On Wednesday, December 5th, from 8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., supported by the Center for Teaching, Learning and Research (CTLR), the 4th Annual Middlebury Write-In will be held. Students can receive writing assistance from tutors and research help from librarians in Davis Family Library 201 or in the Anderson Freeman Center. Snacks will be served.
Like myself, many of the MiddKids with whom I frequently interact are people of color. Many, too, are New Yorkers, come from urban environments and employ a colorful use of language I have yet to encounter outside of the North. In a loosely anthropological study, I have prepared the briefest of satirical dictionaries to highlight some of my favorite uses of the students’ slang. Let me know if I get them right– or, more likely, wrong. And also, like, #fuhrealsies, use the tips. Here are five examples of contemporary slang in trying times:
brand new | This adjective is used in a scenario when a person acts as though information is novel to them and a speaker wants to call out their interlocutor’s inauthenticity. Example of usage:
Speaker 1: Aw, man! I only have two of five required sources and my prof set the deadline for this paper at 5:00 p.m. today. There’s no way I can turn it in tomorrow.
Speaker 2: Who? Prof. Jenkins! You been knowin’ that. That’s her standard practice. Stop actin’ brand new!
Tip: Monday through Friday, you can make a one-on-one appointment with a librarian and get all the sources you need. Visit go.middlebury.edu/librarians.
deadass | an interjection used to express unquestioning support and/or fealty for a premise, suggestion, opinion or idea. It is synonymous with “seriously.” This term is often used in a deadpan fashion, its understated delivery lending irony to its meaning. It is often accompanied by meaningful glances for emphasis. Example of usage:
Speaker 1: Yo, so um… this paper is 40,000 pages long and it’s due in 5 minutes. I’ma haveta request an extension.
Speaker 2: Deadass. Me, too!
Tip: If you need to help orienting your 40,000 page paper, librarians staff the Research Desk over 40 hours a week. See our hours at go.middlebury.edu/hours.
How, Sway? | This interrogative is a rhetorical device used to express befuddlement when one is facing an incredulous situation. It is synonymous with, “That’s ridiculous!” Note: no one posing this question actually wants an answer. This term is often accompanied by meaningful glances and gesticulations for emphasis. Example of usage:
Speaker 1: I’m about to write this paper and edit my bibliography before my night shift in 30 minutes.
Speaker 2: How, Sway? You are a whole procrastinator.
Tip: If your works cited list needs a touch up, there’s a research guide dedicated specifically to citations at go.middlebury.edu/citations. You can also ask for help at the Research Desk in the Davis Family Library.
shook | Used with the first person singular, this adjective is used to describe one’s state when they are rattled, surprised or overwhelmed with emotion. It is occasionally synonymous with the more hegemonic, “I can’t even,” and often accompanied by meaningful, unfocused stares into the distance. Example of usage:
Speaker 1: Did you hear? The prof canceled their term paper altogether and was like, “Bucket.”
Speaker 2: What?! I can’t believe that. That must be an urban legend.
Speaker 1: I know, right?! But then I saw the receipts!
Speaker 2: [look of surprise] I’m shook.
[Cue: ♪♪♪ “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel. Lyrics: “Hello, darkness, my old friend…” ♪♪♪]
Tip: For those of you not living a mythology, plan out your papers with writing tutors at the Center for Teaching, Learning and Research (CTLR) in the Davis Family Library, main level. Make an appointment at go.middlebury.edu/appt.
weak | Always used in in conjunction with the first-person singular pronoun or perhaps a hashtag, this term expresses that the speaker is humored or “tickled” by their interlocutor’s musings. Curiously, for emphasis, this phrase is often unaccompanied by meaningful glances, eye contact or even laughter. Example of usage:
Speaker 1: Last night I tried to finish the last reading for class.
Speaker 2: An’ wha’ happen?
Speaker 1: I woke up, rested– drool on the the book and highlighter all over my face.
Speaker 2: I’m weak.
Tip: If you need a quiet space to study that is not your dorm room, where the tempting sheets of doom call you to your bed, use go.middlebury.edu/groupstudy to reserve a room in the libraries.
For etymologies/origins of the studied terms, please contact Spanish and Linguistics professor Dr. Marcos Rohena-Madrazo or refer to urbandictionary.com. For “highkey” and “lowkey,” see Athena. For “I’m dead,” see Rahat. For “Yikes!, talk to Treasure. I’d offer you Kory Stamper’s Word By Word: the Secret Life of Dictionaries, but it’s currently checked out to me, so. . .
- Katrina Spencer (KS) is from Los Angeles, California. She is the Literatures & Cultures Librarian and has been at Middlebury for just over a year.
