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UFF Biweekly
United Faculty of Florida -- USF System Chapter
22 July 2015
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Chapter Meeting Tomorrow CANCELLED

The Chapter meeting scheduled for this Friday has been cancelled. The next chapter meeting - the last one of this summer - will be on Friday, August 7, at noon.

UFF Expands its Travel Scholarship Program: All UFF Members are Eligible

The USF Chapter of the UFF will award four $ 500 Travel Scholarships for next fall and spring.

All UFF USF members are eligible for one of four $ 500 travel scholarships to be randomly selected at the August 7 UFF USF Chapter Meeting. Any member may submit a proposal - a paragraph describing the professional activity for which the travel scholarship will be applied - to us by campus mail (UFF Membership Committee, 30238 USF Holly Drive) or by email; all proposals must be received by August 6. See the flyer for UFF members and the flyer for UFF non-members.

This initiative is part of our membership campaign. If you would like to become active in the UFF USF Membership Drive, Adrienne Berarducci.

Join UFF Today!

Download, fill in, and mail the membership form. Benefits of membership include the right to run and vote in UFF chapter and statewide elections; representation in grievances (UFF cannot represent a non-member in a grievance or litigation); special deals in insurance, travel, legal advice, and other packages provided by our affiliates; free insurance coverage for job-related liability; and the knowledge you are supporting education in Florida. Come and join the movement.

Grievances

If you have been the victim of a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, you have thirty days from the time you knew or should have known of the violation to file a grievance. If you are, and at the time of the violation were, a dues-paying member of the United Faculty of Florida, you have the right to union representation. To contact the UFF USF Grievance Committee, go to the online contact form. For more information, see our web-page on grievances.

Visit Us on Facebook

Visit the United Faculty of Florida at USF Facebook page. This page is a place where UFF members can exchange thoughts and ideas. The page is "public", but only dues-paying UFF members are eligible to post items on the page. If you are a UFF member, ask to join on the page, or contact the Communications Committee. The Committee will invite every UFF member that asks to join. So check us out. UFF members are welcome to join, and non-members are welcome to look.

IN THIS ISSUE

Charleston and Our Demons

The primary concerns of the United Faculty of Florida are the terms and conditions of employment. Since faculty and professionals at USF have various racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and military backgrounds - to name a few - and since we all have students from these various backgrounds, what affects members of the USF community because of their backgrounds affects all of us.

So in a sense, when shots fired in Charleston ricocheted across the nation, they ricocheted across USF campus as well. We are trying to make USF a welcoming place, both to diverse students and to diverse faculty. In this issue, we look at Charleston, the Confederate flag, and the recruitment and retention problems they represent.

  • Charleston and the Flag. The public debate is dominated by a symbol, so we first look at symbols, which are complicated things. For more, see below or click here.
  • Micro-aggressions. Charleston got people talking about changing hearts as well changing symbols. Social and behavioral scientists and humanities scholars have been working on this heart problem: for a brief peek, see below or click here.
We will shortly return to our series on tenure and promotion. Past articles are linked to the UFF USF webpage.

Charleston and the Flag

On June 17, nine people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Two days later, CNN reported that the young man arrested for the crime had confessed and said that he did it to foment a race war. Photos of the alleged shooter displaying the Confederate flag, as well as his manifesto all suggested a lone wolf act of terror. Since he hasn't been tried yet, much is uncertain. But coming amidst a stream of hate crimes, half of them racial, the Confederate flag became the issue.

The Confederate flag - or, to be precise, a "rectangularized variant" of the battle flag of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia - has become a symbol of entrenched racism, of resistance against the federal government, of regional or even "redneck" pride, depending on the beholder.

The Confederate flag is a symbol, and symbols used by groups and collectives to express their identity are complicated things. Symbols of collective identity are hot in sociology and anthropology right now, and sociologist David Snow writes that, "A common theme running throughout a segment of the literature is the insistence that collective identity is, at its core, a process rather than a property of social actors." That goes for symbols as well. A constructivist would argue that the Confederate flag has no meaning of its own - it's just an arrangement of red, white, and blue - and that the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. After generations of holders and beholders, the many meanings of a symbol may make it difficult to deal with.

Despite resistance and a few official outliers, the Confederate flag appears to be coming down from official flagpoles from the South Carolina capitol to Hillsborough County. Retiring the flag to museums and private flagpoles is a grand gesture, perhaps one long overdue. Still, if our concern is recruitment and retention, what can we glean from all this?

Micro-Aggressions

USF hopes to recruit and retain a diverse community of scholars, so the challenge is welcoming them. That does not mean making them comfortable - part of a teacher's job is to take students out of their comfort zones (as students take us out of our comfort zones) - but it does mean making people welcome.

