Ren Harman: I'll do a little housekeeping at the top and then we'll get started.
Joe Frazier: Sweet.
Ren: Awesome. Thank you so much for doing this. So good morning. This is RenHarman the project director for VT Stories. Today is Monday, October 30, 2017 at about 10:07 AM. We were in Shanks Hall on the campus of Virginia Tech with a very special guest. This is the first time and the only time that I will prompt you. If you could just say in a complete sentence my name is, when you were born and where you were born.
Joe F: Okay. My name is Joe Frazier. I was born in [00:00:35 ...Comstock],Germany on [November] 2, 1990.
Ren: What years did you attend Virginia Tech?
Joe F: So, I did my undergrad here at VT from 2009 to 2013 and then I took ayear off and came back for grad school from 2014 to 2016.
Ren: What were your majors?
Joe F: So, in undergrad I got my bachelor's in sociology and another bachelor's1:00in philosophy. And then for grad school I entered in the sociology program and then I also tacked on a second master's in philosophy.
Ren: Can you just tell me a little bit about growing up and your early life?
Joe F: Yeah. So, growing up, so I have an older sister and an adopted sisterthat came into my life probably in high school. But my folks were in the military, so my father is a retired full colonel, and we moved on average every two years. So, I was born in Germany and we stayed there maybe two years or so and then we moved on average every two or three years, so I lived in Texas. I lived in Florida, lived in Georgia. I lived in Belgium for three years, Indiana, and I believe Virginia was the last place my father was stationed and that was around 7th grade for me. And so I stayed in Virginia for I guess the rest of my 2:00life after that.
Ren: What kind of things did you get into as a child?
Joe F: Oh man. So, I was really outdoorsy. I had a huge interest in like bugsand stuff like that. I remember in I guess middle school is when that show Man Versus Wild first came out on Discovery. So I had a lot of friends and we would go out and try to like catch turtles in lakes or rabbits in urban neighborhoods, not urban, but in suburban neighborhoods and that kind of thing, so we always stayed busy doing that kind of stuff. I was also really into gaming. I think my first system that I got was a Gameboy pocket back in the day, and I had a PlayStation 1, so I don't remember which one came out first. But before that I would always be a friend's house playing their Nintendo's or Dreamcast or something like that.
Ren: Can you talk a little bit about your mom and dad? I know you said your dad3:00was in the military.
Joe F: Yeah. So my parents are both from Georgia, so my dad is from a small towncalled Augusta, Georgia, and my mom is from Savannah, Georgia. And actually, both of them were military families as well, but my parents met at UGA and they got married there. I'm not sure to this day what exactly my father did in the Army. I know he served in Desert Storm. I think he was in the Signal Corps, but I don't really specifically what all he did, and then my mom was a teacher growing up, so she taught art. You know with each move she would go from working at different schools to eventually becoming I would say a full-time mom at home and doing a lot of stuff on the military side that Army wives do. So there's 4:00like an officer's wives' I think club that she ran and a couple of other things as well.
Ren: What role did education play in the home?
Joe F: Education was huge, so my parents they both went to school and they bothobtained a master's degree as well at UGA. I know that my father was really big on pushing it, or my mom too, but especially as black Americans that my generation has a lot more options than they had when they were my age, so really playing up to get your education and go do big things or better things. And so you know, like even in high school, middle school you know like C's weren't accepted. B's okay, but why didn't you get a A, that kind of thing, so they really pressed us on our grades growing up too. 5:00
Ren: Yeah. When you first started thinking about college how did Virginia Techcome into the picture and how did that whole process happen?
Joe F: So, I think with my whole college experience or story anyway, I don'tthink it's as romantic as other students can be as far as the passion goes and where they want it to go. I knew I had to go to college. Where I went, it's not that I didn't care, but it just wasn't a big deal to me. I wanted to go to law school originally, so I was like where is a good school if you want to go to law school, so I thought UVA, Cornell, and then Virginia Tech was my third choice actually. And basically, so I got a full ride on a ROTC scholarship to go to whichever school I wanted, but I ended up actually getting wait-listed at UVA and Cornell, because unfortunately my senior year I goofed off and I got I think 6:00it was a D in physics.
Ren: Oh, okay. [Chuckles]
Joe F: So, that held me, that got me wait-listed at all the schools. It's ashame I waited until my senior year to get my first D.
Ren: Indian River High School, right?
Joe F: Yes, that was at Indian River High School in Chesapeake. Yeah, so I waslike well, I guess I'm going to Virginia Tech, but I ended up dropping the ROTC scholarship, only because, no offense to the Corps, but I felt like I wouldn't be getting the full college experience that I wanted. And luckily, I had enough in academic scholarships to cover my first two years of college, and then for my last two years I was able to use half of my father's GI bill, so we ended up splitting it my sister and I 50/50. So she got it for two years and I got it for my last two years.
Ren: That's cool. Did your parents ever talk about you going to UGA?7:00
Joe F: No, they didn't actually. Yeah, I don't know if it's something, maybebecause no one in my family really watches sports either, but there's not much of a loyalty I guess to wherever it is we used to attend, so they never really spoke about going to UGA. I think they just said go for the top school you can get into without having to pay.
Ren: Where did your sister go?
Joe F: So my sister went to Norfolk State.
Ren: So that was pretty close to home, right?
Joe F: Yeah, right down the street.
Ren: When you entered your freshman year at Virginia Tech was your degree wentthere the same as when you left?
Joe F: No, so I came into Virginia Tech undecided. Yeah, I had no idea what Iwanted to study. I knew I wanted to go to law school, but didn't know what major would be best, so I went in undecided, and just kind of taking the general 8:00courses. At first, I was thinking about going the business track, but then when I got into the sociology courses and the philosophy courses I was like you know what, these really interest me and pushed me to think in a different way. Especially with sociology I think sheds a lot of light on the reasons why our society is the way it is today, so those really intrigued me, and I went from there to you know what, I'm going to get these degrees.
Ren: Your first day on the campus of Virginia Tech do you kind of remember whatit looked like or smelled like or even felt like?