- Karin Hanta (KH) is from Vienna, Austria. She is the Director of Chellis House-Women’s Resource Center and a Visiting Lecturer in Linguistics/Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. She has worked for Middlebury for 15 years.
- Mikayla Hyman (MH) is from Port Washington, New York. She is the founder and president of the Middlebury Refugee Outreach Club (MiddROC), president of the Youthful Alliance of Merrymaking (YAM), Ecology and Evolution Teaching Assistant (TA), Cell Biology and Genetics TA, Academic Chair of Hillel, a Chellis House Monitor and a sophomore.
- Grace Vedock (GV) is from Shawnee, Kansas. She is the president of College Democrats, a member of the Academic Judicial Board, a Chellis House Monitor and a sophomore.
- Taite Shomo (TS) is from Denver, Colorado. She is the Communications Director of College Democrats, a Chellis House Monitor, an It Happens Here Organizer and a sophomore Feb.
- Itzel Diaz (ID) is from Queretaro, Mexico and Austin, Texas. She is a Chellis House Monitor, Riddim World Dance Troupe Member, newly appointed Alianza Event Coordinator (whoop whoop!) and a sophomore Feb.
- Treasure Brooks is a first-year student, co-president of the Black Student Union and a Chellis House Monitor.
- Alice Butler is from Helena, Montana. She is a Campus Tour Guide, member of the Log Rolling Club, Manager of Sunday Night Environmental Group, a WRMC Radio DJ, a Midd View Leader and a junior.
- Cara Eisenstein is from Baltimore, Maryland and is the president of Feminist Action at Middlebury, a Chellis House Monitor and a senior.
- Vishawn Greene is a first-year student and Chellis House Monitor.
- Cat La Roche is from Asbury Park, New Jersey. She is a WRMC deejay, Chellis House Monitor and a first-year student.
What is “fat ‘n’ hairy: ways i’m failing the patriarchy”?
KS: “fat ‘n’ hairy” started when I began to identify and acknowledge this constant feeling of friction I held internally. No matter how much success I achieved in various parts of my life, whether it be earning As in college, securing a stable job or maintaining a group of friends who demonstrated reciprocal love for me, I continually felt like a failure if my body hair wasn’t removed, if my stomach wasn’t flat and if my cleavage and rouged lips weren’t effectively calling to a man. When I stopped to think about where I’d developed these very damaging expectations of myself, I realized I was imposing values on myself that uplifted the patriarchy. These ideas are often channeled through the media but are also passed down generationally within families. I knew I wasn’t alone in wrestling with these nagging voices that were constantly telling me I wasn’t doing enough and I wanted an outlet to manifest a collective discontent. ‘fat ‘n’ hairy” does just that.
KH: A brainchild of Katrina Spencer, who always finds imaginative and provocative ways to engage library visitors in the atrium. With the help of the library staff, Chellis House workers took this idea to the next level, browsing through their favorite patriarchy-defying books and essays and reaching out to fellow students to engage with the topic as well. Our brainstorming and cardmaking gathering with crafts last Wednesday (April 11th) at Chellis House was a great success, connecting patriarchy failures and (hopefully) giving an impetus for the beginning of new friendships between fellow activists.
MH: “fat ‘n’ hairy: ways i’m failing the patriarchy” is a project that allows people to embrace features of their bodies, attitudes, and perception of the world that have traditionally been looked down upon due to misogynistic and patriarchal social structures. Karin gave an excellent summary of the event and its development. Through the multimedia display, people can find comfort and support in the shared experiences of fellow “failures”. Located in the Davis Family Library, the display is a physical representation of the often problematic and patriarchal reification of knowledge and knowledge producing structures. Here, people who are failing the patriarchy can assert their agency, affecting the ways knowledge is produced and what it means to be worthy.
What about this project resonated with you?
GV: I enjoy the variety of material we have on display and I hope that there is something that resonates with everyone. As a lesbian, I wanted to make sure that there is queer visibility in our materials, because resisting the patriarchy is not a task made solely for straight women. As is seen in the notecards (the participatory aspect of the project), there are so many ways in which someone can resist the patriarchy, be it by engaging with our material, participating in movements, or even just taking the time to be thoughtful and intentional with your words and actions. I love the honesty of people’s responses.
KS: Women are subject to an inordinate amount of scrutiny based on sex and gender expression alone. Are they too loud? Are they loud enough? Can they cook? Are they nurturing? Can they support themselves? Are they gold diggers? Do they need to color their roots? Should they be wearing that? I noticed that a lot of the critique the world exposes women to and a lot of the critiques we make of ourselves are based on a body of standards that our external to us. We don’t make the rules– nor are we consulted on them– but we are expected to abide by them.
