Episode 10: Living According to the Pace of Nature (tõhi) with Dr. Jeff Corntassel

Dr. Jeff Corntassel is an Associate Professor in Indigenous studies at the University of Victoria and acting director of the Center for Indigenous Research and Community-led engagement, or CIRCLE. His research and teaching interests focus on everyday acts of resurgence and the intersections between indigenous resurgence, climate change, gender, and community well-being. Jeff situates his work at the Graff’s routes, with many Indigenous-led community-based programs and initiatives ranging from local food movement initiatives land-based renewal projects to gender colonial violence and protection of homelands. Jeff is currently completing work for his forthcoming book on sustainable self-determination, which examines indigenous climate justice, food security, and gender-based resurgence.

"We each have our own paths. It takes time to figure out what we want to do, and it takes time to find your passion."

Dr. Jeff Corntassel

Waving, Not Drowning

Transcript

Rebecca Gagan: Hi everyone. I’m Rebecca Gagan, and this is Waving, Not Drowning, a UVic Bounce podcast. Today’s episode is being recorded on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Wsáneć and Lekwungen peoples.

 

In today’s episode, I talk with Dr. Jeff Corntassel, a writer, teacher, and father from the Cherokee Nation. Jeff is an Associate Professor in Indigenous Studies at the University of Victoria and acting director of the Center for Indigenous Research and Community-led engagement, or CIRCLE. His research and teaching interests focus on everyday acts of resurgence and the intersections between indigenous resurgence, climate change, gender, and community well-being. Jeff situates his work at the Graff’s routes, with many indigenous-led community-based programs and initiatives ranging from local food movement initiatives to land-based renewal projects and gender colonial violence and protection of homelands. Jeff is currently completing work for his forthcoming book on sustainable self-determination, and this book examines indigenous climate justice, food security, and gender-based resurgence. Today’s conversation with Jeff is one that is very close to my heart, and this is for a couple of reasons, at least. The first is that this is the very first conversation that I recorded for the Waving, Not Drowning podcast.

 

Jeff, so generously and graciously, agreed to go first, and he was so kind as I was trying to figure out, really, how even to record a podcast episode. He’s been really supportive of this initiative, and I just want to extend my sincere thanks to him for being so willing to go first and so supportive. The other reason that this episode is close to my heart is because of what he shares. Jeff traces his journey as an undergraduate student to a graduate student, and he reflects on how he changed over the course of a number of years, not only how he changed his path of study but also how he grew to become more grounded in himself, how he established even stronger connections to his culture as a way of supporting his work in graduate study, and how he really practiced the Cherokee word, tõhi, so living in pace with nature. He shares with me how he really lives out this concept, this idea, not only with his family during the pandemic but also reflecting back how it was something that also really guided and shaped how he came to understand himself as a student. And so, he offers, here, just so much wisdom, guidance, and supportive words around how to find a kind of peace within yourself, how to find that rootedness, that groundedness, that allows you to live in pace with nature and slow down. The other thing I want to share with you is that in reflecting back on his journey, he shares that it’s, you know, telling that story of his life as an undergrad and as a graduate student, isn’t one that he has shared a lot. And one of the things I’ve realized from talking to, well now, more than 20 faculty from across this campus is that there is so much beauty in these journeys. That the twists and the turns and the changes, of course, have in so many ways brought each of these faculty members home to themselves in different ways, and that they can recognize that those challenges, you know, even the times where they really walked away from academia altogether. That all of those moments have worked together to create something that holds moments of real joy and beauty, alongside some of those really much more difficult moments. And so, in sharing these stories, I think one thing that I want to impart to all of you is that it’s not the case necessarily that standing at this point and reflecting back on the stories signals this kind of moment of true resilience or of success; it’s not about “I’ve gone through all of those challenges,” and now here I am– it’s about a kind of radical acceptance of all of the parts of the journey of being able in some ways, as much as those pieces maybe were really hard or painful or difficult to be able to look back and say, “you know, all of those parts have brought me home to myself have brought me to this moment that is the nature of all such journeys.” And there’s a way in which Jeff now brings so much warmth and humour to his reflections on those pieces of his academic journey, and I think really allows us to see that we can also bring love, even to the really-tough parts, which doesn’t make them disappear. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t struggle, but it means that we can see them, and maybe it will take time to be able to see them differently, but to try to think about how to embrace those pieces too because they have made, they do make us, who we are.

