Haikus for a tr…

Haikus for a true revolution
(or a software glitch)


Teaching college sucks.
Textbooks might be wide open
But not the adults.


Cognitive threats hold
biological stockholms.
These lectures don’t stop.


Will your teaching touch
on more than autotron-ing?
Would you pass their test?

IV     (...What the hell are we fighting for?)

When knowing makes so
little difference,
cld touch offer more?

Poetry by kyra0city

A Crisis of Privilege (and an Opportunity)

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”
Helen Keller

“I have come to know that if we sell one house to a Negro family, then 90 to 95 percent of our white customers will not buy into the community. That is their attitude, not ours.” (builders had no say over the resale of houses)

“The rock, weighing less than an ounce carried tons of hatred with it.’

(Aug 1957 Quotes from NYT  during integration of first suburb in Levittown, PA.)

This past semester, as I do every semester, I confront the unconfrontable of Jet 2nd Family Levittownrace and racism whether I am teaching ethnomusicology, sociology or a racism course. Being a black woman professor means dealing with race as well as gender politics.

In early December 2012, a Facebook friend named Suzanne Broughel insisted I post a Facebook thread and dialogue on race and privilege about my final weeks teaching two intro to sociology course last semester .

The question reprinted below led to such a great discussion – which yielded so many great resources. Suzanne was so captivated by the conversation that she pulled all the comments from my Facebook wall and archived the resources mentioned for easy use. Thanks Suzanne!! And now I share it with you all here on my blog.

This thread includes sociologists, museum curators,filmmakers,  and a host of other folks from different occupations but all who are committed to the transformation of conversations of race and other “differences” just as I am.

December 7th, 2012 – A Crisis of Privilege

On Dec 7th, I asked a question of my social network on Facebook after a long day of teaching. I asking just a week after another colleague ethnomusicologist Joe Schloss, Ph.D. had asked a professional question about teaching and race matters that also solicited a great deal of interaction. So I was following Joe’s lead when I posted the following knowing I’d get a response at least from sociologist David J. Leonard, Ph.D. and historian Mark Naison. Ph.D..

I knew there were a number of scholars and interested intellectuals who might reply. Sometimes being a black woman talking race incurs a shot the messenger phenomenon and my white male colleagues’ voices were useful to bridge a gap I was sensing after an extrememly long day of teaching. Their comments as well as others’ saved me hours of hand-wringing.

Here’s how I led up to my question:

In the last section of my Intro to Sociology course, two white students — one a 20 y/o 2nd gen Russian man and the other a 2nd gen Irish woman whose in her late 50s — voiced their discomfort with the ‘privilege’ part of white privilege as a term. The male student said he could understand that minorities are disadvantaged but he doesn’t like the term ‘privilege’ for whites. How would you handle this educational moment? Would love some suggestions. I have some but I could use some outside insight into how this black woman professor might help them see, feel, and understand what is meant by white privilege. The textbook we used is stellar in discussing it. I already shared a video of Peggy McIntosh. I am sharing this video with them today (EHL: Little Rock Nine – Elizabeth Eckford http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAPOvdOEYE8) but I realize these historic images keep it at a distance for contemporary thinking. Any video suggestions or exercises you use that I might borrow?

How do I get them from the personal view of “privilege” to a sociological view of it? — exercises or websites are welcome.”

That was my plea. I never shared the Eckford video with them because one of the sources below trumped it for me. I showed the episode of the documentary Race: The Power of Illusion titled “The House We Live In” about the history of redlining and housing discrimination in the U.S.. The next day of classes went extremely well AND I learned so much more from the unique demographics of Baruch College when we did the privilege line exercise. More another day on that.

Here’s a short list of resources from the online conversation.  But scroll down below this list for the actual comment thread (edited), which Suzanne urged that I blog and she (as I do) strongly recommend reading for a more nuanced view of this challenging topic and more tips on how to approach it.


