From Resilience to Resistance: Repurposing Faculty Writers’ Survival Strategies
Author(s): Sandra L. Tarabochia
Sandra L. Tarabochia is an associate professor of English at the University of Oklahoma. Her research and teaching interests include holistic writer/human development, critical and artistic writing research methods, and feminist rhetorics and pedagogy. She is the author of Reframing the Relational: A Pedagogical Ethic for Cross-Curricular Literacy Work (2017), part of the NCTE series Studies in Writing and Rhetoric and co-editor of Diverse Approaches to Teaching, Learning, and Writing Across the Curriculum: IWAC at 25 (2020), part of the WAC Clearinghouse Perspectives on Writing series. With Michele Eodice and Aja Martinez, she is founding co-editor of Writers: Craft & Context, an open-access, interdisciplinary journal committed to inclusive publication and equitable representation.
Abstract: This article utilizes poetic inquiry as a feminist research methodology to humanize and shed light on faculty writer development. More specifically, found poetry—a radical strategy for qualitative inquiry that blends humanities and social science approaches—is used to examine and represent the experience of resilience (adversity and perseverance) among faculty writers. It is widely acknowledged that faculty writers struggle to produce scholarship in a “publish or perish” climate intensified by the neoliberal agenda of higher education, especially women and scholars from marginalized groups who disproportionately suffer the effects of racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, colonialist institutions. However, despite a few studies revealing best practices of publishing scholars, we know relatively little about the lived experience of faculty writers. In order to surface embodied realties of writers, interview data from an ongoing longitudinal study of faculty writers is presented as a composite found poem. Drawing on feminist critiques, the data poem is analyzed to reveal problems with resilience as a framework for faculty writer support. Critically interrogating writers’ experiences of adversity, the article suggests how mentors (institutionally appointed mentors, chairs, tenure committees, journal editors, and peers) can change the discourse and practice around resilience in our support of faculty writers.Tags: data poem, faculty writers, feminist research methods, poetic inquiry, qualitative inquiry, resilience
Writing, Like a Road Trip
Writing’s like a road trip: trying to get to the next stop
this factory process of keeping things moving
Trying to get to the next stop,
he said up the body count,
It’s more assembly line thinking,
so I’m upping the body count
Trying to get to the next stop
now I want to sit a while before going to the next place
Those months that I didn’t do much
hurry, think of a project
Where I was just sad
I don’t see the end of it.
Good ideas don’t come out of busy days.
This poem, composed in the words of faculty writers, offers a glimpse of the anxiety that results from pressure to produce high stakes academic writing. It captures the resilience of writers, their persistence, their willingness to do what must be done to proceed, to get to the next stop, even when there is no end in sight. In doing so, the poem surfaces embodied, emotional dimensions of faculty members’ lived experience of writing for high stakes publication. I propose that by highlighting the complex relationship between unique and shared experiences, the one and the many, data poems like the one above put pressure on common assumptions about resilience and productivity that fuel success for some faculty more than others. In this article, I use poetic inquiry1 as part of a feminist research methodology–(see Appendix A) that probes public-private, mind-body, and intellect-emotion binaries to reveal multiple, complicated truths about building a healthy academic writing life (Faulkner 7).
Unfortunately, efforts to develop a critical, material, multidimensional understanding of faculty writers’ needs and experiences are relatively rare. Whereas emerging scholarship offers a rich sense of the lived experiences of graduate student writers (Madden, Eodice, Edwards, and Lockett, 2020), faculty are a new focus for the field of writing studies (Hedengren), and what scholarship exists does not always take such a holistic, humanistic approach. Geller and Eodice’s groundbreaking collection Working with Faculty Writers is one of the first to “delve into who faculty writers are, and who they might be, and consider the theoretical, philosophical, and pedagogical approaches to faculty writing support” (Geller 9–10). Focusing on what works in particular institutional and programmatic contexts, the collection paves the way for more intense scholarly inquiry in the area (Hedengren 165). Although faculty writers have been the subject of studies in the field of composition and rhetoric (Sonderlund and Wells; Tulley; Wells and Sonderlund) and in other disciplines (Ezer; Sword), research tends to focus on best practices, behaviors, and habits of mind of successful academic writers. As I argue elsewhere (Tarabochia), the approach problematically reinforces dominant success narratives and fails to represent or support diverse “trajectories of becoming” (P. Prior). Without a sense of how writer and human development happen “across the trajectories of a life” (P. Prior) rather than within particular domains, we as writers and as mentors (both institutionally appointed and informal), may inadvertently reinforce misguided assumptions about what it takes to succeed in high stakes academic publishing and actually thwart many faculty writers’ holistic growth and development.
I focus on the construct of resilience because resilience implicitly shapes assumptions about faculty writers’ struggles and successes and impacts faculty members’ writing lives in underacknowledged ways. Although resilience is rarely evoked directly in scholarship on faculty writers, various constructs of resilience undergird efforts to help faculty respond to the challenges of writing for publication and persist in the struggle to earn tenure; these constructs shape faculty writers’ self-perceptions and evaluations of their writing practices and products. Valuing and encouraging resilience may seem like an accepted moral good, but uncritical pursuit of and demand for resilience can be dangerous; thus resilience deserves a closer look in this context.
To theorize resilience, I begin with definitions from ecology, psychiatry, and psychology that understand resilience as the capacity (of a system or individual) to absorb disturbance (Walker and Salt xiii), to bounce back after difficulty (Southwick and Charney 8), to adapt to adversity (Comas-Diaz et al.), to demonstrate “hardiness” and “surviv[e] stress” (Kobasa and Puccetti, and Rutter qtd. in Jordan 29). In this view, resilience is a valuable mechanism for sustaining a person or a system; it is an uncontested good.
