Posts by chuckpearson

Hardly official. But officially nerdy. See https://about.me/chuck.pearson .

How I got started in quizbowl, and how I got started in quizbowl for keeps

I grew up in Hilliard, in Nassau County, Florida. Look at your map of Florida, and then look for that little bump on the far northeast side, where the border between Florida and Georgia does that little dance because of the St. Mary’s River. I grew up in the far northwest corner of that Northeast Florida bump, just off US 1, going to high school in Florida and going to church on the other side of the state line in Folkston, Georgia. I was a nerd, and I was a bit out of place, and even though I didn’t really think it was true at the time, I was in a very good place to be a bit out of place.

I played quizbowl in high school. I think it was quizbowl. It was the “Hi-Q” circuit that was contested in smaller Northeast Florida counties around Jacksonville. I don’t know if the questions were similar to the Delco Hi-Q game that runs now, but I remember the tossups — y’know, the questions that have everybody on the buzzer, trying to be first with the right answer — being longer and something close to what we call “pyramidal,” obscure at the start, but getting clearer and more obvious as the question goes on.

My most vivid high school memory involved a tossup where the answer was binary fission (I’m dang sure all the clues were about bacteria or other such prokaryotes) and opposing team tried to buzz early answering “asexual reproduction” and rather than waiting for the question’s end I tried to vulture up “sexual reproduction,” which led to the captain telling me forcefully after the match “look, Pearson, of all the players on this team, you’re the one who should never buzz in about sex!”

This would have been 1987, for the record. So I can confirm: for multiple decades, nerds have tried to make themselves look smarter than they actually are and have been horribly embarrassed for it.

I played that silly buzzer game pretty faithfully for most of my high school education. It wasn’t that big of a thing; we never won first place or got any significant trophies that I can recall. I did get an invitation in my junior and senior years to a Florida state championship representing Nassau County (in a tournament that was a predecessor to the Panasonic Academic Challenge, which was weird and nonpyramidal and had all the players on a team around one buzzer and had nothing to do with quizbowl whatsoever).

And I went to college in the dark days between the end of televised College Bowl and the emergence of the collegiate quizbowl circuit, and so I didn’t even think twice about those buzzer games when I went to college; I just assumed that was it for academic competition.

There are a lot of stories that fall in the interim that showed that I was wrong, and that sparked a fire in me for this quizbowl game. Stories of being a quizmaster for middle school games in Cochran, Georgia and Rome, Georgia. Stories of my first conversation with the man who’d become my “partner in crime”, Erskine Thompson. A conversation with Rachel Wooddall after one biology class, and James Schroeder turning up at my office door to talk trivia later that week. A fateful lunch with Gordon Carper, and my first time meeting Charlie Steinhice.

Stories of discovering college students having the experience I never got to have and wanting students of my own to experience it. Stories of the faithful crew of students over seven years that created a small legacy known as Shorter Academic Bowl at a small Baptist college in Northwest Georgia. Stories of so many friends and compatriots that I gathered close on broad path between Tuscaloosa and Chattanooga, maybe even too many names to mention, all of whom deserve a greater recognition one day for all they’ve fed into my life.

(All this today will be long enough as it is!)

But this particular story needs to start in 2011, when I had taken a flyer on a job at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, and I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself without a college team to advise, and I decided I needed to contact some local high school quiz teams and put out some feelers. 

The very first email I sent was to the person that the state Scholastic Bowl program (which seemed to be linked with the athletic programs, weirdly) listed as the contact at the Virginia High School. See, there are two high schools on the two sides of the state line that went straight through downtown Bristol. The high school to the north was Virginia High School. The high school to the south was…wait for it…Tennessee High School. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

(I couldn’t find an equivalent contact at Tennessee High, and the email I did send went into a black hole and I never could build a connection. If you’re reading this and you have anything to do with academic competition at Tennessee High, I still want to talk to you.)

(Anyway.)

The name of the contact at Virginia High was Carol Propst. The email I sent was a very boilerplate “oh hi, I’m a new professor at the college across town, I’ve done this quizbowl thing for a bit now, if there’s anything a weirdo like me can help don’t hesitate to ask.” (I may not have said “weirdo”, but I was definitely thinking it.)

I got a first reply back within 24 hours. Thank you, so glad you’re here, we definitely would like to meet you and spend some time with you, we always need extra staffers when we host and there will certainly be a way for you to plug in.

I got a second reply back within 72 hours. Oh, by the way, our district coaches’ meeting is at Chili’s in a couple of days, and I know you might have plans, but if you don’t, would you mind joining us? We’d love to have you.

