Conteh phases into retirement

I had the fortune to grow close with this man over the course of several years, multiple classes, many casual office visits, undergraduate research, and of course, “The Virtue of Patience”. He will be dearly missed by myself and many others. Thank you for years of service fellow, may your apples grow plentiful.

MSUM Advocate

by Onize Ohikere
ohikereon@mnstate.edu

As Andrew Conteh lectures his students with hands in the air and a passion evident in his voice, it’s easy to tell he isn’t your average professor.
“He gets everybody involved in the classroom,” said freshman Rahel Negassiberhane. “He always does that, and it’s kind of hard not to come to the classroom without knowing anything.”
Originally from Sierra Leone, Conteh has been a professor in MSUM’s political science department for a while. He’s currently on his 13th year.
But this one is different, as it ends his journey here at MSUM as he starts to make his retirement plans.
“It’s going to be hard,” Negassiberhane said.
Aware of the impact his immediate departure could have on his students, Conteh decided to ease the transition for them.
“I decided to be on phased retirement primarily because I do not want to put my students in a…

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An Exercise in Feminism

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I would like to dedicate this post to the members of the Anita Bender Women’s Center, who through continued dialogue and acceptance have transformed my outlook on the world I am living in; furthermore, I would like to give special consideration to Chandler Esslinger, a leader and badass feminist goddess who challenges my assumptions every time we speak, and does not give herself nearly enough credit.

I tore into this clown like a dog on a bone.

His defense of his management style was disgusting. I already hated the term “servant leadership”, but he took it to a whole new level, steeping his pumped up management qualifications and cheap suit and swirling them around terrible practice and gender bias that it stung my mouth like instant coffee, lukewarm and bitter. Over the last year, I found myself engaged in an education that I didn’t ask for, I didn’t understand, but I desperately needed. That education was manifesting itself in a full force verbal assault in this moment. My final words before I slid back into my chair were, “You’re part of the problem”. I settled into my chair and felt a smirk creep across my lips as he brushed off my youthful ignorance. I felt like a feminist for the first time in my life, and that was all right by me. I realized I was in the middle of a journey I didn’t even really mean to begin, but looking back, I am so very glad I did…


Rewind to Fall 2014:

I didn’t really know what to expect from our first meeting. I was a green student body president, she, the president of the Campus Feminist Organization. I was nervous to the say the least. I’ll be the first to admit, I had my biases. I’m a walking poster boy of the patriarchy. I’m white, I’m straight, I’ve been a part of more than one fraternity, I’m a politician, I served in the military, the list goes on. From my understanding, I was everything she hated in the world, and we hadn’t even met yet. I suffered from a culturally conditioned fear of the “F-Word”. She had reached out to me, a move that surprised me, as I knew that the relationship between CFO and the Senate had been tense, if not combative, for quite a while. I had no idea what to expect really. What I found surprised me. She was friendly, charming even, intelligent, and open to collaboration. She felt, and cared deeply, that was immediately evident in all she had to say. I was impressed; though there were a lot of things I didn’t understand about her and the organization she represented. Her organization didn’t operate within a hierarchy, something completely foreign to me. How did they get anything done? How do you run anything like that? I had a lot of questions, but after some conversation, I felt comfortable that they would be answered in their due time. She asked if she could come back at another time, and bring some other members of the center. I thought that would be just fine, and some further discussion would be good. Their safe space was being challenged, and potentially moved. I didn’t have answers for them, but I was willing to do some digging.

A few weeks later, and a few meetings later, I found myself neck deep in their organization. I started hearing from others in the organization, I even found myself in the Women’s Center for one meeting, following blogs, meeting up with different members to talk about what was going on, not just with the space, but with diversity overall. What started as a corner piece started becoming a full puzzle, and I soon found myself in a meeting with the administration and members of the Women’s Center regarding their space. I wasn’t sure what my role in that meeting would be, but they had asked me to be there, so I decided to show. They were fired up, and the meeting was tense. I attempted to be the middle ground between the two groups, and felt the scornful stare of a few members during the meeting. My fears had been realized. They hated me.

I stayed after to arrange a follow-up with a few of the staff and admins, and when I walked back to my office, I could see three faces through the window. After the meeting, a few of the members of the center had gone back to my office to wait to talk to me. This was it, the big confrontation.

