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167 Finding Strength in Southern Studies Pedagogy Cultivating Individual Resilience through a Representative Narrative michele grigsby coffey The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best. Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning When my co‑editor and I began planning the structure of the symposium that ultimately led to this book, there was never any question that we would dedicate a session to the teaching of southern studies. We hoped that engag‑ ing the large cross section of scholars in attendance would shed light on the common struggles that southern studies instructors faced in the classroom. More importantly, we expected that these scholars, who taught the southern experience in institutions as varied as Simon Frasier University in Canada, the Carter G. Woodson Institute of African American and African Studies at the University of Virginia, the Gender and Sexualities Program at Tulane Uni‑ versity, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of South Carolina would have unique insights into how to approach these challenges. Sadly, it was instead the most dysfunctional roundtable of the symposium as it de‑ volved almost immediately into a discussion of the ways in which these pro‑ fessors largely felt unable to break through to their classes filled primarily with white students who came to their courses invested in a pastoral vision of a white-­dominated antebellum South or in fascination with African Ameri‑ cans as objects of expressive culture. The two moderators who opened the dialogue and many of the audience members, including symposium participants and other University of Missis‑ sippi faculty and graduate students, shared stories of failures to teach com‑ plicated narratives of the South that opposed students’ expectations. Ac‑ cording to their accounts, acts of disrespect and resistance in the classroom were common, especially when issues of race were discussed.1 And what was overwhelmingly clear at our symposium was that in southern studies, as is true throughout academia, professors of color are currently shouldering a far 168 coffey disproportionate share of the burden of doing most of the race work in our classrooms.2 What was also apparent from the personal experiences shared was that faculty of color have no choice but to be perceived as hostile to the vi‑ sions of those white students who are invested in pastoral, white narratives of the region. The very physical existence of these faculty, particularly when they are women of color, in a position of authority over these students challenges the white supremacy upon which those ideas are constructed.3 As reported in the symposium, the backlash against faculty of color ranged from passive-­ aggressive behaviors in class to racial slurs yelled from passing vehicles and written in online forums. Those who, like me, are teaching southern studies while white, have a choice as to whether we will be perceived as hostile to that image of white supremacy. It can be more comfortable to choose not to actively confront the dominant narratives that so many of our white students bring to the classroom, but some of us are doing so anyway. And during the teaching roundtable at our symposium, some of us who are white also shared examples of public intimidation and threats used by students against instruc‑ tors who challenged students’ white supremacist worldviews, including being identified or threatened as “communists,” “liberals,” or “race traitors” in writ‑ ing or verbally, sometimes in public spaces outside of campus. Reflecting on this roundtable, as a southern white woman who specializes in the history of southern gender and racial politics, I realized that omitting discussion and dissection of white supremacy in class never seemed like an option to me, although I recognize that I had made the choice of specializa‑ tions. And that choice, while it had been made years before I stepped into a southern studies classroom, was a privilege that many faculty members of color do not have. I could see why, in an environment in which some of us are currently facing negative consequences as a result of teaching more represen‑ tative, multicultural narratives of southern experiences, others of us who can still choose are opting not to challenge the ideological demands that it ap‑ pears a significant portion of our students bring to our classrooms. However, by choosing our own apparent comfort, those of us who are white professors of southern studies students are disproportionately burdening our colleagues of color, even when their own challenge to our...


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