And so I wound up around a table with Carol Propst and Hunter Meade from Virginia High, Susan King from John Battle, Mary Stanley from Lebanon, Sarah Whisenhunt and Mary Alice McClellan from Gate City, and Angela Thomas and Jillian Skidmore from Lee — the coaches of the Clinch Mountain District of the old Region 1D of the Virginia High School League.

So many good things in my life in this past decade follow threads that can be traced straight back to that first meeting, nearly seven years ago now, and to the openness those eight people had to me and to my presence. The VHSL Scholastic Bowl game was a new format to me, and I needed to observe it and bring myself to a place where I understood it. But this became the first season of my life when I was completely focused on observing students in high school programs, in a reasonably strong structure, and getting to know the students playing quiz games at the high school level, where they were at, and learning how I could be most helpful to them.

And I had no idea in August 2011 how much fun I was going to start having.

Over seven years, through the failure of that flyer of a job and the closure of Virginia Intermont, through two years spent four hours away in the dead-center of Tennessee, and through a fitful return to the central Appalachians south of the Virginia/Tennessee state line, and through the painfully slow connection with a host of new (and renewed) relationships on the Tennessee side, the immediacy of those connections in Southwest Virginia sustained and grew. The relationships that formed in those first years, with coaches and with players and even a few parents and community members, slowly started to become relationships with dear friends. As the VHSL went through its reclassifications and its ups and downs, the connection with five schools morphed into twelve, in what’s now known as the Mountain 7 District (where John Battle and Gate City and Lee landed, along with Abingdon, Ridgeview, Union, and Wise County Central) and the Southwest District (where Virginia High and Lebanon found themselves alongside Richlands, Tazewell and Marion Senior).

And as the schools across classifications started to realize they had common cause and they could play more games than the Virginia-rules Scholastic Bowl format, that there was such a thing as tossup/bonus quizbowl, and as another hero of this story — an alumnus from Honaker High School in the coalfields named Jacob Mitchell — went off to Yale and made a Facebook group to help keep tabs and help others keep tabs on the games back in their schools in other districts I don’t know near as well as I should, a thing started to exist called the Southwest Virginia Academic Team Alliance.

Which quickly took the obvious acronym SWATA. (If you ain’t from around here, don’t ask.)

I’m at once a central part of this story and yet completely peripheral to it. There were coaches and players who literally willed a new competitive circuit into existence as their own districts didn’t get them the games they needed to improve, and as schools that did go far afield to get those games saw that there would be demand for games locally. I found the job at my school in East Tennessee for Fall 2016; the first SWATA tournament schedule for 2016-2017 was decided upon before I had found a house upon my return. All there seemed for me to do was what I had done in the past – turning up at the meetings, exercising my loud voice asking how I could help, offering whatever expertise that I could, and just reading every game and sharing the joy of the game with some new friends.

And every now and again, I took some dumb selfies with some of the players.

But this was fresh and new. The students who played when I first started reading Scholastic Bowl games in Southwest Virginia were now ready to help staff, to take part in the reading themselves, to become leaders. The generations were turning and new students were hearing stories from players who had first gotten excited when I was around. And the excitement was feeding upon itself.

I’ve been blessed to be a part of Scholastic Bowl, of quizbowl, of SWATA in Southwest Virginia for these past seven years, and to see that excitement build, to see it become its own entity, and to see the new generation of leaders start to emerge from the player ranks. And the real blessing is seeing those leaders emerge to see something that I never could see graduating from high school — a broader picture of a game to find a place within, something to call their own, something to help those who come after them aspire to.

So, a new thing. 

I worked my first National Scholastic Championship this year, put on by the Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence. I was a quizmaster for some of the best high school teams in America, and I read games at a level that I really never saw myself working in.

You see, I still see myself as that kid from Hilliard Middle/Senior High School who has no business answering any question about sex ever. I went to science fairs and to state Beta convention and to summer programs at Stetson University and the University of Florida and I listened to the kids from the big high schools and wondered what it would be like to have those resources. So much of my own connection to the small schools of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee is that feeling I had talking to those students when I was a high school senior, the knowledge that the students on these teams in Southwest Virginia are way more like I was then than they are like most of the players who compete at the highest levels at a tournament like PACE NSC.

So to sit in a room with Battle Ground Academy and LASA A in a match that Means Things, and I’m the guy reading it, is just all manner of weird and unexpected and What Am I Doing Here.

