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Home | Episode #55
Dark Space
March 11, 2020 | Student Producer:

Lily Yates
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Dark Space
Dr. Leeva Chung recounts how lessons learned as a new professor mean she is still here after 23 years. (7 minutes)

So, um, when I thought of dark, I thought of dark humor but that would only be 30 seconds. So I decided to tell you a story about dark space, and I've been here at USD for 23 years and the bold students that I have will always ask me, "Chung, why do you stay? You could be anywhere," which is true. Um, and I rarely answer that question, but I will say I have unfinished business. So this unfinished business starts in the year of 1998 when I first got here. And some of you were not gestated yet, some of you were just in grade school, but me, it was the year of the Titanic, and that's pretty dark. It was August and I started at USD with six colleagues in my department. Super excited. My first job, I had been teaching, I thought, ooh, I'm a little rock star now. I'd been teaching and I was excited, I was going to do intercultural communication. I was going to change the world. Plus I was in San Diego, and I didn't really know anything about San Diego, so I started my mission, which is teaching with no purpose, just teach until I'm blissfully happy, and that's what I did. I played by my own rules. I taught my intercultural class. I had stories I thought were amazing. Like when I was on welfare as a child, bars on my window and all of you are living in a jaded community. Gated, they said, no - jaded. I talked about how poverty really sucked. I talked about smoking weed and my cousins rolling joints and trying to chase them out of the car and find them. I thought I was pretty badass, actually. And as a matter of fact, in my public speaking class, I thought, ooh, my cool pedagogy.?Yeah, that would be assigning people a topic they loved. Ooh, I want to talk about pisa, not pisa, the leaning tower of Pisa. Oh, I want to talk about drunk driving. I was like, I said to them, wonderful. Pick your topics. And they did. Gleeful, they were, these freshman students and sophomores and juniors. They came in with their topic. I put them in a bag, I tossed them around, I threw them up in the air and I said, "Pick one. Go pick one. And that's your topic." Yeah.

As I said, I really did think I was a badass until April, when Dr. Carol Houston, Logan at the time, um, came up to me and said, "We need to talk." So I went into her office and she said, "You know, Leeva, um, I just want you to know that the Dean has seen some of your students. I said, "Oh, really?" "Nine of them were complaining about you." "Oh, what about?" "Your inappropriate subject material, your bias in the classroom, apparently you talk about being Chinese a little too much, and finally, maybe they didn't feel like you were a fit here." I'm not saying that I'm ignorant, nor am I saying I'm stupid. But I will say at that moment, I finally realized what was going on. The disconnect between what I thought what I was and the disconnect in terms of what I was presenting to others. So I got my teaching evaluations, and in the first semester I kind of brushed it off. I had taught before, I'm a badass, and I got some that said, you know, so unorganized, I can't follow her. She's all over the map. And I thought, oh, that's cool. They just mean that I'm just going to get there when I get there. The second semester was even more devastating and I just remember doing something that I never really did a lot of, and that is cry. So I cried the whole month of may. I cried, even though I had supportive faculty, even though I love this university, even though I thought to myself, wow, 27 years in school and this is what I get, I get so many people who misunderstand me, misunderstand what I'm trying to do, and misunderstand the whole purpose of education, which is independent thought, and independent thinking, and independent ways of becoming independent.

So, I was in a dark place. I thought, Borders? I could work at Borders books. I spent a lot of time in there. It was really a cool place if you were old enough. Um, so my mom called me out of the blue and of course, I was crying and she said, "What the hell are you crying about?" So to give you context for my mother, my mother is a woman who's literally running for mayor right now. That's my mother. She calls me and says, "What's going on? And I said, "I'm, I've had it. I've had it, Mom, I'm done." "Done with what?" "I'm done with teaching." "Wait, what?" she said, "You spent 27 years in school, you got a PhD and you're telling me you're quitting. Why?" I'm misunderstood. They don't have any Asians on this campus. I thought being Cantonese would be awesome. I don't, you know, the only friends I have are in my department, I'm going on, I'm bitching and moaning and complaining. I'm saying, my students, they don't understand it. They don't get it. What is it gonna take for them to get it? I need to be at a place. I need to be in San Francisco. That's where I'm born. That's where I'm raised. That's where I'm from. I need to be there. I need to make a difference there. And so she said this. "Okay, you're right. The part that you're right about is, you just keep going on and on about what your students are doing, doing this and not doing this. And let me ask you, what are you doing? Have you met them halfway? And so that's why I'm here.