Queen Grandmommy and the Ice-cream Store

Laid off, I have time and energy for writing assignments:  Write a story of unexpected betrayal.  When possible, describe emotion as a feeling on the body.  What does betrayal feel like on the body?  Somewhere in your story, include a little dirt. (Thanks for this one, Ariel.)

My solution:

The most special thing about Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s was waking up each morning.  They lived in a townhouse with a staircase that paused at a window and pivoted before landing.  When I descended for breakfast, I felt like a princess in a turreted castle.  Queen Grandmommy would give me a good morning kiss.  It smelled like Estee Lauder face cream. Then we ate oatmeal with one teaspoon of sugar on top.

When I was little, my parents would send me to Fort Worth, TX to stay with Grandmommy and Granddaddy for two weeks.  Some of my earliest memories are of these visits.

Grandmommy would drive me to the store in her yellow Mustang with black seats.  She’d park under the sign with the big pink and brown polka dots.  The store smelled of sugar cones.  I’d skip past the 31 flavors of ice cream, towards the backroom, where I’d find little drawers of plastic cake decorations: a basketball, ice-skates, a pony.  With my bare fingers, I’d take out all the charms, play with them, and put them back.

icecream cake 1

Grandmommy and Granddaddy in their ice-cream store

I’d watch Sesame Street on the little black and white TV on a desk.  Grandmommy would make me a French Vanilla milkshake, with a banana to make it “healthy.”

Grandmommy was in her mid 40s and petite and pretty, with perfectly coifed hair—high in the back and flipped up over her shoulders—like she could be on daytime TV.  And she read about nutrition in Prevention magazine. She liked her kitchen and ice cream store to be perfect and sanitary.  She was thrifty and disapproved of letting anything go to waste.  (My mom claims Grandmommy counts exactly 4 toilet paper squares before wiping.)

In Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s store, there were unarticulated rules for ice-cream tasting, rules that were virtually unobservable to a child.

I grew tall enough to reach into the buckets of ice cream and saw how Grandmommy and Granddaddy did it.  You lifted a sliding glass freezer door with one hand, and with the other, dipped a pink plastic tasting spoon into the flavor you desired.  I went for pure creaminess– strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla—and ignored the other 28 concoctions.  Butter Pecan and Rocky Road were for Granddaddy.

I had spent enough time around Grandmommy to know I should be thrifty as well as clean, so after I dipped a tasting spoon into the chocolate, then put it in my mouth, I used the same spoon to try the vanilla. I felt the adults glaring at me disapprovingly—not just Grandmommy and Granddaddy, but a man on the other side of the case, a customer.  He had said something—something about what I did.  It was not “sanitary.”

In the queen’s refusal to come to my defense, she betrayed my innocent yearning for approval. I was too ashamed to enjoy the sample, but I put the plastic spoon full of germy ice cream in my mouth, anyway—I didn’t want to be accused of being wasteful as well unsanitary.

icecream cake

Years later, for my 7th birthday, Grandmommy made me an ice-cream cake, packed it with dry ice, and brought it to our house in Okeene, OK.

My cheeks were so hot that I did not feel the icy vanilla on my tongue.

Griefs and Grievances

I have chronicled my grievance hearings; however, I omitted the context of grief and numbness that seeped through my first hearing: on top of losing my career, I lost my sister-in-law.

Most of Laura’s life had revolved around WIU:  she was a faculty brat, she had attended WIU’s lab school and summer musical theatre, her friends and husband earned degrees and worked at WIU, and she loved her new office in Simpkins Hall.

WIU was at war with itself and Laura was disgusted.

Laura and I had gone to lunch the Thursday before she died from the cancer we knew nothing of.  Laura was witty, and I hoped she’d be able to relieve me of my ruminations.

A decade earlier, she had returned to Macomb right after I did, but we had not had lunch, just the two of us, until that day.