And in the midst of that elite tournament, an old friend asked me if I’d consider something, and I told him I’d think about it if he was cool with me being my obnoxious small-school self in that role, and he said that’s kind of why he was asking me to consider that something. Which knocked me over a little bit.

And I talked to a couple of people about that some more.

And where this all leads is the announcement today that I am a new member of the Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence. 

Go click through and look at that list of new members, too. That’s an amazing group; if you know anything at all about quizbowl at the highest levels, and the work that those players and leaders have done, you know how humbled I am to be on it. It has me EVEN MORE What Am I Doing Here, but also incredibly grateful. 

Because, ultimately, what apparently appeals to this club that wants to have me as a member is the fact that I care about outreach in this game, and that I care about outreach in places where that outreach doesn’t traditionally happen — away from the big schools, and in the rural places that never receive the attention or the respect they deserve.

Places in Virginia like Honaker, and Tazewell, and Gate City.

Places in Georgia like Calhoun, and Lindale, and Cochran, and Folkston.

Places in Florida like Hilliard. 

The money may go into our big cities. The attention may turn to what happens near a large media center, at an elite school. But so much of our education happens away from those eyes, at schools that form the center of small towns, or that are found in the center of forests – or the center of a mountain gap. So much of our education happens where the environment isn’t elite, and where life happens day-to-day, and the future is never as certain as we’d like. 

I have found this small avenue to let students in these places know that they’re important, and that the study they do matters, and maybe they can play a silly buzzer game and I can make a big deal of it and they can be a little bit like a rock star for a day while I shill their greatness to all the educators on social media I’m blessed to have paying attention to me. I’ve found this role to play, and I’m super-grateful for it. 

And if that is going to be called outreach and is going to be appreciated and I can get this little thing that feels oh-so-close-to-the-honor-of-a-lifetime for doing it, how can I be anything but grateful?

So hi, you folks of the Partnership for Academic Competition Excellence. I’m obnoxious. I’m still not entirely sure you want me, except apparently you took a vote and you do. 

I will continue to be obnoxious, and I will continue to tell stories of the place I’m from and the place I live until you understand how important these places are. You will get bored of me very quickly. 

But let me say this as well, right from the start: I’m so thankful to all of you, for all you do for this game, and for the privilege of being counted among you. 

And if I do anything of importance at all, I have Carol Propst’s email. Please send her a note and say “thank you”.

Because she welcomed me into this group of giants, and I really do stand on their shoulders. 

VHSL_state_reading_2014

(The most professional staff at the VHSL Scholastic Bowl State Championships at the College of William and Mary on February 24, 2014. The match was Woodgrove vs. Loudoun County. The turtleneck was distinctive then, and remains so. The photo comes from VHSL Activities.)

Advertisements

Because I still don’t know what I want to be on social media

So I engaged in my latest piece of performative progressive rhetoric last month, when I talked about how a whole lot of people could talk a good game about wanting girls engaged in academic competition but a whole lot of people still don’t know how to take the actions that create safe spaces for women to take leadership and assert their voices fully.

I changed the ending to that thing on the advice of a couple of very wise women because they persuaded me that I was saying things that were important, and that I needed to keep saying those things, and it was in saying these things that I would help keep creating those safe spaces.

But if I’m honest, my heart wasn’t in that ending entirely. What I desperately wanted to say, what I am still tempted to say, is “It’s time for me to shut up.

I get tired of my voice. I imagine other people getting tired of my voice. I can’t believe my voice does a single ounce of good.

I know how many of you who read this and who know me disagree with that. When I wrote my own thing, I got to Atlanta and worked that high school quizbowl national championship and I heard a lot of very good feedback from it, a lot of gratitude. I’m glad for that. I want the women who are engaged in academic space to know that there’s a face here that values them, that wants them to be fully empowered.

But there are still voices I hear on the other side. They don’t even have to speak out loud. I know they’re reading, and I know they’re there still casting judgment, and I still have an internal dialogue raging over whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong.

When I can detach myself from the internal dialogue, when I can listen to others and not just my own selfish thoughts, I know how many of those voices are lying to me, and I can leave those voices alone. But it’s so hard to detach, and this season of my life makes it harder than ever.

 


 

I spent a long time after November 8, 2016 in shock and anger. I was in disbelief at the election outcome from East Tennessee, which voted in overwhelming number for the ultimate winner. If I was in such disbelief, I can only imagine the feelings of my friends in “blue” parts of the world far removed from any support, or of friends in suburban neighborhoods who thought they were among rational voters and who woke up to find they were among quite a few rich white nationalists.