Joe F: Yes. It was an interesting experience. So, you know, Virginia Tech is apredominantly white campus, so I had some interesting experiences. So my first experience was before I even got to Virginia Tech. You know you can go on Hokie [Spa] to see who your roommates are going to be, and so I saw who my first roommate assignment was. I don't remember his name, but it was this white guy. 9:00
And so I reached out to him on Facebook. I said, "Hey, my name is Joe Frazier.We're going to be roommates," and I never got a reply back on Facebook. And then about a week later I saw that I had gotten reassigned a new roommate, so I thought that was kind of interesting. And my new roommate was this white guy named Christian and he was a great dude, so we had a great time freshman time. But I do remember in my English course freshman year on my first day there was a guy in class who came up to me and was like, "Hey man, are you Joe Frazier?" And I was like, "Yeah." He was like, "Yeah, I've seen you before. Do you know so and so?" And the person who he mentioned was actually the person that was supposed to be my first roommate, and he was like, "Yeah, we went to the same high school and he showed me your picture and basically said he was scared to be your roommate," and that's he backed out, so that's what happened with my first roommate situation. 10:00
Ren: He was scared to be your roommate?
Joe F: Yeah. You know, I guess it's because of the black skin or maybe it was mybuild at the time or all that in combination, but yeah, the person got scared of being my roommate.
Ren: What did you think when that guy told you that? What was your reaction?
Joe F: You know I wasn't surprised. I think, well not that I think, but I knowthat my identity I guess as a black male and then as a larger black male, especially when I was into like weightlifting and all that stuff at the time, easily gets perceived as intimidating by a lot of people. It's nothing that I wasn't used to already before I got to Tech, because the same stuff happened in Chesapeake, whether it was interactions with police or even just growing up in high school, this automatic assumption of, "Oh man, when I first met you I 11:00thought you were to be a bully." But you know, it's not the case; I'm a nice guy.
Ren: Yeah, right.
Joe F: Yeah, and unfortunately, so like that experience was, so I had an inklingof what the issue was when that first happened the summer before I got to Tech. But then when I got to Tech I remember on my first day, so I was in Vaughter Hall and at the time it was an all-male dorm. I met my roommate Christian, a cool dude. And then I remember going to the bathroom, so I was the only black person on my floor as far as I knew, and then so I go to the bathroom and happened to run into this guy named Kendell, another black dude, and found out that he's on like the other side of the hallway. So we kicked it off really fast and I think it was the next day, so still before classes start but they allowed us to move in, and they had what's called the -- 12:00
I don't know if it's called the Summer Bash or what it is, and it's a big eventin McComas Hall, like a big party that welcomes all the students. And so Kendall was like, "Did you hear about this event?" and invited me to come with him to the Summer Bash, and I actually met some other guys that he met who also were all black on this first. So we're a little group getting to know each other where we're all from, and so we go to this event in McComas and the line is like long. So it's going down the road I guess adjacent to the McComas parking lot. So we're waiting in line to go inside this event and so while we're waiting this group of basically it was white girls came out the building, and so I decided let me ask them how is the party on the inside, because if it's not worth it then we can go do something else, go find food somewhere else, whatever.
So they were walking by and I walk up to them and I ask them, "Hey, how's the13:00party on the inside?" And they looked at me and my group and friends and said, "Oh, well they have fried chicken on the inside so you guys will be happy." So you know, I heard it. My group heard it. They got angry, but you know, they all walked off and it was one of those things like well, is this what Virginia Tech is going to be like being here, and that was the second day I guess at VT. You know, and again, it's not that VT is racist like Blacksburg, Virginia or anything like that specifically, because I think a lot of these issues can happen at any campus. And again, just kind of growing up in the south or just all the different places I'm from, these experiences weren't anything new, you know.
Joe F: So it wasn't like oh my goodness, what have I gotten myself into. It's14:00understanding that you're here to get a degree. You're going to meet folks like this because you met folks like that before you got to school. This is just another day. And a couple of incidences like that happened throughout my time at Virginia Tech, but by far the god experiences outweighed like those instances.
Ren: When that young lady said that do you think she was trying to be funny? Howdid you guys take it? I just wonder.
Joe F: Oh we were offended. I mean it's one of those things where at this pointI don't really know, I don't spend much time trying to consider what peoples' intentions are, I just focus on the impact, right. You know, maybe she honestly believed that you know black folks really love fried chicken any more than any other population, right. Everybody loves fried chicken.
Ren: Yeah, right.15:00
Joe F: I took it offensively. I felt like it was just rude for the sake of beingrude, yeah.
Ren: I meant to ask you this when I was doing a little research on you, what isyour father's name?
Joe F: My father's name is Joseph Frazier the same way my name is JosephFrazier, and my great-grandfather's name was Joseph Frazier too, but all our middle names are different so that there weren't any, like the junior didn't apply I guess. So like my father's middle name starts with a J so everyone called him JJ Frazier, but still the whole smoking Joe Frazier, that kind of stuff applied. And then the same way with me growing up, you know, it's great for name recognition. A lot of folks recognize the Joe Frazier name and all that, but also in like high school I did football. I wrestled and I threw shot 16:00put. I wasn't outstanding at any of those, but you know. Anyway, that was one of the things I had to be weary of like in wrestling don't get slammed. In football don't get...
Ren: Because down goes Frazier, right?
Joe F: Yeah, exactly, because down goes Frazier.
Ren: Did you grow up in a church by chance?
Joe F: Yeah. So my family raised me in the Church of Christ, so I grew up inthat. Church every Sunday for morning service, more often than not go to evening service as well, and then service on Wednesday nights.
Ren: The reason I asked is your dad is a church elder, is that correct?
Joe F: Yeah, hmm, so he's an elder at the church in Chesapeake.
Ren: I grew up in the church also, which it wasn't Church of Christ, but it's17:00pretty close Pentecostal, Assembly of God sort of. Can you talk a little bit about the black church and what it's like growing up in a black church?
Joe F: Yeah. So the Church of Christ is in my opinion of the many I will saydifferent sects of Christianity is probably the most orthodox sect in that it's by the book strict interpretation of the Bible. And the congregation, so a bunch of different Churches of Christ that I've been to, and I know historically I think if we look at like church statistics it's usually a predominantly black church. And based on where I was, the congregation was usually heavily black or a very mixed congregation. Like the one in Chesapeake is very mixed.
