For within living structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive. ~ Audre Lorde, Poetry is Not a Luxury
This twisted world can sometimes seem like it’s caving in around me but I will not let it waste my mind. And though you’re holding out on what lets me know where I stand, sometimes it makes it worse to know I ever trusted you. ~ Mia Zapata, While You’re Twisting, I’m Still Breathing
Cultural Capital Doesn’t Pay the Rent is a space to document the history of the ever growing adjunct professor movement through the lens of current and former adjunct faculty who are also active organizers.
The phrase, “Cultural Capital Doesn’t Pay the Rent,” comes from a 2014 interview I did with a colleague while we were both still teaching in New Mexico. Joe Fruscione started a column on the Inside Higher Ed website called “Adjuncts Interviewing Adjuncts.” The intention was to tell our stories in our own words in order to expand and counter the idea that adjuncts were simply bad academics who failed to secure tenure track jobs. At the time we were still fighting to expose the dirty little secret of the neoliberal university that systematically destroyed any possibility of education being a way to even out the playing field for traditionally marginalized groups. Or at least that was my focus. The way I understand the early movement doing this is by bringing attention to the fact that people with graduate degrees teaching at colleges and universities were living paycheck to paycheck without healthcare and relying on public assistance. In the Inside Higher Ed interview, when asked about the ways gender factors into my experience as an adjunct. I brought up the fact that my partner, who is genderqueer (trans masculine), and I were working at the same college. He worked in food services and I worked as a professor. Despite the cultural capital my job gave me in comparison to my partner’s job, it was his job that provided us with health care and a regular paycheck. When we both were on unemployment during semester breaks, my partner’s weekly benefits check was $50.00 more than mine. At the time he made less than $12/hr.
My intention for this blog is to begin an archive of the movement through memoir and personal essay. Like all things I do, it is being approached through an intersectional feminist framework. This poses particular challenges. The vast majority of college faculty are cis, het, and white. Adjunct faculty are no exception. Although the 10-20% of faculty who are of color are far more likely to be adjuncts than not. More adjuncts are women than men, but these statistics come from surveys that do not account for non-binary gender identities or sexual orientation. We’ll see what happens as I work to balance out asking active adjunct organizers to write their stories with the above factors and intentions.
Another intention for this project, which is more of a hope as I write this, is to find the succinct arguments as to why racial justice must be a central tenet of any movement in higher education, including this one. The above statistics should be enough to recognize education is a social structure that thrives on systemic racism that cannot be separated from systemic classism. The Chicago Teachers Union April 2016 strike is an excellent model for how solidarity between k-12 and higher ed is necessary for our students of color and low income students to have a fighting chance to get to college. But we cannot be fooled into thinking education is enough to actually even any playing field built on a history of slavery. Terrence Crutcher, one of the more recent Black citizens killed by police, was coming home from a music class at Tulsa Community College when he was murdered. Four days earlier he had been asked to become a mentor to younger students struggling to get it together. Because he was real, and struggling at 40, but doing what he needed to do for himself. His car broke down on his way home from class and he was killed by police. He was some adjunct professor’s student. I am sure of that. Music classes at a community college? He was one of our students. We cannot let this happen to our students. Job security is not such a sweet win if our students are being mowed down by police.
If my words don’t convince you, maybe this picture will.