TS: This project really resonated with me because there are so many ways that we fail the patriarchy every single day without even realizing it, and this gave me and other people in the community the opportunity to reflect on patriarchy and empowerment. In some ways, existing at all in a world that constantly seeks to oppress us is a way that women, People of Color, LGBT+ people, and other marginalized groups are failing the patriarchy and systems of oppression generally.
ID: This project is incredibly stimulating to a variety of different senses, which is something that I really love about it. There’s something visual, something musical, and something uniquely beautiful about the power that is derived from every aspect that makes up this project. Furthermore, I really enjoyed how much this project started and has continued to grow. It started out as a feeling that is shared by many womyn, and now, it is a beacon that serves as a reminder of unity and empowerment. I hope this project catches someone’s eye and allows them to pause and reflect on how they’re contributing to, failing, or attempting to fail the patriarchy.
KH: This project brought up a lot of memories: of my 10-year-old self, when my mother chopped off all my hair because it was too “unruly;” of my middle school self when my hair grew back all in curls because of puberty and my Latin teacher again chided me for having “unruly” hair; of an ex-boyfriend who, after we broke up, said he would miss my hair (as if my hair was my only distinctive feature); the time I organized a lecture and discussion about hair at Middlebury in 2010 with the late and great Carol Rifelj. It’s all entangled!
Had you done any work like this before?
KS: Two answers: yes and no. Crowd-sourced, collaborative displays? Yes, alla time. Group projects with a strong, public, feminist current driving them? No, but Sophia Wallace’s Cliteracy, the natural hair movement within the Black community and the wave of women allowing their underarm hair to grow and dyeing it, too, surely had a significant impact on me. Women are authoring new relationships with their bodies and, as “we” say in contemporary slang, “I’m here for it.”
GV: No – fat ‘n’ hairy is remarkably unique. I feel like I am constantly telling people “Oh, you have to read this article” or someone sends me book recommendations that I never get around to reading, so I really enjoy that we’ve created an entire cache of recommendations. There are so many incredible books, movies, podcasts, etc. out there, and I love how we can share these recommendations amongst each other.
ID: No, I have not. Which sucks! This is such an amazing and fun project to collaborate on and add to. I definitely hope to continue to do more projects like this.
MH: This past J-Term I worked with Mika Morton ‘19 to organise and curate a Feminist Science Art Show. We reached out to students to facilitate the creation of art inspired by both intersectional feminist ides and the natural sciences. fat ‘n’ hairy reminds me of a painting created by Rachel Nelson ‘18. In resplendent, fantastical, non-realistic colors, Nelson used oil paint to depict a woman’s point of view while looking down at her own body. The hairy nipples and distended stomach were as empowering as they were beautiful. Nelson “works to remind people of beauty and of the sacredness of ourselves and the world”, and she certainly accomplished that goal with this piece. Also, it was hilarious to see multiple men stare at the painting and think it was mountains, and consequently get to tell them of a different interpretation. There is a picture of me with the painting at left. I am honored to be a part of another wonderful project!
What messages is this interactive display trying to forward?
KS: Women exist for purposes beyond tailoring our bodies for men’s consumption. Moreover, the body is a vessel and a vehicle. The person people want to access exists inside of it.
TS: Women and other marginalized groups have so many expectations and restrictions placed on their bodies, actions, and thoughts. I’m hoping that, by engaging with this display, viewers can both feel empowered in their bodies and selves and reminded of the harmful effects patriarchy has on ALL of us.
ID: Womyn are incredibly powerful, but we’re constantly being told to move a certain way, to sit in a certain way, to live in a certain way, and to exist in a certain way. I hope that by engaging in this display, womyn understand the way the patriarchy has affected them. This awareness is what will hopefully continue to drive this revolution of womyn empowerment and solidarity.
KH: We need to fail the patriarchy even more and find new imaginative ways to do so!
Who is the primary audience? Secondary?
KS: For me, I want other women to feel empowered and to feel even greater agency over their bodies. I want men to be reminded of women’s agency over our own bodies.
GV: The primary audience is supposed to be women. But really, the collection of resources we have can and should resonate with everybody. Anyone can fail the patriarchy. The patriarchy imposes expectations on women, but women are by no means the only people who should be actively resisting patriarchal norms. Masculinity was something we’ve talked about at length. The patriarchy also imposes gender norms and binaries – it’s important to remember that though women are the intended audience, genderqueer and gender non-binary people are actively oppressed by the patriarchy.