The one in Georgia I remember as being mostly black but it was also a mix. When18:00I lived in Belgium the congregation was mostly all black, but also we had a lot of folks from like Ghana and Nigeria that were in the same faith as well. And so you know, the church was really loving people. We had a lot of events around food. I remember like potlucks on Sundays and that kind of stuff, that was great, and really enjoyed the singing, you know, so the gospel music and stuff. I don't know if you would call it downside or what based on your religious views, it does have the heavily gloom and doom kind of overtone stuff.
Ren: Kind of fire and brimstone.
Joe F: Yeah, fire and brimstone, you know, if you fall out of line with thebeliefs and practices.
Ren: Right. I've been in a lot of these services, so it's interesting to sharean experience. It's kind of similar to what you're talking about, a lot of 19:00potlucks and things like that. How did growing up in that church kind of help, how did it influence how you kind of saw the world and the way you kind of lived your life, or did it?
Joe F: That's a good question. Yeah, no , so it definitely did. Actually I guessgrowing up I helped get a couple of my friends baptized, and that kind of thing definitely influenced, I want to say most things that I did. Granted nobody is perfect, but there's this view that we're all sinners, so that was definitely a heavy influence in my life, making sure that you're doing the right thing. You know WWJD, what would Jesus do, so trying to weigh the decisions with I make with the possible consequences and that kind of thing was a really big influence. Yeah. Yeah. I'm trying to think more about it, because my 20:00relationship with that church isn't what it used to be, so it's kind of one of those weird conversations when your family is still a big part of the church, but you just have a lot of questions I guess and started to feel as though the answers you were getting were no longer sufficient, so it's a different place right when it comes to that.
Ren: Talking about your experience at Virginia Tech and majoring in sociologyand philosophy, do you think that had any connection to your growing up in the church?
Joe F: I think that the philosophy aspect really, it influenced kind of, right,so philosophy really encourages you to question everything, right. And not just to question stuff, but really self-reflect and weigh-out consequences and stuff with different views. 21:00
And for a while, I will say while I was questioning beliefs I got used toPascal's Wager. And for those unfamiliar... Well first of all before I say this, I'm a big fan of Pascal's Wager and no offense to Pascal, but I feel like you know, anyone that does enough critical self-reflection on religious beliefs, especially ones as severe as the church I was raised in that you would come to this kind of thought sooner or later, right. I think Pascal is the first to get it published. But basically the whole idea is when you look at life in terms of consequences it's safer to believe in God than not to believe in God, right. If you believe in God and you die you are probably going to go to Heaven, which is debatable, right. It's more than just belief, but you're more likely to go to 22:00Heaven than if you don't believe in God and it turns out that God doesn't exist you're fine, but if God does exist you're not fine. But yeah, if you believe in God and it turns out God doesn't exist then you're fine, and if it turns out that God does exist you're still fine, so it's safer to believe than not to believe.
Ren: Than not to believe, right.
Joe F: But when you think about it, I guess another question that comes when itcomes to consequences and thinking about it that way is "believing" if it's out of fear really believing or not, you know, and that's a whole nother scenario. But yeah, and I had a Philosophy of Religion course too my freshman year that I thought was awesome, and I was a big defender of my Christian belief, my freshman year in that course as well in just different ways to parse out 23:00different, discrepancies that folks would bring up and that kind of thing I thought was great.
Ren: What were some kind of notable professors and advisors that you had duringyour undergrad career that you can kind of remember?
Joe F: So yeah. My undergrad, so first off my Philosophy of Religion professor Ithink she actually may have been a teaching assistant at the time and I don't remember her name. Unfortunately, she actually got in a car accident that Christmas break, so I had her class for a semester, and then over break she got in an accident and ended up dying.
Joe F: Yeah, but she was great. It feels disrespectful that I don't remember hername, but that was a while ago, so she was great. Dr. Pitt, Joseph Pitt in the Philosophy Department, I think he was the first Intro to Philosophy course that 24:00I took, was him teaching Intro to Philosophy and I loved it.
I think that's really why I fell in love with the course. I think the first dayone of the quotes he introduced was Socrates' the unexamined life is not worth living, so you should really be reflecting on your life and that kind of thing. And that's actually one of my tattoos that I have across my chest is that Socrates quote. Yeah, and my other tattoo actually is my first one that I got on my arm is a Bible verse, so I guess it was those religious undertones coming back.
Ren: Yeah, right. Which Bible verse?
Joe F: So it's 2nd Timothy, oh Lord I done forgot what's on my arm.
Ren: I put you on the spot. [Laughs]
Joe F: Yeah. It's funny with tattoos too, after a while you forget you have themif you haven't looked at in a long amount of time. What is it, 2nd Timothy... Lord.
Ren: That's all right.
Joe F: I will get it back to you, but it says, 'For God has not given us thespirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.' 2nd Timothy 1 25:00something. It's on my arm.
Ren: What role did mentorship play during your time? We can look at yourgraduate career also in terms of professors or advisors. Do you feel like you were mentored in a way by any folks?
Joe F: That's another kind of hard question. And it's a question I've askedmyself this year actually just kind of looking back when it comes to undergrad and grad school, as far as if I had mentors. You know that's not to do anyone disrespect, because there are a lot of good people I met, but I never... I guess it's hard that, I don't feel like I established a super close relationship with any of my faculty or professors. There are definitely folks that looked out for me. Dr. Klagge in the Philosophy Department who was my advisor on the philosophy 26:00side was a great person, you know, and really looked out for my well-being. But I do feel like I didn't necessarily have I guess a mentor. And there may have been folks who tried to be my mentor and maybe I just didn't pick up on those cues, but I feel like my you know, my whole college experience is a bunch of different interactions with different people who all had different influences.
You know I joined the Student African American Brotherhood my freshman year andI met a lot of my friends through that. I actually ended up being the vice president of that later on. I think in grad school it's probably my peers I think that had more influence over what I wanted to do and helped shape my ambitions more so than my department.
Ren: So, we talked a little bit about this earlier, but what are some of your27:00favorite memories or experiences?
Joe F: Just at Virginia Tech or is that undergrad specific or grad school specific?