I had just returned from a conference full of conversations with prominent women scholars, prominent LGBTQ+ scholars, even the presence of racial and cultural diversity, and genuinely excited for the time of collaboration I was stepping into. I found myself in sudden and despairing doubt about the country I lived in, hearing the anguish and the rejection from these scholars I was coming to know as friends.

And as I started to hear the voices – particularly the voices of black and Latinx ministers of the Gospel – ask very serious questions of the 81% of white evangelicals who had voted for this man who would become president, I began to share them on social media.

And people who I had attended church with not even six months before, who I know had heard sermons on the folly of the statement “Make America Great Again” and the importance of welcome for all people, regardless of race – people began attacking me for being negative, for making something a moral issue that was purely a political issue, for questioning their genuine faith and their prayerfully considered vote.

We may have reached a détente, if not an actual peace. But their voices are still in my mind. And the internal dialogue starts raging again.

 


 

When you look at the simple reality, this moment in history is so absolutely obvious. We have a national narrative we have constructed, that I was indoctrinated into throughout my schooling, of welcome to huddled masses, yearning to be free. We are in this country to be a melting pot, many different people united in this great place in pursuit of freedom, in pursuit of opportunity. The American Dream has worked for so many, and for none more than that nuclear family unit who stayed together, tightly bound and in prayer to God. We have built up wealth, more wealth than any society has ever known. We welcome all people from all places to join in to this narrative, to work hard, to share in that wealth, to continue our ever-upward climb.

And we come out of that narrative to see borders closed to people fleeing strife and the wrong people captured having come across and those families literally separated, with no promise that they will be reunited.

And – lest we forget that this isn’t just about zero-tolerance at the border – we see hard workers seeking out that path suddenly rounded up and captured, leaving families without fathers and mothers. Yes, many were here “illegally”* – whatever that means in our great narrative. But some had followed every rule to the letter, and were still caught up and traumatized – solely because of the color of their skin. If you’re the wrong person, that promise of opportunity isn’t actually for you.

(It’s not theoretical. It’s not just an issue of South Texas. ICE operates in my very backyard, in ways that get talked about from the pulpit of my rather conservative Methodist church. ICE conducts these raids all the time – another one happened on Tuesday. And they don’t take care to look for the undocumented*; they go for profiling blunt force.)

It’s so obvious, right? If what I was taught in school had even an ounce of truth, the thugs who break up families and shut off borders and make it plain that these people don’t count are plainly in the wrong, aren’t they?

And what of that great wealth? Well, the man we elected keeps making deals that benefit him. He says he’s forgoing his salary, but he keeps retreating to his own properties and charging the federal Secret Service for the hotel rooms – when he’s not gently prodding foreign visitors to those properties himself. His family and his closest allies continue to find themselves in positions that oddly enrich them – just Monday news broke about a fellow New York dealmaker who’s now Secretary of Commerce being in a couple of seriously shady relationships with Russia and China, relationships that could make his family quite a bit of dough.

We get a new one of those stories every week. We are so prosperous as a nation that we elected a man who is robbing the treasury and stuffing the money in every friend’s pocket he can find. The economic policies are built to benefit the already-rich businesses. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is being dismantled. If you don’t know somebody, we’re not going to keep watch over your path to prosperity. Just ours.

I have to wonder if I was lied to in grade school. I have these friends assuring me no, you were told the truth, and besides, with all these rule-breakers out of the way, there’s more prosperity for you, hooray!

It reaches the point that I see the pain and anguish on these loved one’s faces redoubled and compounded, and I can’t go on like everything’s okay, no matter how many of my friends and neighbors are now getting everything they think they wanted.

Every injustice you point out, every conservative voice of reason who calls a new development into question whose voice you raise, just makes you into more and more of a naysayer. A nag. A spoilsport.

And eventually you don’t want to hear yourself speak anymore.

And eventually you believe nobody really cares what you have to say.

 


 

I have to step back and be rational. I do have a unique viewpoint, and I have unique things to communicate. I’m a member of the scholarly elite from a rural background and with a still active Christian faith. My academic career is not a neat, straight path; it’s been halting, awkward, pock-marked by failed jobs and failed institutions and a whole lot of moving around. The institutions I’ve served have been two year colleges, regional universities, and small private colleges with religious heritage – hardly the fashionable places in our world. I’m an experienced educator with a voice that can speak to the small town just as easily as it can speak to the room full of research-one professors. I have a passion for students no matter whether I see them day in and day out in a classroom or I send electronic messages to them online.

