In Defense of Dirty Laundry | Vitae

In Defense of Dirty Laundry

By David J. Leonard

January 15, 2014

We lament, vent about, and dissect student interactions all the time. From hallway conversations to conference sessions, from publications to dinner parties, shop talk is commonplace. And it’s generally accepted.

But now, of course, that talk is moving to a new space: Facebook. To some observers, this is a thing to be bemoaned. In a post on The Conversation, Chad Abushanab spells out this view: Facebook, he argues, is not an appropriate place “to air your classroom’s dirty laundry.”

“What makes this approach problematic,” he writes, “is that you are essentially having a conversation about the decisions of a student in your professional care in a public forum without inviting that student to participate.”

Sounds reasonable enough, right? But there are two problems with this line of thinking.

The first is that the technology isn’t the issue; the way we make use of it is. Facebook can be used for good or evil—as a source of power or a source of harm. Irrespective of the technology used, shouldn’t we question the nature of the conversations we have, rather than the tools we use to have them?

Which brings me to the second problem with Abushanab’s denunciation: Why reduce all faculty conversations on Facebook to “airing dirty laundry,” “putting it out there,” and “venting”? Sure, that stuff happens. But there’s more than narcissistic grousing going on here. These social-media spaces exist in response to the very real isolation and individualism that permeates academia. And these online conversations can be helpful, cathartic, and empowering.

To dismiss them as nothing more than cattiness erases the pedagogical importance of discussions around classroom dynamics. Are teaching forums merely spaces for venting? Should we dismiss the deluge of journal articles and books dedicated to real-life classroom scenarios as inappropriate? No, these communities are about self-care, about preservation, and about growth. They are about education and the desire of so many teachers to continue to improve inside and outside the classroom.

Abushanab suggests that it would be more advisable for me to raise student issues with a colleague who may be teaching that same student, rather than chatting with a larger group that has no direct knowledge of the situation. But that presumes that face-to-face conversations and discussions among campus colleagues are possible.

In a world of small and squeezed-together departments, officeless adjuncts, 4-4 loads, “road scholars” teaching on multiple campuses, and growing service and scholarship demands, weekly meetings to discuss classroom dynamics aren’t necessarily possible. The weekly lunch at the faculty club—where professors supposedly gather to process class happenings—seems like something out of the Hollywood imagination, if it ever existed.

Beyond the question of feasibility, there’s another question: Would you actually rather talk about this stuff with your campus colleagues than with your social-media peers?

Within my social-media community I see all sorts of descriptions of student behavior. There are posts about students who miss class, yet come to office hours to ask, “Did I miss anything important?” There’s a status update bemoaning yet another incident of plagiarism. There’s a post lamenting an essay that doesn’t distinguish between the Civil War and the civil-rights movement.

Venting and commiserating aside, though, many more posts seek advice and help: “I have students that are using their computers in class and instead of paying attention, they are on Facebook. What should I do?” This is the type of question for which it may make more sense to seek support and advice from colleagues at campuses across the country, from colleagues who teach at different types of schools and within different disciplines, than from those who share your own classrooms, students, and academic culture.

More importantly, Facebook and other social-media platforms provide a space where academics can discuss issues that might otherwise be dismissed by colleagues. How many faculty of color have turned to Facebook following a conversation with a white colleague that ended with “I think you are reading too much into the fact that students refuse to address you by Dr. or Professor”?

How many female professors have used Twitter to discuss sexual harassment or sexism within the classroom or on their evaluations? Might an audience of friends and social-media peers respond differently than male colleagues on campus, whose privilege and misogyny may preclude them from even hearing these issues? In other words, every faculty member doesn’t have an equal ability to share and process the inequality she or he may encounter inside and outside the classroom.

Continue reading at  In Defense of Dirty Laundry | Vitae.

Athletic Programs’ Twitter Jitters – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Athletic Programs’ Twitter Jitters

February 25, 2013, 12:43 pm

By David J. Leonard

A few months into his inaugural season at Washington State University last fall, the football coach Mike Leach faced yet another controversy. Plagued by allegations that he had mistreated a player while coaching at Texas Tech and a reputation as a bit of a loose canon, Leach was about to wade into what some people consider another form of abuse—barring players from using Twitter.

Reporters from a student news service had provided Leach with evidence that several players apparently posted messages on a social-media site that included negative terms for women and African-Americans. Leach imposed an immediate ban for the entire Cougar football team. “If after today you see anything on Twitter from our team—and I don’t care if it says ‘I love life’—I would like to see it because I will suspend them,” he announced.

