Teaching Community

Organization and Administration of Student Affairs
Individual Learning Activity

I started reading Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope by bell hooks in May. I finished reading Teaching Community in November. bell hooks’ prose is easy to read. She does not write “above my head.” However, the meaning within her words is so powerful and challenging that this book took a very long time to read. I would frequently stop and reflect about individual sentences. It is because of this inner intellectual struggle that I actually had to modify my learning activity.

I was not able to even approach Multicultural Competence in Student Affairs by Pope, Reynolds, and Mueller. How could I? I could not leave Teaching Community without having fully digested its meanings. bell hooks has the ability to make your mind go into overdrive. The copy of Teaching Community that I was reading had been borrowed from a friend. I ended up highlighting sentences and underlining paragraphs. This book (a new copy will soon be on order for the lender) is like a companion from my personal self awareness journey.

At one point, halfway through the term, I debated the idea of reading both Teaching Community and Multicultural Competence in Student Affairs. I understood that this would enable me to finish both books but I did not feel that my understanding of either book would be as meaningful as it was through my intimate read of Teaching Community.

When I started reading Teaching Community, I was struck by hooks’ arrogance in comparing herself to Michael Jordan. I now know that hooks is indeed a powerful writer/thinker. She was not being arrogant, she was telling the truth! Her voice can be difficult to hear but after a while, my ears adjusted and my eyes were opened.

White supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Wow! When I first read this phrase I was unsure about its meaning. I’m a straight white male so I was prepared for a rough journey. I had just finished an epic struggle with Janet Helms’ White Racial Identity model so I knew that if hooks called me a racist I would be more understanding. Helms pushed me towards an understanding of white privilege and white guilt. hooks gave me information, tools, words, feelings, etc that I can use in my personal and professional spheres. I was so inspired by hooks’ writings that I wrote a posting about white privilege on my blog: http://ericstoller.com/blog/index.php/2005/12/01/white-privilege-shapes-the-us/ . I have invited my readers to dialogue with me about white privilege. I hope to use my white privilege for good and to work towards becoming an active anti-racist. In terms of this assignment, I am utilizing the blog posting to bolster my overall experience.

Here’s an excerpt:

“just finished reading Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope by bell hooks. bell hooks is amazing. Her writing is pleasantly painful. I wish I could write as eloquently as hooks. Her words are completely accessible yet they have meaning that can take days to process.
“One problem that plagues our society that has been stirring my mental pot is white privilege. Thanks to bell hooks, Beverly Tatum (Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?) and Janet Helms (White racial identity and A Race Is a Nice Thing to Have: A Guide to Being a White Person or Understanding the White Persons in Your Life), I now have an awareness that is light years from where I started. Self awareness can be challenging and very frightening. I wrestled with Janet Helms until I could finally understand what she meant when she says that all white people start there lives as racists.”

My last place of employment was at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). UIC is an extremely diverse, urban institution on the west side of Chicago. It’s ironic that at UIC I was immersed in a student affairs world that was awesomely diverse and I had no idea about white privilege, white identity, or racial self awareness. I had to come to Oregon State University, and it’s mostly white campus, to become self aware of my white privilege. This journey has enriched both my personal and professional spaces. Today, I ask myself the question, “How did I work with students of color at UIC when I had no actual realization that I was white?” My usual answer to the “what are you” question was that I was German. Oh how the tides of life change.

bell hooks — Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope

There are 16 chapters in the book. The chapters that were the most influential/inspirational/educational to me were 3, 5, 6, 9, 15, and 16.

Chapter 3 is entitled, “Talking Race and Racism.” This chapter should be read by every student affairs administrator in every college and university. It is 16 pages of learning about racism and race that I will probably read from time to time so that I do not forget bell hooks’ words.

Chapter 5 is entitled, “What Happens When White People Change.” This single chapter should be at the core of any multicultural curricula for both white people and people of color. I love it when hooks states that risk is okay. She says that learning can occur and does occur in environments where we feel vulnerable. I actually read the exact quote from the book (page 64, first paragraph) to my Cross Cultural Counseling class. We all needed to take risks. Coincidentally, it was in that class that I articulated white privilege and white guilt to a group of students in which the majority had no idea that they were even white. The students of color in the class congratulated me while most of the white students acted like I was a radical.

The following chapter, number 6, is simply listed as “Standards.” However, this is not a simple chapter. In this chapter, hooks places the opportunity of building community upon all of us. I really appreciate the concept that we all have to believe that people can change. If we forget that people can change, can grow, can learn, we contribute to the problem.

Chapter 9 is entitled, “Keepers of Hope: Teaching in Communities.” This chapter contains an amazing exchange between hooks and her friend, Ron Scapp. I really appreciate the fact that this conversation was made public. Meaningful conversations can be quite educational and this one was very insightful.

“Spiritual Matters in the Classroom” is the title of chapter 15. In this chapter hooks writes of her experience with spirituality in higher education. In this powerful chapter, hooks challenges her readers to incorporate spiritual qualities into their classrooms/educational environments. I am still processing this chapter as it does give me a new lens with which I can look at spirituality in our field.

When I was almost at the last chapter of Teaching Community, I was perplexed as to how there would be enough space/time/inertia to conclude the journey at chapter 16 – “Practical Wisdom.” I think, having read the entire book, that hooks does a marvelous job of bringing everyone back to the core of her message: learning is ongoing. She even brings out a final educational thrust regarding white privilege. Robert Jensen’s quote about his whiteness is on my blog because of bell hooks. I can’t wait to meet her.

I did have one disagreement with hooks. I am labeling it as a disagreement but it could be that I misunderstood her meaning. In chapter 12 — “Good Sex,” hooks basically says that it is okay to have intimate encounters with students. That’s how I understood her…it is a very confusing chapter. It’s part confession, part radicalism, and entirely hooks.

I think this assignment gave me the nudge that I needed in order to sit down and effectively reflect. I was reading Teaching Community prior to the start of this Organization and Administration of Student Affairs. I think this personal learning activity has furthered my understanding of how I can use hooks’ writings and philosophies in my professional work and in my personal life. When we were constructing our projects we were informed that they had to be rigorous enough for a CSSA class. I’m not sure how you measure the rigors of working towards being an anti-racist and of becoming more self-aware but I feel that this has been an extremely valuable experience.