Ren: The whole, how many years? Undergrad, grad, working.
Joe F: I don't know, I guess as far as my favorite experiences go because I hada lot of them, so there's no shortness of experiences. I would say right now, so one of the things, I worked through undergrad and grad school too, but I started off working in the dining halls my sophomore year. I worked at Owens Dining Hall and I met a lot of great people there. You know it's always, I like meeting other college students that worked through their experience too. You've got to pay rent and you've got bills to pay and stuff, and I think sometimes you get more of a down to earth experience with the folks who had to work versus 28:00sometimes those who didn't.
But yeah, so I met a lot of great people in the dining hall and that's actuallywhere I met my fianc√(c) now too. So me and Karen have been dating for, well I mean we're engaged, so I don't know if you say you stopped dating or not, but I guess for five years, and we met working at Owens Dining Hall together. I was actually her manager. Actually we didn't really pay much attention to each other, or at least I didn't pay much attention to Karen while we were on the clock. But then over the summer we met at a party and just hit it off from there, in an inseparable sense, right.
Ren: Yeah, that's awesome.
Joe F: So that dining hall experience if I wasn't there at Owens I never wouldhave met Karen. We didn't have any classes that overlapped or anything. Let me think what other experiences. I don't know, it was a lot, whether it was just 29:00living on campus or off campus and just the different folks that I met along the way.
Ren: You talked about the Brotherhood that you joined. What kind of things didthey do?
Joe F: So SAAB, the Student African American Brotherhood was really like a blackprofessionalism for a black male organization, right. So when it came to stuff like... We do a lot of fundraisers to raise money. We used to work the booths at the football games. That was our big fundraiser. They put on a black male summit each year and we will have speakers come and we will talk about uplift and brotherhood and stuff like that, and it was definitely a great place to get started. I remember the president at that time, Lee, was a black dude, always dressed suave in a suit and stuff like that. 30:00
We all looked up to him our freshman year. Like if there was a definition andyou looked in the book of 'the man' like Lee was the man, right. And so I think he definitely helped at least in my freshman year not succumbing to just partying and stuff every day, right the professionalism aspect. We are here to do business. We are here to get our degrees and keep that as the first focus.
Ren: Kind of like a work hard, play harder kind of mantra, right.
Joe F: Right, right.
Ren: I think we all try to aspire to in some degree.
Joe F: We try but that freshman year can be hard.
Ren: We're close to the same age, and I lived in Pritchard Hall my freshman yearand I look at my GPA freshman and sophomore year and it just kind of went whoop, went up after freshman and sophomore year. You mentioned a couple of these at the top of the interview, but some difficult experiences. VT Stories isn't just 31:00interested in collecting these wonderful stories about how everyone loves Virginia Tech. We want the whole truth, and you mentioned a couple of these, but were there any others that kind of stick out in your mind that you remember?
Joe F: Yeah, so there's always issues of race that come up. It's funny becauseeven talking about the Student African American Brotherhood I remember the first year that we did the big event at Virginia Tech. Our group was placed in this, I think it's off of Yellow Sulfur Spring Road I think, and I think there's a building there that used to function as like a retreat. They had springs there and folks would go when they had like polio and stuff like that was big and they would go to the springs and stuff. So we were on that site moving wood, rocks, cleaning some stuff up. And that year for the big event we had these bright 32:00orange shirts that said in maroon Virginia Tech, you know, big event.
And we were doing some work on the side of the road and there was this olderwhite lady that was walking her dogs coming down the side of the road, and when she saw us she had the nerve to ask if we were inmates doing community service on the side of the road. It was like lady you can read our shirts that says Virginia Tech big event. So that was another experience that happened freshman year.
Ren: How did you guys respond? What did you guys say?
Joe F: So it was my friend Ramone that it was said to specifically. I didn'thear it and I actually don't remember what he said, if anything. But that was the cool thing too about these groups, right, like Student African American Brotherhood, like the Black Cultural Center in Squires, is that when these kinds of experiences happen you're still in community with folks who are all 33:00experiencing the same thing, so it's easier to process.
It's easier to laugh about it, right, because sometimes that's what you've gotto do is laugh it off.
Ren: If we didn't laugh we would cry.
Joe F: Yeah. This is random, but I also started a weightlifting club my freshmanyear called Get Big Crew, GBC, and we would always be in War Memorial and stuff. I guess other, when it comes to negative experiences I will just say outside of issues specifically related to race, I think one of the things I had was it was in grad school, right, kind of a rose-tinted glass, like outlook on stuff being broken when it came to sociology, right. So I love philosophy, but soc is what I really wanted to focus on and what I felt like was my, I don't know, calling or 34:00what I could do the most with right. Because again, sociology we're studying social problems, different theories on what creates these problems, all kind of stuff like that.
So in my undergraduate career I felt like you know if I'm going to go out hereand say change the world in some respect, something for the greater good of all people, sociology is the major where I can make that happen. It's giving me the knowledge to identify these problems and then come up with solutions or whatever. And so, you know, undergrad, I left with that view and then was struggling to find a job. So I worked for a year in Montgomery County public schools at an alternative school called Independent Secondary, and I was the Phoenix coordinator. Basically the Phoenix program is a program throughout Montgomery County, middle school and high school where if kids get suspended 35:00instead of being in out of school suspension they can opt to be in Phoenix, where they can still do their world and don't have to get counted as absent, which ends up holding back a lot of students.
So I worked there, and I was also still working an internship I got through theSoc Department at the Center for Survey Research, and I was a phone bank supervisor there. But anyway, I'm getting off track. So when it comes to grad school, right, because basically while I was working at Phoenix and then still working this internship that's how I ended up getting a full assistantship to go to grad school. You know nothing against schooling, but I hadn't planned on going to grad school, but I saw that you know, if I can do it and I can do it for free, you know, why not, and it could only raise my earning potential. So I ended up going and then I ended up tacking on philosophy just because if I can get one degree for free maybe I can get two.