ID: Everyone should be a part of this audience who engages with this material. It should not be exclusive because we are all affected by the patriarchy.
KH: I hope that this exhibition activates the brain cells of everybody who cares to examine the display.
How did you interact with library collections to develop this project?
MH: A big chunk of the recommended books, artists, and musicians were all gathered during a Chellis House meeting. One night, Karin Hanta and all of the Chellis House Monitors sat in a circle and uploaded the titles/names of a variety of books, music, and artists to a Google Excel sheet. It was a wonderful to share such awesome resources and empower one another!
KS: A list of relevant materials/thematic content was crowdsourced.
KH: Thank you to Katrina, Rachel Manning and Kat Cyr!
ID: Katrina is such an amazing humyn being! Karin– thank you so much for collaborating with Katrina and for involving all of the Chellis House monitors.
How does the discussion of gender continue after the display is taken down?
ID: The conversation of gender should always continue! I’m hoping to see the biopic on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg [RBG]. Additionally, I continue to engage in this conversation with men (in particular with my amazing boyfriend Ronnie Tapiwa Shereni), and we both discuss how the patriarchy has influenced the both of us and how to combat it!
GV: When isn’t a good time to discuss gender? I hope that the display inspires people to learn more about gender issues and engage in positive dialogue and action. Gender inequality and patriarchal standards inform so much of our lives and society, so I hope that people become cognizant of ways that they can subvert these norms.
KH: Chellis House lives and breathes feminism. I am going to check into whether we can have a private screening of [the] RBG [biopic].
- senior Rachel Nelson (RN)
- sophomore Coralie Tyler (CT)
- sophomore Reg Eva Bod (EB)
In terms of multiracial identity, how do you identify?
RN: I’ve started identifying as “Not Black, Not White” or maybe just “Not”. Most of my life I identified as black and white.
CT: I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. Raised between the U.S., South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia. Ethnically, I’m Irish, Scottish and German through my dad, and I’m Afro-French, Portuguese, and Japanese through my mom. I always identified as being mixed race/multiracial.
EB: Mixed. Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Raised in Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
Did you have any exposure to any books/shows/movies featuring and/or reflecting multiracial individuals and their families growing up? How did you feel about them?
RN: Hm. I feel like I had access to ‘African’/’African American’ things and white people things. I don’t think I was exposed to anything involving a mixed couple/mixed people… unless it was like a novel I read on slavery and about how lighter slaves worked in the house and could occasionally read, escape easier… but yeah. Not like that was a role model for me. And I read a ton growing up.
I don’t think not having a role model affected me negatively much growing up. My dad’s biracial, and I’m the kid who literally looks half him and half my white mother.
My parents did a really good job at letting us know we were different, they were talking awhile ago about our drawings of our family and we always chose the yellow crayon for white people and tried mixing the yellow with the brown for us kids. I’m the youngest of three kids. Sometime in later middle school the fact that I was completely white passing made itself clear to me. When the ‘only white’ kids could get tanner than me, or kept their tans longer— I was really jealous actually. When I was in like, elementary school, I regularly would pick a freckle/birthmark out on my skin and wish I was that color, imagine myself like that, so I could be like my aunts.
I wish I had more exposure to multiracial identities growing up. I think it would’ve helped me understand what being white-passing means and given me more strength in dealing with that and who I am.
CT: I don’t actively recall recognizing prominent characters like me (whether it’s similar to my background or not) in TV shows and films although I would now be able to pinpoint several examples from my childhood. I am definitely more aware of mixed race families and individuals whenever I partake in media these days.
My parents always pointed out actors, athletes, musicians and other famous figures that are mixed race. Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Kimora Lee Simmons are ones that I recall being in awe of as they were like me. As a family, we still like to causally point out mixed people in the media to each other. My brother does it a lot with athletes and musicians while I tend to do it more with movies, TV shows and fashion since that’s my niche.
My parents also made it a point to expose us to multiracial kids and their families (regardless of the mixture), introduce us to their multiracial adult friends and surround us with people with who saw us as mixed race.
That definitely played a huge part in being confident and proud of our heritages and uniqueness for my brother and me.
EB: When I was little, I had a cloth doll named Babette. My hair was blonde like her yarn hair, but my nose was round and I wanted it to be like hers. I waited until I was 11 to see a black Disney princess. My lips were full like Tiana’s (from The Princess and the Frog), but my color didn’t match her beautiful skin. It wasn’t until I found Jidenna, a rapper/singer/songwriter, that I learned about mixed excellence. He found power in fashion, and I found power in his voice. For those unfamiliar with him: Jidenna grew up in Wisconsin and Massachusetts (like me) and spends his time curating his signature style, marrying European and West African aesthetics. Our parents taught us “how to make a silver spoon out of plastic” in an environment that uses binaries against us. In his words, “well done’s better than well said” (a lyric from Jidenna’s “Long Live the Chief“).
