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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Some Thoughts on Academic Disciplines: A Meditation on Methodology, My Entry Into the Humanities, and Experiencing a "Pedagogy of Discomfort"

Those of you who know me know that I'm a perpetual student, addicted to lifelong learning (and the pieces of paper that certify I accomplished something). In September 2014, I started work on the Ph.D. in Mythological Studies, with an emphasis in depth psychology. As I finish the readings for the first session of my third semester in my latest academic endeavor, I find myself thinking about the different ways of knowing in academic disciplines.

I've had a lot of experience as a student. (I remarked to a class the other day that I've been doing homework for 30 of my 35 years. And then I nearly cried. They looked a mixture of horrified and awed.) At the undergraduate level, I overloaded my schedule each term (requiring the Dean of Students' signature) and did significant work in international relations and political science, economics, Spanish, and foreign language study (Spanish, Italian, French, German, Ancient Greek, and Japanese). At the Master's level, I've studied library and information science, education (instructional technology), writing, and English. At the doctoral level, I've done years of work in political science and education.

I've been around the academic block a few hundred times, and I live and breathe to the rhythms of the academic calendar. I love the ebb and flow of energy within the time capsule of a semester: the energy of students arriving to start their studies, the frantic scramble for books and classrooms, the calm before the storm of midterms, the frantic careening of research papers and deadlines and finals, the satisfaction of a graduation ceremony. And then a break, a breathing space before it all starts again and we welcome veteran and new students alike back into the mix. The environment itself, one that encourages learning, where many of our students are learning to function as independent adults for the first time, where faculty argue vociferously over changes to the curriculum and how exactly those changes serve our students, and where students wrestle with new information and new perspectives, is one that brings me joy.

Most of my academic training has been set squarely inside the social science disciplines. In the social sciences, my experience has been tasting a distinct overtone of measurement in the bouquet of subjects. In the Ph.D. program in Political Science at Emory, I was introduced for the first time to the quantitative versus qualitative research methodology wars, and though some students and faculty did excellent qualitative work, the department focus was quite heavily on the quantitative side, both in course offerings and in in philosophy. (Part of the reason may have been not only the research preferences of the faculty, but the openly acknowledged time difference involved in quant and qual work. My advisor at the time told me quite clearly that quantitative was the way to go for a dissertation, because when it comes to dissertations, "Good is not good. Done is good.") While my many years studying education offered a more balanced view of quantitative and qualitative work (and some excellent doctoral level courses in mixed-method research methodology), measurement and evaluation was still of utmost importance, and framed many of the discussions of important issues. I understand this: to want to explore something and learn about it, learning to measure a thing (as well as the hows and whys of that measurement) is an important foundation for knowledge.

In these social science settings, it is easy for me to understand the hows and whys, the idea of dependent and independent variables, effect and affect. Though I avoided as much math as possible in my undergraduate days, I did take Econometrics I and II, and left with a firm grasp of codifying variables, linear regression and other forms of data analysis, and the idea that measurement is key to understanding. After years and years of graduate courses in quantitative research methodology (and one summer spent at ICPSR data nerd camp), I understand this language. It is familiar; the literature review and methodology sections of research papers are my brain's version of comfort food. My first impulse upon identifying a phenomenon I want to study is to ask a question, and identify what measurements would allow me to answer that question.

I am on much less mentally comfortable ground in the humanities, though I value the fields no less than I do the social sciences. As a child, my mother and her parents instilled in me a love of reading that has never faded, and I became addicted to telling stories and writing poetry. Though my undergraduate years were characterized by an I-know-I-need-a-job-and-don't-have-time-for-glassblowing turn away from the humanities, I was still nourished by the liberal arts education and general education course requirements. In my mid-20s after some personal blows and health issues,  I found myself trapped in my own psyche, and the only solution that satisfied was writing. I entered my M.F.A. in Writing program significantly less educated in BritLit than my peers, and learned much. What I truly learned, though, was not only the value of practicing my creative craft and the fulfillment of creative endeavors, but I re-learned the worth of learning in a field outside my comfort zone, where measurement is somewhat eschewed (a nod to the digital humanities here) in favor of interpretation, and in the value inherent in a multiplicity of interpretations where none is truly authoritative or privileged. Particularly for poetry, there is in infinite number of possible choices and combinations of subjects, words, languages, and combinations of words and space (in space itself and in the art of the line break). The individual, their experience, and his or her interpretations becomes so much more important; the poet need justify his or her methods to no one. Poetry satisfies a piece of myself that the hard and social sciences leave a bit cold, the piece that whispers that there is more to the world than what I can measure.

