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…

 

 

Thoughts on the U.S. Election and the Far Right

Photo by Terri Givens
Despite union support in Philadelpia, Hillary Clinton lost the state of Pennsylvania

The election of Donald Trump in the November 2016 election came as a surprise to many, and I couldn’t help but think of how the issues were similar to those I had been tracking for many years in Europe. In particular, there were echoes of pronouncements from the 1990s by France’s Jean Marie Le Pen saying “French first” or the Austrian Freedom Party vilifying ethnic minority migrants as taking jobs from hard-working natives. However it was clear that by 2016 these sentiments had made their way into mainstream party discourse.

In October of 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in a speech that multiculturalism had failed in Germany. In February of 2011, her remarks were echoed by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in separate remarks declaring the failure or “death” of multiculturalism.  These remarks were clearly coordinated, and in many ways were a harbinger of recent events. These speeches came when mainstream right politicians were concerned about the rise of populist far right parties, and the development of a backlash against anti-discrimination measures that had been promulgated in the wake of the success of the Austrian Freedom Party in 1999. I describe those developments in my book Legislating Equality.

I began following the rise of populist anti-immigrant parties in Europe in the early 1990s. What I have come to realize in the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, is that my research was tracking a phenomenon that is culminating in an undermining of democratic institutions not only in Europe, but in the U.S.  Van Jones famously called it a “white lash” although there is evidence that other forces were at play. It’s a phenomenon that I referred to as the “losers of globalization” supporting anti-immigrant parties in my first book on the radical right. Although alarm bells have been ringing, it’s not clear that there has been a decline in support for democracy (article), but support for far right parties does seem to be increasing, as noted in this chart from the New York Times:

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I have also argued that it is important that mainstream politicians play closer attention to those who are voting for and supporting far right parties. Much has been written in the U.S. media about the need for the Democratic Party to connect with Trump voters who feel left out, and it has been clear in France, for example, that many former left-wing voters have shifted to supporting the far right. The loss of manufacturing jobs, the impact of technology, and the shift to a more service oriented economy have had an impact, and it’s also clear that race and immigration are playing an important role in attitudes. Many white voters feel that they are losing out to immigrants, or that they are being discriminated against in favor of other ethnic groups. They see the economy as a zero-sum game, and as women and minorities begin to play a more visible role, they see themselves losing out. Rising inequality, a declining middle class, and stagnant wages are objective signs of a decline that leads them to worry that their children may end up worse off than they were. They also rebel against what they see as a “political correctness” that requires them to police the way the speak about women and minorities, religion or LGBTQ issues.

Mainstream politicians like Merkel have responded to the far right by often taking on the issues or rhetoric in areas such as immigration. Although Angela Merkel has been a supporter of Syrian refugees in Germany, she recently announced support for a headscarf ban in Germany. It has been clear that positions that the far right were taking in the 1990s have moved into the mainstream, as politicians attempt to gain back support from voters who were attracted by the anti-immigration, nationalist and frankly racist positions of far right parties.

Recent reports that Trump’s National Security Advisor has met with representatives of the Austrian Freedom Party are worrying. I argue in my book that one of the factors that has kept far right parties from being more successful in Europe is the fact that people would vote against them strategically because the mainstream parties would make it clear that they could not be part of government. This is often referred to as a cordon sanitaire or a barrier to the far right making their way into government. The Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) did become part of the Austrian government in 2000, but the party has been through many changes since then, which complicates an analysis of where they are now. Being part of government seemed to moderate at least the leaders of the party at the time, but it has shifted back to a more strident tone in recent years.

The fact that the FPO candidate, Norbert Hofer, was defeated by independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen in the Austrian Presidential Election in December is a sign that support continues for the EU, but Brexit and support for far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in France indicate that there is much work to do. Mainstream candidates on both sides of the Atlantic must find a way to support the growing ethnic minority populations in their countries, while acknowledging the concerns of voters who see those groups as threats. Although we have clearly taken a step backwards on these issues in the U.S., it is not a given that European countries like France and Germany will inevitably move in the same direction. It will take smart leadership and grass-roots support for progressive policies that will help all, like healthcare and economic development that supports the lower and middle classes. Unfortunately, in the U.S., the incoming administration appears poised to increase disparities that have led to high rates of inequality. How this will impact voting behavior remains to be seen.