The Yummy Chin host sat us in a booth behind my dean and her assistant deans.  Laura ordered the sweet and sour chicken.  I thought little of the fact that she didn’t order her favorite drink, Mountain Dew.  I had the sweet potato tempura roll.

I was leaning over the table towards Laura so the deans would not overhear me complain about the people who laid me off.

“How are the kids?” asked Laura, who had seen and talked to them just 3 days before.

“Um.  Fine.” I didn’t know what to add, so I continued to trash talk WIU.

“How are the kids?” Her voice was weak and urgent.  Now I wonder if she was pleading–maybe for some tender images to ease her pain.

In the parking lot, her steps were slow.  I assumed she was enjoying the sun and drove us back to Simpkins hall.

That Saturday I was happy, but  Sunday after the sun reached its highest point in the south, my heart darkened with with dread.  My layoff was so discouraging–how would I teach?

Monday , I woke up at 4:30 a.m.  My chest ached with the loss of my job, fear for my future, and the pressure of anger.  I told myself that if I could just dress warmly,  I would handle my longest weekly teaching day just fine.  I put on a thick hoodie with a hounds-tooth pattern and zipped it up all the way to my chin.  This hoodie hugged my body all day.  I had read that the hounds-tooth pattern signified courage.

I taught four classes, and then brought home a stack of essay exams on 20th-Century women’s protest novels, but that evening, before I read them, Laura died of cancer.

Looking back, I know that in the weeks after WIU launched shocks onto the faculty, Laura’s skin turned green.


A week before she died, Laura did her best to celebrate her niece’s birthday. Only looking back did we notice she wasn’t herself.

Unlike me, Laura refused to fight—not against WIU, not against her cancer.  After a winter of pain in her shoulders, back, stomach, and head, she finally took one sick day.  The cancer, it seems, had already occupied Laura from every angle and positioned itself to send a fatal shock through her entire body.

By the time I met Tom and Grandma at the ER, Laura showed no signs of consciousness or pain.  Standing behind Laura was a nurse, the mother of one of my daughter’s friends.  What a comfort.  I touched Laura’s cold, rubbery arm.  “Goodby dear Laura,” I murmured.  Something had moved on her EKG and they couldn’t be sure it wasn’t a pulse, so they waited, but before the med-vac arrived, the doctor called the time of death.

Five days later, at my grievance hearing,  anger and shock covered my pain and fear.

Dr. Eva Eger (The Choice) says there is no hierarchy of suffering.  I suffered from grief and grievance, and there was no point ranking one as worse than the other.

After the hearing in Sherman Hall, the assistant provost said he was sorry about Laura.

Grievance Hearings, 2016: Picking up where Sister Grimm Left Off

I tried and failed to act cheerfully during the 2015 “holiday” season,


I’m trying, but I hadn’t slept much, nor would I for almost two years.

but I was hopeful that in 2016, the hearts of those in charge of Western Illinois University would soften and broaden.  Alas, no– not enough to reach me anyway.  In front of TV cameras in the Grand Ballroom, WIU’s president reinstated the 12 officially tenured professors.  As fate would have it for three of us on the layoff list, tenure was merely a formality (we had completed all the work). The WIU President could have easily justified our reinstatement as well.

The provost sat at the head of the table during my first grievance hearing, in February 2016. A copy of the “You-are-being-laid-off” script lay on the table.  The administration denied knowledge of it, and claimed I had no grounds for grievance because I was not laid off.   I guess I’d lost all that sleep over nothing.

Of the three of us who had submitted tenure files in January, the one who was a man saw himself reinstated before his tenure was officially conferred.  So that left two women dangling.  Two women, who happen to be mothers, who had completed all work for tenure.  At about 35 women for every 65 men, the tenured professorate is the most gender-imbalanced rank. [1]

At the June 2016 BoT meeting, I was officially tenured and the Women’s Studies major was eliminated.  A plan was already in place for the Women’s Studies faculty to join the faculty from African American Studies and Religion to form a new department:  Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the new department would materialize within months–and well before my contract was set to end.[2]

I complained.