I've joked that I pursued my M.L.S. to get a job, and my M.F.A. as a personal reward. There's slightly more to it, but that's not too far off. The one was an intellectual endeavor I enjoyed, but it was certainly tied to my career aspirations. (You largely can't be an academic librarian without the M.L.S.) I had no real professional plans for my M.F.A. other than to learn how to become a better poet, and becoming much more well-read in poetry and its craft under the tutelage of poets with many more years experience. The M.F.A. was a personal journey whereas my social science studies, while they reflected my personal interests, were more guided by professional interests and the idea of the degree as a vehicle-to-something. The M.L.S. was required for me to enter the ranks of academic librarians. The Ed.D. helped make me a better librarian and researcher, and also equips me with the terminal degree to move into a nine-month teaching faculty position, should I choose to do so; the Ph.D. I'm working on is largely for personal development and satisfaction, though I would also like to leverage it to teach in that area.

Now I find myself nearly a year deep into the Ph.D. program. Again, I joke that my Ed.D. is really related to my work (which it is), and this doctorate is more a personal reward, like the M.F.A. I am learning entirely new ways of approaching academic work. This program is really designed as a journey through materials, and as a critical reflection on not just the readings and how they square with each other, but how personal experience informs the reading of the texts, and how the reading of the texts informs personal experience. I joked with Fabulous Husband that the school is a little woo-woo, and it might turn me into a California hippie. Alongside textbooks in the campus bookstore, you can also find crystals, healing runes, mandala coloring books, and various books on archetypes, gods and goddesses, living your own myth, Campbell, yoga, and Jung. In one class, many of our assignments centered around learning new ways to analyze, work with, or tend our dreams, and enter into conversation with those dream images. Our final papers are generally expected to incorporate both research and personal experience and reflection relevant to the course topic.

This makes me uncomfortable. Initially, I felt like my thinking and feeling experience in the world (as opposed to things-accomplished experience) was not really worth academic credit, and was out of place in academic assignments about mythology. I can write an academic paper on the myth of Demeter and Persephone and how it might correlate to the researched experience of barren women; inserting myself into the paper and making claims of my own experience and understanding of the myth based on my lived experience seems somehow presumptive. What could I possibly have to say that is authoritative, if it is based on my subjective understanding of the world? Why would someone want to know about my story, when it has not yet been measured against other stories to see if my life is wanting compared to theirs? The shield of objectivity (weak as that shield is) is shattered, and suddenly I am not just reading the mythology, I am in the mythology, and is this what is supposed to happen here? It has been a very long time since I have been uncomfortable in a classroom, from either side of the desk.

Reflecting on this, I realized that I have taught mythology to undergraduates, and asked students to write weekly reflections on the stories and what they perceived as meaningful in their contemporary lives, if anything. I wanted my students to engage the material, to reflect on its meaning and determine where or whether that meaning was relevant to the stories of their own lives or that of our society. This is an exercise in the humanities, and it was valid then--why, then, do I feel like doing this at the graduate level, as a student myself, is a form of cheating? In the social sciences, there would be a problem of objectivity and replication - how can someone replicate my interpretation given that they do not have my life experiences, my psyche, my feelings? They cannot. Why is this a problem? Well, it's not, for the purposes of this study for this degree. It is a catching point, an area of cognitive dissonance for me because I mentally touch back to my social science paradigm, and that is not entirely appropriate here.

