I’ve seen a few people sharing their CV of failures lately. I get why that’s a thing, but I am really good at forgetting or modifying failures in my mind. So, either all I remember is the lesson (if there was a lesson to be learned from that failure) or it was a blessing in disguise. For example, I applied for a job elsewhere last year, made it to the on campus interview stage (seems to be the threshold others have used to list “jobs I didn’t get”), but then they decided it was a failed search. Ouch. But, I applied to that job because they mentioned teaching a credit bearing class in the ad, and during the interview I found out that that would be a rare thing, and not an established credit bearing information literacy course like I teach in my current position. So can I really count that as a failure, or as the interview process succeeding in avoiding a really bad fit?
Last night, though, I saw this tweet, retweeted by Tressie McMillan Cottom:
Next I would like to see the CV of "stuff people got that they really shouldn't have" https://t.co/Kje3tOPxdB
— andré carrington PhD (@prof_carrington) April 29, 2016
That’s a really tough one, because how far do you go back? I grew up in a working class poor, single parent household in North County St. Louis. We rented instead of owned and moved almost every year that I was in elementary school, constantly either moving to a better school district when possible or having to move back to cheaper rent areas when necessary. How many times did we benefit from racist landlords as we squeezed into a better school district, thereby giving me a better educational background than an equally deserving, equally hard working, equally intelligent non-white child? How many times did I personally benefit from better treatment by a racist teacher? Those things, though, are the small things that don’t tend to be featured on a CV.
So here’s my attempt at an annotated CV of stuff I got that I shouldn’t have, arranged somewhat chronologically:
McNair Scholar – Undergraduate Research
University of Missouri, 2003-2004 academic year
– The McNair Scholars Program is a fantastic program for those who want to go to grad school, serving “students who meet federal income guidelines whose parents have not completed an undergraduate degree and/or students from groups underrepresented in graduate education.” I remember thinking, back before I understood the complex structures of systemic oppression, how great it was that this program wasn’t just for underrepresented groups, but also for low income first gen college students of any race (*cough* white *cough*). I applied because I could get a stipend for doing research, and that provided me the motivation/nerve to approach a faculty member about doing a research project, which led to a great mentoring relationship. However, especially considering the articles that have come out since the protests at Mizzou in fall 2015, we have to ask why so many white women are selected for this program. Should I really have gotten that?
University of Missouri, Fall 2001 to Spring 2005
BA, Anthropology, 2005, with Honors in Anthropology
Honors Thesis: Religious Skepticism Among the Iban and Beyond
– My honors thesis was an extension of my McNair Scholars paper. If I hadn’t gotten into that program, would I have done the honors thesis?
University of Virginia, Fall 2005 to Spring 2007
MA, Anthropology, 2007
– I was accepted and fully funded in this program, in no small part because of the McNair Scholars Program. The obvious contribution is the research experience and support from the professor who served as my McNair Mentor. The less visible contribution is the fee waiver for taking the GRE and the application fee waivers granted to McNair Scholars.
University of Missouri, Fall 2007 to Spring 2009
Enrolled in the PhD program in Anthropology
– This builds on my MA from UVA, so…
Graduate Grading, Teaching Assistant positions
Fall 2005 to Spring 2007, University of Virginia
– This was part of my funding package at UVA, so if my acceptance there was due to a program I shouldn’t have been accepted into, then I shouldn’t have had this experience.
Graduate Instructor, General Anthropology
Fall 2008 to Spring 2009, University of Missouri
– This was funding granted to me while enrolled in the PhD program, in part because of my TA experience noted above.
Instructional Services Librarian
University of West Georgia
Assistant Professor – September 2011 to June 2016
Associate Professor with tenure – July 2016 to …
– My graduate work in Anthropology and teaching experience were key factors in me getting this position. If I shouldn’t have been given that funding & those opportunities, I shouldn’t be here now.
If you compare this to my regular CV, you’ll see that I didn’t include everything. For example, I left off my Library Science degree. Maybe that should also be here, since my experiences before applying to that program made it much easier to succeed there. I left it off, however, because I don’t know how selective that program was, and I did not receive funding. That degree is one of the required qualifications for my job, but there are tons of people with the degree who haven’t managed to land librarian jobs – so I can’t say, without all of benefits I shouldn’t have been given, whether I would have not gotten that degree or whether I would have gotten the degree but had a much harder time finding a job. And I’m not bothering to list all of the publications & presentations that are on my CV because of the experiences listed here – this is long enough as is! But I’ve had better than average support for professional development in this job, so have been able to present at a lot more conferences than I would have been able to if I hadn’t landed this job.
I don’t know whether the original tweet was meant as just a flippant comment or if it was meant to be taken seriously. And if others take it seriously and are also writing posts like this now, I don’t know whether it will lead anywhere good or whether it will go the way of #crimingwhilewhite (taking on more of a tone of bragging about white privileges instead of seriously critiquing the system).
I would like to see it serve as a reminder to fellow academics that many of our students have not had the same benefits from an unfair system that we were given. It’s really easy, especially when students are screaming about their grades during finals week, to fall into complaints about their behavior – I would never have said that to a professor! Why are you just now emailing me about something you got a zero on in February? Don’t you know better than to get an attitude with me before I’ve even had a chance to respond about that bad grade? Why the hell didn’t you come talk to me when you started having problems understanding this class, instead of waiting until after you’ve bombed several major assignments? And so on.
How can we respond in ways that give students the benefits of the doubt that our teachers/professors/bosses gave us, even if we didn’t recognize it at the time? How can we help them gain some of that social capital that was given to us, without being patronizing? And how can we adjust our systems to make sure everyone actually does have equal opportunities, instead of privileging those who have already benefitted from privileges, the way so much of my career success can be traced back to a single program I shouldn’t have been selected for? In theory, affirmative action was supposed to address that, but it turns out that white women have benefitted most from that – so how do we create something that extends those benefits to everyone else?