And I ended up getting two. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. It's a lot of36:00work trying to do two separate thesis and all that stuff. So within the Soc Department, so I'm learning more about soc, way more on the grad level than the undergrad level first off. And I guess one of the things that started to weigh on me is this is a major that's heavily focusing on the social problems, all kind of theories about it. And then after this paper papers get published on it or whatever folks just move on to look at something else. And then from a philosophical aspect, right, I feel like that's really immoral at the end of the day to invest all this time in studying a social problem just to look back at it and think to yourself oh, that's interesting. Or, oh, so these theories I think apply, and then move on. Maybe you published a paper but that paper may just go on a bookshelf somewhere and no one reads it, or at least give it to maybe a 37:00non-profit or some org that can use this research to better do something.
And it may be different at other Soc Departments, but because I did all mycollege in one place this is the only experience I have to go by, a personal experience. And that's not to diss everyone in the Soc Department. There are professors that are doing what I would consider activism and doing work, but there's also I would say the majority who aren't, right.
Ren: So you felt you needed to take all these theories and things that you werelearning and put them into practice?
Joe F: Yeah. Maybe that's the, I guess philosophically we talk about morality,it just seemed that this is wrong to study these populations, to come up with these theories but not actually do anything with that research to better the problem. So that was really my I guess disheartening experience in grad school within my major, you know, and just kind of, there's got to be -- Well, I feel 38:00like there should be a focus on okay, after we do this research how can we implement it? Is it practical? Can this theory be put into practice? What my thesis ended up being around was my first aspect of trying to actually put theory into practice.
Ren: Okay. I wanted to mention, during your undergrad you served as thePolitical Actions Chair for the NAACP college chapter, correct?
Joe F: Yeah, so that was actually my first year of graduate school.
Ren: I want to ask you a little bit about it because my wife is a teacher inMontgomery County.
Joe F: Okay.
Ren: She worked at Blacksburg High School and now she's at CharlottesvilleMiddle as a math teacher. Can you talk a little bit about working as a Phoenix supervisor and some of these kids that you kind of mentored or taught? I'm just curious, what was that experience like?
Joe F: It was an interesting experience. I'm not going to say it was like an39:00eye-opening experience only because of, based off, so from education kind of knowing theories and stuff around and just understanding the different backgrounds a lot of these students have that led them to be in the place that they were situation. And then also even in my undergrad over the summers back when I still went home for the summers, right, I worked at an outreach camp in Norfolk with the underserved youth and stuff like that. And it is interesting just kind of looking at the students in a more rural area like we are here from a more I will say urbanized area like Chesapeake, Norfolk, that kind of thing.
Joe F: The difference in I guess what society would deem as bad kids, right, inthat what -- I hate saying bad, I don't want to say the kids were bad, but with 40:00those kind of students, troubled students, underserved students, just the kind of background around them and the kind of issues they do to act out their frustration is a lot different right, in this rural environment versus in an urban environment. So that was one of the things that really stood out. And then, on top of that, so I got along well with a lot of the kids and I think one of the big things was having patience and understanding and just trying to encourage them, because sometimes I feel as though the students maybe have more insight into some issues than their teachers do right. A lot of them I think sometimes are being feed this idealized view of you can be anything, you can be anything without giving them the I don't know, harsh truth or realities of just 41:00certain aspects of life. You had students who I'm not going to college. My plan is to go straight into the military after I graduate, you know, but the military is a lot more selective now in who they take versus who they don't. So if you have a terrible record of behavior and all this stuff and you're just banking on the military when you get out, it might not be as easy to get in as you're thinking it's going to be.
In the same vein just trying to get students to understand that it's hard tolive on minimum wage and you're setting yourself up basically up for a career trajectory or path when you graduate that you're not going to be able to make as much money as you think, or that the amount of money that you want to make isn't going to take you as far as you may believe, right. So just trying to keep it real with the students about you want to try to do your best because you just 42:00don't want to close off options for yourself.
And even understanding that right now you're at this alternative school. It's areduced workload. You don't have homework, those kind of things, you know, do your best here because it's not going to get easier. Maybe it's ignorant of me to say this, but this is probably going to be the easiest moment of your life right now and when you graduate you're out there on your own. So do your best here to at least get in the practice of doing your best just because it only gets harder from here.
Ren: So you feel like you served as a role model to some of these kids in a way?
Joe F: Definitely. Yeah, definitely. I had students that I worked personallywith that their social workers would come to me to talk to the kids about and stuff like that, and try to get them to do different things or understand certain things. You know even just being real with my students that there is, so 43:00I think like growing up my parents really brought home the message that as a black male in the U.S. that a lot of folks sometimes will think looks intimidating from the beginning or whatever that you're going to have to work twice as hard and twice as long to get the same thing. I still hold on to that message when I'm talking to especially young black youth that same mentality I think still applies.
And that's another thing in this rural area that's not as diverse as Chesapeakeor Norfolk to the amount of students of color that I would get in Phoenix I thought seemed a little strange, right. So this high school is 1% black. It's 44:00weird having six black kids from the same high school in Phoenix. So with the NAACP we put on this event called the High School Allyship and Activism Leadership Conference. We've done it two years in a row now and basically it serves as an opportunity for high schoolers across Montgomery County to come to Virginia Tech as a field trip, and we talk to them about basically allyship and activism, right, so issues of race, of gender, all that kind of stuff. One of the things that the students of color always have a problem with is how they are treated in Montgomery County public school systems, right. So was it three years ago we had the big incident with the confederate flag that happened at Christiansburg High School, and just kind of the stuff around that, folks using the 'N' word in class in reference to other black students and just kind of 45:00issues all like that. That stuff would come out in Phoenix as well.
And even right now I work with Virginia Organizing and advising the NAACP, andone of the big things that Virginia Organizing is working on is how do we combat these issues of racism or white supremacy within the school systems and how they are being manifested towards the students, yeah.
Ren: I want to ask you, what I think was a national event that really spurred alot of activism on college campus was the death of Michael Brown, and I know you traveled to Ferguson, correct?
Joe F: Yeah. Hmm.
Ren: Can you talk a little bit about that and just kind of the story wheneverything happened?
Joe F: Yeah. So you know, this was definitely, this was in graduate school, andI mentioned how my peers had the largest influence on me, and even still to this 46:00day. One of them specifically was this guy named Devon Lee who is now teaching at Radford, and is still a PhD student in the Soc Department. Devon was really big I think when it comes to activism, and some folks would even say radical. Whether or not I agree, I think radical can be used really loosely when you're at a place that typically doesn't do anything, right. So when you finally start challenging that status quo anything looks radical. Not to say Devon is not radical, but I don't think it's to the extent that folks try to make it seem.