Further reflection on this point: I took a graduate English course in critical theory, in which literature (and any text, really) was examined through different lenses, of those not privileged, of those voices left out and cut from the stories and histories. I remember being very excited; this made sense to me, and I have always been fascinated by the idea of those voices silenced by more privileged interpretations¹. I am also reminded of the Latina development of testimonio² as a valid research methodology and paradigm--women articulating their personal experience, how that experience relates back to the whole of their history and that of their people, and how their understanding of their experience and history shapes the course of their lives, decisions, and repressions. I've read some of this research, and have never considered it anything but a rich addition to the dominant methodologies, which would lose these nuances of actual lived experience.

Last night, after drafting the first version of this post, I was reading Myth and Philosophy: A Contest of Truths³ and found a much more articulate explanation for the sort of cognitive dissonance I'm feeling between the idea of a semi-objectively measured world (semi- because the very act of deciding on a measurement is an act of judgment, and very rarely objective in the purest sense) and the more subjectively understood world of the humanities. The author posits that our current system of objectivity and rationality, of looking at the world as a thing apart and to be measured, is a later historical development, both methodologically and philosophically. In short, because Greek philosophy was rebelling against a mythical understanding of the world, Western philosophy and logic itself is now missing a crucial piece of understanding the world existentially and subjectively - myth addresses the meaning that exists in the world, while the Western philosophy and logic developed as a rebellion against mythic understanding addresses the meaning we assign to the world. The philosophy and logic we inherit re-presents the world, interprets it, abstracts and conceptualizes it; myth is pre-objectivity, and in Hatab's words, it "does not 'project' the sacred, it finds the world infused with the sacred" (p. 26).

The more I read of the first few chapters in the book, the more I found myself nodding. This, I think, is what I am missing, a way of knowing that is not a projection of my understanding onto the world, but an appreciation that the sacred can (must?) exist outside of logic, and that this, too, has a great value. A value that the ways I have been academically trained to look at the world are not equipped to measure or acknowledge. Especially after getting sick, and as I've been re-evaluating what is important to me and what i want to spend my time and energy on, I find myself straining to reach more of this mythical understanding and way of interacting with the world.

And so I find myself a true student again, struggling with new concepts and applying them, excited as I learn new ways to look at the world that enrich my experience. I am out of my depth, as I should be--I am a novice again, in a way I cannot remember being since my undergraduate days. One of my colleagues recently mentioned that they employ a "pedagogy of discomfort" to get their students to think critically and not rely on established modes of viewing the world. My initial reaction was "Of course! How will they learn if they can rely on what they already know and are comfortable with?"  And oh, ho, the master has become the student again, and I am reminded that my discomfort is a good thing. I am learning things I didn't know, I am learning to think in new ways, and finding more meaning, and new meanings, in the world around me.

Notes

¹My first book of poetry, God in My Throat: The Lilith Poems (Bellowing Ark, 2009) was an exercise in recovering a lost voice; the collection is a series of persona poems told from Lilith's perspective and addressing her exile from Eden and Christianity in general. Persona poems are some of my favorite captures of voices of lost, unheard, or 'minor' characters from history and myth.

² For some great readings on testimonio as recommended by my colleague Dr. Jennie Luna, see: Bernal, D. D., Burciaga, R., & Carmona, J. F. (2012). Chicana/Latina testimonios: mapping the methodological, pedagogical, and political. Equity & Excellence in Education, 45(3), 363-372; Carmona, J. F. (2014). Cutting out their tongues: Mujeres’ testimonies and the Malintzin researcher. Journal of Latino/Latin American Studies, 6(2), 113-124; Chávez, M. S. (2012). Autoethnography, a Chicana’s methodological research tool: The role of storytelling for those who have no choice but to do critical race theory. Equity & Excellence, 45(2): 334-348; Latina Feminist Group. (2001). Telling to live: Latina feminist testimonios. Durham: Duke University Press.

