How Does Department Service Serve Us?

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Advice / Lehigh Culture & Community

How Does Department Service Serve Us?

Love it or hate it, the fact remains that department and university service remains one of the three pillars of academic life, along with research and teaching. However important serving on committees may be to ensuring the efficiency of various departmental working groups, it is nevertheless a fraught issue. For example, in April of 2017, Inside Higher Ed published an article detailing research that indicated that women professors (and I’ll extend that to include graduate students and adjuncts) perform more department service than their male counterparts and yet, here’s the kicker, they are often not rewarded for their efforts. If individuals tend to view service as the “housework of academia,” perhaps it is not surprising that women are expected to happily perform more of this unpaid labor. Even in more gender balanced fields, women are still performing more service activities, in addition to the often unseen, but significant, amount of emotional labor that they do for students and colleagues.

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This Is About Gun Violence

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The intention of this post has shifted focus dramatically since I was asked to write an op-ed piece. My intention has continually shifted since I decided to write on the mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. When I first thought about moving beyond a visceral reaction to the deadliest mass shooting in American history, I thought about rhetoric. I don’t think it’s coincidental that this emotional to theoretical shift could have happened in less than 48 hours. The conversations I had been involved in concerning the shooting made similar moves. From shock or anger that this happened, was able to happen. To concern for people’s former and current students. To dejection that this keeps happening. To numbness that it’s so routine to our news day we ask “Can we really sustain any kind of intense emotional reaction anymore?” To calls for more gun control.

This American tragedy is stitched into the fabric of our lives and the rhetorical calls for gun control or for increased gun distribution become almost immediate response alongside the standard social media condolences.

When I first conceptualized the layout and visual themes of this post, I envisioned analyses of Twitter screen grabs and tumblr posts, all aiming to prove why arguments for gun control and political and social reform were ultimately “better” (meaning superior, more articulate, more victim focused, more compassionate, possessing more intellectual depth and engagement with social concerns and experiences).

But this morning (it’s currently Thursday, October 5th) as I was scripting this rhetorical argument out in my head, it occurred to me this wasn’t enough. Gun violence is everywhere in our society and mass shootings are incredibly common. And a white dude did this one. And a white dude usually does them (see this, this, this, this, and this for the data cited). This persistent issue of large-scale terror is racialized, and yet the language surrounding white male shooters is centered around anxieties of mental illness and its protective coating of legal defense. Meanwhile, black and Hispanic boys and men are “criminals” and “thugs,” undocumented immigrants are threatening the peace and security of American lives, and if you’re brown and you’re name is hard to pronounce, you’re a terrorist.

When I envisioned this post I saw myself critiquing news outlets and the nouns they used to describe suspects and perpetrators at varying levels of offense, emphasizing the way language use falls on racial lines. I planned on attacking how conservative outlets ignored and perpetuated this racial fear. Perhaps even holding up left and liberal, but still problematic, outlets for their acknowledgment of this linguistic injustice (you can see this in the hyperlinks I’ve embedded). I compiled quotes about the shooter, about how “the man who carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history has largely remained an enigma” (The Washington Post), and how this language of mystery still shrouds the shooter behind anxieties of legally defensible mental illness even though he’s dead and needs no defense. Even in death his access is there. I intended to discuss how in the same article this shooter got to be “just like anybody else” to the man who sold him guns. I started searching for statistics on shootings to support a possibly different argument comparing statistics between mass shootings and racialized police shootings because of gun violence writ large.

And I found the Gun Violence Archive.

To date this year in the United States:

47,187 Total Incidents [of Gun Violence]

275 Mass Shootings

238 Officer Involved Incident: Officer Shot or killed

1,567 Officer Involved Incident: Subject-Suspect Shot or Killed

1,888 Home Invasion

1,534 Defensive Use

1,528 Unintentional Shooting

11,800 Number of Deaths

23,974 Number of Injuries

And I don’t know what the goal of this post is anymore. As of today, October 5th 2017, there have been 47,187 incidents of gun violence this year. You have to navigate through the list of incidents to the last available page, the 18th page, to find the record of the Las Vegas shooting. The deadliest mass shooting in American history. Will I be able to find it tomorrow?