What do you wish people understood more about multiracial identities?
EB: I wish people understood non-binary racial identity. I am not a chameleon, becoming “white” or “black” depending on my surroundings. I am European, Island Carib, Asian, and African. Just because my father is not African American, doesn’t mean he’s ignorant to the black experience in America. He is black and he has been discriminated against, too. Blackness is not always binary.
Some white people will see me as white, and some POCs (people of color) will see me as black. I am neither, I am both.
RN: I’m invisible. In all settings.
I heard a girl at the Loving Day* celebration (a court case that has twice enabled me to exist legally) standing right behind me complaining about all the white people there, and I was there with my white-passing friend and his white girlfriend and I just turned around and was like, “Hi, we’re not white, we’re just white-passing,” and my friend waved. I didn’t want to deal with it beyond that, so I turned around. And I understand this skin tone gives me so much privilege, but like everyone, I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t want it.
I don’t usually remember specific instances of white people being racist. Probably because I avoid those people and haven’t worked in really conservative and rural areas. Or maybe because I swallow it down.
I feel like whenever we talk about race, I have to ‘come-out’ about it. That gives me a lot of anxiety because I don’t feel like I have a claim to say that I am either of these two races. It’s probably why I’m identifying as ‘Not’ now.
CT: That being multiracial is being intersectional 24/7. Being mixed race means that you have multiple backgrounds, cultures, belief systems and histories within you. You find yourself looking at things in multiple ways that helps you find a perspective that people may not necessarily discover. I am unable to look at things from one “side” without having to reconcile it with the others. By the time you combine that with your gender, sexuality, upbringing, nationality, etc., you realize that the way you see things is entirely different and that not everyone would get that. I think it’s the most beautiful part of being mixed.
Are there any sources (books, magazines, movies, shows, music) you would recommend to learn more about multiracial heritage and multiracial families/ the historical and cultural contributions of multiracial individuals?
CT: Loving, which is a film based off of the Loving v. Virginia case back in 1967. Although the case isn’t very well known, it was responsible for the legalization of interracial marriage and paved the way for same-sex marriage rights later on.
Once in a while, I read and re-read this article Meghan Markle wrote for Elle Magazine back when she was still an actress titled, “I’m More Than An Other.” She talks about her sense of identity and how her upbringing as a mixed race child impacted her sense of self, career and so on. As she has been recently catapulted into the world’s public sphere as the newest member of the British Royal Family, it’s amazing to see such a person unapologetically self-identify as multiracial, which plays a huge role in representation and awareness for mixed race individuals around the world in this era.
EB: If you’d like a statement for allies asking to be taught about race, read: “When You Walk Into the Valley” by John Metta, a writer on Medium.
*Loving Day (June 12) is the date that commemorates the Loving v. Virginia case that lifted the ban on interracial marriages throughout the United States back in 1967. Today, it is celebrated by multiracial families and individuals around the world.
To see an exhaustive list of the materials included in the Davis Family Library’s atrium display, visit this spreadsheet.
The collaborative, locally sourced, internationally themed, contemporary and historical exhibit “Hair Me Out” is now installed on the Upper Level of the Davis Family Library and includes multimedia components in the atrium. It explores the political, diasporic and stylistic phenomena surrounding Black hair from all around the world. This exhibit will be installed from February 21st through March 22nd. Stop by to see it and visit go.middlebury.edu/hairmeout to see its digital representation.
Who’s involved in this latest exhibit?
Katrina Spencer (Literatures & Cultures Librarian) [KS]: Roll Call/ Credits:
- Jade Moses, a sophomore from New York and Guyana who studies Psychology
- Thandwa Mdluli, a sophomore from the small kingdom of Swaziland who studies Psychology and may seek a minor in Dance
- Kizzy Joseph, a senior from New York and Grenada who studies American Studies and is pursuing a double minor in African American Studies and Education Studies
- Betty Kafumbe, a staff member in the Finance/Controller’s Office from Uganda
- Professor Christal Brown from North Carolina who is Chair of the Dance Program
- Natasha Ngaiza, a Tanzanian American Visiting Assistant Professor of Film and Media Culture
- Lydia Clemmons, a community member and owner of the Clemmons Family Farm
- Myself, a librarian from Los Angeles who regularly encourages creative and collaborative projects
“Hair Me Out”? Is that a pun?