In the step two grievance hearing (June 2016), an administrator stated that WIU didn’t need my “skill set.”  We were approaching the era of #metoo, when feminism is popular and departments of women’s studies are growing nationally, and he was laying off WIU’s only faculty with a graduate degree in women’s studies.   WIU does not need scholars trained in women’s studies, the discipline grounded in feminist theory.   Feminists need not apply.   WIU has never been the most liberal place on earth, but since I’ve became a member of this community in 1987, we’ve made room for the feminists who ask uncomfortable questions.  Here’s an example:


By Holly Stovall, July 7, 1988  (Thanks to Tom for saving 45 Western Couriers!)


I am a young feminist journalist for the Courier

Back to June, 2016, the WIU president denied my grievance.

Meanwhile, Janine Cavicchia, the feminist who had directed the Women’s Center, retired. Would they replace her with someone with a record of feminist activism?  They did not consider me even for the interim position.

All the faculty in the “LAS” department have tenure and all come from an eliminated program.  I have more than or the same seniority as half my colleagues, yet I am the only one laid off.  Out of ten professors whose departments were eliminated, how do you justify singling out only one of us, especially the one with more seniority than many of the others?  The one who has the strongest record of feminist activism?

To be continued.


For The Western Courier, Summer, 1988

[1] An even smaller number of tenured women had done the work of motherhood.  Fatherhood, however, is not underrepresented in the tenure ranks.  In the professorate, fatherhood is rewarded, while motherhood is punished.  Currently, not one mother serves on WIU’s administration. In addition,  a need to point out the obvious continues to present itself:  Women compose the majority of the general population, so until we are half every level of faculty and administration, WIU suffers from a gender imbalance.

[2] In Macomb, LAS attracts a small fraction of the students Women’s Studies did.  Another inconvenient truth is that some 90% or more of LAS majors are in the Quad Cities, but 100% of LAS faculty live and teach in Macomb.  And have you visited the QC campus during the week?  It’s very, very quiet.  Where are the students?

In Which Sister Grimm Observes 2-year Anniversary of Cinderella’s Unresolved Lay Off

No one danced in the Ballroom.  A series of Vice Princes claimed they had already cut every unessential servant in their budgets.  The last Vice Prince to speak was a woman who decreed: CUT THE EDUCATORS! Cut 50 of them!

Two days later, Cinderella put in her service to the Kingdom, then went home.  She was laboring over the slimy seeds of a butternut squash,IMG_2287 when her common, unionized, prince walked in out of breath.

“Check your messages!”

Cinderella opened her tablet.  The Dutchess had assigned her a date and time (Friday, December 11, 2pm) to be sentenced to exile.

She posted on Fairy Book that she was laid off, wandered up the stairs and down, then sat with her family to attempt to swallow a soft pudding of butternut squash.

Cinderella didn’t need a dutchess.  She needed a fairy godmother.

Cinderella lay awake all night, and then dressed for an 8:00 am interview committee meeting for director of the Western Courier.  Upon entering the hall, she saw the Vice Prince of the committee and recalled that he had only recently become a member of the court.  And then she looked at the candidate and realized that she—or any journalism faculty—could have done the job they were interviewing him for.  She looked down and her own tears falling on the sheet of interview questions, blurring the words.

The Dukes and Dutchesses began to read an identical lay-off notification script to 40 or 50 professors.  15 of them were either tenured or had tenure in hand—Cinderella’s tenure file was complete—all the criteria met, the rest was formality.

The Dutchess of the Liberal Arts and Sciences wore black.  Four others attended the sentencing:  the Chair of Women’s Studies and three members of the union leadership.  The Dutchess unrolled the scroll and read:  “You are being laid off.”  Cinderella had three semesters left in her contract.