The Privilege Walk Exercise

Article: “Dying While Black” by Dr. Mark Naison, Fordham College

Graphic on Intersectionality: here and the same graphic on another website: http://judge-me-not.weebly.com/fancy-terminology.html

Film: Cracking the Codes: The System of Inequity http://crackingthecodes.org/news/ or http://world-trust.org/mirrors-of-privilege-making-whiteness-visible/

Book: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander  http://www.newjimcrow.com

Article: white privilege and definitions  http://www.mpassociates.us/pdf/WIWP.pdf

Film: Jane Elliot, The Angry Eye

Book: Dalton Conley’s untextbook “You May Ask Yourself

Film: Documentary “The House We Live In” part of Race: The Power of Illusion

Here’s the Longer Comment Thread from Dec 7th that followed my update (an edited version):

Some of these people I only knew via Facebook. In fact many. I do know Kendra Hamilton from my former days at the University of Virginia, Ali Garrison from grad school at Michigan’s School of Music,  and Liz Marley from a conference for global transformation hosted by the Wisdom division of Landmark Education. I recently met David at a speaking engagement in NYC this past year for the first time. So this conversation thread is a mix of people giving freely to help me solve my dilemma.

Kyra: In the last section of my Intro to Sociology course, two white students — one a 20 y/o 2nd gen Russian man and the other a 2nd gen Irish woman whose in her late 50s — voiced their discomfort with the ‘privilege’ part of white privilege as a term. The male student said he could understand that minorities are disadvantaged but he doesn’t like the term ‘privilege’ for whites. How would you handle this educational moment? Would love some suggestions. I have some but I could use some outside insight into how this black woman professor might help them see, feel, and understand what is meant by white privilege. The textbook we used is stellar in discussing it. I already shared a video of Peggy McIntosh. I am sharing this video with them today (EHL: Little Rock Nine – Elizabeth Eckford http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAPOvdOEYE8) but I realize these historic images keep it at a distance for contemporary thinking. Any video suggestions or exercises you use that I might borrow?

How do I get them from the personal view of “privilege” to a sociological view of it? — exercises or websites are welcome.”

Mark Naison Kyra. See if this short piece I wrote a couple of years back might help http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/2009/07/dying-while-black.html

David J. Leonard Have you done the privilege line exercise where they take 1 step forward and backward? It sounds like you have already presented it to them; resistance is evidence of their privilege

Mark Naison I think one of the problems is that not all whites are equally privileged and if you don’t account for class you can get moralistic on them. Nevertheless, white have a huge advantage even when they are working class, even when they have been in trouble with the law. You might want to look at statistics on the black white wealth gap and discuss why it is so great. But this is a very tough subject under the best of circumstances.

David J. Leonard I think any exercise has to account for race, gender, class, geography, sexuality; to echo Mark’s point, statistics are always a good place to start and end with

Kendra Hamilton Try talking about intersectionality–most people don’t like talking about privilege because they feel disadvantaged in one way or another. Talking about interlocking systems of advantage and disadvantage allow them to “add up” the privileges they enjoy vis-a-vis others. I back channeled you the graphic I use on your kyraocity account.

Taleta Jones Perhaps you could assign an “essay” using the simple textbook definitions of the words “Black” & “White”… Perhaps this will induce that “Moment of Clarity” for your students, Professor…

Jackie Peraza Kyra – They have a different map of reality. It’s rare to be able to get someone to expand their map unless you can get them to question their own belief systems. Have you tried asking what ‘white privilege’ might look like to them *if* it existed?

Karyn Beth Berger Discomfort is a part if the learning process….

Shiree Dyson [curator of MOADSF.org] Kyra show them the film Cracking the Codes: The System of Inequity http://crackingthecodes.org/news/ or http://world-trust.org/mirrors-of-privilege-making-whiteness-visible/

Liz Marley [from U.K.]  I think the work of Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow i.e. the war on drugs / that there are more African-American males in prison now than were ever slaves in 1850. That 34- 36% (I think) African-American) males have permanently lost their right to vote in some states due to ‘convict’ status. This is not even on a ‘white’ radar. And not even knowing it is difficult to get a taxi (until you shared and others since). And when I was 20 or so I had to digest the term ‘white’ and in last the few years ‘white privilege’. I just never had to think of myself as ‘white’ i.e. childhood in NE Enger-land or ‘priviledged’. Period. And get individuals who have experienced extreme abuse not ‘privileged’ (regardless race). Think important TWO WORDS are read together i.e. it’s not privilege as we ‘know it’. May be place to come from. Use if useful. Let me have feedback if anything inaccurate/off the mark. Thanks.

