Dear Dr. Barlas,
As you know, brevity is not my strength. For whatever reason, I have not mastered the skill of providing quick and concise questions and/or answers. I constantly think about puzzles and contradictions, and I rarely draw conclusions that are fulfilling. As frustrating as it is for everyone else (administrators, teachers, students, religious officials, etc.), I promise it is even more frustrating for me; unlike other folks, I can’t get away from myself. And yet, I still decided to pursue a career as an academic, where they logic of “publish or perish” is orthodox in hiring committees. For your sake, and every other reader, I will try to be as concise as possible in this letter.
The main reason why I appreciate your work as an educator, scholar, and unofficial political advisor is that you push all of us to work through the contradictions and puzzles of social life. With surgical precision, you highlight and question the ways in which folks in the academy use rhetoric to evade the messy work of political analysis and action. As a student, your disdain for shortcuts to analysis and coalition-building was both frustrating and enlightening; it was frustrating because I was often tired and terrified of displaying my nakedly anxious attempts to provide the “answer” to questions that I didn’t have definitive answers to; it was enlightening because your Socratic method forced all of us to actually read and formulate responses that were simply honest. In other words, I loved and hated the fact that you pushed us to participate in a dialogue where no one could use their cultural “toolkit” to give speeches devoid of content. It is hard to find a space where deviance and dishonesty are practically synonymous.
Your courageous provocations are not restricted to the classroom. Folks at Ithaca College (or at least those who pay attention) have been blessed to bear witness to your public meditations on the limits of bureaucratic governance, USian critical race theories, and even your own leadership. Some can say what some of us cannot seem to articulate. You tend to say what many of us are often afraid to even consider. Your commentary about our tacit belief in racial essentialism in the U.S., even in critical groups and departments, has become the basis of my own work; while you focused on the perspective of folks who have not been born in the U.S. and how the ascriptive identities of “multicultural” or “people of color” help to obscure the significance of USian hegemony and empire, I’m trying to figure out how race scholars’ reinforcement of a racial ontology serves the interests of elites and members of the professional managerial class. When you “speak truth to power,” no one is excused — not even yourself. I don’t have that courage, I wish I had that courage, and thank you for showing us what a courage scholar can look like.
Unlike the plethora of cruel educators throughout the academy, you do not stop at distress. Whenever you sense that I (and undoubtedly many other folks) are too tired or near our breaking points, you care. Sometimes, you discuss your process and limitations to make it clear that you’re not perfect and you don’t have all of the answers. You remind us of the value of critiques: so that we can shift together, not destroy each other. Sometimes, you remind us of our strengths, growth, and why you find value in our relationships and work. And other times, you provide us with hot tea, relaxing music, and a place to breathe with a friend or mentor. Even 6 years after I have left your class room, whenever I reach out for help, you always find a way to connect — even if you’ve just gotten back from the emergency room and have a headache. That is rare. I am so grateful.
Per usual, I have no clue how to provide a definitive conclusion. So, I’ll just provide a final honest thought. When you retire this year, please rest. Let your body heal, just like you have instructed countless other students and colleagues to do. Whenever you want a laugh or a reminder to rest, I’m one of the folks who are always here for you. And whenever you want to chat politics with a young, anxious, confused, and committed nerd with a million questions, know that I will consider it a blessing connect.
Bless you, your husband, and the rest of your friends and family,