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!

Can I possibly be turning 50? Yes – time to face the music (and dance!)

I will be 50 years old on October 30 (go Scorpio!) and I recently started acknowledging the fact that I’m getting old when I noticed that my feet had grown a half size, I need glasses for reading and distance, and my hormones were acting up so badly I had to buy a new facial wash. Apparently I’m not the only woman dealing with this issue, Neutrogena has a face wash that deals with pimples and wrinkles. So I decided that I would celebrate my birthday for the entire month of October, I have been posting old pictures of myself on Facebook, and we are taking a trip to Seattle this weekend to celebrate with my family (dancing will most definitely be involved) and see a Seahawks game. I haven’t been to the new stadium and I’m excited to see my team in person, even though we had to pay an arm and a leg for nosebleed seats. It’s all about the atmosphere.

The Givens Family -- All 9 of us!
The Givens Family — All 9 of us! I’m the cute baby in Mom’s arms.

So posting all those old photos got me reminiscing about the past. I actually contacted my old high school principal, to let him know how successful I’ve been and the impact he had on my life (as noted in this column for Inside Higher Ed: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/running/givens3). It’s a good time to reflect on how far I have come in life. I know I have many years ahead of me, but I never could have imagined how life would play out for me. I have been a successful academic, which is a huge accomplishment in this day and age of higher ed under fire. Given where I come from (see this blog post http://blog.terrigivens.com/2013/04/06/how-much-is-enough/), it’s amazing that I beat the odds in so many different ways.

My son Andrew (just turned 14) recently asked me a very interesting question “do you ever have any free time” — he was asking because he is already thinking about what he wants to do as a job. My response was that I’m usually working or spending time with him and his brother, but I love my work, so that’s why I don’t mind it. I told him I appreciate the fact that my job is flexible so I can take time during the day to pick him up from school, or go to his sporting events, and then work in the evenings. I’ve certainly been busy with all the writing I have been doing lately (one example is in Politico Magazine) as well as interviews on TV and radio. It still hurts that I can’t call my parents on the phone to tell them about my latest exploits, but as I age, I also am gaining more perspective on the rhythms of life. Nobody gets out of here alive, and this is the prime of my life, when I’m supposed to be out there sharing my gifts. As my mother always told me, “don’t keep your light under a bushel!”

So turning 50 is not so bad, I’m still in great physical shape (except for my sore achilles tendons), I have a beautiful family, a great job, and there’s so much more to look forward to…including the Seahawks making it to the Superbowl again! I’ll have more thoughts on turning 50 in the coming weeks, consider this just another step in the journey…

 

 

The war at home…

The juxtaposition of the passing of Robin Williams with the death of Michael Brown, shot by the police in Ferguson, Missouri, was a stunning example of the disconnect we have in this country. So many posts on social media about depression, suicide and reaching out for help. It made me wonder how many people ever think about the never-ending impact of discrimination that ultimately leads to the deaths of African-Americans, Latinos and so many others in this country, at the hands of the people who have pledged to protect us as citizens.

America has been sleep-walking into a situation where the police have become the occupiers in some neighborhoods.  Dressed in fatigues, carrying weapons that belong on a battlefield, not in a residential neighborhood, and seeing those who they have sworn to protect as “the enemy.” As noted by the ACLU (https://www.aclu.org/war-comes-home-excessive-militarization-american-policing), the excessive militarization of the police has become more than a ticking time bomb, it is now exploding in the deaths of people across the country.

