In my last post, I considered how approaching students of color from a deficit perspective (focusing on what preparation, skills, motivations, or resources they might lack) can be harmful to them and detrimental to the mentoring relationship, especially in the situation when the mentor is white. This focus does not recognize the assets that students have and which they bring with them to campus. Tara Yosso has identified six distinct forms of capital forming what she has termed “community cultural wealth,” a robust framework for thinking about the student experience. This model moves away from a more narrow, individualized understanding of assets and capital to a broader understanding, one based on the history and lived experience of communities of color. In this post, I want to focus on two forms, aspirational capital and familial capital, and how they come together to help students in navigating the world of college (and beyond). As David Pérez has shown in his work, this is especially the case with Latino male college students, who put a high premium on family (or familismo).Continue reading
The work of bell hooks (1952-2021) had always been part of my feminist education, in college as well as in graduate school. Many memorials in the last few days have focused on her contributions to women’s studies and black feminist theory since her death on December 15th. It was when I was a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts twenty years ago that I came to appreciate bell hooks’ work on pedagogy and the vocation of an educator. Our program’s weekly colloquium on the scholarship of teaching included precious few women authors, and even fewer authors of color, and so when I finally got to read bell hooks and Paulo Freire, I could see the kind of teacher I wanted to become.Continue reading
After watching the Netflix series about academia, The Chair, I’ve been thinking about its many connections to teaching as a calling that is imbued with a vivid sense of purpose. Series executive producer Amanda Peet, in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, spoke about how impressed she was with the deep sense of calling she found in the faculty with whom she spoke as she developed the script. For me though, I was most engaged with the capacity of the women characters in the series to maintain that sense of calling amid the difficult racial and gender dynamics that they experienced with some of their white, male colleagues. These relationships—full of invalidations, microaggressions, bias, racial and gender discrimination, and harassment—were depicted in a realistic way that, frankly, made me squirm with anger and discomfort at times. As depicted in the series, their sense of conviction about the deeper meaning and purpose of their work helped them to both resist and navigate through the very real obstacles.Continue reading
As you put together materials for teaching or programming with students, you may want to consider these posts about vocation that examine race, class, gender, social location, and privilege. Some pieces will be meaningful to students while others are more relevant for prompting discussion with colleagues.
On privilege (general)
Counter Story-telling in The Purpose Gap (April 2022)
Neighbor Love, on Jason Mahn’s new book (November 2021)
Vocation Revisited, Part 2 of a conversation about vocation and privilege (August 2021)
Attending to Voices (October 2020)
The Hard Realities of Reduced “Bandwidth” (June 2020)
Resiliency vs. Audacity (May 2020)
Vocation in an Interconnected, Interdependent World (August 2018)
On race and class
On the Problems with Colorblind Mentoring (April 2022)
Strength and vulnerability, an interview with Mary Dana Hinton (January 2022)
Transgressive Teaching, the impact of bell hooks (December 2021)
Seeing Constellations rather than Stars (December 2021)
The Push and Pull of Vocation in The Chair (October 2021)
Vocation Revisited, part 1 of a conversation about race, class, privilege, and interfaith engagement (August 2021)
The Gift of Intervention (December 2020)
To “Know Thyself” One Must “Know Thine History” (November 2020)
#Pissedoffpastor in Kenosha (September 2020)
The Power of Proximity on Just Mercy (August 2020)
Courageous Texts, Courageous Teaching (August 2020).
