It’s not about the national anthem, Rosa Parks wasn’t protesting the bus.

I posted this on Facebook after reading one too many posts that chided NFL players for not standing during the national anthem. Many people, including veterans, police officers, senators, etc…have stated their support for the right to protest. However, passions have been high – I have seen many discussions turn into rants followed by name calling. What is it about this particular issue that has led to such passionate responses? [a rhetorical question]

For many African-Americans, this is a time of heartbreak. Not particularly because of Trump – we have seen many like him in our lifetimes. No, the heartbreak comes from learning that many we consider friends, even family, have little or no empathy for the situation we are facing today. We cannot ignore the bigotry and racism that are coming to the fore, something we had hoped our children wouldn’t have to deal with.

Many who have protested the protest say that players are being disrespectful to those who have given their lives for the US and the flag. Others argue that players are privileged and don’t have a right to complain. My nephew, Anthony Givens, captured my and many others’ thoughts on this:

If you ever speak to me, or have posted about these “ungrateful” athletes disrespecting a piece of cloth, but you have never once spoken to me about the disrespect shown to the founding ideals of America by literal nazis in Charlottesville, or you have never once spoken to me about the murders of young black men that were handcuffed, on the ground, unarmed, and executed by those who we have entrusted to protect all Americans, or never once called out the systemic racism and fear that all minorities must live with everyday in a country that has a president who is the embodiment of privilege and a constant reminder of the promises that have been broken…if this is you, a person that I know, then we are done. We are and cannot even be acquaintances, much less friends anymore. There cannot be middle ground on racism and misogyny. #TakeAKnee

Whatever happened to the “Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave?” When and where are we “allowed” to protest – if it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, what’s the point? I grew up in the military, my father was a 20-year man, who was greatly disrespected during his time in the military, but never lost his love for this country. We protest because we want America to live up to it’s promise. We want a country where I don’t have to worry about my boys being stopped by the police because of the color of their skin. We want a country where we can truly live free.

 

Truths to be told

[This blog has been picked up by Inside Higher Ed and posts can be found there]

The news that my friend and colleague Mark Sawyer was gone made me feel like all of the air had left the room. I was suddenly pulled back into memories from over 20 years ago when we were grad students attending conferences, competing to see who would land the top jobs, and supporting each other in our choice to study comparative, rather than “just” American politics. As fate would have it, Mark would start his job at UCLA as I was leaving to start my first job at University of Washington. Over the years our paths would cross, and I could understand the challenges Mark faced in his new department, given that I had so recently worked with many of his colleagues and was truly impressed with his commitment to starting the subfield of Race, Ethnicity and Politics in the department and ultimately UCLA’s African-American studies department. He brought in and mentored students creating a supportive environment that I hadn’t know many years before.

When I started graduate school in UCLA’s poli-sci department in 1993 there were very few black students, including my good friends Vince Hutchings and Maria Niles. Maria moved on to Chicago, where she became friends with Mark, and it’s likely that she was responsible for connecting us when we were still graduate students (my memory of that time is a bit hazy). We created a community of friends who supported each other through the program as we struggled, married, moved to new locations and a few of us finished and got jobs. Vince went to Michigan in 1997 and at that time there was a dearth of black scholars in top poli-sci programs. I always knew I would be an anomaly as a black Europeanist, in any case. We didn’t really remark on it at the time, it’s just the way things were.

We have all faced many stresses and challenges in our careers, whether as academics or other professions. As I have reflected on my experiences, I have wondered how much of my outward success reflects the unseen struggles I have faced as a black woman in a world that wasn’t made for me. In light of Mark’s struggles and his ultimate passing, is it helpful for those who have “made it” to talk about how we have dealt with anxiety, disappointment, department politics, etc.? Not everyone is in a position to share these types of issues and now that I am a provost, I don’t have to worry about department politics. Also, as my friend Josh Busby recently wrote in a blog post “Ideas and understanding the way the world works and how it could be are a noble service. I’m no longer as sanguine that the arc of the moral universe moves in the ways that I want it to, but I’m not going to stop trying from making a contribution. That is the only way to live.” (http://duckofminerva.com/2017/04/lets-talk-about-mental-health.html) – let this be a small contribution…although this is only a very small part of the story.

