The Embodied Grad Student in Relation: A CSGSH Roundtable at #MLA19

Join CSGSH at session 330: The Embodied Grad Student in Relation on Friday, January 4 at 3:30 PM — Hyatt Regency Chicago, “Columbus KL.” This roundtable is included in the presidential theme, Textual Transactions.

In this roundtable, panelists consider the importance of various forms of self-making, kinship, coalition, and allyship within the graduate student experience. With an attention to concepts of power and notions of identity, they explore how we survive and thrive in the academy variously as individuals, as part of communities, and in relation to how we approach, read, and learn from objects of study such as literary texts and theory.

Featured Panelists: 

Kristen Angierski (Cornell University) considers how communal eating functions, and sometimes hilariously malfunctions, within graduate communities. Drawing on her embodied experience as a vegan graduate student writing a vegan dissertation, she examines the personal-political act of eating-in-relation to those with different ethical commitments, arguing for the renunciation of ethical “purity discourse” that drains the act of eating of its complexity and creates binaries where there could be, per Haraway, “tentacular thinking” – and maybe even humor.

Diana Arterian (University of Southern California) opens a dialog on approaches to facing the intense life events that we inevitably encounter during our graduate work. She uses her own experiences of trying to locate the ability to care for self while engaging with issues that arose during her studies to push against the general approach of “working through” it to question how we can carve out time to be human in a space that often requires superhuman behavior.

Soh Yeun Kim (University of Washington) will talk about her experiences of self-fashioning as a minority and international graduate student and leader. She will discuss how she sought engagement with university leadership and community service out of desperation to build a stronger coalition and allyship among and for underrepresented students, out of a desire to connect her academic research with the community, and out of a need to address issues of structural racism, marginalization, and microagression from within the university system to discuss the significance and need for advocacy and coalition-building for vulnerable graduate students.

Adena Rivera-Dundas (University of Texas at Austin) discusses the contentious history of incorporating the personal into the scholarly by considering how much of herself to put in her own writing. By considering her dissertation and comparing scholars’ incorporations of theory into the personal, she discusses the evolution of scholarly and literary communities which expand the definition of self into one which incorporates and is incorporated into the world around us, a world which includes the grad student.

Sarah Shelton (University of Texas at Arlington) considers how breaking both of her ankles (months apart) and one wrist the same year she was hoping to graduate helped her to make stronger personal connections with her areas of studies in fat studies and posthumanism while questioning the lingering ableism and privilege in her theory/praxis. She discusses how her experiences lead to more nuanced understandings that helped her open up to and depend more on her graduate student community while figuring out how to navigate the last leg of the graduate student journey.

Rhonda Shanks (University of British Columbia) explores the fraught and burgeoning relationships between academic writing, spiritual labour, and public scholarship to trace the genealogy of a project of reading Black Feminist texts as a sacred practice. She presents the story of the limits of listening and the possibilities of a failure that keeps trying, of imagining alliances through old and new registers and through ruptures and disruptions of form, and of gradually attuning to the places, objects, and affective relationships that both bar listening and become the conditions of its possibility.


Come to a roundtable on academic freedom: Reading The Fine Print: Understanding Academic Freedom (MLA 2019). It takes place on Saturday, January 5th at 5:15 in the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Room “Columbus KL.” 

***This session will be live-tweeted (#s608)***

Academic Freedom is an “indispensable requisite for unfettered teaching and research in institutions of higher education” that has been seen as a cornerstone that enables our work since 1940. It is framed as the “core mission” of the American Association of University Professors. But the elements of it that are linked to a “professional standard” are ultimately described as “tied to custom and practice.” They are separate from a legal definition, which requires an understanding of both constitutional and contract law that many of us simply do not have. What this ultimately means is that most members of the Modern Language Association work without a technical or practical understanding of what “academic freedom” really is. We labor under a belief that we are protected by a legal and professional right that makes it possible for us to fully engage in the classroom and in public forums, even if our work challenges traditional modes of thinking or raises difficult questions. But then we see a rescinded job offer—or a graduate student is removed from a classroom after being doxed. If we turn to published essays in hopes of answers we are met with titles that range from the explicit “Academic Freedom Has Limits. Where They Are Isn’t Always Clear” to the more pointed “Can the Adjunct Speak?” And in this context it seems both pressing and timely to outline and then analyze the reach and limitations of  “Academic Freedom.”

This panel takes its departure from an assumption that “Academic Freedom” does not actually extend to all the people or places that many of us imagine it does. Its real and imagined protections have also been troubled by external pressures and internal conflicts that are complex enough to merit a thirty-four page report on its “current legal landscape.” The classroom no longer seems safe even for professors with tenure, in a moment that Twitter can substantially alter an entire career. Any given exchange can be publicized widely, which makes it difficult to use the classroom as a space for intellectual exploration and genuine exchange. Finally, this is even more problematic for adjuncts and graduate student laborers, who are often asked to teach transformative but emotionally and politically complex courses in fields like ethnic studies or queer theory without allegedly requisite protections, which threatens both individuals and entire fields.