Leach’s decision is nothing new. In 2010, Chris Petersen (Boise State University) decided that intercollegiate athletics and social media were incompatible. The next year, Steve Spurrier (University of South Carolina) and Turner Gill (University of Kansas) followed suit. Then Mississippi State’s basketball coach, Rick Stansbury, took away his team’s tweeting privileges after a player criticized the team on Twitter. “The reason we decided to not allow our players to have a Twitter account is we feel like it will prevent us from being able to prepare our football program to move forward. Simple as that.” Tell that to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose road to NCAA punishment started with a tweet from a player about his lavish lifestyle. UNC would ultimately lose 15 football scholarships—that’s less than 10 characters per scholarship.

Outright bans have not been the only approach. Some institutions have suspended players for tweets. A Lehigh University student-athlete was disciplined for retweeting a racial slur; at Western Kentucky University, officials suspended a player who did the unthinkable—criticizing oh-so-important fans in social media. At Boston College, a women’s soccer player was suspended because of several tweets about Jerry Sandusky.

Other colleges are employing commercial monitoring services like Varsity Monitor, Centrix Social (recently acquired by Varsity Monitor), and UDiligence to flag the use of a growing number of taboo words. According to The Chronicle, the University of Louisville nixes references to drugs, sex, and alcohol; the University of Kentucky, agents’ names.

Continue reading at Athletic Programs’ Twitter Jitters – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

NewBlackMan (in Exile): Serena Williams: “Ain’t I a Champion?”

Serena Williams: “Ain’t I a Champion?”

by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

On Saturday, Serena Williams captured her 5th Wimbledon title (later in the day, she and Venus would secure a double’s title as well). Since 1999, the Williams sisters have captured 10 titles at the all-England club. Yet, for each of them, this success has not come without trials and tribulations. Over the last few years, Serena has suffered countless injures, including a blood clot in her lungs. Battling insomnia, depression, physical ailments, and the tragedy of her sister’s murder, Serena has overcome obstacles far more challenging than a Sharapova backhand. “I definitely have not been happy,” Williams announced in 2011. “Especially when I had that second surgery (on my foot), I was definitely depressed. I cried all the time. I was miserable to be around.” In other words, Serena Williams has secured greatness on and off the court, thriving in spite of tremendous hardship.

Within a culture that thrives on stories of redemption, that celebrates resilience and determination, the career of Serena Williams reads like a Hollywood screenplay. Yet, her career has been one marred by the politics of hate, the politics of racism and sexism. Last year I wrote about the treatment she has faced from fans and media alike:

What is striking about the comments and several of the commentaries as well, is the demonization of Serena Williams. Focusing on her body (reinforced by the many pictures that sexualize Williams), her attitude, and her shortcomings as a player, the responses pathologize Williams. “The Williams sisters have been criticized for lacking ‘commitment’ by refusing to conform to the Spartan training regime of professional tennis, restricting their playing schedules, having too many ‘off-court interests’ in acting, music, product endorsements, fashion and interior design, and their Jehovah’s Witness religion” (McKay and Johnson).…

“The Williams sisters also have been subjected to the carping critical gaze that both structures and is a key discursive theme of ‘pornographic eroticism’,” writes James McKay and Helen Johnson. Similarly, Delia Douglas argues, a “particular version of blackness” is advanced within the representations of the Williams sisters. We see the “essentialist logic of racial difference, which has long sought to mark the black body as inherently different from other bodies. Characterizations of their style of play rely on ‘a very ancient grammar’ of black physicality to explain their athletic success”

This monumental victory also didn’t lead to a celebration, a coronation of the greatest player of her generation (and maybe in history), but instead more of the same. The story of redemption and the beauty of her game isn’t the story found throughout the cyber world, from twitter to the comment section of various sports websites.

Her victory prompted tweets referring to her by the “N Word” and several more about her body and sexuality. Reflecting an atmosphere of racist and sexist violence, of dehumanizing rhetoric, tweets referring to her as a gorilla flowed throughout cyberspace with great frequency (some of the below appeared over the last week).