However, scholars have problematized the notion of resilience, from educational (Gallagher, Minter and Stenberg; McMahon), race-based (Bachay and Cingel; Griffin), queer (Cover; Meyer), disability (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals”), indigenous (Reid), and feminist (Bracke; Flynn, Sotirin and Brady; McMahon) perspectives. For example, resilience is often associated with “individual persistence” (Fulford 231), neglecting “relationality and mutuality as constitutive dynamics of resilience” (Flynn, Sotirin, and Brady, 5). Prioritizing personal traits can obscure systemic forces that demand resilience from some more than others. Resilience can also be problematic when it is indexed to the status quo (Lerner). The goal of resilience is typically to return to “normal” after a challenge or disturbance. However, when “normal” constitutes a state of oppression, the aim of returning to rather than transforming original conditions becomes questionable. As Sarah Bracke points out in her feminist critique, traditional forms of resilience can actually limit the capacity to imagine and pursue transformation because resilience depends on the very dispossession it seeks to overcome (65).
Scholarship on resilience in higher education tends to focus on undergraduates (Gallagher, Minter and Stenberg), while few scholars consider resilience in the context of faculty success (for example see Cora-Bramble and Cora-Bramble et al.). Resilience is not a featured concept in studies of faculty writers per se; the term does not appear in the index of recent publications (Ezer; Geller and Eodice; Sword; Tulley). However, my conversations with participants in a longitudinal research study designed to investigate faculty writers’ lived experiences revealed significant adversity (i.e. rejection, self-doubt, guilt and shame), suggesting that resilience may be a central and potentially problematic construct shaping writers’ self-perceptions of their struggle to publish or perish.
I interrogate resilience from a feminist perspective because I take seriously emotional, material, relational, psychological, embodied aspects of writers’ lives and processes, dimensions that are typically ignored or devalued in institutional contexts designed to objectively celebrate the disembodied intellectual prowess of upper middle class white men. My method of interrogation, poetic inquiry, works as a “feminist embodied analysis” through which I make myself vulnerable, “show[ing] my bodily engagement with participants and research ideas” using poetry to “understand, describe, and query embodied experiences [my own and participants’] in everyday relational life” (Faulkner 22).2 Before offering an extended found poem, I will briefly describe the longitudinal qualitative research study that generated the field texts from which the poem was composed and explain how resilience emerged as a point of investigation.
Capturing Lived Experience of Faculty Writers: A Research Study
In 2016, I began a longitudinal study that involves interviewing faculty writers every spring for up to six years to understand their experiences of their writing lives. My interview approach, broadly rooted in Robert Kegan’s Constructive-Developmental Theory of self-evolution, seeks to shed light on how participants make sense of their experiences and their lives.3 Loosely following the design protocol described by Lahey et al., interviews begin with a self-inventory in which participants jot down memories or experiences from their writing lives related to 10 words—angry, anxious/nervous, success, strong stand/conviction, sad, torn, moved/touched, lost something, change, important—and use their notes to guide the interview. Kegan and colleagues found these words directed interviews to “ripe areas,” leading interviewees to establish “ongoing awareness of themselves” (Lahey et al. 202). Using emotion to prompt self-reflection and experiential meaning-making resonates with the feminist methodology guiding my project. It honors embodied emotion (emotion related to original experiences, memories of which are triggered by words on the cards, and emotions that emerge in the moment as a result of recalling memories of being angry, sad, torn, etc.) in a context (academic writing) that tends to privilege the mind. The inventory allows both me and the participant to “take a break from the ‘outside’ world and to settle into [ourselves]” (Lahey et al. 203), promoting feminist values of relationality and deep listening. The protocol empowers the interviewee; I never see the cards so participants have the privacy to “generate a fuller pool of experiences to select from in the interview” and an opportunity to decide what they are willing to share (Lahey et al. 203). Many faculty writers find the inventory and interview process meaningful for their private thinking, reflection, and growth. Many share how rarely they are invited to reflect on their writing lives and how grateful they are to revisit experiences about which they carry strong, sometimes unprocessed emotion.
The study is ongoing; participants have joined and left the study since it began in 2016 and 25 people are currently active. In this article, I offer a snapshot, analyzing transcripts gathered from 21 participants in spring 2018.4 Participants were recruited from three different institutions, all wanted or needed to write for publication, and most were initially recruited from facilitated faculty writing groups. Most were tenure track or recently tenured in 2018. They come from several field areas and disciplines, though mostly from Social Science and Arts & Humanities. Most self-identified as white women, one woman is Black, one man Iranian, one man mixed race and three people chose not to specify race or ethnicity.5
Over the last several years, I’ve experimented with approaches to preliminary data analysis and generated insights about the relation between graduate student and faculty writer development (Tarabochia & Madden), the role of emotional labor in writers’ developmental trajectories (Madden & Tarabochia), how transformative experiences inform learning transfer for faculty (Tarabochia & Heddy), and how self-authorship works as a lens for understanding and supporting faculty writer development (Tarabochia). I’ve also used exploratory coding strategies rooted in constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz) such as open and focused coding to mine subsets of the data for larger themes or points of interest. My consistent engagement with data, my extended relationship with participants, and my own experiences as a faculty writer inform the subjectivity (researcher and human) from which I offer the artistic representation at the heart of this article. Many issues indicative of the type of adversity that calls for resilience have been consistently present for me as a faculty writer and in the stories participants tell about their writing lives (See Appendix A).