 

I’m Rebecca Gagan, here today with Dr. Jeff Corntassel. And this is Waving, Not Drowning. 

 

Jeff Corntassel: [Introduces himself in Indigenous language]

 

Hello everyone and Rebecca, thank you for having me here today. I’m happy to be here, and just wanted to say that from the Cherokee nation, my name is Jeff Corntassel, but my chair can name has gone to Halito, which means hunter and I dance at the Chota grounds and Telequalhoma and have lived here on the unceded lands of the Lekwungen and Wsáneć peoples since 2003, so, great to be here and looking forward to our conversation.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Hi, Jeff. Thank you so much for that introduction. And I’m just so happy that you’re here with us today. How have you been doing? I know that this has been such a tough time for all of us this past almost a year now. How have you been coping through all of this?

 

Jeff Corntassel: Yeah, I think our family has gotten closer, which is good– our immediate family. And then I think the tough thing has been not being able to visit relatives. So a lot of my relatives are down south in, whether it’s in California or in Oklahoma, and so not being able to go to ceremony and not being able to engage with some of them– but lots of phone calls, lots of Zoom calls, so it’s an adjustment that way, and then even being– not being able to really, other than your bubble, not being able to really hug people or engage with them in the way that you might like to engage in terms of conversation, in terms of visits. So, I think for a lot of people it’s been similar, and I– you know, I know that a lot of students and a lot of faculty felt isolated, and so I think the challenge is for all of us really to kind keep those relationships going strong and kind of adapt to the circumstances until we can gather safely again.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. I’ve been hearing from so many students just that they’ve been really feeling that sense of isolation and that disconnection and really trying to think about how to keep, as you say, those connections strong and to be able to gather, but just, you know, differently until we can get through this. Have you found Jeff, for yourself or for your family, anything that has been sustaining or been supportive or helpful through this time for you?

 

Jeff Corntassel: Yeah, I think for us, especially during the summer, we started doing a lot of planting, a lot of gardening, and probably not unlike a lot of people, but I’ve got — the Cherokee nation has a Cherokee heirloom seed project, and so they send you different strands or versions of seeds that are from our territory. So I’ve been growing tobacco and other medicines, and my tobacco has never been better in terms of flourished, and I think, you know– so I think that the gardening side, that kind of really tending to these plants and really tending to these kinds of relations that we have, I think, those were really helpful and keeping us grounded and unanticipated things like my partner’s mom started getting more into gardening with us so, and she’s got a lot of gardening experience and so yeah, lots of things like that. And then the kids get involved and so we have– through our blended family, we have three teenagers in the house, which is a challenge in and of itself. And so, keeping them engaged and finding ways for them to take part in these things– it’s difficult for them. You know, they can’t see their friends on a regular basis. Even when they’re in school, they have to be masked up, and yeah, I think it’s been a learning experience for us about, you know, what we really value and in terms of our family, in terms of our kinds of relationships. And so, that part has been positive. The difficulty, as I mentioned earlier, it’s just been, you know, we’ve got lots of language speakers in Cherokee nation that are they’re passing away, sadly from COVID, and so our language is under threat once again. And so, the positive side of that is our nation put aside 2000 vaccinations for Cherokee speakers. And you know, we’re really prioritizing that given that a lot of our speakers are 65 or older, so they’re really vulnerable amidst this pandemic.

 