And I’ve been worn down and worn out by the past two years. Every outrageous and fraudulent statement from a president taken seriously as policy, every once-unthinkable taboo broken and immediately forgiven, every principle once strongly held and stripped away – all of it leaves me protesting the same thing, calling the same things foul, rejecting the millionth iteration of the same basic atrocity, the same rejection of someone’s humanity.

I am saying nothing new. I am simply repeating myself.

I need to say something new again.


 

*The original post was made on June 22nd. It was gently edited on June 24th in response to a criticism from someone from Latin America, here in the United States on an educational visa, noting that I used the word “illegal” to refer to undocumented immigrants.

This is a completely fair criticism, and one I thought I’d considered. In an original draft of this, the word “illegally” was in quotes where I’ve put it in quotes now. (There was a second instance of “illegals” in the same paragraph without quotes; it was where the word “undocumented” sits now.) But somehow the quotes disappeared and I failed to reconsider it throughout multiple iterations of the essay, including my final word-by-word review.

I’ll save this for later, but I think this is an object lesson in its own right. Those of us who have never had to deal with the trauma of this moment and who just hear the dialogue in the news media – even when we avoid the worst offenders of the news media – still can say and hear the word “illegal” without a second thought, not even thinking that it still puts the dialogue in the hands of those who want to dehumanize.

You always, always, always do well to listen to voices that aren’t your own. I keep saying this, and I’m still learning this.

Sometimes I prefer to post things for my Instagram people, 31 May 2018 edition

2018-05-11 17.37.32

So I still remember Niki (who I honestly didn’t think knew me from Adam) seeing me by the elevators on Sunday night, after the finals were done and noticing that I’d been all kinds of high-energy and super-encouraging all weekend and it was a little surprising to see me all run down. And I WAS totally feeling it. But even then I don’t think I was aware of how severe what I was feeling actually *was*. It actively surprises people when I say “I get seriously introverted and antisocial”. It actively surprised people when I say “I’ve been struggling with depression for nearly two full decades”. I had no desire to acknowledge limits about myself in my twenties. I took no small measure of pride in having learned how to manage my depression in my thirties.

I am in my forties and, in many ways, I’m headed right back to ground zero.

I’m fortunate though. I’ve got the support of a simply incredible family who have supported my passions (and one of them is increasingly joining in). I am discovering an academic community that is simply the most welcoming and that has accepted me completely, for who I am. And the people who play this silly little buzzer game that I keep running around supporting with my work? They are the MOST affirming. Consistently. Even when I’m convinced that I’ve done a bad job reading or I’ve gotten too obnoxious with one-liners or my cell phone or I simply don’t feel like I deserve it. A host of you show up to let me know otherwise.

In my better moments, I’m grateful. In my worse moments, I just don’t believe you. Nothing personal. But I have a really hard time seeing it.

It still is hard to understand that these feelings of inadequacy are my own head lying to me. Those feelings can make me toxic in various ways. I don’t listen to anything but myself. I get defensive. I lash out at the first vaguely critical word. I take everything personal when nothing is meant personal.

But maybe there’s a difference between the desperation around the feeling that you’re betraying weakness and brokenness if you let any of that show, and the realization that you’re not the only one struggling in this way, that a whole lot more of us know this territory.

A post shared by Chuck Pearson (@shorterpearson) on

On #GirlsInQuizbowl and supporting women

We had a moment across the quizbowl community during the Middle School National Championship Tournament in Chicago. I want to talk about it a little bit, and ask the quizbowl community a question, maybe a question that applies to other places too.

The moment was associated with an offhand comment someone made to player on the Norfolk Academic Guild, a homeschool cooperative who fields teams for a lot of tournaments, and was reported by a parent/coach:

The response to this moment, on Twitter at least, was immediate and very focused and very unified:

I may have even participated in this moment myself (and sorry, I’m going to be that guy who blogs his own tweetstorm, but my perspective might be a little left of center):

…and, because only one mic drop is possible for quizbowl people of a certain vintage to this issue:

There’s a lot of dialogue that is associated with moments like these, of course, and there’s a very reflexive response that is prone to happen in moments like these. One may even say it’s a performative moment – we respond because, well dang it, we’re supposed to respond, and what does it look like if we don’t respond?

We even hashtag this response with #GirlsInQuizbowl (which I’m still not sure I like, because we’re concerned with women in this game broadly – very young, much older, all points in between – and if they’re intelligent enough to participate in the game and get value from the game they’re intelligent enough to be treated with respect and not belittled as “girls”) and holy cow, you can search that hashtag and get all the responses that are in one way or another what responses are supposed to be. I’ve quoted several. There are several more, many from the women themselves who do this work – take it away, Jackie Wu:

(and, of course, plenty more where that came from!)