But anyway, it was one of those NAACP meetings and he was talking aboutconviction, right, that goes along with anything. At the same time in philosophy, I'm trying to think how I first got introduced to Apollo Freire who 47:00was a philosopher from South America, and one of his more popular books is The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. There's a real strong quote from that book that says washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful and not to be neutral.
Joe F: Basically there is no neutrality right, when it comes to issues ofinjustice. And when it comes to the whole police brutality thing, I mean this is an issue that has plagued the black community since slavery ended, right, that folks have always known about, black folks specifically. And now that technology allows us to easily capture video footage of a lot of these injustices I think more people believe than dismissed it as in the past, right. And when Michael Brown got shot this was, you know, we're at the NAACP and it gets to this point 48:00where you keep seeing this kind of stuff happening.
You know there are folks that were getting shot in high school and stuff, right.Like this isn't anything new, but at what point is enough enough? At one point do you have an obligation, right, a moral obligation to be doing something to try to combat an issue, and even then, at what point are you fulfilling that morale obligation, right. Like is a Facebook post enough to spread awareness? Is that really activism or is there more to that? There's whole other philosophical debates that I would have with myself and other folks how much energy do we need to put into this to have done our part, and at what costs, so academic education, whatever. But basically after we had this conversation at a NAACP meeting at Convictions we decided yeah, we've got to go. We've got to go to Ferguson and we have to see how we can help, or is there any way we can aid or 49:00what can we do. And so I put out a call for students who wanted to come with me, and I think four people responded. So Morgan Esthers who was the president of the NAACP at that time, Alexis Harper, still my close friend to this day, and Connor Shields. We made the ten-hour trip to Ferguson. I was reaching out to folks over like Facebook and trying to find people who were doing work already on the ground out there, and I got in contact with two guys who were students at Mizzou and they were doing a lot of different activist projects. And so we met up with them and so we saw where Mike Brown got shot, the memorial that they had to him out there, and that kind of stuff.
And then as far as the action plans goes it just so happened on that weekendthat they were taking action against the local Walmart in that area, because 50:00apparently they had donated $10,000 to Chief Wilson's fund, the police officer that shot Michael Brown. So you know you're in a black community in a black area and then the Walmart decides that I'm going to donate $10,000 to this police officer that shot this guy.
Ren: What percentage of those Walmart employees do you think were black?
Joe F: The majority, and so the action plan was basically to shut that Walmartdown and to turn as many customers away as possible. And they had met with some lawyers and stuff to find out what they could do within the confines of the law. Basically what ended up happening was going into Walmart in pairs of two with other folks and basically just going on a shopping spree, right, filling up the cart with whatever you could, and then going... 51:00
So personally, right, going through the checkout line and getting everythingrung up and then oops, like I forgot my credit card or I forgot my debit card, or my EBT card doesn't have any money on it out here. Basically you know every hour or every 30 minutes when you have somebody doing that it just backed all the lines up until the point that, and it's unfortunate because you know the workers there are frustrated, right, who are black workers, but they are working for Walmart, so it's like this isn't to make your day bad, but we can't let what this Walmart did go unjustified. And so basically they ended up not closing, but the folks inside left, and then after we ran out of folks to basically clog up the inside we all went to the outside of the Walmart. So it was at the bottom of the hill, kind of like the Walmart in Christiansburg, so we were at the top of 52:00that hill where all the main traffic flow was going by with signs and stuff and then just turning cars away. So the parking lot ended up being empty that day and that was the big thing that we did there for that weekend trip that we went down.
Ren: Do you know if them donating, was that a local Walmart decision or was thata corporate decision? Did that ever come out?
Joe F: Yeah, I don't remember at this point.
Ren: That's unbelievable. I had never heard that story.
Joe F: Yeah, it was crazy, and when we were out there some TV crews came out anda bunch of other people joined and the governor came out and all kind of stuff. I think it was pretty successful. And then the same, when we got back here to Blacksburg we did marches for Mike Brown, right, did a die-in in Squires, all kind of stuff, and we did the same for Tamir Rice, for Sandra Bland, you know, 53:00and the list goes on and goes, what we were doing here in Blacksburg working with groups like the Coalition for Justice and that kind of thing.
And that's also what influenced basically my thesis in sociology, so again,we've got all this police violence and stuff going on. And then you're in a department where you're frustrated because we're studying these problems but don't look at solutions. And so my thesis ended up being well when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, when it comes to police brutality and all this stuff what is something else that we can be doing outside of awareness, outside of protesting.
Joe F: There's got to be some solution to this, or something we can do to helprelieve some of this stress. So actually my thesis was on, it was called the Student Police Unity League, and basically there's a theory that I learned in soc called inner-group contact theory. And actually I ended up doing grounded 54:00research, and that's where I ended up doing most of everything before I applied a theory to it, but I found a theory that worked, and so I was able to make it into my thesis. But it's a program I had already started separate from my thesis, just thinking there's got to be something that we can do.
And basically inner-group contact theory is the theory that when you take folksfrom different groups and if you put them together in the same environment under certain positive constraints that those groups will start to develop more favorable outlooks at each other. And in the same time those outlooks will carry on into their everyday life experiences and interactions outside of the group. And so the idea was basically through, I collaborated with Blacksburg Parks & Rec. I was able to raise about $3,500 at Virginia Tech reaching out to various folks and a little GoFundMe and stuff like that. Basically the league was, so 55:00Blacksburg Parks & Rec has co-ed sports teams, and it just so happened that it was volleyball season at that time. And so I reserved four team spots to make four teams where we would have police officers and black students integrated on the same teams and compete together in the adult co-ed volleyball rec Teague.