They were fired up about the meeting, and blood was still running hot, but they eventually moved on to less controversial topics after plenty of coffee and a few tense laughs. I took a shallow breath, they don’t hate me. Before leaving, a member named Melissa, looked at me and said something that I won’t soon forget, “Thanks for being an advocate.” She could’ve just punched me in the nose; I think the shock factor would have been considerably less. An advocate? I don’t know the first thing about feminism, let alone, the value of the Women’s Center, or really what I was advocating for. I was just trying to do what I thought was the right thing to do in my situation. I struggled with identifying with that word. I almost felt fake. What did I know of feminism, and who am I to even think about it?

In its due course, I found myself getting more and more involved. What started as a simple conversation had grown into multiple relationships, and began as a massive catalyst for self-exploration. Around every turn, I heard “Well that’s awful privileged of you to say.” and after a while, it stopped being a matter of offense, and even when it was, it was because I knew they were right. There are years of patriarchal thinking built into my subconscious that I didn’t even realize were there, and to boot, I didn’t realize how much of an effect those thoughts had on other people. Even when they weren’t vocalized, those thoughts were toxic, and thoughts become things. My job became to identify those thoughts, to understand them, and in time, to systematically eradicate them. Feminist practice started sneaking it’s way into my everyday life. From reading blog posts, to feminist journals, to actually taking a WGS class, it started sneaking it’s way into the way I thought and engaged with the world. What once started as once in a while meetings turned into social visits, grabbing drinks after work, what started as a student consultation bloomed into real relationships. They weren’t just “the feminists”, they became my friends.


It was in these friendships that I began to learn a lot about myself and feminist perspective, and after a lot of insight, a lot of debate, and a lot of correction, I have come to a conclusion.

Feminism is like Exercise.

It’s over simplistic, and it truly doesn’t do the discipline justice, but in the hopes of reaching a male audience that might be reading this in a way that could educate them, I would like to explain my perspective in a way that could be flexible and understandable.

Feminism, just like exercise, takes work. It is constant, and no matter how much you practice it, you will make mistakes, you will fall short. Just like any sort of exercise, you have to keep doing it, every single day. I realized this when my WGS professor admitted to the class that she makes mistakes all the time. This shocked me, given that she is not only a lifelong scholar of feminism and gender studies, but she is a professional in them. Even the best make mistakes, and no matter how educated you get, you need to keep practicing it every day. Feminism makes you a healthier man. It takes areas of you that need improvement, and it gives you the tools to systematically reduce and reshape areas where there have been years of neglect, and even in areas where you haven’t neglected, it improves them. It’s easy to talk about, to read about, but it takes consistent practice. It’s easy to pick up and read a book, journal, or blog post on feminism, just as it is on exercise, but to truly see results, you need to put it into practice every day.

Feminism is hard. It isn’t meant to be easy, and it means a fundamental reprogramming of the way you look at everything. Just as with exercise, there isn’t one component to overall success and health, there isn’t one overall approach to feminism. Diet, exercise, recovery are just as interchangeable and fundamental as social construct, income gaps, racial inequality and more. It is a big picture, and feminism is meant to identify, address, and combat that larger picture.

Feminism hurts. It’s not meant to be comfortable, and as a white, privileged male, it stings. Pain is part of growth, just like exercise. There are going to be conversations, dialogues, and social constructs that you don’t identify with. “That’s not me…. I’m not like that.” Only to realize, yeah, I am a part of that system. That realization is going to hurt. Get over it. You’re part of a system, and you are responsible for the maintaining or dismantling of that system. Understand that your words and actions shape the future. Being a relatively decent white man doesn’t alter the fact that we share ancestors that oppressed women, people of color, drove native people from their homelands, destroyed their culture, or assimilated it and changed it forever if only to make ourselves more comfortable, among so many other things in the name of “progress”. Accept it, because these things are still happening everyday, and people have to live in these realities everyday. Not seeing something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t acknowledge it.  Take the bitter, because in your hands and in your mind exists the possibility to create a better world for everyone, and part of that process is addressing the evil done. It’s going to sting. You are going to lift that weight, you’re going to look yourself in the mirror and not like what you see. It’s part of the transformation, and it’s not going to happen overnight.