I’m sitting here and I’m writing and I’m trying to think of how to end this, because I desperately feel like I need this to end, and the typical, summative, crystalizing conclusion is lost to me. Even to come back to the beginning, the routine of the American mass shooting, even to try and articulate that normalcy through the statistics I’ve reproduced here seems hollow and naive. I don’t know what to say, what questions to ask, because I don’t know how to process the sheer volume.

Understanding (Anti-)Capitalism(s) and the Possibility of Real Utopias

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Literature & Social Justice / Politics

Anti-CapitalistThis post is the second in an eight-part series on imagining alternatives to Capitalism. The first installment is available here. We invite you to join “Tackling T.I.N.A – An Anticapitalist Reading Group” for bi-weekly readings and discussions on this and related subjects. We meet every other Thursday at noon. Email Adam Heidebrink-Bruno ( or Mareesa Miles ( to see the schedule, join the email list and find out more.

Capitalism: they say there is no alternative. Of course, the business leaders and politicians who defend capitalist enterprise benefit greatly from the current economic system and have no self-interested reason to say otherwise. But for those of us at the short end of the stick— those who are on the impoverished side of the increasing wealth gap, those who are going hungry in the midst of plenty—for us, an alternative sounds pretty damn good.

But first, what is capitalism, really? The Oxford English Dictionary says it’s “an economic system in which private capital or wealth is used in the production or distribution of goods and prices are determined mainly by a free market; the dominance of private owners of capital and of production for profit.” In Keywords, Raymond Williams traces its use back to the sixteenth century, viewing it as “a form of centralized ownership of the means of production, carrying with it the system of wage-labor” (Williams 51). Basically, it involves a capitalist class that uses its wealth to invest in productive projects and a working class that sells its labor to the capitalists.

Unfortunately, this rudimentary definition doesn’t capture the nuances found in various capitalist countries around the world. As James Fulcher discusses in Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction, Capitalism is not everywhere the same. In fact, as Fulcher argues, it’s more appropriate to think of Capitalism in the plural: Capitalisms. Looking at the economic infrastructure of three Capitalist countries—Sweden, the U.S., and Japan—Fulcher finds significant differences. Depending on the particular form of Capitalism used, there can be drastic differences in taxation, union strength, labor rights, wealth disparity, poverty, employment levels, access to welfare, susceptibility to economic crises, regulation, and environmental sustainability.

There’s also Agrarian capitalism, Mercantile Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism, Financial Capitalism, Welfare Capitalism, Global Capitalism, Technocapitalism, Sustainable Capitalism, Crony Capitalism, State Capitalism, Casino Capitalism, Keynesian Capitalism, and—of course—Neoliberal Capitalism. I think you get the idea. This dizzying array of Capitalisms is difficult to navigate and often leaves the public fighting over which model is best. Liberals generally want more regulation and state intervention to ensure welfare for all. Conservatives generally advocate for a free-market approach, arguing that unobstructed competition and deregulated marketplaces will produce the most efficient—and ultimately most beneficial— economic system. Back and forth the tug-o-war goes without ever pausing to realize how terribly limited and two-dimensional such arguments are. Regardless of whether one advocates for Welfare Capitalism or Neoliberal Capitalism, he or she promotes Capitalism all the same.

Envisioning Real, Anti-Capitalist Utopias

Fortunately, there are other voices among the crowd willing to challenge Capitalism writ large. Erik Olin Wright, the author of Envisioning Real Utopias and the provocative Jacobin essay “How to Be an Anticapitalist Today,” reminds his readers that today’s alleged “Capitalist” economies are decidedly hybrid models. In fact, even ferociously proud Capitalist countries, such as the U.S., contain a well-developed (if underappreciated) Anti-Capitalist infrastructure. Worker cooperatives, public libraries, and open source collaboration (such as Wikipedia) are all examples of what Wright calls “Real Utopias,” places where “emancipatory ideals are embodied in existing institutions and proposals for new institutional designs.”