Found poetry: A Feminist Interpretive Approach
Found poetry is an arts-based approach to representing qualitative interview data, what Laurel Richardson (“Writing”) calls a “radically interpretive” “social science art form” (964; Richardson “Nine Poems”; “Poetic”; Butler-Kisber “Whispering Angels”; Qualitative; Janesick). A critical, decolonial methodology, arts-based research (ABR) challenges claims to objective Truth, foregrounding instead “multiple and complicated truths” (Faulkner 7) at the level of “intuition, perception, emotion” and embodiment (McNiff 4; R. Prior x). Relevant for feminist researchers, found poetry can “demasculinize” social research by offering alternative representations of knowledge and dismantling claims to objective analysis, foregrounding the interpretive labor of researchers and readers (Richardson, “Poetic” 879). By “jarring people into seeing and thinking differently” (Leavy, “Method” 24), arts-based practices support activist goals, moving readers to action by offering a more provocative re-creation of experience compared to traditional, linear science-oriented prose. As Richardson (“Poetic”) points out, the “body responds to poetry. It is felt” (879, original emphasis).
The approach is particularly valuable for examining resilience because it engages the complex relationship between the individual and the collective. Resonant with portraiture as a genre of inquiry, found poetry “capture[s] the texture and nuance of human experience” in ways that recognize and celebrate the individual even as it blurs the “boundaries between individual and humankind” (Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis 5, 21). I use found poetry to represent the relationship between each individual participant in my study and a composite story, emerging through poetry, that intermingles their words; between the “one” collective voice of the poem and the many readers who may find resonance there; between me as poet-researcher and faculty writer with my own lived experiences and each participant in the study sharing stories that speak to me in the data.
I crafted the poems featured in this article intuitively using a non-linear process similar to that of educational researchers Butler-Kisber (“Artful Portrayals”) and Walsh that involved several rounds of selecting, paring down, deleting, rearranging lines, building a “mental kaleidoscope” as words of one participant conjured aspects of other participants’ experiences until the accumulation surfaced and made “more tangible” various dimensions of the subject of investigation, resilience (Butler-Kisber, “Artful Portrayals” 233).6 As I prepared to conduct interviews in 2019, I read transcripts from 2018 and kept a file with sentences and phrases that struck me as I read. Because I was interested in exploring resilience, I paid particular attention to lines that captured adversity or faculty responses to adversity. I whittled down the file to the most poignant or impactful lines, the ones that provoked a bodily reaction in me, and those that chillingly captured the essence of what I’d heard from other participants. Next, I grouped the lines that spoke to each other and chose lines to title those groups. Finally, I arranged the lines within each group into stanzas that addressed different aspects of the topic or communicated a feeling.
In Butler-Kisber’s (“Artful Portrayals”) words, “there is no question that this found poem is my interpretation” of what I heard in participants’ stories based on what “resonated with my—and what I imagined were other [faculty writers’]—experiences” (234, 232).7 Attendees of my session at the 2019 Feminisms & Rhetorics conference performed a collaborative reading of this poem. Their unsolicited comments about how deeply, and in some cases disturbingly, the words and sentiments resonated with them as writers speak to the criteria used to assess the value and utility of poetic inquiry: verisimilitude, narrative truth, and evocation (Leavy, “Introduction”; Fernández-Giménez, Jennings, and Wilmer).8
Adversity and Resilience in Faculty Writing Lives: A Found Poem
1 All sorts of ways of telling a story,
—-Find the rhythm.
2 Get told: Okay, here’s the path, go down the path.
—-Over and over and over
—-Over and over and over again.
—-Such a torture!
3 You have to imagine Sisyphus is happy.
4 Anxious. Nervous.
—-Always the question:
—-Will the words come?
5 Writing is what makes the pressure
—-of writing go away.
6 It shouldn’t be that hard, but it is for me.
—-A constant battle:
—-You can do this.
—-You can’t do this.
—-The good and the evil.
7 The demon has quieted.
8 I’m nervous in the chair.
—-Other people can do it, why can’t I?
—-Get stuck in feeling bad–
—-Why are you doing this, you’re such a fake?
—-It’s terrifying to feel that anxious.
—-Just keep my head above water,
—-surrendering to the fact that I’m not okay.
9 I’m more comfortable in the struggle.
It’s the Losses that Stick
10 Writing is such an alone thing,
– —in-between kind of purgatory position.
– —You don’t really have a choice, do this or fail.
— –I didn’t do it right,
— –I should have done it better.
— –I disappointed you.
— –I let you down.
— –I, I, I, I, sad, personal stuff.
11 I’m going to fail trying.
12 Waste of my talent,
– — waste of years and relationships,
– — letting down my family.
– — It’d be catastrophic.
— Don’t know if I can think of anything worse,
— – besides severe disability or death.
13 Tenure has removed a lot of those shackles.
14 Life? That’s a whole other story.
— – To live my life and work
— – but not have work erode that life.
— –I lost the chance to make that choice.
— – Do people have to suffer
– – – to live the quality of life they want to lead?
— –My books aren’t going to come visit me when I’m old.
15 Learning to do life better.
I Want Poetry, I Want a Poetics
16 Time to go on this archeological expedition
—– and find the thing that I want to be.
– — Try to put your round peg into that square hole.
— –That’s just not how I am.
– — Creative juices don’t flow that way.
– — Just need to suffer through it.
– – –Everything is fine,
– – –except when it’s not.
17 Just let it be.
18 Other people’s expectations:
– – –Good people are people who work hard.
– – –I don’t want to be that person
– – –checking the boxes.
– – –Am I being prideful?
– – –Am I too invested in praise and recognition?
– – –Get the fuck over yourself.
