“Do you want your WIU job back?” Because I am so openly critical of Western Illinois University’s current administration, I get this question often, always with the emphasis on the WANT. I have been so angry, that this question has been harder to answer than it should be.
Sadness over the loss of my teaching position at WIU emerges at night. Since the current administration terminated my contract in May 2017, I sometimes dream that a ghost is lodged in my throat and choking me to death. Then, half awake, I flip over to my hands and knees, widen my throat and attempt to gag out the ghost. Nothing emerges. I have swallowed the ghost and it will kill me, I fear, but then, fully-conscious, I feel my heart pounding fast.
This dream often haunts me when I have been journaling about losing my students.
For 12 years I invested myself, emotionally, psychologically, and professionally, in WIU’s classroom. I have longed to teach my students from my perspective, and with my philosophy of teaching. I have never longed to teach at a more rigorous institution, where students prepare the reading and attend class faithfully. Those places do exist, and those students are easier to teach. But I have invested myself here. I want to teach my students. My students are Western students.
Four or five years ago, I began to meet student skepticism with personal stories. In the WIU Women’s Studies classroom, doubt is common and can be quite harsh on feminist professors. 95 percent of my students were women and at the beginning of a course, they would intuit that if they identified how, on a daily basis, they are targets of sexism and misogyny, they would be angry all the time. They resisted knowledge that would make them angry. Men resisted the awareness that being male confers privilege: the powerful want to remain powerful.
One day in 2013 or 2014, we were discussing a slide about blaming the victims of gendered violence. A young man raised his hand.
“But aren’t these girls responsible? If they don’t want to be grabbed, why do they wear leggings? Why aren’t they more careful about where they go?” His tone and the harsh lines of his jaw projected privilege.
I could have brought up more slides or opened our textbook to a key passage. Instead I took a risk. I turned off the screen and came out from behind the podium. I stood right in front of them, so there was nothing between my students and me.
“I was sexually assaulted in 8th grade. What do you think I was wearing? What do you think I was doing?” Every single student looked at me and I was embarrassed, but I stood there anyway, making myself vulnerable to them.
“Calvin Klein jeans like most girls wore,” I said, moving my eyes from one student to the next. “I was on my way to Algebra.”
The room was so quiet and still.
I looked at the young man who was learning how to blame the perpetrator and believe th victim. “Does that answer your question? I can take a different approach to the answer, if that would be helpful.”
“No.” His tone and expression softened. “I understand what you’re saying.”
The tiniest of fault lines had split the ground beneath our feet and we looked in. After that, our faces were softer when we greeted each other before class.
So YES. The answer is yes. I want my job back.