³Hatab, L. J. (1992). Myth and philosophy: A contest of truths. LaSalle, IL: Open Court Press.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Teaching Librarian: FJS 340 and Teaching Full-Credit Courses

To my great delight, I've been invited to teach in the Freedom and Justice Studies minor in Fall 2015. I'll be teaching the three-credit upper-division interdisciplinary general education course FJS 340: Exploring Freedom and Justice on Thursday afternoons in fall 2015. The course description as it appears in the catalog is:

Starting from philosophical understandings of identity, community, and democracy the course focuses on themes such as slavery and emancipation; migration, exile, and diaspora; violence and reconciliation. Using an interdisciplinary lens that engages fields as wide-ranging as economics and literature, students will engage in trans-historical, cross-cultural exploration of freedom and justice and the various ways different peoples have attempted to put them into practice. Students will engage tools to analyze the relationship between these concepts and the structure of identity and its material effects.


Effectively the course chooses a wicked problem and explores it in an interdisciplinary way from a foundation of freedom and justice philosophy. Unsurprisingly, as a librarian, the wicked problem that struck me immediately was information. Access to information (the haves and have-nots), privileged authorship and dissemination of information, control (or lack thereof) of information, personal information issues--all critically important, and all related to our understanding and exercise of freedom and justice. As an interdisciplinary creature myself, that part of the course description also appealed to me as a way to integrate my own studies, and engage students in various fields. Happily, Dr. Julia Balén who runs the program agreed that information is an interesting lens for the course, and my Library chair and AVP agreed that not only is it a great topic to teach, but it also matches up with our library's engagement with information literacy as a general education outcome and as something we would like to see more prominently featured in the curriculum.

Because balance is something I am working hard to achieve, my chair recommended a reduction in my committee work because of the increase on the teaching side. I will be taking on the course as part of my teaching duties. Occasionally (and optimally), departments bringing in folks from outside their department to teach a course offer what we call a "buy-out," where the department would pay the library for my WTU (weighted teaching unit) time, and the Library could (in the best -case scenario) use those funds to hire a part-time person to replace me on the reference desk, or in some of my other duties. (I've worked at other universities where librarians were not expected to engage in teaching, and those teaching duties would fall outside my regular assignment, to be done outside Library time. In that case, a department would hire me as an adjunct and pay me separately from my regular paycheck. So, things may be handled differently depending on your institution. It's a good question to ask during  the interview if you are interested in teaching semester-long courses, since it does have political, budgetary, and workload repercussions depending on the system.)

I am currently working on designing the course, and am developing a working bibliography crossing  disciplines, cultures, and kinds of information (For those interested, see FJS 340 Bibliography-In-Progress). After a foundation in philosophies of freedom and justice, theories of information, and readings on information poverty and information literacy, the course will be structured weekly by discipline (health, economics, politics, conflict and war, education, etc.). In an attempt to have students think about information broadly, we won't only be using book chapters and research articles (though right now the bibliography is mostly just that). Students will also be considering art, poetry, fiction, memoir, testimonio, music, video, and other forms of information.

The course is a writing-intensive one, so I am also working on developing the writing assignments . I have used weekly critical reflection papers in previous courses as a way to make students engage with the material, but a weekly paper can become rote and dull. As an ISLAS Faculty Fellow, I recently attended a workshop by Dr. Jacob Jenkins (affectionately known on campus as Dr. J) on building community in the classroom, and he was kind enough to share with me a number of his efforts¹ to engage students in journaling that allowed students to be creative in engaging the material.  Another ISLAS workshop by Dr. Jenny Luna addressed the power of testimonio in capturing the experience of the disenfranchised and incorporating testimonio in the college classroom, which inspired me to make sure that I include readings on this valuable kind of information. I have a vague idea for an assignment that asks students to identify an information issue in their communities, identify stakeholders and the freedom and justice concepts involved, and explore the information issue in depth, both with background research and active engagement through interviews. (I'm currently working with the Center for Community Engagement since I know they will have great ideas for helping me turn this general idea into a dynamite engagement opportunity.) Working on this has been a great way to pick my library and campus colleagues' brains about their favorite readings in their area of study on the issue of information (hello, undercover outreach!), as well as an exercise for myself in both creativity and restraint. (I know the linked bibliography is already too long and complicated for a single undergrad gen-ed course. I know. But it's nice to know I have options!)