  • ·      Today a giant gorilla escaped the zoo and won the womens title at Wimbledon… oh that was Serena Williams? My mistake.
  • ·      Serena Williams is a gorilla
  • ·      Watching tennis and listening to dad talk about how Serena Williams looks like gorilla from the mist
  • ·      I don’t see how in the hell men find Serena Williams attractive?! She looks like a male gorilla in a dress, just saying!
  • ·      You might as well just bang a gorilla if you’re going to bang Serena Williams
  • ·      Earlier this week I said that all female tennis players were good looking. I was clearly mistaken: The Gorilla aka Serena Williams.
  • ·      serena williams looks like a gorilla
  • ·      Serena Williams is half man, half gorilla! I’m sure of it.
  • ·      Serena Williams look like a man with tits, its only when she wears weave she looks female tbh, what a HENCH BOLD GORILLA!
  • ·      Serena Williams is a gorilla in a skirt playing tennis #Wimbledon
  • ·      My god Serena Williams is ugly! She’s built like a silver backed gorilla
  • ·      I would hate to come across Serena Williams in a dark alley #nightmare#gorilla#notracist
  • ·      Serena williams is one of the ugliest human beings i’ve ever seen #Gorilla
  • YouTube posts offered similar responses to her victory:
  • ·      A man? look at her body, more like a silver back gorilla. I can easily imagine her charging through the jungle breaking trees while flexing those muscles. Doesn’t help that her nose looks like a gorillas as well. I keep expecting to see her zoo handlers to chain her up after the match before she can escape.
  • ·      Monkey business
  • ·      i ddnt know apes wer allowed in women tennis O_O

It would be a mistake to dismiss these comments as the work of trolls or extremists whose racism and sexism put them outside the mainstream.  Just as the Obamas, just as Dr. Christian Head, just as Mario Balotelli was depicted as King Kong in a recent cartoon, and just as just as soccer andhockey players from throughout the Diaspora face banana peels and monkey chants, the racism raining down on Serena’s victory parade highlights the nature of white supremacy.  It embodies the ways that white supremacy demonizes and imagines blackness as subhuman, as savagery.

Continue reading @ NewBlackMan (in Exile): Serena Williams: “Ain’t I a Champion?”.

NewBlackMan in Exile: Brittney Griner, Women Athletes and the Erotic Gaze

Brittney Griner,
Women Athletes and the Erotic Gaze


by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

With the 40th anniversary of the Title IX, and the recent announcement that for the first time in history American female athletes will outnumber their male teammates at the Olympics, it would be easy to claim victory in the fight against sexism within the world of sports. Dave Zirin, in a recent column about Title IX and Serena Williams, reflected on the importance of this legislation:

There is arguably no piece of progressive legislation that’s touched more people’s lives than Title IX, which allowed young women equal opportunity in education and sports. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, one in thirty-five high school girls played sports forty years ago; one in three do today. Before Title IX, fewer than 16,000 women participated in college sports; today that number exceeds 200,000. All stereotypes about women being too “emotional” to handle sports were answered when the gyms were unlocked, and they arrived in droves. It is a reform that has improved the quality of life for tens of millions of women around the country.

While certainly a landmark piece of legislation that literally and symbolically transformed sporting landscapes throughout the United States more so in the suburbs, Zirin also elucidates the persistence of sexism within sports culture, evident in inequity in pay, coaching disparities, differential treatment from the press, and the intransigent power of stereotypes. Recognizing an incomplete transformation and the need for persistent agitation as to fully realize justice and equality, Zirin depicts sports as a place where dreams remained deferred.

The reasons for Zirin’s muted or skeptical celebration have been on full display this evening with the treatment of Brittney Griner by “sports fans” on Twitter. Illustrating the ways that race, gender, and sexuality constrain and contain, the ways that racism, sexism, and homophobia exists as prism/prison of sporting consumption, and the ways that new media operates as a technology of surveillance and demonization, the treatment of Griner highlights the dreams yet fulfilled in Title IX. What should have been a celebration of her greatness and that of other female athletes is yet another moment of rampant sexism, homophobia and racism. Here are but a few of the tweets that echoed within the twitter world during the ESPYS:



·      And the best male athlete goes to… Britney Griner


·      Britney Griner should have won best male athlete…


·      If Britney Griner‘s straight then I’m an Angels fan.


·      Watchin the #espys……ummmmm Britney Griner sounds like a man……wow!!


·      The Heat win “BestTeam” category really? They should sign Britney Griner then they’d really be a scary team


·      Britney Griner is a man


·      The ESPYs made me cry tonight. Not because of Eric LeGrand or Pat Summit. But because of Britney Griner. That woman frightens me endlessly.