– – –You’re not special.
19 Y’all can kiss it. I could care less
— – What y’all care about.
20 Work is where I lose my sense of self
– —not where I get my sense of self.
– —It was such a clear omission,
– —like I didn’t even exist.
– —There’s a thing there that I’m chasing
– —that I can’t quite get to.
21 I feel in my bones that the work is important.
Our Labor is Our Labor
22 Being pulled apart
– —there just aren’t enough parts of me.
– —Like the ameba that’s splitting in half,
– —this physiological connection in my mind
– —around writing.
23 Start dislodging the association
– – —between anxiety and writing.
24 Physical and mental torment.
– —Bargain with yourself,
– —what you’re willing to accept.
– —I wake up hot, sweaty.
– —It’s awful,
— – like being smashed down
— but with no way out.
25 It comes down to support.
26 Emotionally exhausted and depressed,
– —incredible sense of sorrow and guilt,
– —heartbrokenness for the subject matter.
– —Couldn’t talk myself out of the way that felt.
– —Went home and cried,
– —several times,
– —by myself.
27 Just walk along with me.
28 So I’m just fucking doing it–
—-Sewing together my parachute
—-with the writing.
—-Like the falcon rising from the dust.
29 How are you gonna start the revolution if
— –you’re not writing?
By revealing multiple truths in a collective voice, the poem honors affective, material experiences that often remain hidden in an academic culture that separates mind/body/emotion and favors linear narratives of success. The poetic representation invites a visceral association with embodied feelings of perpetual torment, anxiety, self-criticism and doubt, loss, longing, exhaustion, and resilience that mark faculty writing lives. It honors the humanity of writers in my study and lays bare my own vulnerability—as a researcher immersed in this project and as a faculty writer myself. As poet, I selected and arranged the words and phrases of others, making sense of their truths through my own lens. Because the poem foregrounds my role in its construction, in discussing its “meaning” I cannot hide behind analysis—“this is what the data show.” Thus in what follows I do not use the poem as evidence for an argument about resilience. Rather, I share insights that emerged for me through a recursive process of self-reflexive listening and composing.
- Resilience is constructed: Resilience looks, feels, and means differently, has different implications, depending on the context and the type of adversity that demands it.
- Resilience is nonlinear: Far from a steady march through adversity to success, resilience is more likely to be a messy, recursive mangle of starts, stops, and perpetual returns.
- Resilience is discursive: Discourses of resilience shape how faculty writers understand their struggles and experiences in ways that enable and constrain their work.
Resilience is Constructed
By featuring “all sorts of ways of telling the story” (1), the data poem reveals the constructed nature of resilience, surfacing numerous, sometimes paradoxical constructions. Poetry honors and evokes emotion so readers feel multiple truths around how faculty experience their writing lives. For example, because resilience depends on adversity, attending to multiple descriptions of the lived experience of adversity in the poem shows how certain experiences and consequences of resilience are more meaningful than others. Adversity can be necessary and worth enduring. The struggle to figure out what one wants to say or be—how one works as a writer (16)—is essential for building a healthy writing life, making resilience an empowering self-investment. On the contrary, needless adversity demands resilience that is discriminatory and dehumanizing—writers describe physical and mental torment (24), splitting in half, being ripped apart (22). The demand to advocate for one’s right to exist (20), emotional exhaustion and heartbrokenness, suffering in solitude (26)—often the result of fighting to survive in sexist, racist, classist, ableist, colonialist institutions—are not only without benefit but also demeaning. In such a diminished state, individuals and groups are distracted from and ill equipped to transform dominant ideologies that create and sustain senseless adversity in the first place.
Spotlighting varying truths is important because too often expectations about what resilience looks like are treated as universal when they are actually constructed and sanctioned through dominant ideologies (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals”). Because resilience is determined by how well individuals fulfill institutionally valued roles, those who deviate from or resist those roles may be considered less resilient. We cling to “understandings of resilience that reflect the dominant cultural ethos of the rugged individual and that tout resilient individuals as possessing above-average levels of fortitude or character-armor” (Hutcheon and Lashewick, “Theorizing” 1388), and thus identify resilient writers as those who are stoic and independent, who seem “together,” confident, who don’t need help. Processes such as “mourning, distress, suffering, anxiety, vulnerability, or uncertainty” are attributed to “less-than resilient” individuals and groups (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals” 44). In this view, lines in the poem such as “it comes down to support” (25) and “just walk along with me” (27) suggest writers are unprepared or as one writer in my study heard from her senior colleagues, in need of inappropriate “handholding.” Admission of extreme anxiety (“I’m nervous in the chair,” “It’s terrifying to feel that anxious” (8)), devastating doubt (“Will the words come?” (4)), and tortuous guilt (“I didn’t do it right/I should have done it better/I disappointed you/I let you down” (10), “Waste of years and relationships,/letting down my family” (12))—might likewise indicate lack of resilience.
However, when these expressions emerge from the collective as in the poem, they become more than unfortunate struggles of a select few and begin to trouble assumptions about what constitutes resilience. What if writers who “focus on stressors and burdens” and don’t always ascribe “positive meaning” are demonstrating resilience (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals” 44)? The lines “Just keep my head above water/surrendering to the fact that I’m not okay” (8), for example, might initially suggest floundering, drowning, giving up. However, surrendering could also be an empowering release of denial, a refusal to waste energy treading water in order to appear resilient, the first step to making changes in structures or practices that are not sustainable. The poem demonstrates how faculty “navigate successes and challenges” in ways that are not always “expected, or even imagined, under prevailing definitions of resilience” (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals” 42).