Wrestling with White Supremacy, about the work of Richard Hughes (February 2020)
Complex Turning Points: Vocation and Social Location (March 2018)
Vocation Enmeshed (October 2013)
On sexuality and gender
Queer Embodiment in a Vocational Journey (November 2021)
Conviction and Covering (September 2021)
Gay on God’s Campus, an interview with author Jonathan Coley (June 2021)
Coming Out Into Vocation (June 2021)
Dragged Into Vocation (June 2021)
For Young Women Who Have Considered Their Becoming (January 2019)
Other posts about diversity
Familismo, Success, and Service to Others (May 2022)
Twelve Ground Rules for Dialogues on Difference (November 2020)
Rethinking and Unlearning: Imagining New Ways of Being in Community, an interview with Nimisha Barton (October 2020)
Institutional Identity and Diversity (February 2020)
Building Multi-cultural Competency (January 2020)
The Change a Difference Makes (January 2019)
Last updated on June 5, 2022
“I’m confused about my vocational direction.” I often heard these words from students when I was mentoring seminary students. In some instances, the student was clear that ordained ministry was the calling but was searching for the right fit of location and work. In other instances, ordained ministry was not the direction and so the task became helping the student to discern what service to the greater good might look like for them.
The most difficult situations, though, involved those students who had a clear sense of calling, meaning and purpose in a specific area in which there were barriers, based in bias and marginalization, to their engagement in that type of work. For example, there might be an inability to get the credentials needed because of poverty or a lack of opportunity due to systemic racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, or transphobia. In other instances, the block might be an injury, family responsibility, a disabling condition, religious institutional practices, or larger world events. Most often in these challenging instances, the student was perfectly clear about a vocational direction; what was unclear was what to do instead.
How do we guide students to find their calling, when the fulfillment of that calling is denied to them in very real ways? How do we help them to find a way of living out their calling despite the barriers they face, rather than helping them find “what to do instead”?Continue reading
In December I participated in a national review of applications to a prestigious post-graduate fellowship. The review process was enjoyable, even exhilarating, as my team read and reflected upon beautifully crafted essays, thoughtful letters of recommendation, and staggeringly extensive records of accomplishment, leadership and service. The applications increased my hope for the future. With students like these coming out of our colleges and universities, seeking continuing opportunities for growth and giving, there’s good in the world.
And yet. The wisely mentored, academically successful lives of outstanding students, with their impressive profiles of study, service, travel, internships and leadership, prompt in me both admiration and weariness, and some skepticism about the ways in which we value “meaningful and fulfilling work” as something one can prepare for and deliberately seek out.
Do we know what will be meaningful before we choose it? Is meaning sometimes (perhaps often) conferred more in retrospect than in design? What happens when work isn’t where a sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment reside? At what point(s) do we take stock, try to determine what is meaningful, what is fulfilling? And what do people do who have few resources with which to respond to the injunction to pursue a meaningful life?
It got me thinking about the difference between happiness and fulfillment.Continue reading
Cartographers try to render clear a patchwork of people and place, land and history. As the poet Ciaran Carson suggests, “With so many foldings and unfoldings, whole segments of the/ map have fallen off” (“Queen’s Gambit”). Maps embody, in pieces, cultural thought and human experience.
The map is an oft invoked image for discussing life’s purpose—indeed, upon my arrival at NetVUE’s Teaching Vocational Exploration summer seminar we spent time both drawing our own vocational maps and explaining them. This exercise proved disorienting (I prefer to think in words, not images) and also expanding, in that I started to think of my vocational journey as a sort of constellation map. On it, I noted bright spots in my past—my undergraduate mentor, reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch for the first time, studying abroad, professional achievements—and I also saw how the darkness of other aspects of experience offered direction. Continue reading
The majority of students enrolled in my upper division Native American literature course tend to select The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian as their favorite book of the semester. I believe this has much to do with the voice of the novel’s narrator and protagonist, Arnold Spirit. The fourteen year old Spirit is honest, vulnerable, crass, insightful, and comedic, and although it is the only work of young adult fiction my students read in this course, the text wrestles with issues every bit as complex as those we encounter in the assigned works of “adult” literature. While I conclude my class with this book in order to end on a particularly contemporary note, I will be teaching it in a freshman seminar course on vocation this fall for a very different reason: it wrestles with many of the major themes in Catherine Fobes’s insightful and important essay, “Calling Over the Life Course: Sociological Insights,” which serves as chapter four in the NetVUE anthology, Vocation Across the Academy. Continue reading