Each month, The Stone House Center for Public Humanities interviews a humanities scholar or community member and asks them everything from why they believe the humanities are important to what they're currently binge-watching. We hope that our new blog series, Coffee & Questions, will inspire you, introduce you to a variety of people and fields, as well as create new conversations.
Our guest this month is Cindy Lacom, who has taught at Slippery Rock University for 25 years. She integrates gender and feminist issues into her teaching and scholarship, and has a deep interest in Disability Studies. She is fascinated by questions about how different bodies are invested with varied meanings as cultural texts (in terms of access to or denial of power, stigma and the "management" of that stigma, how we might change prejudice and bias). Cindy is also a member of our Community Advisory Board.
What inspires you in your current position/role?
I often say, "I have the best job in the world," and I mean it. What inspires me? SRU students, who regularly impress and move me, compel me to think and re-think my positions and ideas. I am motivated as well by many of my colleagues, who work tirelessly for social justice. My mom also inspires me because she is so fierce.
What work experiences (past or present) have been the most educational for you, and why?
Teaching is at the center of my life, frankly, and it has informed me in myriad and profound ways. Though we tend in academe to frame "teaching" and "learning" as classroom activities, I'm reminded daily that both activities occur all around us. One instance occurred when I was an undergrad. My Philosophy prof posed this question to us: does philosophy belong in the marketplace or the ivory tower? A couple nights later, I was playing pool in a really dumpy bar and listened to two men talking about life choices (one man's daughter had just gotten married because she was pregnant). They interrogated the ethics of her choice, the ethics of their judgments, the degree of her individual agency, and the merits and drawbacks of marriage as in institution. I wrote my paper the next night, and my response was squarely in the "marketplace" box.
My work for non-profits has also fostered insights and shaped my goals. I don't think idealism and pragmatism are mutually exclusive, though I probably once did. But what I have learned in an exec board capacity for non-profits is that a mission is almost certainly bound to founder without strategic goals, specific policies, and economic and social sustainability. Dreams and passion are key, but a vision for social justice change has to supported by practical details to thrive.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I'm working with an SRU alum on a paper which we just presented at the Southeast Women's Studies Association Conference that explores the limits of Black men's power in hip-hop culture. We apply the theories of Bakhtinm Marx and Foucault to argue that their power is limited in a capitalist culture and that hip-hop, owned and managed overwhelmingly by white men, is produced as spectacle as an instance of carnival.
A former Gender Studies GA, Natalie Drozda, and I just submitted a paper titled "Masculinity and Mass Shooters" to the Journal of Gender Studies and are hoping that they'll accept that for publication. We presented at SRU on the topic three years ago and thought the topic was interesting enough to pursue. Unfortunately, we are reminded of the relevance of the topic almost daily.
Most recently, I've begun doing research on gendered torture and hope to present on that at next fall's National Women's Association Conference.
Why do you believe that the humanities are important to everyone, and not just people in academia?
I'll use an example from the field of Disability Studies as an example to explore this question. Because the Humanities invite us to consider something like statistics within a historical, philosophical and embodied framework. Reading Disability Studies scholar Lennard Davis's "Constructing Normalcy" reminds us that statistics is not value-neutral but has been used to produce and maintain norms in everything from BMI to productivity ratings to intellectual measure that contribute to ableist biases that understand disability as "less than." Because reading feminist philosopher Julie Kristeva allows us to integrate ideas of abjection when we analyze the creature in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in trying to figure out, "Why might Victor Frankenstein's recoil from his 'child' be so extreme when it first comes to life? What about the creature marks it as 'monstrous'?" What happens when, in psychology or therapeutic/rehabilitative/medical fields, we use the discourse of "recovery"? How might that reinforce ableist stereotypes that disabilities is something that needs to be "cured"? How might scientists benefit from understanding their unconscious bias in research on sexuality? None of these questions are discipline-specific; all of them have answers which are enriched by a Humanities perspective.
What is something that people might be surprised to learn about you (hobby, skill, interesting story)?
I'm an avid hiker and camp every summer in the mountains of northern California.
What's a book you've always wanted to read but haven't gotten around to?
Great question. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.
What is the worst job that you had while working through your degree and what would you tell your past self now?
I worked as a telemarketer for two weeks. it was soul-destroying. I thought I needed the money but we were ripping off vulnerable people in what amounted to a money-making scheme. I wouldn't have any advice for my past self because I had to work that awful job to decide that I would hopefully never do anything like it again.
Check back next month for more Coffee & Questions. In case you missed our previous interview with Shawn Francis Peters click HERE.
Our vision is to create a community of learners enriched, engaged and enlightened through the humanities.