Resilience is Nonlinear
Prevailing constructions frame resilience as a linear progression in which individuals weather adversity, emerging worn and scarred but triumphant. However, in the poem literary strategies such as repetition trouble the linearity of resilience by forcing readers to linger with faculty in the grueling reiteration of relentless adversity. Writers don’t always see (let alone reach) the finish line, the last stop; they are lost in the perpetual monotony of the factory, the endless progression of train cars. They endure the torture of “going down the path over and over and over, over and over and over again” (2), eternally chasing a thing they “can’t quite get to” (20). The terrible possibility that the words will never come is “always, always, always” a reality (4) as faculty experience writing on the tenure track as an “in-between kind of purgatory position” (10). Literary techniques create an interpretive representation of faculty writers’ individual and collective experience, revealing this underacknowledged aspect of resilience; few experience it as consistent forward momentum.
Juxtaposed with lines that emphasize the perpetuity of adversity, other lines indicate hope—writers “imagine Sisyphus is happy” (3), that it is possible to quiet the demons (7); they demonstrate earned insight—“writing is what makes the pressure of writing go away” (5), and become “more comfortable in the struggle” (9); they demonstrate dogged determination—“I’m going to fail trying” (11). Importantly these lines are not gathered at the end of the poem as final statements of resilient fortitude in the face of adversity. Rather, they run alongside writers’ experiences of wallowing in the muck and mire, a refrain that responds to but does not resolve the agony expressed in the verses running down the left side of the page. In this way, the poem highlights a recursive relationship between adversity and resilience. Resilience is not necessarily a solution or even a response to adversity, as linear constructions would suggest. Instead, writers hold these forces simultaneously in tension. The poetic form allows this seeming paradox to emerge as the literary/rhetorical technique of call and response contrasts writers’ experiences of perpetual adversity with sentiments of grit.
Lines that suggest resilience are regularly followed by lines that reiterate ongoing clashes with adversity, resisting the notion of resilience as a happy ending. Writers describe a constant battle of good and evil: “You can do this. You can’t do this” (6). They struggle to the point of exhaustion to keep “head above water” (8), “get stuck in feeling bad” as they ponder why others appear more resilient (8). Writers fail to take an optimistic view or convince themselves to stay positive; they sit with exhaustion and sorrow, heartbroken (26). Writers doubt whether the goal is worth the effort to be resilient in the face of such anguish. They wonder if “people have to suffer/to live the quality of life they want to lead” and question what it is all for: “my books aren’t going to come visit me when I’m old” (14). By circling through adversity and resilience the movement of the poem resists linearity and invites readers to reconsider the relationship between those forces. It illustrates how faculty writers “navigate, in a multitude of ways, the interface between the positive and the negative aspects of their experiences,” allowing “narratives of unevenness, paradox, and contradiction” to emerge in ways that challenge traditional, linear notions of resilience (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals” 57, 56).
Resilience is Discursive
Constructions of resilience shape and are shaped by the discourses surrounding the lives and work of faculty writers. Sometimes discursive constructions of resilience are positive and empowering for faculty. Building a healthy writing life can inspire important identity work as faculty decide who they want to be as scholars and people (18). Often they are able to critically consider how the forces of academic discourse are shaping them for better or for worse. Resilience can come in the form of a reality check: Get the fuck over yourself./You’re not special (18). Examples like these showcase writers who are able to get outside of and critique discourses that aren’t serving them in order to be resilient in living out their values.
At the same time, rather than empowering faculty writers, discourses of resilience rooted in neoliberal values can problematically shape self-perceptions. Individualistic constructions of resilience are paramount in neoliberal climates wherein faculty writers “are expected to compete and produce” (Stenberg 7). Faculty writers have clearly internalized neoliberal constructions of resilience, such as “good people are people who work hard” (18). The poem is designed to raise questions about faculty writers’ expressions of resilience given the cultural value of resilience reinforced through neoliberal academic discourse. That many verses focus on experiences of adversity, accentuated with flashes of resilience begs the question: Do faculty feel compelled by dominant discourses to find a silver lining in the midst of struggle? Might the prevalence of normative narratives of success coerce them into performing resilience? Do faculty celebrate “learning how to do life better” (15), claim to be “dislodging the association/between anxiety and writing” (23), and admonish themselves to “just let it be” (17) because they’ve been taught to want and expect themselves to be able to? If so, then the need to be and appear resilient, in a traditional sense, may very well be another source of adversity.
In their pursuit of resilience as a “desired good” (Bracke 53), individuals eagerly develop strategies for embracing and maintaining it, even if it means solidifying the conditions that demand resilience. For example, faculty writers find the resilience to endure the tenure track by believing that things will be better post-tenure. In the poem they say tenure has “removed their shackles” (13). They normalize and resign themselves to torment, admonishing they “must believe Sisyphus was happy” (3) and “just need to suffer through it” (16). Rob Cover calls this “resilient hopefulness” wherein the conditions that require resilience are presumed to be “timeless and unchangeable” so that individuals are “only able to find and develop resilience by looking beyond” the adverse circumstances that threaten hopelessness (359, 358). Because “resilience is structurally linked with the threats against which it is supposed to give shelter” allowing adverse conditions in the present is necessary for maintaining resilience, which cannot exist without the “disaster or threat” that demands it (Bracke 59). Resilient hopefulness serves this purpose, thwarting meaningful transformation of oppressive structures and practices that cause inhumane adversity detrimental to individual faculty writers and to the academic enterprise. Faculty feel pressure to show resilience by conforming, submitting to how things are, fitting their “round peg(s) into that square hole” (16).