This panel seeks to address a series of related questions:

(1) What does academic freedom actually cover?  

(2) What are its paradoxes, ironies, and contradictions?  

(3) Who actually has academic freedom?  Do its protections extend to professors without tenure?  

                  What about graduate student laborers?  

(4) How can we protect ourselves (especially our most vulnerable professors)?

(5) How can we protect the University (especially its most vulnerable areas of study)?

Our hope is that while people may never develop a clear sense of what their rights and protections are, they will leave with a stronger foundation: an overview of the reach, limitations, and complexities of academic freedom, along with some sense of where to turn if their work as professors is threatened.

While professors of all ranks often don’t have anything resembling a clear sense of what academic freedom actually covers, this problem is compounded for lecturers, adjuncts, postdocs, and graduate students, who often teach without these protections or clear policies about what, exactly, we are allowed to teach in the 21st-century university.

The participants:

Jeff Hole (Associate Professor of English at the University of the Pacific) will be talking about his concept “permanent contingency”. He will look particularly at the intensification of managerialism and the continued erosion of shared governance and tenure.

Laura Goldblatt (Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Virginia) will talk about parallels between the acceleration of contract labor for service workers and the casualization of labor and what that means for academic freedom. She will use the events at UVA on August 11th, 2017 as a way to illustrate some of the dire consequences of this particular combination.

Doug Steward (Director of the Association of Departments of English at the MLA) will look at why/how some fields or methodologies are more vulnerable to attacks on academic freedom. The very scholarly norms that appropriately enforce disciplinary rigor may also be used to punish heterodox methods that reenvision a field.

Michael Berube (Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature; Chair, University Faculty Senate Pennsylvania State University) will focus specifically on extramural-speech cases that are especially tricky because they involve students other than the students in one’s classes.

Jennifer Ruth (Professor of Film Studies at Portland State University) will address several topics, including the benefits and tensions of a unionized campus with regards to academic freedom, the difference between rolling contracts and teaching-intensive tenure with regards to academic freedom, the question of whether Faculty Senate Resolutions or other blanket statements regarding academic freedom really do anything to protect contingent faculty speech, and the issues arising with the spread of Offices of Global Diversity and Inclusion in relation to academic freedom.  





Attend a CSGHS-sponsored panel! This one: on writing job-related statements

Join us on Sunday, January 6 from 8:30 – 9:45 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency – Roosevelt 1  for what promises to be a practical roundtable requested by graduate students to shed light on the many statements one must write to successfully navigate the job market: 627: Storying Statements: Writing research, teaching, and diversity statements.

Here’s our pitch:

As graduate students and recent graduates of Ph.D. programs prepare materials for job applications, they are often told to consider the rhetorical situation of their applications, shifting their narratives to appeal to specific details in job advertisements and to speak to the details of campus and departmental cultures they can glean from websites. As they do so, their sense of their own narrative trajectory from graduate school into the job market can get muddied. While they may have a demonstrated passion and competency for research and teaching, otherwise articulate young scholars may falter as they consider how to best represent themselves in a high-stakes situation. In recent years, the need to draft cover letters, along with researching, teaching, and diversity statements have only added to the confusion as graduate students question: which details of my C.V. belong in each? How do I make a compelling case for myself without resorting to vague clichés or sounding too esoteric? How do I connect my teaching and research?

This roundtable, presided over by a CSGSH committee member and current graduate student, draws upon the experience of five professionals in the humanities as three discuss how they advise graduate students as they write such statements, and as two discuss how they recently and successfully drafted materials that landed them tenure-track positions in a competitive job market. All five will address the ways that graduate students might successfully approach writing each of these statements as unique documents which also align to construct a persuasive story about their capabilities as researchers, scholars, and administrators.

Below, find some of the questions, drafted and compiled by graduate students, that the speakers will respond to:

  • How can graduate students effectively communicate their research, teaching, and diversity goals without resorting to clichés? By extension, what are some examples of over-used phrases or ideas that applicants ought to avoid?
  • How can graduate students connect their statements so that they speak to one another without a great deal of repetition?
  • How can graduate write effectively about their specialized research for a hiring committee which might contain both specialists and generalists in their field?
  • How can graduate students effectively integrate their scholarly identity with their approach to teaching in their teaching statement? For example, how can graduate students express the connection between their dissertation topic/Ph.D. specialization and some of the less specialized tasks of many jobs, such as teaching first-year language classes or composition?
  • How can graduate students effectively communicate their teaching philosophies in a clear, interesting way if they have been forced to use a common syllabus or assignments, or were not the instructor of record for many classes during their Ph.D. program?
  • Are diversity statements meant to show the applicant’s experience working with marginalized communities, or are they meant to be more of a ‘vision’ statement? By extension, how can graduate students show, rather than simply tell, how their service, teaching, and scholarly experiences have prepared them to contribute to institutional diversity of thought?