A quick look at my CV would indicate a very successful career. Books with Cambridge and Oxford university presses, articles in the top comparative politics journals, edited volumes and students who have gotten tenure track jobs. In 2003 I helped start a Center for European Studies at UT Austin and became director in 2004. I worked with my department chair and the Center for African and African-American Studies to recruit new faculty and for a short period of time we had 6 black faculty. I was able to help recruit one black student, Ernest McGowen, who is now a tenured professor at University of Richmond.

In 2006, my first year in rank as an associate professor, I was named Vice Provost for Undergraduate Curriculum and International Affairs. I stepped down from that position in 2009 with the blessing of my dean, department chair and the provost so that I could focus on getting promoted to full professor – and they all pledged their support in that endeavor.  I was given a year of sabbatical which allowed me to focus on my research, but it was also the last year of my mother’s life and the year that my brother-in-law was diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer. In 2010 my mother passed away, my dean told me that I was losing my research support and couldn’t get it back without an outside offer, and the university began facing a series of budget cuts that would lead to no raises for those of us already in the higher salary ranges, meaning 6 years of no raises for me.

It was at that point that I knew the research I was completing would be my last. As I was working to finish my book and other research with my students I explored the possibility of staying in Austin but working in the community. I joined nonprofit boards, started my own organization and explored the business world, but I hit many “cement” ceilings in Austin (my friend Ellen Sweets captures much of what I won’t miss about Austin here). The possibility for other faculty jobs was limited with a weak job market and a CV that made me a prime candidate for a quick move into an admin position. I worked hard to complete my book so that I could be promoted to full professor (and I should note that I’m pretty sure I was the first black person to get tenure and full professor in the Government dept. at UT) – despite the skepticism of my departmental colleagues who wanted me to wait (for what?). In the end my only goal was to get promoted so I could get out.

Part of my desire to move on was the fact that I was tired of the “hamster wheel” of having to constantly work on that next book or article and never feeling like you had the time to develop long-term projects. I decided I might as well go back into admin where there were leadership opportunities and the possibility of a raise for the first time in many years. My husband didn’t really want to move, so I consulted with my former provost, dean and other mentors and all agreed that my best opportunities were going to be anywhere but Austin. It was telling to me that when I was promoted to Vice Provost in 2006 there were at least 9 black women in leadership positions at UT Austin. When I left there was 1.

I felt like I was pushed out of poli-sci, and had few options outside of administration for furthering my career, despite my accomplishments in the study of European politics, immigration and populism. However, I’m living where I want to live, in a job that I love, and I’m present with my family. I don’t miss the rat-race of research, or the departmental politics, where the work that I did wasn’t valued.

More to come…

 

 

Fuel for running – and life

It’s been a while since I have blogged, life has been hectic as I prepare to move from Austin to the San Francisco Bay area – I’ll be the new Provost at Menlo College starting in July. As always, running is one of the ways I deal with stress, and I’ll be running a 5k this evening, the Trail Foundation’s Margarita Run. Given that it will be hot, humid and I’m tired from traveling, I have to think carefully about how I will prepare myself for tonight’s run. For me there are four distinct phases of fueling a run. The first is what I eat for my regular meals. I try to avoid running on empty – I always eat something before a race, and I’m blessed with a digestive system that can handle almost anything before a run. When I ran track in college, I would always be in the first event of the day, the long jump, and the last, the 4×400 relay, so I learned early on that I had to be able to eat and run.

These days, if it’s a morning run, I’ll often eat some yogurt and/or a banana, and for the second phase of my run, the actual run itself, it depends on how far I am going. If I’m running more than an hour, I always take water, and some gel, chew or other type of fuel. I used to drink a lot of Gatorade, but found that I wanted to control my water vs sugar intake a bit better, depending on the heat and humidity.

In many ways, I find that music is another way to fuel my run, so I’ll call it the third phase.  I usually listen to dance music to keep me going. Songs by Michael Jackson, Prince, or the latest pop or R&B is fine, I’m usually into my head so that I’m mostly focused on the beat.  I don’t always use music, only for longer runs. If I’m running less than an hour, I like to use the time to work through problems in my head, or just zone out for a while.