Real Utopias do not rely on the same logic found in their Capitalist counterparts. Worker co-ops dissolve the age-old conflict between capitalists and laborers by making the laborers themselves the owners of the enterprise. Thus, every worker has an equal voice in the management of the business thereby ensuring that the workers (themselves) are fairly compensated for their labor. Libraries, as Wright says, “embody principles of access and distribution which are profoundly anti-capitalist.” I love this observation. Libraries do not distribute their goods and services (books, computer access, meeting space, etc.) based off of one’s ability to pay, but rather “to each according to need.”

Ultimately, Wright argues that we need to tame and erode Capitalism rather than trying to smash or escape it. We can do so by committing ourselves to building up institutions like those listed above. Support your local libraries, participate in peer-to-peer collaborations, and seek out businesses that are worker-owned and operated. Or better: work at one. Advocate for local, state, and federal policies that reinforce Anti-Capitalist infrastructure. Identify what Real Utopias already exist in your local community. Notice what’s missing, too, and imagine new ones. Then, organize your neighborhood, workplace, and school to bring those absent Utopias into being.

Checking a book out from your local library won’t end Capitalist exploitation tomorrow, of course. However, becoming more comfortable with the egalitarian and Anti-Capitalist logic that undergirds free distribution of public goods can chisel away at the dominant Capitalist ideology that runs deep in the American psyche. And, like a river cutting through stone, today’s Anti-Capitalist infrastructure is already eroding Capitalism’s once mountainous terrain. Join us in opening the floodgates.

The Readings:

Fulcher, James. “Chapter 4: Is Capitalism Everywhere the Same?” Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Williams, Raymond. “Capitalism.” Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Oxford University Press, 1976.

Wright, Erik Olin. “How to be an Anti-Capitalist Today.” Jacobin, 2 December 2015.

Meet and Greet: Dr. Lorenzo Servitje

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Lehigh Culture & Community

We are very excited to introduce a new face to the community this semester: Dr. Lorenzo Servitje.


Mareesa Miles: What do you love about what you do?

Lorenzo Servitje: There are so many things I love about this kind of work. One that strikes me at this particular stage in my career is the communal aspect of furthering knowledge—be that in engagement with another’s work in writing an article, collaborating on a project, hearing the newest work at conferences, or having student’s respond to or challenge my questions and ideas in class or as they develop their own work. In the past few years I have begun to appreciate responding to readers’ reports (love is not exactly the right word here). It has shown me how much our work does not materialize in a sort of single-author vacuum. Most recently, I have begun to venture into blogging in public venues which has made me rethink how I organize and write. I look forward to seeing where engaging in this form of communal dialog takes my work.

MM: What drew you to apply for the Lehigh job?

 LS: As preparation for our MA exam, we had to write a short statement on where we would envision ourselves working in the future as academics. The job ad for Lehigh, especially the dual appointment with English and HMS, was uncannily similar to the dream job I had envisioned before taking my MA. I know the term “dream job” gets tossed around a lot, but when this ad was posted, and my inbox filled up with colleagues and mentors suggesting I apply, I immediately celebrated and panicked—the aspirations I carried with me throughout grad school had the possibility of materializing.

That said, prior to reading the job ad, I had not considered my work in terms of social justice. Before, the closest I got was biopolitical theory which was still in very abstract terms. Preparing my job materials and coming for a campus visit made me radically rethink the implications of my current project. I came to consider how Victorian literature, history, and biopolitics co-constituted the distributions of health at that time and created a legacy that continues into the present. How the way we think, talk, and practice medicine produces “regimes of truth” that become social determinants of health, so often on axises of race, gender, class, and ability.

MM: What is your favorite book outside your field of study?

LS: This is difficult to answer, perhaps Dante’s The Divine Comedy or Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

MM: Do you have a graduate school regret–something you did and wish you hadn’t, something you would have done in a different way, or something you didn’t do and wish you had?

LS: I have two regrets when it comes to graduate school: I wish I had taken the advice to enjoy my reading year—to engross myself in my topic and fields—rather than read for the proximate goal of the exam. Secondly, I wish I had practiced better work-life balance, specifically spending time with my family.