Kyra Gaunt Thanks David, the privilege line exercise is perfect. Karyn, discomfort is already there because as a black woman I don’t always have the privilege of talking about race without it turning back on me (that I am being racist). So there’s discomfort and yes I use it all the time but it’s always a dangerous place for black professors. I had a white student try to sue me after teaching my first racism course. Thankfully we resolved it before the last day of class but for 6 weeks it was hellish.

Kyra Gaunt Great article on white privilege and definitions: http://www.mpassociates.us/pdf/WIWP.pdf

Mark Naison Someone should film a Black woman professor and a White male professor teaching the same subject, with the same material, in demographically similar classes. It would be very interesting to compare student responses.

Natalie D. A. Bennett “white” people aren’t born that way, they become that. You have to show the students how they become white and are assigned privilege. Being 2nd generation Irish and Russian means something; you can’t dismiss it or hide it under “white” or they will not get the message.

William ‘Fridge’ Franklin What helped me understand that I had male privilege while being black was to mull over the notion that all other things being equal, your life will probably be easier as a male of any group than as a female. When you are talking about large numbers of people, that probability becomes a privilege. It doesn’t always work out at the individual level.

Ali Garrison (a white Canadian whose partner and father of her child is a black African) You’ve probably already thought of it, but just in case… for me, the white mother of a black child, a tough but a crucial perspective on the healing and teaching of empathy is the work that Jane Elliot has done. Can you show some of her work to them? She is a ruthless and brilliant warrior for the cause. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neEVoFODQOE

Kyra Gaunt Thanks to everyone who offered guidance, material and exercises. I used the privilege line that David J. Leonard suggested and a great graphic on intersectionalities the Kendra Hamilton sent me from women’s studies. Used in both of my sections. Learned that focusing simply on the male student’s question was less divisive than tackling all kinds of privileges. As Mark Naison said all whites are not equally privileged – a critical point to highlight as a black professor for students who are triggered by my very presence as the authority. This was a needed insight to have become evident in a highly diverse immigrant and citizen student population at Baruch College. That particular student really appreciated it and others did too. I tackled Eurocentrism, heterosexism, colorism (in one section I gad them line themselves up by color light to dark) and class. We spent alot of time on that and discovered that Asians sre thriving economically in ways I wouldn’t have imagined at at public school. It was quite effective. The exercise also allowed the Jewish immigrants from Russia to share their privilege and lack of it (antisemetism) and an Asian looking student (that’s what “others” see) who wears a Mohawk share his embarrassing times when his mother would speak Spanish in public (Anglocentrism and a great moment of complexifying race/ethnicity) and add in a Latina like him shared how that privilege caused conformity to the norm. They both no longer show their multilingualism in dominant public settings.

Kyra Gaunt I’ve been using Dalton Conley’s untextbook and it does a fabulous job at complexifying the issue of race as one nowadays of white vs. nonwhite rather than white vs black. Highly recommend the text.

Denise J. Hart The documentary “The House We Live In” (part of Race: The Power of Illusion) is superb! Highly recommend it for this discussion. Clear, contemporary in examination with history to support the contemporary contextualization. Good luck!

Aishah Shahidah Simmons Kyra, thank you for this post. While I haven’t had this same exact experience in my classes this semester, it is something that I’ve had to face. There are so many wonderful suggestions. I use the word privilege and I also struggle its use. I believe I struggle with it because it doesn’t always get at the heart of the matter which is white supremacist structures, which marginalizes so many, including disenfranchised white people… Simultaneously there are other structures in which traditionally marginalized people benefit from even in the midst of their marginalization. What I try to do is discuss all of the ways that so many of us most especially in the U.S. occupy many spaces of privilege while simultaneously (possibly inadvertently) marginalizing others. When students (people) are occupying spaces/places of power and are resistant to it, I ask them to interrogate their resistance and explain why/how they don’t think they have power… These are not easy conversations to have at all and yet they are so necessary…. I’m still processing and learning. Again, thank you for this post.