The fourth phase of my run is recovery, which starts with stretching and some drills to strengthen problem areas. This is also where I usually treat myself to a hot chai latte, or hot chocolate. I use almond milk instead of cow’s milk, but it gives me the protein and carbs my muscles need to recover from a run. I will sometimes take supplements that help with recovery if I’m training intensively, but I haven’t done a marathon in a while, and I’m sticking mainly with 5ks and 10ks with the occasional half marathon thrown in. I find that if I have been doing my training right, the recovery from these types of races isn’t much of a problem.

I always have to keep in mind that I am getting older (50!) and I have always paid attention to my back issues, meaning I have to make sure that I have strong abs. I switch up my cross training on a regular basis to keep myself from getting bored, and train different types of muscles. I have all the tools I need at home to do a variety of workouts, including kettle bells, dumb bells, a medicine ball, and I’ll even do some hula hoop when it’s nice out. I focus on my abs with some pilates, yoga and just plain old fashioned push ups and sit ups. Every few years I’ll meet with a personal trainer to get some training tips and learning the latest ideas on staying in shape.

Overall, I find that it’s important to maintain a regular workout routine to keep my energy levels up during the day, reduce stress, and to sleep well at night. I look at running as important to both my physical and mental well being. I need fuel to keep running, but running and working out is my fuel for life.

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When I'm running well-fueled I feel like Wonder Woman!
When I’m running well-fueled I feel like Wonder Woman!

A journey to Italy – with 8th graders!

My son’s 8th grade class at St. Francis School is continuing a tradition of a spring break trip to Italy, and luckily my son, Andrew, didn’t mind that I tagged along. We’ll be traveling across Italy for the next week, including stops in Venice, Florence, Assisi and Rome.

We took a bus from Austin to Houston, then traveled to Venice via Paris.  There are 30 kids on the trip, 4 teacher chaperones and 5 parents.  It is a great group to travel with, the kids are very well behaved and so far they have done a good job of listening and following instructions. Many of the kids slept on the plane, but it was still a very tiring and long first day in Italy.

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On the bus to Houston
Sorting out our bags at the Venice Airport
Sorting out our bags at the Venice Airport
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Waiting to board the Vaporetto (water bus) -there are no cars in Venice!
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Heading to our hotel on the water bus.
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View of the Piazza San Marco on the water bus

We were lucky that we had nice weather today, it was warm in the sun and I’m sure that will help with the jet lag. We arrived at our hotel around 1:00 and took some time to settle in a bit before going to get some lunch and gelato. We walked to Piazza San Marco, stopping to learn some facts about Venice along the way, including the way that the city was built on marshes by putting long pine trunks into the sandy ground and topping them with marble and bricks until they got above the water level. We spent about an hour checking out the Plaza, then walked over to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge in Venice, dating back to the 1500s.

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In the Piazza San Marco
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Hanging out in Piazza San Marco

More pictures to come!

Moving on…

Much of my writing in this blog has been a way of processing my feelings of grief from losing people close to me. However, there are many forms of grief, as I was discussing in a twitter chat today (#SaturdaySchool).  In this instance I am leaving a university and city that I have loved and been deeply involved in, but this grief is combined with the excitement and joy of moving to the new position of Provost at Menlo College. This new position means a return to the San Francisco Bay area where we have many friends and family, and I will be very close to my alma mater, Stanford.

Austin and the University of Texas have been my home for the last twelve years, and they have been some of the most important and formative years of my career. My second son, Brandon, was born shortly after we arrived, and is proud to call himself the only real Texan in our household. We were warmly welcomed into an amazing community, Aldridge Place, where we have all made so many friends. But life goes on, and many of those friends have moved away over the years. My boys will be entering 6th and 9th grade next year, so they will be changing schools in any case. This doesn’t lessen the grief I know that they will feel at leaving their friends, but I know the move will also open new opportunities and horizons for them.

We are lucky that we have a few months to adjust to the prospect of change. There will be time for going away parties, in between house hunting trips. In the era of social media, staying in touch with friends in Austin will be easier than when we left Seattle 12 years ago. A new adventure is ahead of us, but I’m grateful for the times we have had and the friends we have made in this life’s journey.