One problem that has gotten a lot of press recently is the micro-aggression, which are often understood as "... remarks perceived as sexist, racist, or otherwise offensive to a marginalized social group." (Fans of Victorian novels - many featuring social gatekeepers and their unwelcoming tactics - might prefer a broader definition.) While an individual micro-aggression might be at best a passing nuisance, a steady stream of them can be corrosive.

The stiff-upper-lip school might argue that people who surmount such micro-aggressions are in a good position to excel. For that fraction that do surmount the micro-aggressions, that may be true. But there could be a cost: Self-control is physiologically expensive and using it that much can have health consequences. Put together with Academia's recruitment and retention issues, micro-aggressions may be a problem.

One major problem with micro-aggressions is intent. Displaying the Confederate flag might be a micro-aggression, and finding the intention behind the display might determine whether it is a micro-aggression. Here are two cautionary observations.

Habit versus intent. We are creatures of habit. While learning to walk, we consciously learn how to put one foot in front of the other. While learning to play the violin, we consciously learn how to hold the bow. Both of these become unconscious habit after a while. We eat, drive, and even talk without thinking deeply about it (and hence the phenomenon, "did I just say that?"). This "autopilot" model of unconconscious or nonconscious behavior is gaining popularity, along with instruments for finding out what the autopilot is up to. To paraphrase an old line, if ten people tell you that your autopilot is micro-aggressing, it's time to look under the hood.

Suppose you are told to press the green button and not the red button, you would look for the green button and press it. Your Unconscious can do that. But suppose that what you saw was red and green; at this point your Unconscious needs help, so it takes you a fraction of a second longer. The idea of this implicit association test is to present anomalous options like this, keep track of the time it takes (and the errors), and that tells you how much trouble your Unconscious had.

For example, if you go to Project Implicit and take the test on racial attitudes, you will be presented with a picture and a word to your left and a picture and a word to your right, and a picture or word in the middle. The picture will be of a light-skinned or dark-skinned person, and the word will be either good or bad. As rapidly as you can, associate the picture correctly or the word correctly. Handling pictures and words rapidly is a strain on your Unconscious, and the time it takes - and the number of errors - produces a blunt measure of how much your Unconscious regards dark skin tone as good or bad.

There are similar tests on (your unconscious perception of) capabilities of women, of foreignness of native Americans, of words associated with gays. You can take this exam in the privacy of your own computer, but the daunting aspect of this is ... your Unconscious is doing all this all the time, in class, at faculty meetings, and with family. Something to think about before you tweet.

Misinterpretation. True story. The swastika is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. When a Jewish student at George Washington University posted a swastika from India on his resident hall's bulletin board as a talking point, he was suspended. The subsequent international ruckus trapped GW University between Jewish and Hindu groups. GW University then unsuspended the student, and some of the groups are now organizing larger scale conversations of the sort that the student originally intended to inspire.

A constructivist might say that the lesson of this episode is that a symbol's meaning is in the eyes of the beholders. An expert in educational administration might say that the lesson is that panicky decisions can have expensive consequences. However clumsy (and we all can be clumsy occasionally), sometimes it isn't a micro-aggression.

What to do? First, do no harm. Panic and imposed solutions are merely prescriptions for getting into the newspapers; the best the Administration can do is provide resources. For those of us in the trenches, if individual micro-aggressions are not the problem - if it is the habit of micro-aggressions that is the problem - then this is about changing habits. Dieters, smokers, gamblers and procrastinators can testify how difficult that is. Chronic micro-aggression may be a self-regulatory issue, and these are among the great challenges in psychology this century. One interesting approach is the ancient practice of mindfulness, which very roughly consists of quietly paying attention to one's breathing and one's thoughts. It seems that practicing mindfulness appears to reduce undesirable bias.

We all have other demands on our time and energy, and this is a complex problem. And if this is a matter of changing habits, people will make mistakes. And if it is any consolation, such proscriptions are not new. Still, to make USF a welcoming place, we can put good intentions into practice.

LOGISTICS

Next chapter Meeting in two weeks, on Friday, August 7, in Temple Terrace at CDB Restaurant, 5104 E. Fowler Ave., just east of USF Tampa.

There will be pizza, salad, and drinks. All UFF members are invited to attend. Non-members are also invited to come and check us out. Come and join the movement.

Membership: Everyone in the UFF USF System Bargaining unit is eligible for UFF membership: to join, simply fill out and send in the membership form.

NOTE: The USF-UFF Chapter website is http://www.uff.ourusf.org, and our e-mail address is uff@ourusf.org.

About this broadcast: This Newsletter was broadcast from uff.ourusf.org, hosted at ICDsoft.com, and is intended for all members of the UFF USF Bargaining unit (USF faculty and professionals at most departments). A (usually identical) version will be broadcast to USF-News and USF-Talk from mccolm@usf.edu.

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