And we know this is a longstanding issue – because the same aforementioned Rebecca Rosenthal wrote for her campus newspaper, the Swarthmore Phoenix, about being smart while female and many of the experience she’s had to deal with being a first- and second-year student in college who cares deeply about quizbowl.

But the thread in this whole storm comes from my friend in Chillicothe, Ohio, who feels the tension behind this issue very keenly:

 

There are reasons women aren’t represented in this game. And, no, none of those reasons are good. And that’s where the conversation has to begin.

It’s one thing to say that women aren’t in this game, and that’s dumb. There are a lot of us alpha dudes who will absolutely perform when the time comes and will say every right thing when the time comes and then when nobody is paying attention (possibly even right now) simply return to simply doing all the exactly same things we’ve done before.

And let me be plain here. I didn’t say you alpha dudes. I said us. I count.

I grew up conservative, and I grew up Southern, on the knife’s edge of Methodist and Baptist cultures. Men belonged at the front, in the pulpit and at the head of the meeting, with the demonstrative voices and running things. Women belonged in the back, in the kitchen and in the nursery, speaking demurely and quietly and eventually finding themselves in the family way. I was a good young man, so I was supposed to find my way to the front of the room. The women alongside me weren’t.

I could find that rather dumb in my own obtuse sort of way. There were a TON of females in my classes who were obviously very smart and dang it why don’t they get as much attention as I seemed to in my human-calculator sort of way? But there really wasn’t a whole lot of room to differ, and it became obvious over time that I wasn’t SUPPOSED to differ. The men had roles they took on, over time, very consistently. The women had roles they took on. Anyone who didn’t take on those roles got whispered about, and not in a kind way.

Once those messages are baked in, they’re very hard to get out.

In many ways, it didn’t even matter that I got educated in a very feminist sort of way by a woman who was very central in my intellectual development. When women were given grief in the academic environment and the roles of men and women obviously separated even as students were coming through classrooms, that was a source of amusement and humor, not a symbol of a systemic problem. When women were treated differently because of the way that they dressed in interview processes, that was an issue for the woman to address in how they dressed, not an issue for the man to contemplate his own judgment on.

When a team of girls was harassed by a team of boys at a quizbowl tournament, that was something for the girls to adapt to, not something for the boys to be reprimanded for.

And we’re not just talking teasing or snide comments. We’re talking responses in anger when games don’t go well. We’re talking gamesmanship and intimidation. We’re talking overt propositioning and sexual harassment.

Frankly, I haven’t done enough in my life, when I have seen it. I haven’t screamed bloody murder in public that it’s wrong and it must end. I’ve given lip service to being interested in women’s roles in this game and I’ve let women down.

Let me be even more forceful: I’m talking about all women. I’m even talking about women who are some variety of queer or trans. If you haven’t figured this out about me yet, I’m an evangelical Christian who is 46 years old with emphasis on old and I’m still working out in my brain and in my faith what I think about LGBTQIA* culture and how I speak credibly to it and I’m deeply entrenched in the Protestant crisis of authority and this is all my problem and nobody else’s. I personally have botched nothing else when it comes to the treatment of people in this game more profoundly and more consistently than my use of pronouns. That is on me. The thing to call somebody is what they want to be called. Anything else is failing to be gracious. Period.

This is my personal, unreserved apology – and repentance, commitment to do consistently and continuously better and better until my treatment of all people is 100% equal, and my treatment of all women in this game is completely beyond reproach.

And part of that repentance is that my voice shouldn’t be the voice at the forefront. It should be a voice that empowers women to lead, not to follow.

Because when I contemplate a little bit, it seems men and women have roles at our tournaments, too. Men organize and lead meetings and train and read matches. Women work the info desk and work media and scorekeep. There are exceptions, and so many of the women who DO the info desk and media and scorekeeping are so incredibly valuable – but even in our own spaces, there is a gendered separation.

We don’t need that separation to be maintained. We need to be more intentional at not merely speaking about the importance of women in the leadership of this game, but actively making space for women to lead in this game.

Is our commitment to hashtag-girls-in-quizbowl genuine? Do we say that we want women to have a role, and perform our progressive dance, and beat our chests and say “hooray, I helped” while leaving things the exact same way they were?

Or are we going to make this game better?

I had a vision of an all-woman team, and seeing them get glory (and maybe soaking in glory of my own) for being winners. That whole alpha vision, again.