In reality, designing this course is a dream assignment for a librarian. What do we want students to know about information, and its impact on freedom and justice? How do our conceptions of freedom and justice shape our thoughts about information? My intent is to offer the students a smorgasbord of readings in various disciplines to whet their appetites and engage both their critical thinking and their imaginations. Right now I'm working on this on weekends and evenings, but I imagine it will creep into my summer days as I work on the actual syllabus and day-by-day structure of the course. You can expect more from me on this, I'm sure, and I am also looking forward to reflecting on the course as I teach it. If you have any ideas for readings, assignments, or other information you would recommend for this kind of course, please do share. I will share the final bibliography as well as the syllabus once they're completed.

References

¹ Jenkins, Jacob. "Engaged Journaling: Using Experiential Learning Theory to Employ Multiple Learning Styles." with T. Clarke. Paper delivered at Western States Communication Association Annual Convention. Spokane, WA, Feb 20, 2015. (https://www.westcomm.org/convention/documents/2015WSCAProgram.pdf)

 

 

 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Spring 2015 Faculty Accomplishments Celebration

Each spring semester, the CSUCI Broome Library throws the gala of the year, the Faculty Accomplishments Celebration.

The Library hosts the faculty accomplishments database, where you can go ogle our faculty and their work. The celebration is a chance for faculty to get together and see what each other are working on, and discuss interests over delicious foodstuffs. Not only does the library host the shindig, but the planning happens months in advance. This was my first chance to attend, as a newbie, and what a wonderful time it was! The library hands out awards, celebrity-roast-style, such as the Golden Bookend, the Golden Clicker, and the Golden Key to the Library, with concomitant descriptions for why each faculty member won. There was much laughter, and it was just the point in the semester where I think we all needed that to lift our spirits. We played Cards against Faculty (a slightly more PC-version of Cards Against Humanity) as well as mad libs where nouns and verbs were removed from faculty publication titles. A local Mexican food truck catered, and everything smelled heavenly. A nerdy good time!

Each faculty member's accomplishments are included in a printed booklet, not only provided to attendees, but sent with a personal note from our President to each Board member to alert them to our faculty's work. The Library also makes a lovely printed-and boarded poster for each faculty member with an accomplishment with the person's name, title, and the title and abstract of their work. (I'm tickled that I'll be getting one this year.)

In our recent external program review, it was mentioned that faculty members claimed to use the celebration as a goal, because they always wanted to have had something published or presented by the deadline to make it into the awards book and get a poster. When I was interviewing here in October of 2013, as soon as people realized I was interviewing for the Library position, each person regaled me with tales of the annual party, informing me that the librarians took their jobs seriously when it came to making sure faculty had fun. They would peer at me closely, and say, "Our librarians are party people. Are you a party people?" (I am pretty sure this was at least as important as my actual qualifications in terms of fit.)

My colleagues did a huge, wonderful job of planning and hosting the annual shindig, and I'm already looking forward to helping out with next year's.

I don't know that you can overestimate the value of the goodwill outreach can create for your library on campus. Here, our faculty really appreciate the fact that they are, well, appreciated. And that we show them a good time!

[caption id="attachment_379" align="alignleft" width="225"]Faculty Accomplishments 2015 Faculty Accomplishments Booklet[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_380" align="alignright" width="300"]2015 Faculty Accomplishments Booklet (There I am!) There I am![/caption]

Friday, April 17, 2015

Barreling Toward the End of My First CSUCI Spring Semester

In order of importance, the things going on as the semester careens to a close:

On the library front:

  • Finals are coming, finals are coming! Students are feeling the pressure, which means we at the library do, too. ALL OF THE PRINTING.  On an admittedly less-than-superior printing setup. And the last papers of the semester, so we're seeing some hail-Marys at the reference desk;

  • This will be my first finals where I take lead on the end of semester feedback. We set up "graffiti" boards with giant post-it's on whiteboards asking what we're doing right, and what we can improve, and collect all that information. We also have a student survey, and a faculty survey. My colleagues all tabulate and organize the data, and we'll see what we can do to improve for next finals season;

