Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Smarter Than You Think -- from book title to political statement

At yesterday's silent march, some students carried signs that read: "Smarter than you think."

That statement was borrowed from the title of Clive Thompson's book on technology that I've been assigning for the last couple of years. The organizers of the march re-purposed the phrase in their efforts to raise attention to the notion that their intelligence is regularly questioned or maligned on campus.

During one meeting a while back, students were talking about the ways that some white administrators and professors made public statements and designed policies that demeaned black students. "They do it, and don't think we notice."

The Black Student Union (BSU) lead organizers mentioned that they wanted to talk back about the ways that their intellectual capabilities were underestimated and overlooked. "Oh," I said, recalling lines of argument from Thompson, "so you're basically wanting to say to them, 'we're smarter than you think.'"

Exactly, they said.  Hence the signs.

Speaking of Thompson's book, he highlights the ways that technology is in fact enhancing our thinking and abilities to complete a range of tasks that we could not do before the rise of certain new devices and online programs. Thompson spends some time early on, and really throughout the book, mentioning the diverse ways that people use social media.

At various points when BSU is organizing events, I'll say, "what about publicity? I haven't seen any of your posters around campus. Do people know about it?" The organizers will often respond to my question by noting, "It's on social media. Instagram."

For discussions about internal projects among their wider membership, they utilize an online group chat. So last month when I asked a question about BSU membership, one of the officers just held up her phone, which displayed a count of active members. She quickly scrolled through to various topics that they've been discussing.

I enjoy the mini-lessons the students give me on how to use social media and different apps to effectively organize. Conversely, the students are amused and intrigued to hear me talking about the ol' days when we only printed materials to publicize events. 

Silent March at SIUE 2016

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