·      Britney griner screaming like a dude lol


·      Britney Griner has to be a dude


·      Britney Griner is a Dude her voice deeper than mine


·      Britney griner looks and sounds like a dude #BestMaleAthlete


·      I would rather have Britney Griner win best male athlete than Lebron. Because she’s WAY more of a man than he will ever be


·      Britney griner… Do your balls grow hair? #nodoubt


·      Cup check in britney griner please


·      I wonder if Britney griner is packing more downstairs than the #bieledong@BeingBielema


·      No one on this planet can tell me that Britney Griner is not a homosexual male. I won’t believe it. #ESPYS


·      Britney Griner’s voice scares me


·      Britney Griner…you just won best FEMALE college athlete, at least go to the ESPY’S dressed like a GIRL! Smh.


·      Are we sure that Britney Griner is really a girl??


·      If Britney Griner wins female athlete of the year at the Espys tonight I’m gonna throw a fit. She’s not even a female


Clearly, the 2012 ESPYS were another moment to mock and ridicule and to otherwise dehumanize Britney Griner. Demonizing her as “unattractive,” questioning her worthiness or the appropriateness of her receiving an award for “best female athlete,” and imaging her as a scary and disgusting Other, the Tweets are yet another reminder of how sports culture remains a space hostile to women, especially those who don’t fulfill male sexual fantasies.  In an effort to fully contextualize these tweets, I thought I would repost piece I wrote for Slam earlier in the year.


Continue reading NewBlackMan in Exile: Brittney Griner, Women Athletes and the Erotic Gaze.

Violence On And Off The Ice

Violence On And Off The Ice:

Twitter Racism And The NHL

By Guest Contributor David J. Leonard


Moments after Joel Ward’s overtime goal secured a playoff victory for the Washington Capitals over Boston last month, the twittersphere exploded with a barrage of racial epithets, threats of violence, and stereotypes.

Editor’s Note: Trigger Warning under the cut–pictures of racist slurs

Here is but a sampling of the vitriol and hostility resulting from his goal (for complete list, go here):

Receiving national attention, such racism was dismissed through narratives of fan ignorance, fan drunkenness, fan anger, and a myriad of other excuses that explain the situation as of little importance to understanding race in contemporary society. For example, at DCist, shawnwhiteboy offered the following response to an article about these tweets:

The obvious problem with twitter is that any drunk asshole with a smart phone can use a hashtag and get ‘hits’. The problem with the media is that you cover these drunk assholes as news. When will this end? Is this comment I am typing news worthy? No! What’s worse, the last sentence of this article lumps all bruin fans together with those drunk assholes. Boston fans are passionate and sometimes obnoxious but not racist. Having lived in boston and dc for 5 years each, people are not more enlightened in one place over the other. Okay, rant over.. . Those racist comments are terrible, how server going to get back at those fuckers listed here?

In an ESPN story covering the backlash against Ward, another commenter offered a similar refrain, identifying the Internet as the reason for such outbursts: “It isn’t at all surprising to see the slew of racist comments after the game,” he wrote. “Social media allows total anonymity if the user desires; these things can be said with no fear of reprisal. Such bravery!” These explanations were commonplace not only in the aftermath of Ward’s game winning goal, but following a game less than two weeks later.

With less than a minute to go in a game versus the New York Rangers, with his team up by a goal, Ward committed a penalty that sent him to the box for four minutes. Before he would be able to step back onto the ice, the Rangers would score two power play goals, sending the Capitals to a crushing defeat. Less than two weeks after facing a barrage of racial taunts and epithets from Bruins fans, Ward now faced similar violence from Capitals fans.

A common response to both of these incidences has been to link them to hockey; that above all else, the hostility embodies racism in hockey culture. Seemingly ignoring and erasing online racism of all kinds and those particular to virtual sports landscapes, hockey fans have become the problem rather than a symptom. Ironically, such a narrative imagines hockey as the “South” of sports culture.

Given its whiteness and even the working-class demographic of its fan base, commentators have sought to identity this as reflective of hockey culture, rather than sports or even society at large. Race and nation have a particular history within hockey. As I wrote a couple months back following an incident where fans threw a banana at Boston’s Wayne Simmonds, whiteness, privilege, and racism are all part of the hockey story:

Others connected to the sport were not so willing (despite their having greater power and privilege) to reflect on the racial realities and hostilities of the NHL in this moment or elsewhere. While describing it as a “stupid and ignorant action,” Commissioner Gary Bettman made clear that incident was “in no way representative of our fans or the people of London, Ontario.” Maxine Talbot, a teammate of Simmonds, summarily dismissed the incident as “isolated” that said little about the state of hockey: “It’s not like there’s a problem with racism in our league. It’s one person!”