So yeah, it’s been a challenge, to say the least, but it’s also been that slowing down in some ways– normally we’d be travelling like mad, you know, all over, and so that slowing down– the Cherokee word for it is tõhi, so it means peaceful relations, but it also means living according to the pace of nature. And so, I’m finding that we’re doing a better job of that living a little bit slower, a little bit more intentionally, and a little bit more in the moment, rather than rushing around, so that part’s been good.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Jeff. I just find it so beautiful what you’re saying here about living with the pace of nature– is that, if I got it right, living within– according with the pace of– and so, I mean, as it sounds, as you say, you and your family were able to be even more in nature– that’s the kind of silver lining, so the hands in the earth and the gardening, but also as you say, this slowing down and I think I’ve certainly felt that too– that when you out of necessity have to slow down, you get clarity and things start to come into focus in terms of what matters and what’s important. And something else you’ve said too, in terms of thinking about the deaths of elders and holders of the language, that there is in one moment and in one year, so much sadness, but also those beautiful moments that you were speaking of, you know, with your family. So, I think that while we need to be careful about thinking of the pandemic’s silver linings, there still is a way in which it has taught us quite a lot, and certainly in many places, but nowhere perhaps more so than here at the university where we’ve all been really working to pivot. I think I really dislike the word pivot now, but a pivot and I’m sure the student students don’t like that word.

 

Jeff Corntassel: Let’s eliminate that word from here on. [Laughter]

 

Rebecca Gagan: I think so. It’s just gone from the from the lexicon, right?

 

Jeff Corntassel: No more pivoting.

 

Rebecca Gagan: You know, one thing we know is that this has been so hard on students and that we found it really challenging and that, you know, the reason in part for the Bounce podcast is to share faculty stories of challenge and difficulty so that students know that they’re not alone and that it’s okay to share these stories, and also, we hope that they will hear these stories and know that there is– that they should feel no shame about, you know, what they are going through and that this might make it easier for them to reach out for help.

 

And so, Jeff, I was hoping today that maybe you could– I feel like you’ve already taught me so much, just from that like few minutes of conversation, but maybe you could share with us a bit about your story and what it was like for you as an undergrad or as a graduate student and just, you know, tell us maybe about some of the experiences that you had with challenge and with difficulty.

 

Jeff Corntassel: Sure. Yeah. Thanks for that. I graduated from high school in 1984, and so I was going to school in Southern California, so in Anaheim, to be specific, the home of Disneyland. That figures again into the story here because my one of my first jobs was working at Disney as a waiter, a busboy, and then a waiter. So that’s how I put myself through university is I worked two jobs. I worked as a maintenance guy at a photo lab and then at Disneyland on the weekends, so they would take basically your Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and that would be your work shifts. You’d be fully booked. And then during the week. I was working maintenance. I didn’t put a lot of thought into which universities that’s going to go to. It was always kind of, we can’t afford to really go anywhere else, so I applied to places nearby, near home. And so, I applied to two schools. I put barely any thought into this. It’s kind embarrassing now, but I applied to Cal State Fullerton, and then UC Irvine— University of California Irvine, and they were both within driving distance. I thought they had good programs, but I didn’t really care. I didn’t really put a lot of effort into it. And so, I started off at and– so I got accepted to both, and I went to UC Irvine.

 

And I was really fortunate that I got into such a good school. I stumbled into it, and I think that some of the challenges I had right away is I was commuting to school. And so, the first two years, I was driving my little 1970 VW bug across the highway and a commuting to campus. And I think I never had that kind of proper orientation to how university life is different from high school life, so I was treating it in the same way. I thought I can just wing it, and my time was really limited. You know, I’d be working these two different jobs, so my weekends were shut in terms of studying. And then during the week, I would just drive to school an hour early before class and kind of study in the car, and so I had a poor strategy, I’ll put it that way. And it was just out of necessity, but it was also out of just– you know, I wasn’t thinking through the longer-term kind of goals and plans.

So, I started off in a major called social ecology, and it’s a kind of environmental studies, law, and psychology. And I originally wanted to become– or go to law school, so I was thinking, “okay, this is a good pre-law kind of program.” And so I did okay in my first term, and so that was actually dangerous because it allowed me to slide into kind of mediocrity in my studies, and so I was putting less and less time into it. And I couldn’t– I wasn’t passionate about this field. I liked some of the classes, but I wasn’t really engaging, and so it was right around, I think, my second year, I was called into the advisor’s office, and she said, “look, if you don’t get a B or B’s in all of your courses in the next quarter, you’re going to basically fail out.” And so, that was a real wake-up call for me. And it was interesting because I think now, I probably seek out, you know, additional kinds of help through friends or through other people in the field. And, you know, so we’d study together and things like that, but I took it on myself, but I said, “I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to show up, you know, my grades and I’ve got to knuckle down here.” And at that– around that same time, a friend of mine named Simon pack and he had– I had gone to high school together– he said, “Jeff, you got to check out this political science class I’m in”– this is in one of those big, you know, large political science classes.