Ali Garrison I think with something as important as empathy, we can try to be academic and intellectual about it, but nothing will teach us to feel what others feel like experiential learning. Hence the efficacy of Jane Elliot’s work. (The Angry Eye).

What a brilliant exchange!!

If you found this useful, insightful or helpful, please say so! Leave a comment and share this post. Thank you!

The Power of a Counter-Offer in Life

Over a year ago, I decided to “defect” from academia and various twists and turns in life have led me back to the classroom for a little while longer. This summer I am teaching two cultural anthropology courses at Baruch College-CUNY. Each class has 19 students.

Every semester and every class I teach always has a unique ecology based around some theme that often relates to empowering emerging adults to own their own greatness.

I have begun to think of ecologies more and more in this context because I am interested in the sustainability of ambitious thinking and adulthood.  Social ecology “is defined as the science of the relationships between human populations and communities and their environments.” The relationships between students/teachers in a classroom, the communities in which  an institution is based and the communities students and the teacher represent as well as the urban environment of Baruch College in NYC are but one example of a complex ecology. The classroom alone is one, too.  

College students today, no matter what level–first years or seniors–do not view themselves inside a context of greatness. They are rarely related to, each and every one of them, as great citizens or great human beings and for the most part, as a few of my students confirmed this last week of the summer session, they await permission from their professor to assert any identification with that greatness. It simply never occurs to the members of that ecology to express themselves, transact from one instance to another, as student-as-adult.

Faculty committees from CUNY to Cali universities can alter their curriculum all they want, but if there isn’t a significant shift in student-as-adult, rather this or that student functioning and interacting as an adult, there can never be a revolution in learning in higher education. Not to mention that the cultural or institutional environment itself cannot be altered by a few curricular changes in a course in this or that major or liberal arts requirement.

Without a sea change in the entire ecology, what I sometimes call “a sustainable classroom model” where the true resources are not the books but are the people and their social openness, transparency, connectedness and empowerment, there cannot be any real change or transformation of learning and thinking.

So I constantly engage my students individually and collectively in a conversation for greatness and one mechanism I use is implemented primarily at the end of the semester. It’s introduced during the first days of the course but it’s true power comes at the end of the course.

Based on the premise that there is always 100% of the course left, I require students to do complete work to pass the course. They must complete 100% of the homework no matter what by the end of the class. AND they have an option on all assignments to “counter-offer.”

A counter-offer requires a student to assess:

  1. what would be of value in completing what’s expected of them for a specific assignment and
  2. what would not undercut what I , as the professor, am expecting of them in a way that would not be belittling of their greatness as a student, adult, citizen and human being.

This requires engaging them in a conversation for what it means to be “adult” in their relationship with themselves, the professor and their work. It is not an easy conversation.

An ebook I wrote with a former cultural anthropology course in the Spring of 2010 asked students to write a short essay about “what mattered to you” and it took those 28 students 3-4 weeks to write a 300-600 word essay because no one ever asks them what they thought … about themselves and their lives. This in my mind confirms a hidden and unspoken phenomena in most college classrooms. We are perpetuating a reality of “academic” thought, rather than “real thinking” (yes,  I need to add scare quotes here because it has become an abstractions in most classrooms.

We ended up naming the ebook SPEAK!: The MisEducation of College Students but I remember during the production process, a student asked me what writing about what mattered to them had to do with Baruch College. A good Socratic method of teaching requires that we explore the questions, not find quick answers. I responded, “I don’t  know. What do you think?” Another student piped up, “We’re Baruch College!!” And so the process had truly begun. That ebook has been read by over 7000 times since May of 2010.  In the past is was customary for a student’s final work to be read by one person–the professor–and that it had no reach whatsoever including that feedback from their work was rarely returned to the student before they received their final grade. So in essence any feedback didn’t matter.