Feminism is a lifestyle. It permeates every choice you make after you begin to embrace it. Just as post-workout, you are going to think twice about that donut or that greasy fast food, you are going to think twice about the things you say, the media you consume, and the choices that you make. It won’t just happen though; it is a consistent effort you need to make every single day. You won’t watch a talk on YouTube and magically transform your life. It’s a constant effort, it is a constant learning experience, and it is a constant effort.

“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgments. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being molded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

-From “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing

Gentleman, you need to educate yourselves. The future of the world depends on it. I am not speaking to you from some enlightened city on the hill. I am not that intelligent, and I am in no position to teach or preach on feminism. What I do know is how this last year has been an educational experience for me, and how continued dialogue has shaped and transformed the way I lead, the way I look at the world, and the way I carry my position in it. My introduction to feminism was not intentional. It took seeing the anger, the hurt, the tears, and the painful reality of people living in different narratives and different positions on the spectrum than I to truly realize that this isn’t something I should learn about, it is something I need to learn about and live about everyday. It needs to become a priority for all men. In The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House, Audre Lorde gives a quote that has stuck with me through this entire journey…

Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educated men as to our existence and our needs.

This speaks truly to the point of this post. Men, you need to educate yourselves. It is no ones responsibility but your own to educate yourselves. At your fingertips lies access to all the information known to humankind, and you can have it all at a fraction on a second. Read the journals, watch the films, make it a priority everyday to expand your consciousness in feminist narratives, you will be amazed at what you learn. It’s your responsibility.

I won’t for a second say I am a decent one, an enlightened one, or a qualified one, but every single day I get a little bit better than I was before:

My name is Cody Meyer, and I am a Feminist.


The Audition of Life

Picture captured from UltimateClassicRock.com. All rights reserved.

Picture captured from UltimateClassicRock.com. All rights reserved.

“On behalf of the group and ourselves, I hope we pass the audition”

-John Lennon

On January 30th, 1969, these were the last words that would be said on that rooftop. From that point forward, The Beatles were over…

As per my morning ritual, I spent some time this morning listening to music that makes me feel good. The music that makes me happy. Today’s selection was watching the Beatles play on that London rooftop years ago. There’s something tragically magical about the entire scene. A band that had shaped rock and roll history forever, that had spent so many years together, grew up together and eventually changed the world together, playing one last hurrah before they would eventually crash into flames. The band had been on the brink of collapse for sometime, and it was in the recording of the album Let It Be that the band finally started caving to resentments that had been building up for years. You can attribute it to any number of factors, they certainly did, but at the end of the day, The Beatles weren’t the The Beatles anymore, you can see it on all of their faces. If you were to watch that concert without sound, it might all seem a very drab affair.

To watch that concert is to see the last flicker of the light of their creative process, and it is something beautiful. The motivation for the concert was a disruption of their pattern. They were tired of being in such close proximity to each other, working on the album, and decided to move it to the rooftop for an abrupt performance. The entire thing was born out of resentment, and from it, came one of the most beloved and historic performances in music history.

After watching it, I took some time to reflect on it. I wonder what that must have felt like; looking down and seeing London come to a stop for you. People stopping in the street, getting out of cars, climbing rooftops and fire escapes just to get a little closer to you, just to hear you, to see you. The entire concert was an act of resentment, but it was a part of the creative process and an act of disruption, and act of defiance even. After watching the concert through, I started to think about my own life, and in particular, the last year. My entire professional existence has been about disruption. I harbor a lot of bad feelings towards people and towards myself. The reality of my situation is that I have made a habit of disruption in all that I do. I would argue it’s the only thing that really matters, and for that, I have a lot of people in my life and in my professional circles that really don’t like me very much. It’s not easy, I want to be liked. I want to be popular, and I want to feel like my superiors and subordinates admire me. As I reflect on the rooftop concert though, I can’t help but feel a certain air of defiance and resentment for that attitude. I shouldn’t be liked, and you know what, that’s okay.

