Pandemic Life as a Student Parent
Part 2: Parenting for Social Justice, An Interview with Erin Cross, Director of Penn’s LGBT Center and Mom
In the first blog post of this series, I talked about my journey as a student and a new mom during the pandemic. Even though my schedule is still very unpredictable day to day as I care for my son, writing in shorter chunks of time has helped with creativity and focus. In this post, I discuss what it means to be a parent who is committed to social justice, including the need to interrogate our privilege not only as individuals but as a family. Especially while my son is only a few months old, it is easy to get caught up in the immediate needs of diaper changes, naptime, and all those middle of the night feedings. But the bigger picture of what kind of parent I strive to be is also important.
In the book, Negotiating Critical Literacies with Young Children, Vivian Vasquez writes about what happens when she shares a critical literacies curriculum with preschool children who are three to five years old. Through discussion, drawings, read alouds, and other activities, the children explore social issues including race, gender, and age in complex and thought-provoking ways. Vasquez highlights that children most adults would consider ‘very young’ are actively engaging in critical inquiry related to how they experience the world. Such opportunities to critically engage should be an everyday process, not limited to a classroom unit, holiday, or museum visit.
To reflect more on this topic, I caught up with a former professor of mine at Penn GSE, Erin Cross. Erin is the Director of Penn’s LGBT Center, and also teaches a course on Gender and Sexuality in Education. On the first day of class, we went around and talked about why we enrolled. “One day, I want to be a mom,” I said. During our discussions, Erin sometimes also talked about her kids and their experiences with gender. We kept in touch and I am part of a group Erin facilitates for white parents who are striving to be anti-racist. I want to thank Erin for engaging with me so thoughtfully in the Q&A below.
Jen: What does it mean to be an inclusive parent?
Erin: Striving to have your kids exposed to as much breadth as possible of humanity and believing others lived experiences, including our kids’. We try to talk about all kinds of differences whenever moments present themselves, ensure their books go beyond the white, straight, middle-class, citizen narrative, have varied people in their lives, and discover new art, etc. together. That is not enough, however. I also strive to be an anti-racist parent. We do not sugar coat racism in our house, it would be such a disservice to our kids. It is important for them to see white people admitting they are racist and working on it instead of just saying ‘I understand what you are going through.’ We don’t; so we try to have other folks in their lives of similar ethnic and racial backgrounds to be there if they need them. They also see me and my wife working with communities of color as worker bees and using our white privilege to lift BIPOC voices whenever possible. Breaking the gender binary is also huge in our house as we have folks of all gender identities in our lives as well. I am proud our kids default to they or ask people their pronouns. Sure, they soak up cultural stereotypes because they are being raised in U.S. culture but we try to mitigate them as much as possible. It is weird to see one of our kids enact what he sees as masculinity as he tries on new identities though, because the current identity of ‘cool, macho boy’ did not come from us. It is his experience and he needs to figure out who he is; however, and I have to say it is fun to watch as much as it is frustrating at times.
Jen: You co-facilitate a circle on Campus for Penn staff on whiteness and anti-racism. The theme is raising anti-racist kids. What advice do you have for student groups on Campus interested in creating similar spaces?
Erin: If students want to create a space to discuss and process their whiteness and their role in racism, go ahead and do it. A good place to start is Layla Saad’s book, Me and White Supremacy. In the book, Saad describes specific activities you can work through together to start addressing your own racism, like keeping a journal where you can reflect on how your white privilege has protected you throughout your life. Also, know there are staff and faculty in White Educators Committed to Anti-Racism and Equity (WE-CARE) who are trying to do their own work and feel free to reach out.
Jen: When I took your class on Gender and Sexuality in Education we read X: A Fabulous Child’s Story, a fictional story about a child whose gender was kept secret. When X goes to school, the adults react with hostility but other children begin to imitate X and find freedom in rejecting gender rules. How does the fictional experience of X relate to your own real experiences as a parent?
Erin: Although I love the story and it still serves a purpose, it is also very much so stuck in its time and the gender binary. Moreover, since X does a bit of girl and a bit of boy and it is early in life, their actions and appearance are not tied to assumed sexual orientation. What if X really did stick to non-gendered activities? First, it would be impossible and I am guessing many of them would actually be masculine. But, really no reason to speculate I suppose. Kids today have more leeway in terms of gender expression, although it is important to note there are still very binary spaces in the US as well (based on faith communities, ethnic backgrounds, SES, etc.). I was not in my kids’ life when they were young but from stories it was quite interesting. I know now we do our best not to work from gendered notions of things but we also know it seeps in from other spaces. That said, I love hearing how one boy at their school wears skirts and loves to twirl and the school and students are cool with it.
