Thursday, August 27, 2015

Singing Sight Unseen

The Beloit Mindset List is perhaps the very best example of lazy and dangerous thinking that exists. I'm definitely not the first or the smartest person to comment on the issues with the list and I will leave all of that to those with more time and energy.  I will note, however, that The List has excellent SEO and news penetration, so you would be hard pressed to find the discussions about its issues. I direct you to this fine analysis of this year's list, the list in general, and compendium of other comments.  If you prefer your comments with a big yellow box at the top, here's a story about this year's list worth reading.

But I'm not here to talk about this year's list, I'm here to talk about people. The List manages to casually and jovially re-inforce the idea that each incoming group of first-year students is a uniform and distant unknowable group, and that on the other side we are a uniform group of professor tropes. I, personally, don't find stereotype confirmation a kind of humor that makes me laugh. Instead, it is a kind of humor that makes me angry. In Higher Ed, we want to encourage wider deeper thinking not actively work against it.

Let us turn then to what we can learn from the failings of The List.  Erin talked about the library's position between academics and student life, our institutional relationship with students. I want to talk about our individual relationship with students.  The List, at least to me, has a tone of "how can we even know these people?" based on life experiences. That's ridiculous on the face of it because you need know nothing about another person nor have any common experiences in order to have a valuable and productive interaction with that person. I cannot stress this enough.

What you do need to have in order to have a valuable and productive interaction with another person is respect. The List, through it's reinforcement of tropes of students and faculty is working against that respect by telling us that we know already these people by some set of facts. You can know one thing about by knowing that I am thirty-four years old, or by knowing that I am Jewish, or by knowing that I am queer. You can know either that you share this common trait with me (but not know that we are alike or different in any other way) or you can know that we do not share that common trait. No fact about me tells you about my lived experience. You don't know me. You don't know anyone, really. And that's fine.

But wait, let's think further. Not only do we not know students, we seem confused about how we do or do not know students. Our interactions with students are not making new friends at synagogue or inviting some folks over for a cook-out. We're not here to make friends with the students. Not that we don't want to have valuable and productive interactions that might lead to life-long relationships (professional relationships or friendships or both), but that's not what we're here for. Like Erin noted, when we engage with artifice, it comes off poorly.

There is a simple solution, you know. We can get comfortably uncomfortable and ask students what they want out of interactions with librarians and libraries. We can ask students what their ideal relationship with a librarian looks like throughout their college career. We can listen seriously to what they say, and try to be exactly who and what they need and want.

I'm guessing it's not a cool older friend who remembers when the Oilers were in Houston, though.

Keep Rockin'


I have to also note that my feelings about The List may be shaded by the fact that Beloit is a conference rival of my beloved alma mater, and man do I hate those guys I can't even explain it. Ugh and Lake Forest College. How can I even have opinions about those schools it doesn't make any sense.

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