But maybe my own vision isn’t the important thing. Maybe our vision, as men, isn’t all that important.

Maybe the most important thing we can do as men is amplify the voices of those who are on the margins. Maybe we can get out of the spotlight and do more of the support work. Maybe we can simply get off the stage and make room for the voice of a woman.

For once.

Public bragging, circa 25 April 2018

Published to my Facebook wall, in a rare return to public posting there, so I can tag people and brag on students publicly through that medium. 

So, let me interrupt this Facebook not-as-much-of-a-hiatus-anymore to do this bit of bragging.

Once upon a time, at an institution far, far away, Craig Allee told me I was going to advise pre-pharms, and of course having a role in advising was a good thing to have for the promotion-and-tenure thing and you want to do right by your dean and so I wasn’t going to tell him “no”. (Telling Doc Allee “no” wasn’t something done lightly in any event, for Reasons.)

And as I dove in to the task, I found out that doing that sort of thing was one whale of an education in its own right. I recognized very quickly that it was one thing to have students check off courses of prerequisite curriculum, and it was another thing entirely to actually recognize where that student might want to attend pharmacy school and actually make sure what the student was preparing matched up with where the student might want to go. And then I found out how much of a thing clinical pharmacy was, and how much different preparing to do that was than preparing to be in a retail environment. And I found myself getting deeper and deeper into conversations with students and seeing the contours of what these students wanted to accomplish.

I found myself saying the phrase “professional vision” a lot. I found myself calling upon my grandfather’s own professional identity – reemphasizing to my students and myself that the prescription for apathy is involvement – and asking my students what they aimed to accomplish as practicing professionals.

We got students into pharmacy school. Hooray. And I’ve continued to have a role in that task as I’ve gone forward in my career, and hopped from one place to the next. But I hope we’re doing more than that. I hope what we’re doing, as students and faculty working together, is helping realize the full potential for the student as emerging professional, and how the professional working in their role can serve the community around them.

So here’s an announcement. It’s recipients of awards in the United States Public Health Service Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy program.

There are 27 of them nationwide.

I’ve advised two of them.

I advised Lindsey Bruner when she was at Shorter University. She is finishing her PharmD at Mercer University’s College of Pharmacy. She is cited for “developing partnerships with community organizations to prevent substance abuse and for raising awareness of substance use by educating children and parents about the proper use and storage of medications.”

I advised Tiffany Vũ when she was at Virginia Intermont College. She is preparing to graduate from Campbell University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Her citation is for “development of a student led community care clinic dedicated to community wellness and public health, and for serving as a team leader during multiple medical mission trips to Honduras.”

I see that list, and I recognize those names, and I’m stunned and stunned again and stunned all over again. It’s incredibly humbling.

There are also MANY other students I’ve advised who do things every bit as great. Their names might not be on citations like this, but I’m every bit as proud of them.

There is also a list of advisees I have here at Tusculum. There are also students who have started pharmacy school from here, and students preparing to start pharmacy school, who I’ve had in classes here.

I recognize talent upon talent upon talent, still identifying that vision that will carry them forward.

I have moments these days when I’m very tired, when the long road that I’ve been down and the failures on the path behind make me feel like I’m reaching the end of the career.

And then I see a list like this, and I still feel like my career is just starting, and there is so much promise ahead.

Lindsey, Tiffany: thank you for your hearts of service, and blessings to you as you move forward on your careers as new professionals.

But thank you also for these little reminders that renew me.

On being a freshman from…somewhere

We’re three weeks into the new semester, and both of my 4-credit-hour lab science classes have probably gotten to know me better than they’d like. We’ve run an exam in both of them, a second exam in #chem101tc is much closer than that crew would like for it to be, both classes have started to get around the equipment in their labs, and people who really don’t need to be worried about their grades are starting to worry about their grades.

However, I still don’t know my class in our freshman orientation structure – the Tusculum Experience – nearly as well as I’d like.

Part of that is simply the schedule. It’s a weird schedule, so for those outside of Tusculum looking over my shoulder, let me fill you in: I see the two lab science classes all day long, twice a week, for eight weeks. There are two lab sessions scheduled per week, as opposed to one a week in a conventional semester schedule. At the end of the eight weeks we end the block and we run a second eight-week block with different two-day-a-week classes for the rest of the fall. The Tusculum Experience class I only see one afternoon a week, in a one-credit-hour setup, but I’ll see them over the full 16 weeks of the fall.