Police wearing riot gear try to disperse a crowd Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Authorities in Ferguson used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse a large crowd Monday night. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

How do we de-escalate this situation?  Ferguson, Missouri looks like a war zone, with the frustration of so many years finally boiling over.  But it’s not just in Ferguson, people across the country are venting their frustrations and standing with the people of Ferguson, like these students from Howard University:

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photo via https://twitter.com/The_Blackness48

I don’t have any answers, I just know that it seems like we have reached a tipping point. I know that I will continue doing what I can to educate people and try to work on changing the tide. But it has an impact on all of us, the sleepless nights, the anger, the micro- and macro-aggressions that we have to deal with on a daily basis. Worrying about what might happen to our children, our husbands, ourselves…it ultimately damages the psyche, not just of an individual, but of an entire country.

And then the anger comes…

Yes, I’m angry.  I’m an angry mother to two boys who shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they are carrying a toy gun while playing in the front yard.  I shouldn’t have to worry that my son will be driving in a couple of years and I’ll have to teach him how to avoid being pulled over by the police.

I’m angry that the world looks at the events in Ferguson, Missouri and many will use it as an example of why those black people deserve to be gunned down.

I’m angry that too many of our elected officials are unwilling to face up to the violence and acknowledge the frustrations that lie underneath it.

I’m angry that we lose people we love to depression and suicide, that we don’t take mental illness seriously in this country, treating it like the medical condition that it is.

I’m angry that we can’t support a healthcare system in this country that pays for critical medications for those who can’t afford it.

I’m angry that I can’t sleep at night, worrying about what is next for our country, and wondering how we can stop the violence here and abroad.

I hope the petitions help, but it’s going to take more than that. I can’t afford to let go of this anger, just like the folks in Ferguson, Missouri. I plan to channel my anger into action, to fight to make sure that my boys aren’t the next victims. Class, manners, education, and even being mixed-race – none of it can protect them in the end. This country needs to take a long look in the mirror – but I know that’s not possible in this political climate. Too much of our politics is being driven by hate. It’s up to us to change the equation, even if it’s one person, one elected official, one police officer, one teacher, one friend at a time…

I’ll do it for them:

Seahawks fans

How did I get here?

I have weighed in several times on the debates about “leaning in” and “having it all.” It was just about a year ago that I was asking myself “how much is enough?” Although I concluded at the time that I am enough, I continue pondering issues around women in leadership, and the hurdles they face. A recent study finds that “Deep-seated bias, not lack of confidence, knocks women off the path to success.” The findings in this study are disturbing at best, but it also makes me wonder, how have women who have made it into leadership overcome these types of hurdles. I have rarely been accused of lacking in confidence — although it’s something I gained over time as I matured, completed my various degrees and moved up the ladder of success. However, I haven’t always been aware of any hurdles in my path, which may be part of the secret of my success. I credit my mother for giving me the ability to go beyond people’s expectations and my own, to chart my own course in life, and to believe that I could do just about anything. Although she certainly tried to impose her own gender stereotypes on me, once she saw my abilities, she backed off and let me be who I was, which was many things all at once. Athlete, musician, student, writer, whatever it was, I always gave it my all. So somewhere in there, between giving it my all and breaking through stereotypes, I managed to find a path to getting the things I wanted in life. A great career, a family, keeping up as an athlete. However, I wouldn’t be who I am if I wasn’t always striving for more. The problem has always been figuring out that next step. I realize that I have been incredibly lucky that opportunities have presented themselves, although it wasn’t always apparent at the time that it was the right step. In almost every instance of a major change in my life, there was someone who saw something in me that made them recommend the next step. I’m not particularly fond of the old chestnut “things happen for a reason” — but somehow it’s generally been true. I think I’m moving in one particular direction, and certainly in the last few years, I have found doors closing, what looked like an opportunity fading, or what I once thought was my path going into a dead end. I have made many friends along the way, and learned a great deal. I guess that is what much of life is about, learning from experiences, whether they led to the next step or not.

So I would have to say that the answer to the question in the title of this blog post is that I got here with a lot of help from others along the way. Certainly my own determination played a major role in where I am today, but I owe a debt of gratitude to the family, friends and mentors who encouraged me, and in particular those who moved those hurdles out of the way. So I will conclude with a simple THANK YOU.

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