These students continue to impact people beyond their classroom and what mattered to them continues to inspire students and readers elsewhere long after they’ve left my classroom.


So here’s what the counter-offer provides students. A chance to negotiate their work inside a commitment they have witnessed me negotiating with them all semester. It asks them to step into my role while creating their own accountability and responsibility.  It asks them to think rather than simply having thoughts.  There is a great talk by former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz for a lecture at West Point that speaks to this:

I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire and declare the job done and move on to the next thing. (Solitude and Leadership)

If you can create a context, a listening for that you may tailor the lessons to your own needs in consultation with the professor, what you find is at first students do not believe it. They rarely remember this is an option. Then as the semester progresses and the gain confidence in relationship to my style and performance as a professor, they have an inkling that it might be possible.

In the last weeks of class, I remind them that they must do complete work with integrity (wholeness not rightness) and complete 100% of their homework AND that there is 100% of the game left. This kicks them into overdrive mode and into the need for requesting a counter-offer.

And that is when student-as-adult begins to show up for themselves. They have to see it as a real need and possibility and then things start popping.

I’ll let you know how it goes this week but I am already seeing them start to thrive from their own need and drive rather than trying to simply meet my expectations.

The Liberal Arts Mission – Where and When Does Learning Take Place?

Before I begin, I want to thank my friend and author Jim Palmer for mulling over these ideas with me. I learn so much from our interactions. There is an open space waiting for us — let’s meet there.


I Have a Question: Where and when does “learning” actually take place for young adults in the college classroom? Can it actually be measured by acquiring a set of core skills and practices? Or is it an a-ha moment defined by the learner? Is it core knowledge that must be “learned” that can be tested? And is thatreal learning to a student in the 21st century today? Or is that a pitfall of consumer-driven learning? 

I am not sure I have the answers but I know one thing: If you asked a professor versus a student “where and when does learning happen,” you’d get two completely different sets of answers…and a lot more questions about what a higher education means to a student as an emerging adult today. By adult, I mean, someone empowered to create worlds of their own design, with mentors and people whom they mentor; who are ready, willing and able to embrace and be empowered by any communication, eye to eye with the remarkable complexity and oneness of humanity; who are well, i.e., willing to participate wherever they are mentally, physically, spiritually, psychically in a classroom and in their society, and willing to participate NOW not four years or more later. What if a student was engaged as if an active, engaged and empowered adult from the start.


That is not how most students show up in my classroom but it is how I engage them from the start. And this is perhaps speaks to the crux of my concern with higher education today. I don’t think most faculty even ask the adults that enter our classroom where and when learning happens for them? And students surely discuss outside of class but are rarely given any authority to discuss it in class with the so-called adults. But this would require thinking not thoughting not only from the students but from the teachers-as-adults. 

I think our scientific, analytical, and academic “thoughting” (all from the past and rarely engaging those unique souls who enter our classroom in collaborative thinking) has fouled our approach to discovering learning. If we think that “learning” is something “real” that we should be able to measure it in time and space, where and when does the act or action that we call “learning” actually take place for students-as-adults?


This begs the question who gets to define “where and when learning happens” and how can the definer be sure it has happened for a student, for another human being, for a student as an adult rather than a child (in loco parentis)? Poet Antonio Porchia once said “I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received.” An even larger inquiry here is who is classroom learning for? Who is the benefactor? The teacher? The student? Each and every student? The family and networks of that student? Their community? They future boss? Or the society that they live in as a whole? I say the notion of individual learning is costing us greatly and its time for a shift in how we think about learning itself and who defines it. 

When students act like what is most important is addressing the teacher or showing off what they learned for me as the instructor, I always share this: Why do need even need to gather in a room together if it is not about learning about people right here in the room not the books? I say there are 600 years of knowledge in a room of 30 students each with forms of knowledge that cannot be replicated in a book and I have 48 of them. The book is not the knowledge, we are. The book is a representation of the author’s knowledge.