More questions you’d like us to consider? Email Kristina Reardon at ahead of the convention, and as presider, she’ll distribute the questions to panelists ahead of time and also pose any that are not addressed in the panel itself.


Roya Biggie (Knox College)

Julia Istomina (Yale University)

Elizabeth Lenaghan (Northwestern University)

Sushil Oswal (University of Washington)

Kristina Reardon, CSGSH member, presider (University of Connecticut / College of the Holy Cross)

Niko Tracksdorf, CSGSH member (University of Rhode Island)

Finding your way at your first MLA – 2019 Chicago edition

One of the most common things first-time graduate student attendees report about MLA is feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size of the convention. Unlike a graduate student conference or regional conference, the MLA has dozens of panels running simultaneously–and you just might find that you wish you could attend several talks in the same hour. And few first-time attendees realize that there is a lot to do at the MLA convention aside from attending sessions.

Our best advice? Know that you simply can’t do it all, and try not to get overwhelmed by that fact. Try using the MLA 2019 app to plan out your days. (Here are the links for downloading the MLA 2019 app for Android and for Apple. And here is the online program if you need it.)

In the app, you can browse by day, session type, subject, and more. Try browsing by subject first. Look for topics related to your dissertation, project, or research (and that includes papers you might be writing for seminars if you are still in coursework!). When you click in a subject title, like “Spanish literature,” you’ll further get to select by date–so you can ensure you’re only looking at panels for the days you plan to attend. While the title of the session can help, they are often (necessarily) a bit general. We find that clicking on the title and reading the titles for each individual presentation is most helpful. This will give you a firmer sense of what will be discussed in the session.

Then check out the Connected Academics site to start, as it has a list of sessions which are particularly useful to professional development for graduate students. Highlighted sessions including talks on editing, publishing, developing a digital identity, and securing funding in the humanities.

When you find a session you can’t miss, use the app to add it–along with the date, time, and location–to your in-app convention schedule. That way, you’ll have each day planned out and you won’t have to wonder where to go each day. Our best advice is to do this a few days before the convention, or as you travel to the convention so that you don’t need to worry about where you will go each day.

Try to focus on choosing two to three sessions a day to start. Any more than that can feel overwhelming for a first-time attendee, and you will likely find that there are other things you’d like to do during the day at the convention as well.

What else can you do at the convention? We’ve culled a list of things to do from the MLA website and compiled it here for you:

  • Visit the graduate student lounge in the Hyatt Regency Chicago (Dusable, third floor, West Tower) to connect with other grad students attending the convention–and to charge your phones or devices between sessions and interviews. Hours are 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday and 8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. on Sunday. We’ll have door prizes at 11:45 a.m. daily!
  • Join an MLA cultural excursion or explore Chicago on your own. We like this site that posts free and budget-friendly things to do in Chicago, from museums to cultural centers to historic sites.
  • Considering a career outside academia? Visit the Possible Futures Career Fair on January 4 (Fairmont Chicago, Imperial Ballroom, level B2, 1 – 4:30 p.m.) and meet with representatives from mission-driven companies looking for candidates with your skills and knowledge.
  • Ready to publish? MLA members attending the convention can sign up for a 20 minute chat with an editor who is a member of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ), an allied organization of the MLA. The service gives scholars the opportunity to meet one-on-one with an experienced editor to discuss any aspect of the publication process. Location: Columbus EF in the Hyatt, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. on January 4 and 9-11 a.m. on January 5. Sign up on the CELJ MLA Commons site.

A few final things:

  • Don’t forget to bring your badge or pick it up when you arrive–and don’t lose it! There is a $20 replacement fee. You can get your badge, or register on-site, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago (Ballroom level, East Tower) and the Sheraton Grand Chicago (Lobby level). The registration areas are open on 3 January from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., on 4 and 5 January from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and on 6 January from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.
  • Check out the Convention Daily each day. People get sick, cancellations happen, new events arise, and sometimes rooms change. Grab a copy of the Convention Daily on January 3, 4, 5, and 6 for the latest convention news.
  • Follow us on Twitter at @MLAgrads. You can also follow other MLA accounts, such as @MLAConvention and @MLAConnect, for updated information on the convention daily. And don’t forget to add your two cents: you can post about your convention experience and connect with others with hashtag #mla19.