“Fuck this Fifties Housewife Bullshit” was a gift from two students in the first women’s studies course I ever taught: Introduction to Women’s Studies at Emory University, Fall 2002. I can’t quite remember who they were or why they gave me this awesome pin. I can think of a couple of reasons: 1. They liked my class, 2. They were inspired by our discussions, earlier in the semester, about Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique, or 3. They knew I was just about to become a Mom (I had revealed to all of them earlier in the semester that I was pregnant) and they wanted to encourage/support my feminist resistance to traditional gender roles.
I loved teaching that class. I was a Ph.D student in Women’s Studies. While I was in residence at Emory, from 2000-2003, I was only required to teach 2 classes as part of my fellowship and degree. Unlike at other schools, where graduate students are required to teach a lot, usually while taking their own classes, I taught these classes after my coursework and while I was studying for my doctoral exams. I was also required to be a teaching assistant for two courses, but that job was designed to serve as a mentoring opportunity, in which I worked closely with the professor and received a lot of useful feedback on my own teaching.
Emory’s program was unusual (and unusually awesome) because of the low teaching load for graduate students and the amazing amount of funding they provided for all graduate students: 4 years of full tuition + a generous stipend. Also, they put a lot of emphasis on mentoring and training students to be teachers. While I was a graduate student, I had a teaching mentor and took a class (feminist pedagogy) that was specifically designed to prepare for me teaching the Intro class. And, as I mentioned above, my role as a teaching assistant was primarily designed to give me teaching experience and mentoring; it wasn’t just used to exploit me as cheap labor.
I was lucky. I didn’t realize that until I began teaching at a research university and witnessed how much graduate students taught (as assistants who graded papers and ran discussion sections, or as instructors, who taught huge classes) and how little mentoring seemed to be formally built into their teaching.
In thinking about graduate students and how they are frequently exploited at universities, I did a little bit of online research and came across this post: Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go. I also found this one: The Brutal Lives of Others: Exploitation in the Academy. I want to read them as I reflect on my experiences in and beyond graduate school.