Jen: As a new mom, I love to read to my son. I know you have been a teacher and are a mom as well. What are some of your favorite kids’ books?
Erin: So many. I also asked a few other pals who are educators and moms.
- Julian is a Mermaid
- Hands Hands Fingers Thumbs
- The Day the Crayons Quit
- Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo
- Liza Lou and the Yellerbelly Swamp
- The Day You Began
- A Snowy Day
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
- In our Mother’s House
- Today I Feel Silly
- Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born
- I Love My Hair
- Tikki Tikki Tembo
- Peter’s Chair
- Whistle for Willie
- I Am Enough
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Tomie DiPaolo books – Strega Nona in particular
By Jen Kobrin, Learning Fellow and Learning Specialist
Pandemic Life as a Student Parent: A Learning Specialist’s Journey
Shortly after Penn shut down in March 2020, I learned I was pregnant. I was tremendously excited, but there were moments of anxiety as I dealt with the pandemic and a huge life transition. I loved my life as a grad student at Penn and my work helped me stay grounded amongst chaos. Although the fatigue, nausea, and other pregnancy symptoms led to some rough patches, the strategies I learned as a busy doctoral student and a learning specialist at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center kept me on track. I had a weekly planner where I kept important deadlines, grouped into different categories so they were easier to remember. On days where I felt overwhelmed or exhausted, I wrote a few encouraging words in my planner to help me stay calm. At Weingarten, supporting students over Zoom and working through their challenges together helped me feel connected.
In December, my son was born and eight weeks later I returned to being a student and my fellowship at Weingarten. Many of the time management and study strategies I had previously relied on were now impossible. For example, I often recommend mapping out a weekly and daily schedule as a great way to get started with better time management. Dr. Rashmi Kumar’s Structure the Unstructured Time post provides a helpful guide. Now that I was caring for my son most days, my schedule was extremely unpredictable. Sometimes he would nap for 2-3 hours when I could get work done, other days he might nap in 20 minute increments or not at all.
Through a mom blogger, I learned a new phrase that became my mantra: “Flexible routine: not rigid schedule!” Each day, I have one or two priorities in mind. I still find it hard, but I am learning to think more about the big picture of my week, versus getting too caught up in what I can’t get done some days. I know I will get to each and every task, it just may take longer than I had anticipated. That is okay.
I want to end with a positive outcome of my new schedule. Being forced to work in small chunks of 20-30 minutes has led to increased creativity and motivation for writing. Somehow I ended up with a 65-page dissertation proposal which I will defend in May! Before my son was born, I often set aside one day a week for writing tasks, but much of that time would be spent on distractions like social media or texting friends. Writing in short chunks almost every day and taking lots of time in between to think about the logical arguments of my proposal has led to a much more positive experience, and helped me become a stronger writer. I would recommend this strategy for any student who is struggling with writing.
Bigger Pictures: Make a Note
“I don’t know what I think until I’ve written about it.” ~ Various Attributions
Of all the things I talk about here at your learning center, the one I always feel a little bit guilty about is notetaking. I always feel like the subject is like a benignly neglected child in a big family, the kid who basically raises herself in a household that is far too stretched and busy to worry about someone who is more or less okay. That’s notetaking.
Academic notetaking has been largely conscribed by one thing: the lecture. And historically, this makes sense. Back in the mists of time, professors would intone and, well, profess, and students would scratch away, trying to get down every word. It wasn’t uncommon for “serious” students to learn how to take shorthand in order to get down every word. This technique can be described as truly Mediaeval, with its roots planted firmly in the monastic scriptorium, where sacred text was read aloud while Brother Scribes took down copy. What a gig.
Academia has embraced a few technological advances since the Monastic era, most notably the slide deck. Ah, yes. PowerPoint. Our frenemy. No matter where you come down on the ubiquitous deployment of PowerPoint in the higher ed classroom, there is one undeniable plus: the mad rush to get down every word has been alleviated, at least somewhat. So long as the slides are made available, you don’t have to worry about copying out the entire slide during class. All you really have to worry about is what is said off slide.
But there is another part of notes that gets routinely neglected, and that is the notes you make to yourself, and if you don’t do that now, I’d encourage you to give it a go, especially if you are currently in the type of humanities or social science courses that require you to come up with your own paper topics. These notes capture what you think about the lecture topics or reading material. Think of these kinds of notes as the record of what you think.
And one more thing: these types of notes don’t have to be declarative. Solid questions arising from the reading material count as notes too.
Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor
Welcome Boot Campers
“Writing begins when our fear of doing nothing at all outweighs our fear of doing it badly.”
