Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Finding a passion on your own

When a former student first asked me to be a part of her graduate community journalism project at the University of Alabama, I was thrilled. Not only because of her steadily emerging academic success, but also because it was one of the few times anyone has directly asked me to help them outside of the classroom. I love helping people. That’s why I’m an educator. It’s definitely not for the paychecks, I assure you.

My excitement grew by leaps and bounds as she explained her project to me.  The concept unfolded fairly simply. Each week, three local artists would discuss a topic in the news and its relative effect on the community as a whole, adding in opinions, banter, dialog – whatever they pleased – so long as they contributed to the conversation once a day for five days. Sounds simple enough, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong. And not for a lack of good, old-fashioned hard work. Both the student and her CBH partner have been working for months, getting the site ready to go live by the end of March, designing and redesigning, adding content, reorganizing, making phone calls, sending emails and so forth. The behind-the-scenes work has been phenomenal. It will be no surprise to me when these students succeed in whatever future endeavors they pursue.

What did surprise me was the frank rudeness, pseudo-intellectualism and negativity I witnessed toward the project firsthand from the very people this project was supposed to help: the artists.

Please note that I’m not your stereotypical college instructor, meaning I’m in my early 30s. People always tell me I look too young to be teaching. No long, white beard. No tweed elbow patches. No respect?

One afternoon, I accompanied the student to downtown Northport, a great place for anyone to make contacts in the local arts community. Our first stop, a jewelry studio, resulted in three older ladies listening to our pitch but deciding it “wasn’t their cup of tea.”  Our next stop was a definite success, as we met some very helpful contacts at the Kentuck gallery. After that, we missed yet again, with an oil painter who attempted to educate us on “real” art, as if we were children.

Finally, we stopped by a bigger gallery in downtown Tuscaloosa. We met with a well-connected gallery owner and a sculptor/tenured professor from the University and once again sat down to explain the project in detail. Naturally, they poked and prodded the student, and she handled their extremely critical questions with a smile on her face.

Mind you, I never introduced myself to any of these people as being anything other than a writer. Being a lowly English instructor may not get me a seat at Dr. Witt’s Christmas party, but sometimes it does help. However, I left my UA credentials at home for this one, as a kind of social experiment.

Disturbing doesn’t do the experience justice. Here was a student, putting her heart and soul into something that people were not taking the time to understand, but nonetheless, they easily jumped right into the role of judge, jury and executioner just because they couldn’t envision the concept of local artists working together to create a sense of community. Artists not wanting to help was understandable to me, but faculty members slamming a young girl for her own aspirations sickened me.  Maybe they just didn’t like the idea of committing to thinking critically about a topic for five minutes out of their day to help a fellow scholar out. Probably too busy shopping for new mirrors, degree frames and so forth.

The most upsetting part was seeing most of these artists and some educators act like absolute divas. They were too good. Far too good to participate in collaborative learning, theory and practice. It’s everything that makes me sick about humanity and academia. Oh, you’ve got an idea? Let me try to make you feel insecure about it in any way I can. I know two tenured faculty members at this University who should be ashamed of themselves. Flat out ashamed. Since when does having a Ph.D. grant one intellectual and social superiority? Get over yourselves.

Despite all of the doors being shut in her face, all of the negativity, all of the snarky comments posted by know-it-alls on Facebook, she hasn’t quit. As easy as it would have been to throw in the towel, scrap it all and find an easier route, she hasn’t. She will earn her Master’s degree at the end of the summer, but the University should seriously take into consideration awarding her another as well: an MA in resilience.


Travis Turner is an English and writing instructor at the University of Alabama.


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