So I create environments for failure more so than creating the experience of learning as I was taught in my undergraduate through Ph.D. studies. The learning is actually on them to determine as adults. What would it be like to create an environment where the truth can be told about learning. 

We, ALL OF US — EACH AND EVERY ONE, both professors and students are not honoring the liberal arts mission statement that says: “we are committed to producing great citizens, future professionals, and great human beings.” We sure aren’t concerned with testing this. Here’s a test. You can always tell what you are committed to by the results you produce. It would be more accurate to say “we are committed to producing great citizens, future professionals and great human beings as long as you make the grade, don’t speak out in class, and don’t hijack the professor’s lesson plan or schedule.”  We are by no means committed to each and every student being great citizens and human beings. Check the results.

40-50% of 18 million young adults currently attending over 6500 institutions of higher education in the U.S. dropout. Perhaps we should begin to honor our word in the matter. Otherwise, this perhaps more than any other factor leads to replicating racisms and sexisms and training young adults to honor the status quo–the way people in existing positions of power do things and not having a say about it until after class is over–all in the name of education. 

Last week, the theme in my introduction to anthropology course was “Language”. As usual  students took the online quiz before Tuesday’s class. I have a 95% completion rate when I allow them to take the quiz as often as they like but I also engage them in what kind of learning they are operating in in the process. I ask them to notice if they just memorize the correct corresponding letter they got wrong when they take the quiz again or are they actually creating their own system of noticing their failures and learning from them.

Asking students to evaluate their own approach to learning is essential to empowering learners for life not just for the five-minute university where your education is measured by what you remember not only five years from now but five minutes after the final exam.

I am interested in who each and every student in my classroom measures themselves to be at the start of a class, when an a-ha moment gets them, and at the end of a class and many points in between. I don’t give exams, but i do ask them to assess their own learning in a final reflective essay. Can they answer these questions, esp. in an anthropology course or a racism course, in ways they themselves find enriching or meaningful:

  • How have I grown as a human being? as a citizen? as a professional honoring my future now?
  • How has this experience expanded my view of the world?
  • How do I understand my culture–my learned ways of thinking, feeling, believing and behaving–in new ways?
  • Have I gotten something that aids what matters to me in the process? In other words, has this been of value and has what matters to me been honored in the process?
  • What conversation, topic or person in our classroom made a difference for you and why?
Too often our final exams and projects are about outputting something for the professor to evaluate. I always make my final assignment a reflective paper answering questions like those above. 


I began doing this reflective paper when my non-linear style of teaching was being judged by a typical question on student evaluations: “Was the course or course instructor organized?” This is a tricky question when you work off of students’ conversations to excavate new knowledge, new conversations, new actions that challenge the status quo in thought and deed. Having students focus on themselves and not on my delivery changed everything for them and for me. I started to really appreciate the value of the environment I create for students-as-adults rather than kids doing what they are told when Sila, a student who never talked in my classroom, wrote: “I’ve been an addict since I was 15 and this class gave me back my voice. I prepared for discussions by reading the New York Times. I had a breakthough in finding my voice in this class.” She did above average work in the course but she never talked. How would I have ever known what she had gotten without the essay? 

So it gives me absolute pleasure and wonder when I read this comment on the Facebook page of my Racism course the other day. It was a comment from a brilliant freshman whom I had engaged with at our last meeting Thursday, March 5th in ways that seemingly confronted her publicly and also invited her to explore other ways of being than being “smart.” Her comment read:

When I leave this classroom, I feel empowered to be unadulteratedly me -I hadn’t realized that the one aspect of me that I’d readily forsaked was the one thing that might result in my liberation from intellectual constraints!

This act marked the beginning of learning for her…and for me last week. Thank you, Kimberly and the class for whom without their listening none of it would have been possible!! Ah, to not knowing!

“I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong.” — Richard Feynman

PS. I am experimenting with not worrying about getting it all right but committing to publishing thoughts anyway. Takes courage but it keeps me blogging.

Kyra D. Gaunt, Ph.D.
2009 TED Fellow
Associate Professor at Baruch College-CUNY
Voicing “the unspoken” through song, scholarship and social media