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#f**kphyllis: Teaching Phyllis Wise

posted: 2.12.14 by Barclay Barrios

Snow days… I remember them from my twelve years at Rutgers, though I must obnoxiously admit that lately I’ve had the AC on here in warm-but-slightly-muggy Florida.  My current institution is thus immune from the controversy that recently enveloped the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne when Chancellor Phyllis Wise declined to cancel school for snow, prompting an outpouring of hate in social media, much of it grouped under the odious hashtag #f**kphyllis.

Wise’s response is a model of public civic discourse and the entire incident offers a useful metatext for the classroom.  There are a number of essays in Emerging that can assist:

  • Rebekah Nathan, “Community and Diversity”
    Nathan’s essay, with its focus on the gap between the stated ideals of community and diversity on college campuses and the reality of life on those campuses, is an ideal starting point for this conversation, since the reaction to Wise starkly highlights that gap, particularly with the strong racial inflection of the response to Wise.
  • Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change”
    Gladwell is specifically responding to the notion of the “Twitter revolution” in this piece, discounting the ability of social media to create real change.  Given that Twitter was a primary avenue of student response to Wise’s actions, Gladwell’s essay can help students consider the ways in which Twitter and other social media platforms not only fail to promote social justice but in fact can be points of injustice.
  • Jennifer Pozner, “Ghetto Bitches, China Dolls, and Cha Cha Divas”
    Pozner uses America’s Next Top Model to examine the ways in which reality TV perpetuates racial stereotypes.  Attacks against Wise deployed many of these stereotypes since they often focused on her gender and/or race.
  • Wesley Yang, “Paper Tigers”
    Yang’s essay focuses more tightly on cultural stereotypes about Asian Americans, often exploding them.  Students can use his exploration to unearth and similarly explode the assumptions about Asian Americans embedded in student reactions to Wise.

Of course, Wise’s own response is a great text for the classroom.  I think it would work well paired with these essays.

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