I just returned from the Working-Class Studies Association conference held at Stony Brook University filled with inspiration. This conference is such an important opportunity to do what we don’t do enough, both inside and outside of academia: critique and resist the destructive forces of capitalism, listen to people in poverty, support working-class academics, and appreciate the work being done in the field of working-class studies. Unlike many other academic conferences, this conference, co-hosted this year by the Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, provides a supportive and encouraging environment for graduate students and senior faculty alike to exchange ideas about teaching, scholarship, and the world around us. I’d like to identify a few ideas and questions that I’m still thinking about and then recognize the work that caught my attention:
- Children in wealthy families, which are predominantly white, receive access to various resources that have a significant impact on their financial security, yet this dynamic is often invisible and obscured by the rhetoric of “just work hard and you’ll be successful.” Furthermore, the concentration of wealth at the top has been increasing, not decreasing, while the narrative of the American dream persists.
- Have we become more materialistic and consumer-driven during the past few decades?
- How does the narrative and ideology of individualism affect us and intersect with class, race, gender, and more?
- As more women become graduate students and faculty members, academia is becoming increasingly precarious.
- What are all of the ways that neo-liberalism is affecting us?
- What responsibility do fulltime, tenured faculty have to change the culture of higher education in order to improve the working conditions for adjunct faculty, change the publish or perish culture, and help graduate students complete rather than make it harder?
- How can we center the activism and inspiring work of new generations of activists through the movements of the Dreamers, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and the March for Our Lives?
- What do college students in poverty want their faculty to know and do?
- How can poverty be at the center of discussions (and conferences) about class?
- Why are the middle class white men and women who voted for Trump ignored when talking about Trump voters, as if the only people who voted for him were working class whites and as if all working class whites voted for him?
While there were many impressive presentations, roundtables, and other discussions, I was especially inspired by the following:
- Rhonda Y. Williams’ brilliant presentation/performance about division
- Tamara Draut of Demos described their work on addressing racial and economic justice together
- Journalists from the Nation (Michelle Chen, Bryce Covert, and John Washington) described their powerful and much-needed investigative reporting
- Jack Metzgar’s analysis of voter trends
- A moving poem about Eric Garner by Ross Gay was shared by a participant – “A Small Needful Fact”
- A reflection on the 25th anniversary of Working-Class Women in the Academy: Laborers in the Knowledge Factory (Thanks to Michelle Tokarczyk, one of the original editors, for sharing her thoughts.)
- Strategizing about activism through public writing and public engagement with John Russo, Scott Henkel, Dwight Lang, Sherry Linkon and more (Check out the blogs Working-Class Perspectives and Classism Exposed at Class Action)
- Jessi Straub’s analysis of luck and Jeremy Posadas’s analysis of disposability and intersectionality
It was exciting to participate in discussions about the forthcoming book The Routledge International Handbook of Working-Class Studies, edited by Michele Fazio, Christie Launius, and Tim Strangleman. I’m working on an essay for the chapter on activism, and this discussion and the conference overall helped me think through my ideas and pushed me to work on making a greater contribution, with the idea of the endless possibilities that can arise when we center the experiences of the community college when we talk about higher education. How can we teach activism in the classroom, and why should we? How can we, as faculty, take our work outside of the classroom into the public as a form of activism, and why should we?
Finally, I was honored to present a workshop on “‘Dismantling the Racism Machine’: What White People Are Not Taught about White Supremacy.” I always learn from the discussion, and I appreciated the engagement. There is a Facebook livestream video of the first portion of my workshop here. The Powerpoint is available here: Powerpoint Gaffney WCSA June 7 2018
Thanks again to the Working-Class Studies Association, especially organizers Michele Fazio, Terry Easton, Colby King, Cherie Rankin, Ken Estey, Christopher Sellers, and many more.