And so Virginia Tech PD and Blacksburg PD were all for it. I met with all theofficers of Blacksburg PD. Chief Faust and Chief Darrin Wilson were very cooperative and helpful in making it happen and getting police to come out, so we ended up having I think 21 officers and maybe 18 or 19 students that participated. And basically I was at all the games monitoring and released surveys, basically had surveys taken by police officers and students to be able 56:00to monitor and see whether or not students who played in this game and police officers who played ended up having more favorable outcomes towards each other, or more favorable views towards each other, or not in comparison to those who did not participate in the program. Especially for all the academics that are maybe listening or going to listen to this, there are a lot of, if I could do it over again I have a lot of different constraints and ways that I would change that I did as far as how surveying happened, multiple surveys, all kinds of stuff. Because it ended up, my results ended up not being statistically significant. The police didn't take the surveys at the end and that may be for various reasons. It could be that if the evidence comes out damaging in some sense we don't want that released, I don't know. 57:00
So I ended up having to scrap the police portion and just look at how it changedstudents' views, right.
Ren: Are these primarily black students?
Joe F: Black and Hispanic students, yeah.
Ren: What were their views?
Joe F: So that's the thing right, so I don't remember my variables off the topof my head, but it actually ended up showing a decreased level interest of police with those who participated. That was one of the variables that I found really surprising. That being said, none of my results were statistically significant. I think I might have had one or two, but that one was not statistically significant, right, so we've kind of got to take it with a grain of salt.
And some of the other issues I think that compounded this issue is we have theseshootings that are still going on at the same time as this, and then also student participation really drops, right. So after, I had a hard time getting students to sign up for this, and then one day at a NAACP meeting right before 58:00the due date that I had to have the team submitted I basically just gave a speech or a talk to the general body that look, we have this issue of police brutality going on. This program, I'm not saying it's going to solve anything, but I think it's a start and it could be beneficial. And we all have to do our part in trying to make things better. If we claim to be activists and we claim to be about this life and want to stop this stuff from happening, this may open the door to a way that we can better this problem. So if you're really about that life I need ya'll to sign up to help this happen, and so I had 20 students who just signed up that day.
So, you know, folks might have been feeling impassioned for the first two weeks,and then you know, these are all students at Virginia Tech, so time goes on. Basically students stop participating, so it ended up being I would be the only student that showed up playing with a team of police officers, right, and that 59:00could even negatively impact the way police look at this, right, because the students aren't coming and aren't showing an investment anymore. So, those were a lot of issues that compounded I think the results of the survey as well, the few I was able to collect.
Ren: How do you think the police felt about it?
Joe F: So I didn't talk to any officers to straight-up just ask them how theyfelt about it. But I was just kind of thinking if I could put myself in their shoes I could see feeling as though either maybe disrespected or that they are not taking my time seriously because we showed up and they are not here, right. So I could definitely understand if there were views like that that could have come. But at the same time I would hope understanding that these are college students too, right, with erratic schedules and all kind of stuff. And then in the span of the actual volleyball league goes from I think September to December, so they had exams and all kind of stuff too. 60:00
That's one of the things where if I could do it all over again, and had plans todo it all over again, I was looking into starting a non-profit for a while just so that I could qualify for the grants, like the Department of Justice does a cops grant to give them money to do this all over again. And I tried to do it in a public school system under...
Ren: Just to try to get the relationship between police and students of color tobe a little more understanding of each other?
Joe F: It will be more intimate, right. It's in a place where they actually growup with these police officers versus college students who are just here for four years and then leave. And a bunch of other stuff, but I feel like if I talk about in too depth somebody might take my idea and run with it.
Ren: Okay, we will save that for our off-the-record conversation that we want to have.
Joe F: Cool.
Ren: I want to tell you a story and when I was researching you a little bit andlearning about the Student Police Unity League, I want to tell you this story. A couple of weeks ago I was traveling, so I grew up in a small town in southwest 61:00Virginia and we can redact this story, but I just want to tell you this because I want to get your thoughts. My tags had expired and I didn't know this, and I was driving and I have a new car, a new Toyota Rave 4. And so I'm going through Giles County and I get pulled over by a state police officer. He comes up to my window and he's talking to me, and here I am I'm dressed like this. I'm a white heterosexual man who is married. And I was like, "I know, I'm sorry. It's my fault." I reach in my license and my registration and he comes back and he writes me a ticket, which is fine. I told him, "Look, I'm probably just going to pay this. I don't really have time to come to court, I'm sorry," whatever. So he hands me the clipboard and he's pointing out like where I sign. And while he's doing this he's shaking, like this, like his hand. And I wanted to say 62:00something. I wanted to ask him, "Hey, I'm okay. I'm not going to harm you.
Joe F: Right. Right.
Ren: I think about my own life and kind of as a white male in a nice car andthings, I mean it really hit something in me. And I started thinking about how their jobs are and how they approach, because of all these things that have happened. And this was a state police officer. This was like a small-town cop, and he was pointing on the clipboard and his hand was shaking, and it just... I was like God, you know. And so I don't know if you have any thoughts about that.
Joe F: Um, yeah, I don't know right, because it's a weird relationship,especially trying to look at it from both sides and be objective, right. Lately my experience with police officers has not been necessarily negative, right. In 63:00high school one of my first experiences, so in high school I worked two, I was a busser at a restaurant and then moved into the kitchen and started my glorious line cook career off-the-record, right.
But I remember one of my first experiences, I was at a mall in Norfolk, amilitary mall with my debit card at a ATM machine trying to take some cash out and I got approached by an officer who asked me who I stole the wallet from. This was my wallet. It has my military ID in it, my civilian military ID and all that kind of stuff, and I'm like, "Look, you can look in this wallet and see I have my things in it." They didn't take it to actually look at it, they just consistently asked, "Who did you steal the wallet from? There's a camera right here. Just make this easier on yourself," which I thought was complete BS. But then you know in Blacksburg I've gotten out of tickets, right, just being polite 64:00or whatever and police, everything was fine.
In the same vein, I think in doing the activism and just different views onaction and self-defense and that kind of stuff, right, like I have a concealed carry permit, and I keep a pistol in my car door, and every time I get pulled over I will give my concealed carry permit and stuff to them to just let them know yeah, I've got a gun right here. Sometimes I won't say anything, because at this point in time I don't know what to do, right, because we see -- I forget his name...
Ren: Philando Castile?
Joe F: Yeah, Philando Castile, who just got gunned down as a concealed carrylicense holder, right.
