogle shows a vine with her....well, maybe you don't want to know what she's singing. This seems to be indicative of a culture of oppression. 

I don't think President Boren is amused or even surprised. The ball is in his court and I look forward to his next actions. I feel a bit hopeful, because once you shed light on the dark parts of things, you can correct the injustice. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Today I want to give credit where it is due- to my readers. Thanks for hanging in with me for these last four or five years. I was digging through old blog posts, trying to find a particular one- more on that in a minute- and it made me think about who reads this and just what the hell we all get out of the experience.

Hopefully, I'm showing a bit of my world. This morning, I'm in my heavy red bathrobe, sipping hot coffee and trying to come to life before I go do my weightlifting. I'm in the office portion of the house. The office is part of my dressing room, on the second floor, with no door and just my old dresser and a rack for hanging clothes. And make up, and hair stuff, and a mirror, and a rocking chair that my sister Patti gave me. The heater is on because it's 27 degrees outside. However, it's predicted to get up to about 60 today. First time we've seen 60 since October. If you've read my blog even once, you'll know that I'm not excited about Spring. Oh, it's a lovely season and it's neat to see the world wake up from a long slumber. Except that we didn't have any slumber this year. I'd say we had less than 3 inches of snow in total for the entire year. You might imagine that as someone whose favorite necklace is a snowflake pendant, I want more. We've even gone to visit snow in the mountains. The ski areas up here have had very few operational days, and ski tourism is out all over the state and in Idaho. Boo. *sips coffee*

Back to the world. Our old house is from the turn of the century, around 1900. The owners put in modern carpet and put in new drywall. The original doors are still up and the weird nooks and crannies that go with the architecture of a peaked roof are naturally still in place. Our bedroom has angled ceilings that slope such that we have few places where we can strategically place the bed without banging our heads every time we go to sleep. I love it. The only thing I don't love is the tiny kitchen. We have the upstairs and half of the down. The other half is walled off- along with (probably) the other half of the kitchen! The owners use their half of the bottom as an office. I think besides the drafts in the winter- you can stick fingers through the sliding windows- these are the only downside of the house. It's wonderfully located and the owners are quiet, only showing up a few days a week and never early. With a Starbucks, a pizza place, and a grocery store within 200 meters of the front door and an easy mile walk to work, I couldn't imagine a better place for us for now.

I get up earlier these days, 5, 5:30, 6 ish. Going to bed between 8 and 9 is better for me, even if it's not more fun. I'm more productive in the mornings. I get to go work out if I get up in time, and since I do most of my grading online, I can knock some of it out in the mornings. I like to have a little time alone too, to think and write and read. I do love reading for pleasure. Most of my life follows a routine: wake up, get around, work, teach, work, teach, teach, teach, volunteer hours, grading, home, dinner, sleep. I get the workouts in where I can. I often get a yoga class in once a week, though I try for twice.  Since G and I both work so much, we eat lunch as our big meal and usually just have something light for dinner. On the weekends, it's travel.

My life seems to be missing something, and indeed it is.  I miss my little kitty, Eleanor. I miss her about as much as I thought I would. Her presence was pervasive in my life for almost 19 years. I must have burst into tears a dozen times the first day she was gone. And the second day. On the third day it was less. Now the rawness is gone, but I feel as though I am missing something or someone important, like a low-grade fever. You can ignore it for awhile but eventually you have to get some rest. On Saturday the vet called to say her ashes were back. I hope by saying that here, I get up the guts to go get her.  Nobody has said to me: Eleanor was just a cat. Because DUH, I know that. Nobody has said "get over it". That might be because nobody would say such a thing to my face or even online.

Everyone has been kind. Like really kind. My veterinarian's office sent me a handwritten card. My in-laws sent me flowers and a sweet note. My former student came by with hugs and flowers too. It's just too much to list how many nice things people have said- in text message, Facebook messages, phone calls, and notes.

Thank you. So, so much. When we figure out how and where we will be, G and I will adopt another rescue pet. The Nevada SPCA is where Eleanor came from. I think shelter animals are often the best kind.

Now, if you're still reading this, I'm hoping you can help me out. GR asked a question about a blog where I talk about hunting, and a friend of mine who hunts, and how I reconciled his philosophy with my own. I can't find the damn thing anywhere. I looked at every post between the first one and the time I met G. Zilch. If you run across it, can you alert me in the comments or email me? That would be awesome. Thanks!

My quarter at school is coming to a close. Two more weeks, then a week of relaxation. Ok, planning. Then I'm teaching 4 classes. Two is considered a full load for tenured faculty; three for non tenured.  It's going to be busy. I'm looking forward to it though. I was invited to teach an honors course in academic research; just up my alley. I'm not sure how I'm going to pull this off and retain my sanity. I love to be busy, like really busy.  But my days are already full and I'm not willing to give up sleep or gym time. Sometimes I feel like a juggler with too many balls in the air; every week, some ball will get dropped and I will have to remember to be kind to myself about the whole mess. I will make it through, probably laughing with all the new stuff I learn from students. They think I'm the teacher. Little do they know they are the reason I'm here.

Have a good weekend.