 

And he said, “just come to class once just to check it out.” And so, I went in. I joined him, and it was professor Danzinger. I remember his name and I wrote to him later, by the way, and said, you know, “thank you for all the inspiration.” So, I went into this class, and there was something about the material he’s talking about, John Locke. He was talking about theorists that just really resonated with me. And he was a really engaging instructor. And so, I was hooked, and I said, “this is what I want. I want more of this.” And so, I worked hard. I shored up my grades, and I was able to switch majors to political science, and that kind of shifted things for me. And that combined with I’d saved up enough money now to move out, and so I moved to a little apartment right across the street from the university, and so I had roommates. And these roommates really helped me. Some of them were, you know, good influence; some were, you know, of examples of what not to do, but they helped me study better. They helped me kind of budget things. You know you have to– when you have roommates, you have to live on a pretty meagre budget. You have to clean, you have to do your fair share around the place, and so, that kind of turned things around for me, and the last two years of my university experience– so I graduated in 1988– the last two years were much different. That is, I was coming into my own, I was writing better, I was getting better grades, and I was consistently going to class. I was consistently engaging with the material in a meaningful way. And so, I feel like I really got a lot out of those last two years, and I had to go through those first two years of struggle to get to where I needed to go. And so, yeah, I think I can keep going on and on, but I think that was kind my undergrad experience and during that time– so I was working at Disneyland until 87 and then I had one year where I was just working one job, and then I worked at a law firm in between my undergrad and grad, and I thought this is the way to really get immersed in a new field, so this is the field I want to go into. It was a different area of law, so patent and trademark law, which is probably the most colonial form of law you could think of. And so, you can imagine I was working in the basement of this huge, you know, 16-floor story building and I was, organizing records, and kinda gopher, right? As far as retrieving files and things like that, organizing them, and then eventually, I remember I was so happy when I graduated. They offered me a position that was on the 15th floor. So, I felt like I had gone, you know– I had moved up. I was driving my VW bug in there, and I had made it. It was interesting because I think working there helped me realize that law school was not in the cards for me in the sense that I saw– I started to talk to the people that work there, the lawyers, and, you know, they would do everything, but bill me for the time that I was speaking to them, so they have this huge pressure to bill. I think it was something like 32 hours per week of billable hours. It was just not the kind of a lifestyle; it wasn’t the kind of challenge that I wanted to take on. And so, I started looking into grad school, and I was looking into– it was political science– it was going to be political science, and then I did research for this one. And so, I started looking at different schools in California but also elsewhere in Arizona. I even looked at Michigan, and I really wanted to engage with indigenous studies. I wanted to engage with indigenous scholars and really understand the nature of power, and power relationships, so that I could better critique them, but also so that I could better understand how to challenge them. And so, I feel just keep going here, but–

 

Rebecca Gagan: Well, Jeff, I think– already, I think, you’ve shared with us so much about the importance, and maybe you can speak to this a bit-, it sounds like, it took you to two years, at least, in your undergrad, to really find your path right through to political science, so, you know, two full years of, you know, living a particular way, you know, studying in the car you know, not being really fully engaged with your studies in a particular way. I think a lot of students feel like they need to know right away, as soon as they come to university, like what they’re going to do, what faculty, you know, what’s their major. They feel a lot of pressure to know that right off the bat, but what you’re sharing is that process took two years. Then, you know, you graduate, you find the thing that you like, but then still, even with graduation, you know, still not really sure. I mean, you go to work for the law firm thinking that maybe you’re going to go to law school, and then that actually took more time to figure out, “well, that’s not the path either.” I think that, and I want to hear about your grad school experience as well, but, you know, I think what you’ve been sharing so far is that this process of figuring out what you want to study, what the path is, is not something that happens on day one of university.