KS: It is! And all credit goes to our punny Jade Moses! The Hair Me Out exhibit is an opportunity for Black staff, students and faculty to showcase many of the ways we engage with our hair. The texture of our hair is one of the most definitive markers of our ethnic and racial identities and has suffered a great deal of persecution for centuries and even today with bans of dreadlocks (2012), Afros (2016) and braids (2017) still happening in schools, on work sites and in the armed forces in the United States, in parts of Africa and throughout the Black diaspora. The rise of the natural hair movement has invited Black peoples to re-embrace our hair in its natural state and has granted Black peoples license to appreciate our hair anew. A variety of styles and testimonies can be seen on the exhibit’s digital home page at go.middlebury.edu/hairmeout.
The Hair Me Out exhibit includes and represents this trend and the many others– weaves, extensions, press ‘n’ curls, relaxers, finger waves, et al– that have come in and out of popularity over time, inviting in-groups and out-groups to critically engage with this highly politicized part of our personhood. Have you ever wondered why Michelle Obama hasn’t been seen with an Afro? Or why Barack Obama hasn’t sported cornrows while delivering the State of the Union address? Hair has meaning and Hair Me Out taps into it.
How did you decide what to include?
KS: As “we” say, “from jump” we knew that we would be working without a budget so we had to be creative about what we would include. Aside from books, mannequins and stands, 100% of the items– dashikis, wigs, combs, busts, pins etc.– and products– creams, oils, butters, etc.– are personal property belonging to some member of the group.
Lydia Clemmons from the local and Vermont-based Clemmons Family Farm really came through with beautiful items and realia sourced from West Africa: wooden statuettes of Black women with textured carvings of hair. When I provided the seed of an idea for this project, my vision was rather modest. It has grown impressively under the careful and loving eyes of many.
Is there co-programming that goes along with this?
KS: Yes! Newly tenured dance professor Christal Brown has leant her prowess in inviting both a barber and hair stylist to come to Middlebury to offer discounted services to students. Men’s barber, “Kev,” will arrive on February 25th to Solos Salon Associates on Court Street. See the Facebook event here. And Linda Hill will be available at the same place on March 4th and 5th. See the Facebook event here. Both are ready to create a variety of styles for community members who normally have limited local access to Black hair experts.
Also, a cycle of screenings of thematic films has already commenced! UMOJA, the African Student Union, has screened Yellow Fever, a short film on Blackness and hair. And You Can Touch My Hair will be shown by Women of Color (WOC) this coming Wednesday, February 21st at 7:00 p.m. in Chellis House.
What was the most challenging part of developing this?
KS: For me, I was literally involved in three other projects– the Black History Month Display, In Your Own Words and Black History Month Jeopardy— when I presented ideas around an exhibit that centered Black hair. I had figuratively tied my own hands because if I were to carry out the first three projects well, it was in no one’s interest that I take on a fourth as there are only so many hours in the day. That said, as you know, Middlebury starts its Spring semester in the middle of February [Black History Month], thusly, much of the planning for this effort needed to happen during J-Term. The group was very invested, working after class and even during the week of interim between J-Term and the Spring semester. I am continually impressed by their efforts.
Of what are you most proud?
KS: I like to entertain myself with the idea that to some extent I educated these women on new uses of the library. Throughout this process, if they did not know how to do so before, they learned how to make purchase requests to grow our collections, how to navigate licensing for the public screening of films and they made many new contacts from Special Collections, Circulation in reserving spaces, props and materials and perhaps Digital Media Tutors in the Wilson Media Lab. I like to think it was a covert and crafty mission of mine in getting them to know new things but they were always open, willing, engaged, aware and quite awake. . . so I’m not that clever. LOL Middlebury students are very smart. And they miss nothing. Nothing is lost on them.
What do you hope others will gain from this exhibit?
KS: I’d love for them to sit with the idea of diaspora and gain a deeper understanding that there are Black people– black and brown humans worthy of dignity– all over the planet. I want people who do not identify as Black to gain a deeper of understanding of how much those of us who do identify as Black care about and for our hair. I want others to know that they, too, can take greater ownership of library spaces.
What did you learn in the process?
KS: I confirmed what I suspected: with a little guidance, students can develop amazing, educational works that edify the community. At times in this process, after providing an idea and information about accessing the tools necessary to shape this exhibit, it was more helpful for me to shut my mouth, step back and let others work. I say that with no offense intended towards me. But my anxieties about timeline and fears about quality of presentation were not especially useful to the group. And my idea of what might be an appropriate scale and scope were potentially limiting to the group’s vision. So I “coup d’état-ed” myself so that others could lead and lead well. And they did. Over and over again. It is my honor to be even marginally associated with this project. It was everyone else who did the hard work.