~ Louis de Bernieres
So, how about a hearty shout-out to all the members of the Spring ’17 cohort of Dissertation Boot Camp. Whether you are at the stage of proposing, or data crunching or actually dissertating, congratulations – you’ve made it this far, and like we’d say back in the day, that ain’t nuthin’.
For those not in the know, Dissertation Boot Camp is brought to you by your Graduate Student Center. The boot campers resolve to arrive on-site every morning for two weeks, turn off their email/social media, and get right down to it and have at it until early afternoon. They also get the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a Weingarten instructor to discuss their project, timelines and any unique challenges. Dissertation Boot Camp has become a popular program, and has been running for more semesters than your blogger can count. I mean, your humble blogger could count semesters, but that would require needless additional research, and procrastinating on the writing of this blog post by engaging in needless additional research would be setting a bad example.
For those of you who couldn’t do boot camp this semester, fret not, here are a few helpful hints from your learning center:
- Inviolable Writing Time – Essential and non-negotiable, inviolable writing time is the basis for Dissertation Boot Camp and the “secret” to completing any writing project of considerable length. This means you set your weekly writing time and then you guard it ruthlessly. Nothing and no one gets to intrude on this time. If something comes up that needs time, steal the time from something else.
- Log Off, Sign Out – Writing time can never be inviolable if you are obsessively checking email or social media. For three or four or five hours, you must remain out of the loop, away from everything that is not related to your project. And let’s have none of that nonsense about multitasking; your project demands as much focus as you can muster. Besides, in your blogger’s humble opinion multitasking is a sinister plot created by rogue elements in the human resources industry to make writers feel insecure about their “efficiency”. Confirming this notion, however, would require additional needless research, and since we’ve already dismissed needless additional research, I’m moving on.
- Visit Your Learning Center – Dissertation support is a popular service here at Weingarten. We can help you with managing the project or thinking through research strategies. We provide you with a totally confidential, non-judgmental space. Just think of us as the human embodiment of a hot bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – soothing.
Senior Learning Instructor
Tech Tuesday: Zotero
This Tech Tuesday we are highlighting Zotero which is a browser extension and stand-alone desktop application for Windows and MacOS. Zotero is most commonly known as a citation manager similar to EasyBib or Mendeley. While Zotero is excellent at managing citations, it is capable of so much more. This article will provide an overview of its most useful features. Future blog posts will expand on Zotero with in-depth how-to guides. I like Zotero because it is feature rich and can help students keep readings and citations well organized. Another huge perk is that Zotero is open source software. Not only is it free, but it also has a number of useful plug-ins and add-ons.
Managing Citations and Outputting References:
As mentioned, Zotero is an excellent citation manager. The base install of the desktop application comes with a variety of standard citation styles including MLA, APA, Chicago and others. Have an obscure citation style only used by a specific discipline, don’t fret, chances are you can find it in the Zotero style repository here.
Outputting in-text citations in Zotero couldn’t be easier. Select the reference or references you want a citation for, right-click and select “Create bibliography from item” choose in-text citation, your chosen style, and copy to clipboard. Then, simply past the citation where needed in your document. You can create full reference pages in much the same way. Simply choose bibliography in the output section.
Add, Organize and Manage Citations
Zotero has feature rich folder options to keep your citations organized. You can create a folder for a given class or project and then store all your citations in the folder. Adding citations is easy. If you’re using Google Scholar, you can simply download an RIS file (RefMan) using cite function in Google Scholar and open it with Zotero. Books can be added using the wand button () and then adding the ISBN for the book. Zotero will handle the rest. Using add-ons Zotero can even scan PDF’s of journal articles and collect all the citation and metadata info directly from the article. A how-to blog outlining just how to do this will be available soon.
Have a class with a heavy reading load? Zotero is great for keeping all your readings organized. Add them all to a folder for that specific class and then you can write summaries or outlines for each with the built-in note taking function.
Alternatively, or in-addition, you can also add any attachment you want to a given reference. For STEM students, this could be particularly useful if you draw diagrams in your notes and you want to keep them together with a specific reading. As mentioned, Zotero is free you can download it here. Check back soon for specific how-to guides that will expand in-depth on the various features and options Zotero has to offer.
Staff Writer: Randall Perez
Getting Started on Final Papers
So it’s that time of the semester that we all forgot about-final papers/project season. You know, because we were surviving it week by week, midterm by midterm, page by page of mostly monotonous readings? It can be daunting to begin tackling a huge and cumulative assignment when you have no idea where to even begin. Here are some strategies to get started:
- Chunking: Ever get this feeling that you are so overwhelmed by the task that no matter how much time you devote to sitting down at your desk, you just are too paralyzed to start? Don’t start off thinking you are going to do it all in one sitting. Begin by breaking down the assignment into different stages and assign yourself goals. Perhaps start off with re-reading major concepts of the course since that might inspire a certain topic or focus for your paper. Then, on another day or week, move on to researching and making connections to texts covered in the class. The point is to establish tasks that are realistic bite-sized chunks.