 

Jeff Corntassel: Absolutely. Yeah. That’s such an important point, and it’s really– I felt some shame, and it’s interesting because I haven’t really told this story much. I tell it more now that I’m a little bit older, but at the time, I felt really embarrassed. You know, I didn’t even tell my parents that I was on the verge of flunking because I felt this shame like I’ve let them down and also didn’t think– I thought, you know, is this how it works for everyone? I didn’t have the benefit of talking to a lot of people about their university experience, so I thought people just lock into something, and they go for it. They’re, you know, they go into engineering, and they just focus on it. And I realized later that, no, that’s, you know — we each have our own paths. It takes time to figure out what we want to do, and it takes time to find your passion. And I’m really fortunate, you know, that I found that I had my friend Simon who lured me into that class, and that was it. That was all the connection that I needed. And it was interesting, too, because I was really quiet at university, and that continued into grad school. And you know, very introverted, very cool, and so I remember there was a graduate TA named Ginger, and she took me aside. She called me into her office, and she said, “you know, Jeff, I’ve been reading your stuff, and I think you have a lot of important things to say, so I’d like to hear you say more in class.” And that was the first time someone had encouraged me to speak up. I was scared to death. I thought all these people around me had such important things to say, and I don’t really know what I have to contribute.

And so that was an amazing moment, too, where she said speak up. And it took a while. Like she called on me a couple of times, and I froze and, you know, just repeated what someone else had said cause I didn’t have that confidence. And so, the confidence took a while to develop, but I realized I do have a place here, and I do have something to contribute that’s meaningful. And that’s so important for students to realize that they have these unique gifts, these unique talents and that they do have something important to contribute to the conversation.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Yeah, and you know, I love what you’re saying here, Jeff, because I think a lot of students feel that way that and certainly, I hear from some students that, you know, when they’re in the classroom and they hear their peers sharing ideas, and they think how does everybody else know what’s going on? And how is everyone here so smart? And I don’t feel like I belong here. And so, I don’t– I think that it takes time, as you say, to build that confidence, but also to realize you do belong there, right? That you belong, that you have important contributions to make, that your voice matters. That can be really difficult when you’re sort of fighting those feelings of not being good enough or not feeling as if you do have something thoughtful to contribute when of course, you know, you– it sounds like you’ve had some really fortunate moments of mentors, people kind of– these serendipitous, but also kind moments of people reaching out to you and saying, you know, we want to hear from you. So, in terms of undergrad, and then I want to talk to you a little bit about your grad experience, but if you had one piece of advice or support to offer to students around undergrads, what would that be?

 

Jeff Corntassel: I think be kind to yourself, so be patient, and be flexible in terms of, you know– so explore some different options. You don’t have to lock into something. And even if you do choose a major, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to resonate and so give yourself time to adjust to it or to change. And so, I think being willing to change and being willing to really pursue being bold about pursuing your path, you know, like this has to work for you. It can’t just be, “Hey, I’m going to go to engineering because that seems like a good vocational degree.” “I don’t know why I’m picking on engineering today, by the way, but I’m going to go to such and such a major because that seems like a good vocational degree.” That’s not the best answer.

 

And so, what’s best for you, in the long run, is something that’s going to challenge you in– yeah, bring out that passion, bring out that enjoyment, bring out that enthusiasm. And so that’s– you know, poli sci has its moments– it’s not, you know, the end-all, be-all, but for me at that time, it was a good fit because it was political thinking. It was political theory. It was also grounded. I had a place to understand even, you know, indigenous politics, and how to put that within that, so it was — it’s finding that right match.

 

Rebecca Gagan: I love what you’re saying about that passion. Find what you’re passionate about. And even though there are a lot of pressures that might be upon you– still trying to follow that. Jeff, do you want to tell us a little bit about– because I know there’s some grad students listening as well, and I think that, you know, we’d like to hear a bit about your grad school experience and some of the challenges that you experienced there if you want to share with us a little bit about that.

 

Jeff Corntassel: Absolutely. Yeah, so I took those two years and realized I wanted to go to grad school. And I thought, at the time, I’m just going to get my masters, and so I’m going to go– I want to do it in political science, so I researched some schools. I was looking at some of the UC schools, university of California schools, but I was also looking at like university of Arizona and Michigan and a few other places, and I applied to about eight schools. I think it’s expensive to apply to these different schools, but I applied to eight schools, and I think I got into about six of them. And so, I was really happy that I had a choice.