As a relatively new resident in Vermont, there are some regional resources I didn’t know about, like the Clemmons Family Farm. Betty Kafumbe found ways to engage the greater Vermont community and to ensure the discourse we engaged was both local and international. I must praise her efforts. Christal Brown, too, contributed and expanded the project in ways I could not have anticipated. Her access to dramatic props like mannequins and her professional contacts enriched this project. I mean, if this is not community, what is?
KS: Ooh, chile (<—African American Vernacular English, [@Marcos Rohena-Madrazo] also known as “AAVE”). We in the library got the Mixed Kids’ mixed race display; summin’ called “fat ‘n’ hairy: ways i’m failing the patriarchy” and “Resume of Failures,” too. Can’t stop, won’t stop. Don’t ask what they are. Just keep a look out for ‘em. Various speakers will engage the topic of Challenging White Supremacy on the 26th. And supported by the Middlebury College Activities Board (MCAB) and Women of Color (WOC), Jade Moses and Thandwa Mdluli are bringing a poet, Porsha O., to campus on February 27th. It’s dizzying, really. Or as we said during Black History Month Jeopardy, “It’s lit”: “luminous, dynamic, enjoyable.”
Name: Katrina Spencer
Hometown: Los Angeles
Role at Middlebury: Literatures & Cultures Librarian
Time at Middlebury: 1 year, 10 days
Katrina, are you prepping a display… again?
Yes, I have a problem.
What’s it about?
My problem or the display?
I have an obsessive streak that is manifesting itself in this way. The display is a small celebration of Valentine’s Day. It’s called “Blind Date With A Book.” My former supervisor, Jessica Newman, at Steenbock Library at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, hipped me to it.
Doesn’t that kind of crowd the atrium?
Yes, we have a lot of great collections we want to highlight. Currently we have at least three temporary displays there: the Black History Month Display, the New England Review’s display, and Blind Date With A Book. (On the Upper Level, a display called “Hair Me Out” is being prepped, too. See if you can find it.)
What’s special about Blind Date With A Book?
Well, with this one, it’s only there for a limited time: February 11th- 19th. Many of the items are wrapped up so you can’t see what the title is and by unwrapping it, you make a small commitment of getting to know the work without knowing much about its content, hence the concept of a blind date. ;)
Take a selfie with the book you unwrap so we can show the match made in heaven on Facebook. Tag “Middlebury College Libraries.”
Also, don’t miss out on Special Collections’ (SC) awesome event, “DIY Valentine Event,” Tuesday February 13th. SC always has cool stuff.
As an aside, I noticed we didn’t have many love stories featuring people of color so that will launch some new acquisitions: Love and Basketball, Love Jones and Poetic Justice. The form at go.middlebury.edu/requests will allow you to make requests, too. For now, minimally, we have Chico & Rita. ;)
Who helped you to shape this?
You want me to name my accomplices?
Leanne Galletly did the wrapping. Marlena Evans supplied numerous items, the book cart and the heart-shaped decorations. Kat Cyr also added titles that would be thematically appropriate for the project. I. . . I am an endless source of ideas.
Is that why they hired you?
Maybe. That and the degree (MSLIS). And the willingness.
Can you give us a hint as to what lies beneath the wrapping?
- There may or may not be a classic work by a world famous South American writer there.
- There may or may not be a work dedicated to telling Muslim women’s stories of love.
- There may or may not be the story of two men falling in love and having to hide their intimacy from the world.
So who’s your Valentine?
The Davis Family Library is celebrating Black History Month in February 2018 with a display of books, audio CDs, DVDs, podcast recommendations, multimedia-based interviews and programming. Come to the atrium to see what we have in store and get a sneak peek at go/bhmdigital/. Read below to find out about the variety of ways to engage.
Katrina (Literatures & Cultures Librarian), what are the libraries doing to celebrate Black History Month?
Let me highlight three projects in detail:
The Black History Month Display in the Davis Family Library atrium, February 1st- 28th, will include books, CDs, DVDs and podcast recommendations created by and about black writers, entertainers and artists. The scope is broad with works from the late sociologist W.E.B. DuBois (1868- 1963) and living, contemporary screenwriter Issa Rae (1985- ); jazz pioneer Miles Davis (1926- 1991) and Grammy award winning rapper Kendrick Lamar (1987- ); the cinematic classic The Color Purple (set in the 1930s and made in 1985) and filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s Selma (set in 1965 and made in 2014). We’ve also got Senegalese author Mariama Bâ’s French-language classic Une si longue lettre; Cuban singer Celia Cruz’s Azúcar Negra in Spanish; and Pelé: Birth of A Legend, a documentary on the Brazilian futbolista extraordinaire. Blackness, after all, is not contained to any one, geographic region. You can get a sneak peek at the books by visiting go.middlebury.edu/bhmdigital.