In a similar vein, the poem highlights faculty writers’ experiences of neoliberal discourse in which “resilience turns away from vulnerability” (Bracke 59), promotes suffering in silence. Faculty writers say writing is “such an alone thing” (10), a “physical and mental torture” (24) they can never admit. They go home and cry alone (26). They “bargain with themselves” (24) about how much they can endure in silence. Writers deeply feel, but cannot show vulnerability. Entrenched in neoliberal discourses of resilience, which are exploited and reinforced through academic discourse and culture, faculty writers are resigned to “suffer through” (16) hardship alone because vulnerability is not an option.
Implications for Faculty Writers, Evaluation, and Support
Our roles, and the power dynamics they imply, shape how we are positioned to use insights about resilience to resist and transform institutional structures that disproportionately determine who succeeds and fails in academia.10 We can be empowered or disempowered as writers. We can inhabit positions of power over faculty writers as institutional gatekeepers, and we can position ourselves to be in power with writers as faculty support professionals, un/official mentors and peer writers participating in faculty writing groups and/or conversations with colleagues about our writing lives. We can also take up “the actionable stance of power to,” a “facilitative power” that “involves standing up and as part of institutions” (Diab et al.). Because “power intersects our lives in and out of [institutions] and is part of how we live, communicate, and relate with self and others” (Diab et al.), power is a useful heuristic for orienting to issues of resilience. Given the transformative goals for this project, power is a vital consideration when it comes to acting on these insights. As Diab et al. put it: “When we see ourselves as powerful, we are better able to expand our perspectives; then we can work with and alongside others toward transforming inequities.”
Faculty Writers: (Em)Power(ing) For
A critical understanding of resilience can be empowering for faculty writers—those of us who write for academic publication, to survive the tenure track, to be attractive on the job market, and/or to contribute to our fields and disciplinary communities. From this perspective seeing ourselves and our experiences in the words of fellow writers reminds us that we are not alone, which is important considering one effect of neoliberalism on academic culture is a focus on individualism. We must appear strong, capable, independent. If we struggle with traditional forms of resilience, we assume we don’t belong, weren’t meant for this work. We look around and see nothing but resilient writers, writers who likely struggle with the very challenges we suffer but who hide or deny their feelings in order to appear resilient. The consequence is often debilitating self-doubt: “It shouldn’t be that hard, but it is for me” (6); “Other people can do it, why can’t I?” (8); “Why are you doing this, you’re such a fake?” (8). When we see those doubts and questions expressed by others, when others’ words resonate so deeply with our lived realities, we realize that the work is difficult for many, even most, and find camaraderie and support through vulnerability.
By honoring multiple truths about what it is like to forge a meaningful writing life, the data poem featured here joins research on collaborative writing and scholarship (Day and Eodice; Eodice; Hixon-Bowles and Paz; Lunsford and Ede “Why Write”; “Collaborative Authorship”; Writing Together), writing groups (Alexander and Shaver; Morris, Rule, and LaVecchia; Shaver, Davis, and Greer), critical mentoring (Glenn; Godbee and Novotny; Ribero and Arellano; Vanhaitsma and Ceraso) and faculty development (facultydiversity.org; Rockquemore and Laszloffy) in challenging neoliberal tendencies toward isolation and individualism and encouraging vulnerability as a vital component of resilience. Moreover, the poem stimulates discussion about which types of adversity are meaningful, worth tackling, and which are needless and dehumanizing. Learning to distinguish among these types of diversity and the resilience they demand positions writers to relax into the adversities we must face, perhaps by seeking out others who can sympathize and empathize and strategize with us as we do. It also empowers us to see patterns in needless adversity, to gather with others to resist and work to transform structures that keep them in place.
Faculty Support: “Power with”
Many of us support faculty writers in official roles through research offices, writing centers, writing across the curriculum programs, and centers for faculty excellence as well as through unofficial roles as mentors, senior colleagues and peers. By learning to differentiate among types of adversity those of us who support faculty writers can cultivate meaningful resilience needed to build sustainable writing lives. We can identify, honor, and support diverse strategies of resilience attuned to particular needs and circumstances. In doing so, we embrace “the relational stance of power with” characterized by “solidarity and affiliation” (Diab et al., original emphasis). We join with others, coalition building toward survival with the understanding that we are “much larger and stronger together than alone” (Diab et al., original emphasis).
Standing in “power with” calls for a “transformative notion of resilience” that recognizes “various forms of rebellion and resistance…as acts of resilience” (McMahon 55). For example, elaborating her theory of subversive resilience Collie Fulford describes blending accommodationist and resistant strategies to simultaneously survive immediate adversity and work toward transforming unsustainable conditions. By way of example, Fulford describes African American women’s historical and contemporary quilting practices in which they responded to frugal times by sewing together available scraps into artful, versatile, if imperfect quilts. A stitch work metaphor from my data poem taps into this artistic form of accommodationist resistance:
So I’m just fucking doing it–
sewing together my parachute
with the writing. (28)
These words inspire us to stay in power with those we intend to support, as we all find ways to do more than survive—to resist in order to transform, or perhaps more pointedly abolish, the systems and structures that limit thriving. Toward that end, faculty support efforts might foster critical engagement with the very concept of resilience (Cover) through explicit conversations with writers about neoliberal cooptation of resilience, and facilitate versatility in resilient practices, particularly resistant ones, by joining writers in asking: Resilient for what purpose? Resilient according to whom (McMahon 49)
Faculty Evaluation: “Power to”
Many of us also interact with writers in institutionally sanctioned evaluative roles on annual evaluation committees and tenure and promotion committees, as journal reviewers and editors. In these roles, we are positioned to take “the actionable stance of power to,” a facilitative form of power that involves “standing up and as part of institutions,” acting toward transformation (Diab et al., original emphasis). This stance is about redirecting power from institutions with “power over” individuals to people with goal-directed power to change the institutional structures we have fashioned and sustain. For example, when evaluating faculty writers’ labor and accomplishments we can choose to value vulnerability as meaningful resilience rather than weakness. Rather than put a struggling writer on probation after a tough year, we might take a critical look at the adverse conditions demanding resilience and determine how to support the writer and simultaneously address structures creating needless, debilitating adversity through policy change.11 With greater awareness of faculty writers’ experiences of problematic structures, we might perceive and respond to vulnerability differently. If conservative top tier journals in our field won’t accept a writer’s critical scholarship drawing on minoritized theoretical frameworks, we might support the writer’s argument that their preferred venues are rigorous, important, and reaching their intended audience, and help rewrite tenure criteria to accept these venues.