 

And then someone from the University of Arizona called– I was really keen on Arizona because the now-late Vine Deloria junior had been teaching there, and he’s a preeminent Lakota scholar, standing rock Sioux scholar. And so, I thought, you know, I’ve got to go where this guy is, and unfortunately, he had just moved to University of Colorado, so the year before I got there, but the grad advisor called me from Arizona and said, “you’ve been enrolled. We’d love to have you here.” And I started looking at Arizona a little bit more closely, and there were some people that work closely with Vine Deloria So, Tom Home and David Wilkins, and so I ended up going to Arizona. And again, you know, similar learning experiences, right? I was terrified in my first few grad seminars my first semester. I don’t know if I said anything, and it was the same kind of feeling creeping up– like these people are so smart around me. They’re so intelligent. They’re so passionate. I don’t know what I have to offer, so immediately, coming into that kind of mindset, of casting doubt on yourself, and it was really– there was a core group of Indigenous students that, that kind of– and then Tom Home and David Wilkins really helped mentor me and help me realize that I do have something to offer. And also, we would do to stay sane– we did ceremony. And so, we’re doing sweats out in the middle of the desert, which is an interesting. You’ve got, instead of willow, you’re using ocotillo, which is like this different plant, and you’ve got to cut all– you got to shave all the barbs off of it.

And so, we’re doing sweats in the desert. We’re doing ceremony where there’s a comradery there that I didn’t have in my undergrad. And that really– that really made a difference. And in terms of my focus, in terms of my ability to kind of come into my own– yeah, I went through my grad school, and I was– you know, I did well in my master’s. And I had this relationship shake-up. I thought it was, you know– I had been engaged to someone — the engagement fell through, and so I said, “you know what, I’m just going to keep going. I’m going to keep going through my PhD,” which is by the way, for anyone listening, that’s a terrible reason to just continue on, but you know, that was probably the best thing that happened in the sense that the relationship shifted. And so, I said, I have no reason to go back to California. I’m going to keep going through to my PhD because I think I’m interested in what we’re talking about here.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Sorry. I’m just chuckling. I think there’s lots of reasons to do a PhD and lots of reasons not to do one! But I have to say, Jeff, I’ve never heard that one. That you know, you break up and okay, just keep going.

 

Jeff Corntassel: It’s crazy, isn’t it? Yeah, and it was one of those things where my committee encouraged me to keep going, but at the time, I was thinking, oh, I’m stopping. And until– it was really the breakup– so I have that relationship ending to thank for continuing on with my PhD, which is, yeah, it’s, like I said, it’s not the ideal reason, but there was something there at the university that I engaged with, and I’ve really found important to continue on. Yeah, so I continued on through the PhD and I–I won’t go into too much detail, but it was really the ceremonies that kept me grounded. You know, there’s always challenges– the dissertation, even the oral and written comprehensive exams were really difficult. And so, I found some of this to be akin to academic hazing, where you’ve got to go through these hoops in order to be accorded a degree. And so, the comprehensive exams, I remember, especially the oral part of the exam, at one point, I kind of froze. I was challenged with a question that I still probably couldn’t answer to this day, and it wasn’t even my main field. And so, the prophet asked– he said, “name all revolutions that have occurred since 1950, and give a theory to explain each of them.” That’s my oral. Yeah, and so I froze. It was like I had been cruising along until then, and I froze, and he ultimately didn’t pass me on my exam, but the other four said that my exams were really strong in terms of written, and then the oral, you know, I’d done an adequate job. And so, I remember feeling really deflated by this one person, and the way that he had approached this was to really set me up to fail. It wasn’t to really set me up to be successful. And so, the thing I learned from that is– I vowed, I said, “if I become a professor,” which at that point I found a passion for teaching, so they allowed you to teach after your masters. And so, I had my first class in 1993, which is really dating me here, but I have my first independent class and I said, “you know, what? If I become a teacher, if I go into this field, I will never ever do to the students what was done to me.” So, I basically said, “I’m going to fight like hell to ensure that they have a much different experience,” because I was devastated. I’m a– I think a pretty strong person. And I think that, like I said, the ceremonies really helped me stay strong and having the support of my other colleagues, but it was pretty devastating, even though I passed. I didn’t feel like it was the kind of pass that I could be really celebrating. And it was the teaching that really drew me to continue through that process and eventually write my dissertation and defend it, and then I ended up at– Virginia Tech was my first job in 1997. So that’s a whole another story for a whole another conversation, but I left before finishing my dissertation and, so the first year there– Virginia Tech was a challenge in the sense that I was writing every night, you know, late into the night to finish my dissertation while teaching these 450 person classes.