Second, In Your Own Words, an oral histories project, features interviews with students, staff and faculty from the Middlebury community responding to a variety of questions, among them:
- Racially and ethnically, how do you identify?
- How do notions of race and ethnicity change based on where you are and who you’re with?
- What do you wish others knew about race and ethnicity?
These audio recordings cover identities linked to the Southside of Chicago, the Afro-Caribbean and East Africa and can be found on StoryCorps and in the Archives along with pdf transcripts. They will also be aired on Wednesdays February 21st and February 28th from 2:00- 3:00 p.m. on the Middlebury College campus’ radio station, WRMC 91.1. If interested in delving more deeply into personal stories addressing African identities, seek out Life Stories, found in Special Collections, in which three alums, Barbara Ofosu-Soumah (Ghana), Mukui Mbindyo (Kenya) and Cheswayo Mphanza (Zambia), tell of their their experiences at Middlebury.
Third, a competitive trivia game event inspired by Jeopardy will be held this month. Participants will compete for coveted prizes including board games, coloring books and poetry collections. Audience members can participate in a raffle for tickets to the opening night of Black Panther at The Marquis. Twelve categories have been prepared for the game that cover themes like geography, popular culture, literature and more. Sponsors include the Middlebury College Libraries, Vice President for Human Resources and Risk Karen Miller and the Program in American Studies.
Who makes all this possible?
With fear of leaving someone out, let me describe some of the roles people take on:
- Kat Cyr, Rachel Manning and their student workers in Interlibrary Loan help to prepare bibliographies and pull featured items from the shelves.
- Digital Media Tutors like Pedro, Dan, Caleb, Alfredo, Fayza, Rachel and Emma, Cataloging Specialist Marlena Evans, Librarians Amy Frazier and Leanne Galletly and Alumna Coumba Winfield help with developing print banners and advertisements.
- Kim Gurney and Dan Frostman help to reserve props and digitally mark items as “on display.”
- Lisa McLaughlin, Michael Warner and Marlena help with much of the invisible magic of ordering items and cataloging print and multimedia purchases.
- Carrie Macfarlane helps me to problem solve and to manage my own creative ambitions. ;)
- Every person interviewed shared their personal testimonies, which is no small feat: Jade Moses, Shenisis Kirkland, Clark Lewis, Kemi Fuentes-George, Kizzy Joseph, Nicole Curvin and Sarady Merghani.
- Patrick Wallace prepared all of the audio files for the Archives.
- Bill Koulopoulos’ group provided the funds for transcription.
- Meg Daly and Maddy Goodhart planned the airing of the shows on WRMC.
- Austin Kahn posted advertisements for Jeopardy.
- Susan Burch educated me, as she always does, on the Life Stories project.
- And all this is without mentioning the many people who will be staffing the trivia event!
How can we help?
- Know your librarian. There are 12 of us and we all have different strengths and expertise.
- Make appointments. It is a tremendous help to be able to anticipate office visits.
- Heed advice. Want to develop a display? Read go/displays/. Or want new items purchased? Use go/requests/.
What did you learn in the process of prepping all this?
- Kathleen Collins was an African American cinematic directing pioneer and a Middlebury Language Schools alum who developed 1982’s film Losing Ground.
- Stand-up comedian, actress and talk show hostess Whoopi Goldberg directed a documentary about a humorist who influenced her by the name of Moms Mabley.
- Roxane Gay, writer of Bad Feminist, wrote a work of fictional short stories late last year called Difficult Women. It is en route to the Davis Family Library.
- There’s a book in our collection titled The Loneliness of the Black Republican.
- Julius Lester (1939- 2018), author of Black Folktales, recently passed away. With a book history project in grad school, Singed By the Fires, it was his work that first taught me I could incorporate blackness into librarianship. So, I dedicate this work to him.
About a year ago, I wrote that I hoped my work would be contagious. I wanted it to inspire others to further and more regularly engage with difference. People have been receptive to those cues and are creating ever more dynamic discourses on this campus.
From easiest to hardest, Leanne [Galletly] (User Experience and Digital Scholarship Librarian) and I want to make the spreadsheets used for the displays from the last year public. I want to find more time to read, research and contribute to national discourse on librarianship. Lastly, I need to recruit more professional peers who are people of color into my life.