  • The 24-hour library. The week before and the week of finals, we stretch the library and its staff to 24 hours for our students. Thank goodness for the folks who work the overnight! I'm picking up some 6am shifts, but those are easier for me than the late evening or midnight shifts, now that I've apparently become an elder;

  • The Party of the Year is later this month: The Faculty Accomplishments Party. Cited by faculty as THE party of the year, and something that spurs them to get some research published or presented by the deadline, this bash is where the library celebrates our faculty here at Channel Islands. There are awards, faculty who have published or presented something in the past year get a spiffy poster of their work, and there is general merriment. And wine and beer. And laughter. This will be my first, and I'm excited, since when I was here for the interview, nearly everyone cited it as The Most Important Thing to Know About Being A Faculty Member Here.


On the personal/life front:

  • Lots of doctor appointments, since I've been feeling crappy. Turns out I'm gluten intolerant, and nightshade intolerant, and all-sorts-of-foodstuff-intolerant, so I'm going on the autoimmune protocol diet. A royal PITA in terms of food lists and preparation, but apparently it's what I need, so. Hrmp. Think super-restricted Paleo-style. No grains/gluten (but corn! But rice!), legumes, dairy, eggs. nuts, seeds, sweeteners, nightshades (white potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, etc.), modern vegetable oils, refined sugars,  and processed food chemicals. Since part of my reaction is histamine-related (a bad reaction and all of my tattoos actually raise up on my skin!), that also means no lemon, lime, kiwi, mango, processed meat (ONOES BACON), bananas, and strawberries, among other things. SAD. PANDA;

  • Fabulous Husband and I have gotten into the habit of walking the dogs to the dog park. There's nothing quite so silly as a duo of basset hounds running a few laps, and then collapsing for the rest of the hour. Except maybe the sight of Fabulous Husband and I running, trying to encourage them to get up and chase us;

  • Fabulous Husband and I are signed up to do a 5k at the end of the month, right before our 2-ear wedding anniversary. Which I have not at all begun training for (the 5k, not the anniversary), and is the result of a New Year's Resolution when I was feeling feisty. Oh, New Year Colleen. You were so optimistic. *pats self on head*


On the research front:

  • The magical and hard-working copy-editors at The Journal of Academic Librarianship have done their work, fixed my gaffes, and that article should be coming online shortly;

  • Today was the deadline for book chapter proposals from library directors discussion leadership skill lessons learned. 36 excellent proposals received (woohoo!), and now (well, likely next weekend) I have to go through them and do some selecting, and respond to the authors by May 1;

  • I'm finishing up editing the chapters for another book on contemporary women poets and mythology. These authors have been extremely patient with me as timelines were extended due to my health, the move, the new job, my health, etc. I'm looking forward to having these out of my hands, and this project out into the world;

  • I have a few articles in the works. One more coming out of the dissertation on leadership development at different levels of the organization (probably to submit to College & Research Libraries), one on using ritual theory to explore chronic illness (proposal accepted by New Directions in the Humanities), and one on intersections of myth, technology, and information literacy;

  • I'll be presenting in mid-June at CaVraCon (California Visual Resources Association conference) on using digital images in information literacy instruction;

  • I'm waiting to hear back about my proposals to present at the internet Librarian conference in October. I think those announcements usually go out in late June or early July;

  • I have a full-length poetry manuscript out and under review at a few different small presses;

  • I have 3 manuscripts in-progress and one data-collection project that I won't fool with until summer;

  • Oh, yeah, still working on that Ph.D. in Mythological Studies. Which reminds me to pack my reading for the first spring session.


And in teaching:

  • My last information literacy sessions are next week, early Monday morning and late Tuesday evening;

  • Which means it's time to look back at the stats and see how we're doing, and who we're touching;

  • And I'm in super informal discussions with the chair of the Freedom & Justice Studies minor about the possibility of my teaching FJS 340 in the Fall semester. Titled Explorations of Freedom and Justice, it's an opportunity to pick a wicked problem and look at it across time, cultures, and disciplines. I'd like to look at information access as the wicked problem, and am having a grand old time culling building a bibliography, structuring a syllabus, and thinking about how I can develop engaging assignments.