 

And you know, there’s– I think it just goes to show you, you know, there’s always challenges in each step of the way, and you find ways to balance them. You find ways to challenge them or counteract them. And ultimately, it’s about that confidence. And, as I mentioned earlier, tõhi, you know– finding that peaceful relation within yourself so that you can think, you can slow down– it gives you a chance to slow down and to connect with those relationships that really keep you healthy.

 

Rebecca Gagan: Yeah. I mean just hearing your story about your oral exams reminds me of– you know, you’ve been talking about your interest in exploring power, and you suggested that those exams, for example, can feel a bit like bullying, like a hazing ritual. And I remember after I finished my PhD oral exams, one of my professors turned to me and said, “okay, you’re done now. Never let anyone have that much power over you again.” And I’ve never forgot that moment, but also, when you vowed in that moment to do things differently for your own students, right? And I think that you know, for me, Bounce also emerges out of that very same experience of, I don’t want my students, or any student, to feel the way I was made to feel when I was a graduate student. And so, I think you’re doing such important work in your teaching, Jeff. And I’m so happy that you’ve been able to talk with us today and, you know, leaving us with just that important reminder of trying to find peace within yourself, because as you say, your educational journey has been a long one. You know, I think for a lot of us, and these days, so many students, they do their undergrad; they’re going on to professional schools; they’re going into to programs, so the education is far more than just, you know, the four or five years that they might spend in undergrad.

 

And I think what you’ve taught us today or reminded of is that the challenge is change. And so, it’s about trying to find a kind of groundedness within yourself– you called it a confidence, but also a kind of peace to be able to move through those challenges and something else you said, I think, is also so important here. You talked about how at grad school, you, you know, you were engaging in– like you had mentors and peer support that connected you with your culture with your roots, and so you were– that that became a place of strength– that to return to that– that was a source of support, and I think, it sounds to me, reminded you of who you are, and help to create that sense of peace. And I think sometimes we get so caught up in the stress and the striving that we don’t slow down to remember who we are. To remember that we have something to contribute, that that we’re enough already, and so I love that we’re ending here on the same note with which we began about COVID and returning to that place of slowness and finding peace as a way– not just through COVID, but through our own journeys, through university.

 

So, Jeff, thank you so much for being here. And as I say, I feel– you know, you’ve taught me a lot in this conversation, and I know that our listeners will also find this just so supportive and helpful. So, thank you so much, Jeff.

 

Jeff Corntassel: Thanks, Rebecca. And it was good to revisit some of these old things that I’ve kind of kept at bay, so it was nice to bring them out and to embrace them cause I’ve learned from so many of these things. Often learning the hard way, but learning, nonetheless. Yeah.

 

Rebecca Gagan: And now we can learn. So, thanks again, Jeff.

 

Jeff Corntassel: Awesome.

 

Rebecca Gagan: In next week’s episode, I talk with Dr. Chris Eagle, an assistant teaching professor in the department of mathematics and statistics. In our conversation, Chris shares his struggle with managing the expectations and pressures that he felt to pursue a degree in computer science, a degree that he wasn’t passionate about, and that he really had trouble leaving behind in pursuit of a degree in mathematics. Chris talks about how tough it can be to manage family expectations, and also the pressures that can put on oneself to pursue something that they know they’re good at, even if it’s not what they love, so many of us have experienced the kinds of pressures that Chris talks about. And so, I know that you’ll find this episode to be such a supportive and helpful one. I really hope that you’ll do.

 

You can keep listening to episodes of Waving, Not Drowning on Anchor FM, Spotify, or wherever you stream your podcasts. We’d love it if you would give us a like and a follow on Instagram @uvicbounce. Tune in next week for another great conversation.

 

Until then.

 

Be well.