Cinderella asked the Dutchess why her junior step-sister was protected.  “Because she can teach German.”  If German was so much more essential than Spanish and Women’s Studies, Cinderella later thought, after the step-sister suddenly resigned, why hasn’t this German-speaking step-sister been replaced?

“But,” the Dutchess said, “I will not cut off your head!”

The following week, the King and his court returned to the Ballroom, and invited the lowly unionized educators, but again, not for dancing.

Cinderella and her laid-off colleagues sat in the front row as the King and his court discussed their fates.

During the break, the King called to Cinderella and her senior sister.

“Cinderella, Tabitha, come here,” he said.

Cinderella’s heart fluttered—the King could end her layoff sentence.  HE COULD END IT! right then and there, for her and the rest of the doomed educators, and then they could all dance, like one is supposed to do in a ballroom.

“I didn’t make that layoff list.  I know I’m still responsible,” the King said, when no one else was close enough to hear, “but we’ll work to remove some of the names from the list.”

Cinderella delightedly skipped around the room until she spied her lowly prince, an optimist who found the words of the King reassuring.

Before the King dismissed his subjects for Holiday, they decided to delay the decision on the fates of the laid-off educators.

At Cinderella’s Christmas table, once the feast was cleared, she asked the family Wizard, a retired Vice Prince, a scholar who defended the liberal arts, what he made of the layoff decrees.

“It sounds like a Joker made that list, but a sharp one, trained in business,” said the wise old Wizard.

“I’m a line on a spreadsheet??  That’s bloody medieval!”

“He or she was looking only at numbers,” replied the Wizard, “but if the King says to you or anyone that he didn’t make that list, he should be dethroned.”

Cinderella balked.  She held fast to her fairy tale that the King and his court and his Vice Princes were curious thinkers, capable of  broad and balanced perspectives.  They were creative and open-minded, and would defend the Liberal Arts.  Educators were not the King’s medieval subjects.  Or maybe they were.

Silly Cinderella!


How about those princess sleeves!






Dear Readers, Nominate a Woman


“You Can’t Be What you Can’t See,”  suggests Jennifer Siebel Newsom in her award-winning film, Miss Representation.

What can you and prospective women students not see in this image from Western Illinois University’s website?

Women have composed more than half of all college students for over 30 years. Women are not a minority; in fact, we are the majority (51%) of the population.   So, why aren’t the majority of 2017 alumni awardees women?

In my experience serving on award committees at WIU, two factors must be present for a committee to fairly consider giving an award to a woman:

  1.  People have to nominate women.
  2. A feminist who will advocate for women must serve on the award committee.

When I served on the Hallwas Liberal Arts Lecture committee, my colleagues often did not initially see how a woman’s application was compelling.   We have learned to assume that men’s perspectives and achievements are more valuable and legitimate than women’s.  We avoid examination of our own prejudices and narrow assumptions.  In meetings, I would point out the strengths of a woman’s applications and say why her perspective was important, and each year I advocated for a woman (twice) the majority of committee members voted in her favor.

When I was on the Hallwas Lecture committee, in our “Call for Nominations” we crafted a sentence that said we wanted to consider applications that, in terms of gender, sexual, and cultural diversity, expressed a range perspectives, and we wanted to hear from faculty from underrepresented groups.  I did not want to see us default to privileging traditional voices of power.

In light of the fact that women’s freshman enrollment has taken a plunge, the WIU Alumni Association might follow this lead in encouraging diversity of nominations–unless, of course, WIU alumni want to discourage diversity.  One alum turned WIU professor wrote me an email that said I was wrong to advocate for diversity.  We cannot assume people appreciate various perspectives.  What we can assume is that WIU relies on women’s tuition.

The WIU Alumni Association sponsors 7 different awards, so there’s plenty of room to recognize women’s achievements.

One line of the criteria, however, may discourage women’s nominations:

  • Exceptional service in support of the advancement and continued excellence of WIU.

Women who are mothers often work two jobs–one for pay and one for children at night, and because of this factor, how would we have time to support the advancement and excellence of WIU?