[caption id="attachment_376" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Possible sources for FJS 340 readings Possible sources for FJS 340 readings (minus the 50+ journal articles under consideration). Do you have recommendations?[/caption]

Thursday, April 02, 2015

What's In A Name? Academia, Name Changes, and My Experience

Today I read a piece that hit close to home. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece by Andrea N. Geurin-Eagleman on dealing with academia, divorce, and name changes. The article does a good job of relating the concerns of many female academics I've talked to--namely, that changing your name may effectively erase all of the name recognition we've been building in our fields since we started out into the hallowed halls of higher ed.

Fabulous Husband and I are approaching our second wedding anniversary at the end of this month. Both before and after our actual wedding, we talked long and hard about what we wanted to do with our names. Our conversations covered a lot of territory, and these are some of the facets of the issue that came up:

  • I already had a significant number of publications under my maiden name, and was concerned about the academia/continuity-of-recognition factor;

  • We were both over 30 years old when we married, so each of us had significant years behind our birth names. To change them drastically felt jarring and awkward;

  • We also wanted to represent that we were both *adding* someting important to our lives, not erasing earlier portions of it;

  • I'm not particularly proud of my father's side of my family, but I worked long and hard to make my birth name correspond to something good, and that was important to me;

  • I didn't want Fabulous Husband to feel slighted by my struggle over this, and by my lack of assumption that I would automatically take his name (to his credit, he was incredibly understanding of my angst);

  • I didn't want Fabulous Husband's family to think I felt like I didn't want their name;

  • I *did* want to take Fabulous Husband's name;

  • We very much wanted to legally share the same last name;

  • I had poet-angst about the Naming of Things, and what it meant for identity and self and movement through the world to change one's name.


After much long discussion, we decided to hyphenate and become the Harris-Keith family.

That's right. My name is Dr. Colleen S. Harris-Keith, and I am a hyphenator.

We both legally changed our names, so Fabulous Husband had to go before a judge and swear he wasn't changing his name to escape debt, avoid authorities, or avoid identifying himself as a sex offender. It was a lot of work on Jed's part--not just the court paperwork and cost, but reassuring Worrywart Wife that he really wanted this and did not feel pressured, and dealing with his father's side-eye. (To be fair, my mother gave me similar side-eye, and told me to just take Jed's name and be done with the Harris part of things.)

Every couple has their own decision to make in this area. It's an incredibly personal decision. I didn't realize how much of my own personal identity I had attached to my birth name until I was asked if I wanted to change it, so I don't throw shade on how anyone else decides to handle the issue. The naming of things is a powerful force--I believe this as a human and especially as a poet. The naming of ourselves is a significant power, and one many of us don't really consider until we are faced with the option of changing it. (Librarian side note: this option always exists, and you can change your name in most places with just some court fees and paperwork--check with your county clerk office--but I know I didn't truly think of it as an option until I got married.)

I did not, at the time, consider that the DMV, doctor offices, and various other necessaries in life work with software that is particularly unkind to those of us who hyphenate, but they figure it out eventually. I'm called Mrs. Keith, Ms. Harris, and any number of other permutations of the letters in our name, and take it with general good humor (while double-checking that the name on file is actually accurate).

Effectively, I feel like I got to have my cake and eat it too. (After all, what good is cake if you cannot eat the stuff?) In my case, it makes it relatively easy for my CV and other academic work. In my earlier career I appear as Colleen S. Harris, and now it's Colleen S. Harris-Keith, so I feel like I am still recognizable. My husband and I share the same last name, which makes us happy. We're both happy with the identity marker that includes our birth and married names, and it's relatively easy to pronounce (though it makes us sound uber-British, which we're not).

And when Fabulous Husband finishes *his* doctoral program, name-wise we will be The Doctors Harris-Keith, which, you have to admit, sounds pretty damn cool.