So the Tusculum Experience class and I just haven’t gotten the time together, and I haven’t gotten used to making sure they get the sequence of assignments they need, and making other arrangements, and Wednesday afternoons can just get awkward y’all.

The thing that makes our experience common are the readings, an online book called Voices of Tusculum that the good English professor Michael Bodary arranged and got assembled for us.[1] And I’ve been reading and reflecting on the class assignments out of that book as I’ve gotten my fall started.

Three of these essays, one of which has been assigned in the first three weeks of the class, are by my colleagues, two of whom I’ve gotten to know pretty well (by Jonita Ashley, currently Acting Dean of Students, and Kim Carter, who is the campus EPA Coordinator, Chemical Hygiene Officer and laboratory coordinator) and one of whom I haven’t gotten to know so well yet (David Smith, the Director of Student Support Services). And it occurs to me, reading all of these, that all these people have something in common that I don’t:

They’re all from around here. And they’re working not-at-all-far from where they grew up and where they started college.

I’ve joked – a lot – that my career is Hank Snow’s classic country song “I’ve Been Everywhere”. But it’s true. And it’s been a laundry list all over the land east of the Mississippi. I went to school, and then I did a postdoctoral research appointment at a university, and then I’ve taken teaching jobs at all kinds of places. Hey, this is the list, from high school to now:

Hilliard Middle/Senior High School (Hilliard, Florida)
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Terre Haute, Indiana)
The Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio)
University of Alabama-Birmingham (Birmingham, Alabama)
Middle Georgia College (Cochran, Georgia)
Shorter College (Rome, Georgia)
Virginia Intermont College (Bristol, Virginia)
Tennessee Technological University (Cookeville, Tennessee)
Tusculum College (Greeneville, Tennessee)

That’s a list, y’all.

And it was a pretty natural list. I grew up in Hilliard, Florida, but my mother was raised in Coweta County, Georgia and her family settled all over the Atlanta area. My father was raised in Berea, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, and my grandfather actually graduated with his Doctor of Dental Science from Ohio State, almost exactly sixty years before I got my Ph.D. from Ohio State. My uncle on Dad’s side went to Texas, and there are Pearsons in Ohio, Texas, and Florida – with others scattered about.

I love the Central Appalachians, and I moved to Tusculum very deliberately to return to this area. But I’m not from here. And what’s more, I don’t have a whole lot of experience with being from somewhere. Even that small town in Florida where I grew up was one that had a lot of families that spent their entire lives there. Even spending sixteen years of my life there, I never completely belonged, because I had a father who the Federal Government brought in to work at that air traffic control center in town.

That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing. It’s a thing. It’s a thing that has made leaving a lot easier, in my life, than it would be for a lot of others. And it’s made my emotions about places are lot more even-keeled than they otherwise would be (even though I can be a super-emotional man). But I see a lot of the lifelong relationships that people have in a small town, and the depth of investment, and I feel like I’ve missed something that is exceptionally special there.

It’s a thing I don’t think I know about a lot of my freshmen yet. I still remember the first Physical Science student who followed me – and I saw he was from Ware County, Georgia and hey I know where you’re from, man, and it ain’t near here! But that’s a reality of being at a place that recruits for the sports.

I wasn’t in for the sports. I just wasn’t connected to that small town, once upon a time, and that school in Indiana that wanted me around was all kinds of appealing (and I was choosing between the school in Indiana and – alternate history alert – the school in New Mexico. I wanted out of North Florida, y’all.) There was difficulty and awkwardness of all of a sudden being in this place where I knew nobody and it felt like they were all from more sophisticated places than Hilliard, Florida (they weren’t, but it felt like they were) and all kinds of adaptation was involved.

I think I’m going to keep telling that story as this fall goes forward, and I get to know a group of freshmen who are going through a version of what I went through, and what Dr. Ashley and Ms. Carter and Dr. Smith went through.

But right now, I want to know where are the freshmen of this place are from. Are they dealing with the challenges of all the family and friends being close enough to want you at home, or the challenges of having all your family and friends so far away?

Do they hope to have a list of places as long as mine is – or maybe even longer, or maybe from places farther afield than just “east of the Mississippi” – or do they hope to just have a short list of places around East Tennessee?

Part of the joy of doing what I do for a living is I get to hear these voices. Not polished voices, and not experienced voices. But voices with experiences of their own, and stories of their own to tell. I will never tire of hearing the stories.

[1] Y’know, I promised Bodary a chapter for this Voices of Tusculum thing. I think he’s still a bit salty at me that I didn’t deliver. Next year, man…