- Concept Mapping: Having a whiteboard (or blank paper) and some different colored markers (different color= different theme/connection) help to get all your ideas out there without the pressure of writing full on paragraphs or pages. Brainstorm with drawing if you have to! Jot down ideas and key concepts and this way, you can also work towards clarifying your arguments.
- Come into Weingarten: Learning instructors here at Weingarten have various academic backgrounds including and ranging from doctoral students, research assistants, social scientists, and academics. Having another person to help you “talk through” your scholarly ideas is a great way to learn. What it comes down to is really cliche but hey, it works: “Two heads are better than one!”
Staff writer: Victoria Gill
Bigger Pictures: So Now You’re a Grad Student
“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”
~ Albert Einstein
Welcome to the next stage of your education.
Over the last couple weeks, chances are you’ve probably noticed that a few things are different. You probably noticed that you feel different– and not necessarily in good ways. Let’s take a gander, why don’t we, at one of the more insidious.
You may have noticed what can best be described as a creeping insecurity. This probably happened when, in a flash of self awareness, you realized that all you know is how much you don’t know. You sense it when you’re reading, you feel it during class discussion, you wrestle with it in the middle of the night when you can’t get to sleep because how can you possibly sleep when there’s so much you don’t know that you should know, and you should have made yourself somehow know all that stuff years ago before you got to the point where all these people you don’t even know are going to know precisely how much you don’t know.
First, take a deep breath.
What you’re experiencing is known as imposter’s syndrome. There is some debate as to whether you were issued it when you got your PennCard, or if you picked it up during orientation. In any event, rest assured, you are not alone.
Consider: Your learning curve is steepest at the start of a program, even if you have an undergrad’s background in the discipline. This may strike you as even more dispiriting, but just take it as a simple sign of the depth you’ll be required to go to in your graduate work. There’s no need to turn practical self-evaluation into personal self-flagellation.
Many people wind up in graduate school because somewhere along the line they got really good at school. They learned how to learn. School became an arena of success. This doesn’t make them immune to imposter syndrome. Other people wind up in grad and professional programs because they see no alternative if they hope to continue along a particular career trajectory. Among these folks you’ll find people who may not believe that they were ever good at school, but they know they have to suck it up and do what they have to do, which means going back to school, a place where they feel they don’t belong. If you fall into this category, you’re more than likely experiencing imposter syndrome with a particularly nasty bite. But you can always learn to learn better.
As I always say, you know where to find us.
Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor
Developing Personal Statements
Creating a Personal Statement is much like what Professor Maureen Moran of Brunel University describes as, “You develop the insight of an artist, the analytical precision of a scientist, and the persuasiveness of a lawyer.” It’s the dreaded piece of any graduate program application where you’re expected to be insightful about what you hope to contribute to a field of study, but be very explicit how you plan on doing it and why you should be the one to receive the opportunity to do it.
It can be overwhelming and daunting even, knowing that even with your grades, resume, testing scores, and letters of recommendation, your Personal Statement will be the “make it or break it” piece. So much of your future rests on how the Personal Statement will be received.
Personally, I know that writing my Personal Statement was a process where I doubted myself over and over, plagued by questions such as: Do I start off with a quote? No, that’s too cheesy. How many times can I use the word “passion”? Oh gees, also cheesy! How much of my personal background is relevant? Should I elaborate on certain accomplishments that I’ve listed in my resume? How do I highlight myself without bragging or lionizing myself? Am I good enough to do this? Am I even doing this right?!
But have no fear! Here are some tips from someone who went through the whole anxious process to help you get started:
- Start early. Good writing is just re-writing. Allow yourself time to have evolving ideas about what you want to accomplish through your discipline, research, and short/long term goals during/after the program.
- Network. Ask current doctoral students in the program you’re applying to give you feedback on your personal statement and don’t be shy about politely asking them for a copy of their own personal statement. We’ve all been through it! We get it. Also, ask your professors who are helping with the letters of rec. to also give you feedback on your statement.
- Do your research. Different institutions have their own style, beliefs, and focuses. Research what those are and you must tailor each personal statement to align with them. The whole point is to let them know how you “fit” with their program and vice versa.
- Attend workshops. Some universities will have events and workshops for prospective students who are interested in applying. Go to those. They help with giving you some background and details on what is expected for the content and formatting. Lastly, there is a workshop you can attend here at UPENN! Register at http://goo.gl/XG2rDJ to attend this Friday, Nov 6th from 12-1pm at GSE Room 200.
Staff Writer: Victoria Rodriguez