MM: What are you most looking forward to in your interactions with graduate students (in and/or out of coursework)?

LS: I am most looking forward to providing the same kind of mentoring I received as a graduate student: the close attention to research, introduction to professional networks, guidance for professional development, feedback on teaching, and the collaborative relationship to discover something new and communicate it.

MM: What draws you to interdisciplinary work such as in the medical humanities? Do you see this as the future of the humanities?

LS: What draws me to interdisciplinary work is it allows me to develop my passion for science and literature at the same time. For a long time as an undergraduate, I struggled with the choice. Even when I tried to compartmentalize the knowledge, I found myself writing arguments about literature using scientific and biomedical metaphors. When I had considered applying to med school versus grad school, I came to the realization that my interest in medicine was not working with patients; rather, it was a fascination with medicine as an idea and system of thought. In my work now, I still get to collaborate with MD’s and other biomedical professionals to help me develop my own work and, hopefully, give medical professionals another dimension to consider beyond the often algorithmic process of diagnosis and treatment.

As for medical humanities being the future of the humanities, I’m not sure if it is the future. I think it is part of a broader wave of the popularity of interdisciplinarity—DH and environmental humanities being part of this wave. I have certainly seen an increase in the number of jobs calling for this particular field. I am confident that it has a future—e.g. the number of med hum undergrad programs has quadrupled since the year 2000. The medical humanities opens up a variety of possibilities for working in academia, such as working at a medical school—which is very different in terms of both research and teaching for an English PhD. Moreover, the medical humanities is expanding in providing more careers for humanities PhDs outside of the tenure track job, such as work in hospitals, narrative medicine, patient advocacy, grant writing, just to name a few.

MM: What questions do you have for graduate students?

LS: First, I would ask what you like best about the program, and what, if anything, could be improved. Secondly, how can I help you?

Prompt(ing) Writing

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Advice / Teaching

Frustrated Writer

I recently attended the first part of the English Department’s Pedagogy Workshops with speakers Dashielle Horn, Jimmy Hamill and Joanna Grim, and facilitation by Kyle Brett. This workshop was all about prompt writing.

Coming into the workshop I knew giving out “good” prompts was foundational for receiving “good” papers. I had just covered the subject and Harvard’s disastrous, written entrance exams of 1874 in my ENGL 485: Intro to Writing Theory. And that’s the thing: I’m starting my first year in the MA program and I can tell you that giving out objectively bad prompts like Harvard did will elicit some objectively bad papers. Yet, I can’t necessarily tell you what the mythical “good” prompt is.

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Title IX

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Politics / Teaching


Recently, along with several members of my teaching cohort, I attended university-mandated Title IX training. Title IX, the federal law that protects students from discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs that receive federal funds, prohibits sexual harassment and sexual violence. Our training outlined university compliance with Title IX, but it also introduced us to our new role as Mandatory Reporters. As Mandatory Reporters, we are required to report to the university if one our undergraduate students discloses to us that they were sexually assaulted. Lehigh’s policy stresses a commitment to believing these students when they make the admission and providing as much support as possible to survivors of sexual assault.

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Imagining Alternatives

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Literature & Social Justice / Politics / Truth


In the first meeting of Tackling T.I.N.A, an anti-capitalist reading group, we immersed ourselves in discussion surrounding the power of imagination in struggles for change. As literary scholars our work centers around the imagination. One of the core tenets of fiction is that even when it is based on reality, it comes directly from the imagination. We value fiction for the truths that it can tell us about the world. This positions us as change makers. Through our reading and interpretation of literature we are given ample opportunities to see the ways that the world could be.

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Tempus est Pecunia

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As any veteran graduate student who has worked on a thesis or dissertation for twelve or fifteen years can attest, time management can make all the difference between getting nothing done at all or just enough to get by. The team at here at Drown Unbound are no strangers to wrestling with the bugbear of time management ourselves (1). Especially in the interest of helping new graduate students in our community manage their time more wisely, we have collected a selection of tips which we have found useful that we hope may be of some help to others.

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