This year has been a journey in self-acceptance for me. A journey in reaffirming who I am after I spent so much time trying to change that person. The reality of my narrative is that I don’t know how to change that person, and even if I did, I don’t know that I would want to. I am not a complacent person, and perhaps my drive gets me into trouble, but out of it, I have seen great things created; I believe that those things are the things that matter. The creative energies that were born out of disdain, out of hope, out of pure anger, those are the energies that not only have defined my own existence, but the evolution of the human experience. I have felt that creative energy drained as of late, and after some reflection, I realize that I have been letting other people take it away from me. I have been trying to be someone that I am not. Someone other than the person that has brought me this far in life, someone other than who has placed me in the roles I hold today. If you’re reading this, I hope that you learn to realize that in yourself. I lose track of myself often, I think we all do, but the important part is to learn to be self-aware when that is happening. Other people will kill your creativity if you let them, and it’s easy to let them, in fact, it’s too easy to let them. In the rat race of wanting to be accepted, you find yourself on someone else’s timeline, in their narrative, living your life in a way that is unauthentic to you but comfortable to them. We call this expectation. This is not to say that expectations are bad, but some are certainly better than others. I have made a habit, whether purposefully or not, of breaking expectations. When I assumed my role of student body president, I broke a lot of expectations. People expected me to act and think in a very specific way, a status quo that had been established for a long time. It was comfortable, it made people feel secure, that things were going in the right direction. In some areas, that was okay. I can accept that. Sometimes you have to let a sleeping dog lay, but there were other areas where I couldn’t, where I asked questions, where I put my foot down, and where I fought. For those reasons, I got a label. That label is difficult. I heard people who I had a lot of respect for saying I was unruly, that I was combative, or my personal favorite, that I “just don’t get it”. At the end of the day, I am difficult, I am unruly, combative, and in a lot of ways absolutely crazy. I’m zealous, and a lot of people have a hard time dealing with that. Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s because my name isn’t followed by a few letters, maybe it’s even my pay grade, but the reality is that I will never leave this university with roses at my feet. When high-level decision makers eagerly ask my team when my term is up, that should be a sign. For some, it’s a sign that you failed, that the gig is up, the goose is cooked, and that for all intensive purposes, you are not worthy. I’m here to tell you that is not the case. It’s okay to be a square peg in a round hole. It’s not easy, life never is. I want to be liked, and I want those same decision makers to look at me and think, “He was really great. I will miss him when he is gone.” but that would be inauthentic to who I am and what I want to accomplish. I want to leave this place in a better place then when I discovered it, and that means breaking the mold sometimes. It means turning down a different road, asking the hard questions, and going toe to toe with people that you care about or want to impress. Sometimes you will stumble and sometimes you will make mistakes, I could write a book on the mistakes I have made just this year, but at the end of the day, I can confidently say I have fought for what I believe is right, and that is what really matters.

“The biggest divide in this country is not between Democrats and Republicans, it’s between people who care and people who don’t care.”

-Rachel Maddow

A friend of mine introduced me to that quote, and I think it’s wonderful; however, I think it needs to be taken a step further. It’s not enough just to care. I care about a lot of things. It’s action on those things that encapsulates the human experience and drives progress. There is an even finer line within that definition. There are people that care in this world, and I believe there are a lot of them. Humans are not naturally apathetic creatures, that attitude is taught and reinforced by society. The idea that the problem is too big, that you are too small, you don’t have the right credentials or enough money. These ideas are indoctrinated in us right out of the womb, and we come to accept them as a reality. This accepted reality draws an even finer line in the distinction. The even bigger divide in this country is not between people who care and people who don’t, it’s between people who care and people who care enough to do something about it. Taking action is hard. It’s scary and a lot of times it hurts, but if you want to live a truly outstanding life, you have to take action. Maybe that’s in yourself, or outward into the world, but you have to take action. Life is truly an audition, a chance to make the cut, and nobody ever got a call back by doing nothing. I’m not saying you have to go out in the streets and start a protest (unless that’s your thing) but do something. Write, speak, sing and dance, contribute something to the world. It won’t be easy, and a lot of people won’t understand; however, the people that do may be inspired by your divine disruption to disrupt the world around them. That to me is human progress, and it is the only thing that matters in society. Do something unique, do something vulnerable, and do something that pisses people off. Some people will love you, some people will hate you, some people may even stand in the streets to watch you, but nevertheless, you have created an idea. Ideas are dangerous, and ideas change the world. Every moment is your audition, make it count.

Stay hungry kids.