Approaching evaluation of faculty writers from a place of facilitative power might also acknowledge that entrenched notions of resilience can have detrimental consequences for those deemed resilient (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals”). Faculty who are perceived to be resilient based on dominant constructions of sanctioned social roles may not have access to the support and resources provided to those who appear less competent, less resilient. It may be assumed that a faculty writer who appears busy and reports good progress with their writing does not need a mentor, for example. The department tenure committee may decide not to pass along information about a funded writing retreat because their colleague doesn’t seem to need help. Normalizing the human experience of adversity faculty writers suffer and emphasizing the nonlinearity of resilience acknowledges that writers may not always be or feel as resilient as they seem and that resilience can come and go; it attests to the need for resources and support structures for seemingly resilient and less resilient faculty writers alike.
In this article, I’ve used poetic inquiry to cultivate an “understanding of resilience that is not founded in notions of competency, skill, or ability, in ways that devalue and delimit” faculty writers, “an approach to resilience that takes into account fluid, changing, and localized perspectives” (Hutcheon and Lashewicz “Individuals” 57). I suggest that the words of faculty writers from my study, arranged poetically to foreground the isolation of the individual and the power of the collective, promote what Bracke calls a “politics of resisting resilience,” or more specifically, resistance to resilience when it is constructed through “a neoliberal social ontology that revolves around the individual” and ignores “the paralyzing effect that the complexity of our world has on that individual” (72). I hear the voices of these faculty writers, alone and together, calling for critical relational resilience rooted in an awareness of the constructed nature of resilience and how particular constructions are privileged according to context and circumstance.
Drawing on Judith V. Jordan’s work in feminist psychology, critical relational resilience in the context of faculty writing lives entails supporting and validating vulnerability as a rightful, necessary state of human connection that is integral to resilience. Rather than tout self-sufficiency, critical relational resilience depends on and cultivates investment in mutual relationships where individuals both give and receive, need and offer, confident that the roles will be reciprocal over time (Jordan 35). As Jordan points out, an “ethic of mutuality is essential”; when a person or persons “is in a position of ‘power over’ another” mutuality and relational resilience is not possible (35). Thus, as I’ve suggested, parsing out how we are “in relation” with/as faculty writers and reflecting on the role of power in those dynamics (i.e. when are we empowering/ed, in power over, in power with, invoking power to) is crucial for embracing critical relational resilience.
As I hope to have shown, poetic inquiry is a promising way to foster the necessary conditions for this work by honoring vulnerability, inviting relationality, and disrupting the isolation that results from imposter syndrome, self-deprecation and self-doubt. Connection is vital for “it is when we feel most separate from others and from the flow of life that we are at most risk” (Jordan 36). Toward that end, my data poem promotes what Jordan calls “resonance with” by amplifying individual voices through the resounding swell of the choral. Broadening the lonely experience of “self at the center” to an “experience of ‘being with’” (36) has the potential to empower writers and those of us who work with them to resist a culture of blame directed at individuals and begin to dismantle the systems and structures, policies and procedures that hold us all back. These notions of vulnerability, relationality, “being with” and “in relation” align with feminist principles of composing and mentorship. Applying them to the concept of resilience may be a meaningful way to enact those principles as we write (and tell stories about our writing lives), and as we support, evaluate and research faculty writers.