Also, there’s a wage gap–women make an average of 80% of what men make, for the same work (WIU is an exception, thanks for the minima–WIU must protect minima).  Women have less money to donate to WIU, but does that make there achievements less great?

In addition, women often choose creative lines of work.  One friend of mine is an incredibly successful artist, but she had to teach high school art for 17 years while she pursued her own painting in the evenings.  She’s worked two shifts.  How would she have the time and money to provide exceptional service to WIU?  If this line of criteria is an obstacle to recognizing women, it should be waived.

Why hasn’t Kelly Eddington received the Distinguished Almumni Award?  Maybe no one has nominated her.



A Plummet in Women’s Enrollment

My economist and I keep talking about an article on the cover of Thursday’s Voice (11/30/17).


What is a “dip”?  Open to p. A2 and dig down a few paragraphs:


27.2 percent?

That’s not a dip; it’s a plummet, like thisminus the safety ropes. Don’t miss the scream:



Yikes!  Back to the women’s plummeting enrollment– how much revenue in tuition is  27.2 percent?  What caused it?

Nationally women compose 56.5% of college students, but Western Illinois University has lagged behind this trend for as long as I’ve been here, and now it’s dangerous.

How does Western afford the lost revenue and hit to reputation?  Upper Admin and the Board of Trustees have kept closed session minutes secret.  Secrecy leaves this failure of enrollment unexplained.  Do they have a grand plan to purge the feminists from campus or are they hiding incompetency?  Do they hate women so much they’d prefer to falter from insufficient tuition than support a curriculum that would make women want to come here?  I doubt leadership intends for the consequences of their decision to result in sexism or loss of women, but until we hold frank, informed discussions, without the secrecy, we have to keep asking.

In the Voice article, the admissions director claims women are interested in Nursing  and Education.  That’s a stereotype.  And if women are indeed interested in those fields,  why aren’t they coming?  The nursing department literally displaced the Women’s Studies offices in Currens.  If Nursing is so much better for WIU than Women’s Studies (and yes–they are laying off the WS professor while recruiting nursing instructors), where are the women?  Maybe future nurses want to attend an institution that values Women’s Studies.

And what happens next year if WIU doesn’t reverse this nasty trend?  How do we recover?  Without women’s student fees,  how will WIU  cover its football program?  Will men want to come here as women continue to leave?  So many questions.

Or are we trying to attract conservative men who are looking for women trained in the areas of caregiving and childcare–women who will make subservient and supportive wives?  Given the the programs WIU has chosen to promote (Policing/Nursing, Ag/Teaching), we need to have a frank discussion about sexism and gender roles.

My economist (also my husband of 20 years), generally an optimistic guy, is alarmed.  If this trend is not corrected, the campus will not survive.

dar ball

My alarmed economist.

The good news is, it’s not too late to recover our enrollment.  Here’s how to start:

Restore the major in Women’s Studies.

Students seeking 4 year degrees aren’t dumb and won’t be fooled.  You want women’s tuition?  Place women and people of color, with white men, at the center of a broad liberal arts curriculum and give the tired stereotypes a rest.  Restore the major in Women’s Studies.  Only then will you be able to assure young women that you value them.  With the hundred plus  job announcements I’ve been receiving for over a year now, you can afford to bulk up Women’s Studies.

Screen Shot 2017-12-02 at 7.41.28 PM

The Upper Admin has sent me more than 150 “career opportunity for you” emails. How can we afford to fill these posts, yet not afford Women’s Studies?

Nearly two years ago, I indicated that eliminating Women’s Studies and African-American Studies would entail great costs to our student body.  Given my state of complete astonishment and shock from the still-fresh layoff notice,  I am surprised that my editorial is coherent.  I stand by my core argument, now made stronger by the plunge in women’s enrollment.

Why would women and other disempowered  or underrepresented peoples enroll here if you push us to the edges of curriculum and layoff the people who teach about people who look like us?


