Academic journal article Journal of Ethnic American Literature

Hashtag Black Poetry

Academic journal article Journal of Ethnic American Literature

Hashtag Black Poetry

Article excerpt

At the conclusion of my Black Poetry course, I admit to feeling bewildered about how to assess it. I wanted to figure out how my foray into digital humanities1 (with a Twitter assignment) complemented my students' understanding and aided me in teaching. Given that I am a dilettante in the area of digital humanities, this was not difficult to admit to myself. However, the stakes are high for women of color professors in any classroom and additionally complicated when that classroom explores race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability. Even though I (a Black disabled woman literature scholar), like Bone Crusher before me, "ain't never scared" (2003), it is a vexing proposition to publically discuss my struggles, let alone failures in the classroom.

As Angela P. Harris and Carmen G. González point out in their introduction to Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, "it is important, then, to read even the most seemingly personal stories [...] as symptomatic of a larger, structural problem, rather than solely the issues of any one woman or department, college or campus" (Introduction). Though what follows details my ideas regarding the use of social media (specifically Twitter) to teach African American poetics, my assessment of and conjectures about the course require an attention to the intersections of identity in the college classroom. My experience (and my students') must be examined with an attention to the influence and impact of the various discourses that provide the context for our class. My bewilderment stems from the complications of sorting through pedagogy at the entangled nexus of race, gender, ability, and technology.

This essay both reproduces and performs my musing on my Black Poetry course from the Winter 2014 semester at Bates College. Specifically, I want(ed) to sort through whether/how my use of Twitter created a substantive exploration about Black poetry in a public forum. I start by explaining where I work and students' expectations of my literature classes. Then, I provide the contours of my classroom space to contextualize course material and student learning outcomes associated with the assignment. What follows are a series of anecdotes that explain when and why the assignment succeeded and failed. My compendium should function less as errata for my course and more like an open space where we can all think through the utility of digital humanities and/or technology as a vehicle for engaging Black poetry. I contend that despite some hiccups, using Twitter as a way to converse about Black poetry is well worth the effort.

I work at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. It is a small, private liberal arts college founded by abolitionists in the mid- 19th century and one of the first to admit people of color and women. With a faculty of 218, Bates educates a student population of approximately 1,800, roughly creating a student to faculty ratio of 10:1. Students who identify as women usually comprise about 50% of the students. As of May 2014, Bates included 20.5% US-born students of color from 44 states and 6.5% international students hailing from 56 countries. A Bates education costs $62,770 (Quick Facts 2013-14). Given the small student to faculty ratio and the price tag, students (and parents) expect a "high touch" atmosphere in which students will have their affective needs met as they seek effective instruction. High touch has a wide impact on the campus environment, and this expectation operates differently depending on the discipline, social position of the faculty member, and social position of the student. In the English department, my colleagues and I generally have discussion-based classrooms that rely on student interests and faculty prodding to generate dialogue. I tend to give brief lectures (5-10 minutes) to orient students so they have a critical vocabulary with which to engage material. For me, the high touch expectation bears specific implications for my Black female body; it often translates to students' desire for maternal affect, "Mammy," on my part. …

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