Realistic expectations: 3M Race Report 2015

In October 2013 I set a goal for myself – as I celebrated my 50th year (I turned 50 in October 2014) I would run one race per month for the next year. As of January 2015 I have run 15 races in 16 months including 5 half marathons. My streak ends here, although I will continue running, of course. It’s time to take a break, do some other types of exercise at least until the Capitol 10k.  So here’s the report from my most recent race, the 3M half marathon on Sunday.

I had high hopes for this race a few month ago, perhaps of even running close to my previous PR of under 1:45. However, December brought the flu and a sinus infection that slowed me down.  So I lowered my expectations, focused mainly on finishing and enjoying the journey. As always, I run with my angels, and they were definitely with me. It was a beautiful morning, cool and crisp as the sun rose in north Austin. It was great to connect with my girls from Black Girls Run before the race.

Black Girls (and guys) Run!

The first half of the race was fast, I stuck with the 1:45 group for a while, about through mile 3, then watched them move ahead – the 1:50 pace group didn’t catch me until about mile 7, and given that I’m planning to focus on 5 and 10ks in the spring, I figured it was a good workout to stay close to an 8 minute pace up to that point. The rest of the race was much slower, but I finished in about 1:54, a solid time for me.

This is not me – this woman won the race, she is young and fast!

As I was going up the hill on MLK I heard a voice behind me, it was Pam LeBlanc – we finished the hill together and then I had to do my trademark finish, striding it out to the end. Every race holds a lesson for me and this one was that it’s OK to stay within your limits. Sometimes just crossing the finish line is its own reward.

Made it! And even got to finish with Pam! Race report later...
Me with Pam LeBlanc

And with Superbowl Sunday just around the corner, must do a shout out to my ‘hawks!

New year, new resolve

A year later, the heartache remains, but as with all loss, life must go on, and I know that is what my loved ones would want in any case. Every day I feel the presence of my parents, my brother Rick, my niece Melissa who we lost a year ago today, Uncle Clarence, and little Madeline. Hearts break and hearts eventually mend, and I have tried to focus on the love that was shared and that is still an integral part of who I am.  There are so many people who have touched my life and helped me move forward, I can’t begin to mention them all — from my high school friends, many of whom I have been able to reconnect with in the last few years, to my friends in Austin who have made our 11 years here so amazing.

I don’t like New Year’s resolutions because they tend to be short-sighted and hard to keep. What I prefer is to look at what I found to be most helpful over the past few years, and how I can focus on those things going forward. I have always been very disciplined about running, it is an integral part of my life that will continue, with some help from my chiropractor (Dan Powers) and massage therapist (Marshall Williams). For me it is about self-care, taking the time to be sure that I am healthy, but I also just love the feeling of running and working out, feeling my strength (kicking some butt along the way!) and reaching my goals. I feel truly blessed to be 50 years old and still out there competing as an athlete.

I have many writing projects (besides my blogs) that I hope to build on, and my students who I hope to get to the next level, whether it is an academic job or some other endeavor. I will be taking the next step in my career, whatever that may be, and I plan to focus on what is best not only for me, but for my family.

Music has always been a part of my life, and my son Brandon inspires me as he progresses in learning classical guitar (you can see him playing here). I bought myself a mandolin for my birthday and I plan to carve out time to play and enjoy making music, again it’s about self-care.

I’m looking forward to sharing new experiences with my boys, I’ll be heading to Italy with Andrew on his class trip for Spring break, and both boys will be changing schools as Brandon moves to middle school and Andrew move  to high school (!). Finally, I plan to carve out time with my wonderful husband, Mike, who celebrated his birthday yesterday. We focus so much on our kids but we always manage to squeeze in time alone together, going to see the symphony or a jazz show.

I have an amazing life, and I thank all of you who are a part of it, you are loved.

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The Givens Family -- All 9 of us!
The Givens Family — All 9 of us!
Hanging out at the tailgater with friends from my freshman dorm
Hanging out at the tailgater with friends from my freshman dorm
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Black Girls Run!
Melissa Marsh
Melissa Marsh