Dismissing it as an aberration and the work of some ignorant fans, the response fails to see the broader history of the NHL, not to mention the larger racial issues at work. While Bettman and others sought to isolate the incidence as the work of a single person who isn’t representative of hockey culture or society at large, others pointed to the persistence of racism within the NHL. Kevin Weeks, who had a banana thrown at him during the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs, noted his lack of surprise that Simmonds was subjected to such racism: “I’m not surprised. We have some people that still have their heads in the sand and some people that don’t necessarily want to evolve and aren’t necessarily all that comfortable with the fact that the game is evolving.”

Yet, it would be a mistake to link these visible instances of racism to the whiteness of hockey, its racial politics, or resistance to integration given the ubiquity of racism online and offline. While comforting to construct racial hostility through hockey in that it allows to preserve the myths of integration and breaking down social distance as a weapon against racism, similar racial hostility and tweeted racial epithets can be seen with other sports as well. In the last week, these tweets have been sent out:

While the incidents involving Ward have received ample coverage in parts because of the comfort of blaming hockey, online racism directed at black athletes is not particular to one sport. Integration or greater presence has not led to full acceptance.

Continue reading @ Violence On And Off The Ice: Twitter Racism And The NHL | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture.

Baller Blues: 49ers’ Kyle Williams Under Attack from Racist Fans – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

Baller Blues: 49ers’ Kyle Williams Under Attack from Racist Fans

By David Leonard Writer

The New York Giants secured their spot in Super Bowl XLVI by defeating the San Francisco 49ers in an overtime thriller. Unfortunately, the game is not being remembered for its amazing defense, offensive struggles, and punting genius, but for the miscues of Kyle Williams, the 49ers 2nd year wide receiver. In two separate occasions, Williams was unable to secure the ball while receiving a punt, resulting in two Giant scores, the last one ending the game. In describing the reaction to Williams, Sean Jensen notes how he is “a goat, not a hero. And he’s vilified, not celebrated.” Football fans took to social media sites like Twitter to blame, vilify, demonize, and call for violence against Williams and his family: “@KyleWilliams_10. I hope you, youre wife, kids and family die, you deserve it” “Jim Harbaugh, please give @KyleWilliams_10 the game ball. And make sure it explodes when he gets in his car” (see here for more examples)

While Kyle Williams is not the first player to receive ample criticism for an on-the-field mistake (although the criticism of Billy Cundiff has not taken a similar tone), the racial subtext, evident ion the language and the calls for violence, has been particularly disturbing. The criticisms from many sports writers and fans alike have not simply been that he made a mistake or that he erred on the field, but rather that the game reflects his failures as a player and a person

“My take on this is that KW is not the ideal ‘team’ player. KW was so intent on making the ‘big’ play for himself than adhering to rules that all return men hold as gospel.

“Both fumbles on Williams, both for not thinking smart.”

“This Bonehead was carrying the football like he just stole a loaf of bread from the corner store. The Bonehead had no business being on the field in the first place.”

“I want this LOSER cut from the team immediately. Him and his hideous tattoos ruined a great season. He single handedly prevented the 49ers from winning this game twice! Fire this LOSER.”

Evident in these comments and others is the ways that race infuses meaning into the discussion, whereupon the conversation goes from the play to his character, his intelligence, his personality, his demeanor, and his body. While some have renounced the assaults on Williams, and sought to “blame” other circumstances for the loss, it is important to reflect on the hatred and violence directed at the wide receiver.

The efforts to explain use racialized language, to play on stereotypes, and otherwise demonize Williams has a larger context that reflects the varied ways that the sports world, from commentators to fans, talk about athletes through racially distinct language. Citing a 1996 study that “examined NFL telecasts,” Andrew Billings notes that, “sportscasters had entirely different focal points for commentary about athletes of different ethnicities.” He further argues “If the player was White, sportscasters placed an increased focus on the cerebral aspects of the player (e.g., cognitive qualities) but, if the player was Black, sportscasters placed their focus on describing the body size, type, and strength of the athletes (e.g., physical qualities).” With Williams, we see similarities, with emphasis on his “intelligence,” “decision-making” and “understanding of the game.”

Continue reading @ Baller Blues: 49ers’ Kyle Williams Under Attack from Racist Fans – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.