- In this article, my poetic inquiry manifests in three ways: data poems composed from interview transcripts; found poems using words from Peitho reviewers, published scholarship, and personal correspondence with fellow arts-based researchers; and generated poems crafted from scratch. I feature data poems in the main text to center the words of faculty writers and use endnotes and appendices for the other types of poems, creating a “hall of mirrors” (Cushman 8) that refracts my own critical self-reflections about subjectivity, representation, difference, relationality, methodology, and epistemology among other complexities resonant with my commitments as a feminist researcher. See Appendix A. -return to text
- For a poetic consideration of how vulnerability-as-resilience-strategy is central to my inquiry and an important representational aspect of the work itself, see Appendix B. -return to text
- Whereas a linear, lockstep theory of human development might be antithetical to uncovering diverse trajectories of becoming, I am inspired by researchers who have creatively employed the theory and research process to attend to the role of different social identities within the developmental process (Torres). -return to text
- There is nothing special about this group of participants or this moment in time. As I prepared to conduct interviews in 2019, listening to audio recordings of interviews and reviewing transcripts from 2018, I was studying resilience and was curious what I could learn about faculty writers’ perceptions of and experiences with resilience by listening differently to the data in front of me. -return to text
- See Appendix C for poetic consideration of difference, connection, and distance in making poetic meaning from the words of people who occupy different subject positions from my own. -return to text
- See Appendix D for a Haiku series on method. -return to text
- See Appendix E for poetic reflection on the role of researcher subjectivity in analyzing and representing qualitative interview data. -return to text
- Participants whose words appear in the poem also had a chance to read and respond to a draft of this article. All who responded were supportive of the methodology. Some were particularly moved by how other writers’ experiences resonated with their own. -return to text
- See Appendix F for a poetic reflection about the process of assembling the data poem. -return to text
- I am grateful to Beth Godbee who introduced me to expanded perspectives on power in her 40-Day Practice: Strengthening Emotional Stamina to Counter White Fragility (https://heart-head-hands.com/product/40-day-practice/), through her work with Rashia Diab and Thomas Ferrel (Diab et al.; Godbee et al.) and through her scholarship on feminist co-mentoring (Godbee and Novotny) and the trauma of graduate education (Godbee). -return to text
- Academic structures are inherently racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and colonialist and therefore disproportionately constrain and even traumatize Black faculty as well as non-black faculty of color and faculty from other minoritized groups (Andrews; Croom and Patton; Gutiérrez y Muhs, Niemann, González, and Harris; Hartlep and Ball; marbley et al.; Price and Kerschbaum; Price, Salzer, O’Shea, and Kerschbaum; Stewart). -return to text
I am grateful for the faculty writers who so graciously invest their precious time and energy in my research and our relationships; your words and experiences are the heart of this project. I appreciate the enthusiastic engagement of anonymous Peitho reviewers, whose provocative questions inspired poetry and meaningful revision. Thanks to Lesley Bartlett and Jessica Rivera-Mueller for their patience and encouragement through oh so many drafts of this article, to Julie Ward for “holding” the creative seed of this project with and for me, and to Willow Treviño, whose work writing counter stories that critique the discourse of student success inspired me to pursue the notion of resilience in the context of faculty writers and to experiment with alternative forms of data representation.
Appendix A. Poetic inquiry as part of a feminist research methodology calls me to locate myself—as researcher, faculty writer, poet, and human—within this project. Inspired by Valerie J. Janesick, I offer the following identity poem to establish my orientation toward and investment in doing this research in this way.
I am from straight, cisgender, slim, able-bodied, whiteness,
from educated, English speaking, property owning, middle class citizenship
from married mother, neurotypical, (mostly) mentally stable womanhood.
I am from “follow the rules,” “confess your sins,”
and “hard work pays off.”
Good girl, good student, good choices.
I am from check the details, put in the time,
butt in seat, and “do you get up?”
I am from crying
at my desk, late, bone deep frustration
on the stairs, baby asleep, what if I can’t finish
in the kitchen, across the island, no more to give.
Awake, drenched, heaving, pounding
Appendix B. The following series of poems—including a found poem based on feedback from a Peitho reviewer, a blended poem that includes material from Caldera et al.’s article “When Researching the ‘Other’ Intersects with the Self: Women of Color Intimate Research,” and a generated poem—explores how crafting data poems demands researcher vulnerability even as it surfaces the notion of vulnerability as a strategy of resilience for faculty writers.
|Resilience thrown into question
product of dominant, neoliberal ideologies
traditional performance, hushing
vulnerability as strategy of resilience
your central argument
if foregrounded and made real
with deep critical engagement
ideas about research and researcher
what and who, how and why
make this work representational itself.
|Where am I vulnerable
on the page behind the scenes
an “institutional tool”
“identity, membership, positionality”
“at times they were telling my story”
“different names” “another place” “recognizing
myself part of the collective” “complicit
role of subject never leaves
the self when it shifts to role of researcher”
(Author with Caldera et al.)
To write poetry
Appendix C. The two found poems and generated poem below engage issues of difference, subjectivity, methodology and representation.
|How—at a time of such racial pain—
does one hold deep connection and
respect for difference?
Where do you orient, author/researcher?
How do you engage and yet
keep your distance?
|“Poetry situates me…
through its very form.”
“I too am the poem.”
“I resymbolize what occurred…
according to my own life and experiences.”
“I cannot do otherwise.”
make myself vulnerable
listen, describe, feel.
Appendix D: Below is a Haiku series on method inspired by Valerie J. Janesick in response to the welcome urging from a Peitho reviewer to be clearer about my method of composing and my stake in the project.
Read their words, struggle.
seeing myself there.
To find the story
each word amplifies the next
Heart pounds. Stomach drops.
cut pieces strike a
There we are, exposed.
evidence: “the data shows.”
But the poet? Naked.
Is it them or me?
We (e)merge to discover
A shared thread—the light.
Appendix E: Below I’ve included a found poem and generated poem complicating the expectation of objectivity, claiming and reflecting on researcher subjectivity in poetic inquiry.
|Two core issues: methodology, subjectivity
inseparable. The method—deeply subjective—
a representation of the author’s sense making,
subjective identity, orientation.
Critical methodological work?
Who is the one? You? Who is the many?
|No question. This poem is mine.
White, straight, cisgender, able-bodied woman
do not claim the meaning.
Surface insights revealed: “evocative
portrayal,” meaning(s) inseparable
from composing. Getting closer,
(Author, generated poem, with Butler-Kisber, “Artful Portrayals” 232)
Appendix F: Below, find two found poems and a generated poem pondering the assembly process of data poems.
|Poems feel disconnected
from process that generated them.
Engage the poems.
Self-reflexive examination of
|Skeptical of long-winded passages
about my subjectivity
earnest and transparent they may be,
they also re-center me me me
Always power: feminist ethic of care
Making space for their words
(Rosenblatt, personal correspondence)
|Replace the poems
with “me, me, me”? I resist.
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