The month after my layoff, the Western Courier ran my guest editorial.

Move into the 21st century:  invest in women, value them, don’t shy from feminism.  They will come.

In Market I Do Not Trust

I am astonished.  Even after two years.  The first week of December, 2015, I was so innocent.  I was completing one of my most satisfying semesters at WIU.

Women in Chicago

Happy and relaxed with dear friends in Chicago: none of us had any idea of the approaching confusion and disorientation. All of these women work or worked for WIU, or have a spouse there. We used to take this trip every fall, but that lovely tradition ended after the layoffs.

Tenure in hand, I was finally beginning to relax. And then we were called to an assembly.

My department chair, colleague, and I zipped up our coats against the north wind and headed down to the Grand Ballroom.  In the afternoon, the ballroom smelled faintly of rancid French fry grease.  Nervous pleasantries skipped between the walls.  Usually, for the August Faculty Assembly, the Department of Women’s Studies would squeeze into a narrow row in the back half.  I would sit next to my colleague, with my Chair on the other side of her.

But for this odd December assembly, my Chair led us to the front row of the middle section, where our legs were exposed to the passageway.  My Chair took her seat second to the aisle and, looking at me, turned her palm slightly towards the seat on the end.  I sat there, separated from my colleague.

I thought nothing of this unusual arrangement.

The provost’s husband approached us.  Twice a month for a year, I had sat with him on the President’s Faculty Roundtable. I didn’t think to ask myself why the Provost’s husband was on that Roundtable—I mean, the provost herself had plenty of access to the president—how did the president justify a coveted seat at his table for her husband?

In the ballroom, the provost’s husband stood large and wide in front of me.  Even late in the afternoon, his dress shirt remained crisp, clean and smoothly tucked into his pants.  My eyes could not get around the long leather belt holding his pants up.

He asked my Chair about a box of peaches he’d given her.

How did she reply?  They were sweet and soft?  They ate as many fresh ones as they could and canned the rest?  The Provost’s husband would surely move out of my way in a moment.

Instead, this is what I wrote in my notes from that day:

The Provost’s husband turned to me and proclaimed,

“I’m in charge of 50 graduate students.”

He stared at me.  I stared back and if I had not wrapped myself so tightly in a thick soft blanket of delusion, I might have wondered why he stood in front of me for so long while he spoke of peaches and then changed the subject to the importance of his position.

Sometimes, when this scene slips into my consciousness, the Provost’s husband is wearing a red coat trimmed in thick white fur.  And a crown.  I catch myself and restore his starched dress shirt.  The Provost’s husband and I had something in common—we were each members of a household with two WIU incomes.  The wife of the WIU president benefits in this way as well.

Finally, the provost’s husband disappeared into the sea of hard plastic rows of chairs.  I saw his wife, on the big screen, announce that she was laying off 50 professors, that she had no other choice.

With my chair and colleagues, I returned to Simpkins for a reception of cookies, but my coat of delusion remained thick.  At home with my husband, I said,

“Thankfully, I am not the junior member of my department.” (I believed WIU valued seniority.)

Two days later, my dean—yes, the one who hired me, the one I crossed paths with at the Consumer Supported Agriculture, the with whom I chatted about local eggs and eggplant—addressed me as “Dr. Stovall,” not “Holly.”

I was astonished and still am.  Between undergrad and 10 years of teaching, I’d invested maybe a third of my life in WIU.  I had to remain as deluded as possible.  My layoff was a mistake.  Soon, they would see the light. It would all be worked out. They had accepted my years of work towards tenure, they had encouraged me, and I was sure they would uphold their end of the promise.

My anger has been so heavy that only now, two years later, have I begun to lift it and sit with the pain that lies beneath.

It is told to me that the provost and her husband believe that the Market is THE driving force of a public university.

The market is king.  I write that sentence, but I don’t believe it.

In market I do not trust.