Thursday, April 11, 2019

Friday Fragments

Surveys can surprise.

As part of the Academic Master Plan and its focus on student basic needs, we did a survey of students to find out what they struggled with most, and where they saw themselves needing the most help.  Over 1,500 students responded, which is enough to give some confidence.

I wasn’t surprised to see issues with money and transportation.  Students expressed concern about high prices in the cafeteria, which occasioned the development of some lower-cost options there.  They complained about textbook costs, which suggests that our work on OER is timely. But the single biggest issue they complained about, by far, was anxiety.  

Students were allowed to indicate more than one issue.  About two-thirds of those who named anxiety as a struggle also named other factors, including academic and financial challenges.  But anxiety, as an answer, far surpassed anything else.

I’ll admit I didn’t expect that.

A term like anxiety is pretty capacious, and may sometimes best be addressed indirectly.  Financial precarity can lead to anxiety, for instance. When that’s true, addressing the anxiety head-on would be missing the point.  But enough students named it by itself that I have to wonder what else is going on.


Astronomy really isn’t my beat, but I enjoyed all the coverage of the first photograph of a black hole.  And I definitely enjoyed seeing The Girl see the pic of the scientist’s face when she first saw the photo on her monitor.


Friday is “international day” at the kids’ high school.  To commemorate it, they’re supposed to bring in foods characteristic of their ethnic background.

They could choose between Irish, on TW’s side, and Swedish, on mine.  Two fine and proud cultures, yes, but neither cuisine has the box-office appeal of, say, Italian or Mexican.  We settled on Swedish meatballs, on the theory that bringing in lutefisk would imperil their social standing. Friends don’t make friends eat lutefisk.

I always get a little twitchy around festivals like these.  They assume that everyone has close and real ties to previous places.  That isn’t necessarily true. I’ve never been to Sweden, and don’t speak a word of Swedish.  For lack of a better word, the embrace of those roots is utterly optional. Yes, we embraced the Swedish chef as a culture hero when I was a kid, but that was mostly a goof.  (And the Swedish chef is hilarious. To this day, whenever I hear a reference to chocolate mousse, I think of him.) Growing up where I did, I was much more conscious of being not-Italian than I was of being Swedish.  For the kids, it’s even more distant.

If events like “international day” led to thoughtful discussions of the ways that identities are chosen, shed, and redefined over time, I’d be all for them.  But I have a feeling they’ll go only about as far as meatballs.


Speaking of food, I ran a food-related poll on Twitter earlier this week.  The deli counter in the cafeteria does a daily special, and the special that day was an Italian sub.  When I asked for one, the guy behind the counter referred to it as a hoagie. Then the woman at the register referred to it as a hero.  So I polled my tweeps. Is it a sub, a grinder, a hoagie, or a hero?

Sub won, with nearly ¾ of the vote.  Hoagie came in second.

When I showed the results to The Girl, she laughed.  “Grinder? That’s a gay dating app!” I assured her that the sandwich name, popular in New England, pre-dated the app.  I’m pretty sure they’re unrelated, though one never knows. The confusion could lead to some awkward conversations in Boston.

To be fair, linguistically awkward moments aren’t confined to Boston.  Locally we have a chain of sub shops called Jersey Mike’s. Last weekend TW and I went there for lunch.  If you’re avoiding bread, you can order a “sub in a tub,” in which the fillings of the sub are put in a salad container.  TW, a grown woman, ordered “an Italian in a tub.”

Reader, I raised an eyebrow.