Ren: NRA member.
Joe F: Yeah, and so it's weird. In the same vein, right, this summer I went toCharlottesville in July when the KKK rally happened. And I went to 65:00Charlottesville with Kimberly who did an interview earlier on the 8th of September with the Alt-Right Rally there. And just even some of the different experiences with the folks that I went with who I'm seeing these officers... Well I'm seeing these Alt-Right folks first of all with guns and riot shields and batons and all this stuff.
Ren: Firing in the crowds.
Joe F: Yeah, it's crazy, but I felt more nervous around the police in riot gearwho were coming towards us than I did of these Alt-Right folks, maybe even some kind of deep-seeded view that I feel like I could get more justice say if I got shot by an Alt-Right dude if I got shot by a police officer. It's a weird dynamic, right.
Ren: And it's such a complicated relationship.
I was telling my wife this story and if I feel that way what's to say someone66:00the same age as my age who has a different skin color than I do, how do they feel in this type of relationship. I think to kind of put a pin on this conversation, I think we have to be concerned about all these things that are happening. I think that you can also understand that yes, police have a very difficult job and it's a hard job, but at the same time you can also be concerned about the killing of mostly young unarmed innocent African American males.
Joe F: Right.
Ren: And I think you can play kind of both sides to that and maybe even thoughthis league that you started maybe that's something you were trying to accomplish.
Joe F: Yeah, definitely hoping we could at least lessen some of the issues,right. I think it was actually two years or three years ago in Roanoke there was a black student that was shot by a police officer. I believe he had his headphones on when he was told to put his hands up and he ended up getting killed.
Ren: We do what we can, right?67:00
Joe F: We do what we can.
Ren: I want to ask you a couple of questions. You're the coordinator for theCultural and Community Centers, is that your official title?
Joe F: So now I've moved into an assistant director position, so I'm now theassistant director. So my title is assistant director of the Cultural Community Centers, but right now I'm overseeing the new Asian Cultural Engagement Center, so the ACE Center.
Ren: Can you talk a little about that center, the Asian Cultural, the BlackCultural Center, the LGBTQ stuff, what that center operates in Student Affairs?
Joe F: So first of all right, the centers are a great place I think to operateas a second home or a home away from home for our students from marginalized backgrounds. I mentioned earlier my freshman year I was very familiar with the Black Cultural Center as a place where I could meet other black folks, an easy 68:00place to even come and process when we were experiencing different things in class or outside of class and folks who can share that same experience with you and process. They even have events set up or are more culturally friendly when it comes to things, or maybe you just didn't see anybody that looked like you for the whole day or something like that. And so in the same vein, right, so now we have an Asian Cultural Engagement Center, and the name was something that we just got in stone this year. Originally we were calling it Asian American and Pacific Islander Cultural Center, but the name was just so long trying to get the letters above the door was an issue. And then another issue in itself when it comes to just racial categorization, right, under the term Asian American we have hundreds of different cultures that are all being put under one umbrella identity term.
Joe F: That all perform differently in different aspects, whether it's69:00academically or socially that could be due to the reasons why their parents immigrated or they are refugees, or just all kind of, it's a really big pot of different cultures and social economic backgrounds being placed under one umbrella. So that's one of the more I think challenging aspects with it is how do we make sure through one center that we are trying to represent as many of these cultures as possible and making them all feel welcome. And Asian Americans specifically have suffered from this whole idea of a model minority myth that's been spread around that well, if we look at Asian Americans we see how successful they are, which is a stereotype in itself that hasn't gone answered, but why can't other minority groups be like them, right. Which you know, also now you've got white folks who are embracing this myth and placing that on 70:00Asians, and then you have other minority groups like say black people and Hispanic folks who may also feel some type of way about this stereotype that they start to believe it, right, or can start to believe it, and so now you have issues between minority groups.
So, I think one of the big things is combatting those stereotypes that are verypersuasive here even in Virginia Tech's community of Asian American students. Maybe you have students who don't want to bring a rice cooker into the dorm...lest they seem too Asian to their white roommates, right. So just how do we combat those small instances, not to demean it by calling them small, but how do we combat these instances right here at the University and make sure that these students feel welcome, that under this large umbrella term represent our largest minority population here at Virginia Tech.
So I really appreciate that work, and it's funny just kind of looking at it and71:00recognizing that I am over the Asian Cultural Engagement Center, but clearly I'm not Asian, right. I advise the Asian American Student Union and I'm not Asian. And the same way I also advise the Muslim Student Union and the Jewish Student Union and I'm neither Muslim nor Jewish. But we still have great relationships, right. I think me and my students have a great working relationship, personal and professional relationship when it comes to trust. I'm here, different marginalized group, but a lot of the experiences overlap and with the work that I do in my education I can help you all to get justice by the things that you all experience here in the same way that I do for the black community. So we have a great working relationship between all three groups that I work with in the work that we do here in the University. 72:00
Ren: When you kind of think about your time as an undergraduate student, agraduate student and now an employee of the University, when you look kind of across campus what do you see that inspires you in terms of this activism that you're kind of talking about, putting theory into practice, what are some things that inspire you?
Joe F: Oh man, so I guess, I don't know how in-depth we can get into it aboutthis, so recently this whole situation that we've seen happening in the English Department, when it comes to this teaching assistant who self-proclaimed as a white supremacist and the stuff that they said. Being able to work with these students who are passionate about combatting this on campus instead of you know, I'm just here for four years, let me just graduate and look the other way. I think the students have been really active this year in taking on what we can do 73:00to combat this, what does activism look like. What are our avenues to get justice to rectify this situation? I think that's been inspiring in itself, right.
So we have the six different communities that we represent through our... So wehave six main student organizations that we advise out of our office. We have the Asian American Student Union, Jewish Student Union, Muslim Student Union, Black Organizations' Council, Latino Association Student Organization, which is LASO. We have Hokie Pride, and that's the LGBTQ, plus USCO, and these groups are all working together, right, and that we have a shared common experience that relates to white supremacy and how can we combat that on campus together, I think has been great. I'm really proud of my students, and even the students 74:00outside of these groups right that have been equally invested in this process, and trying to work on it both from the administrative front and then what they can be doing on the grassroots level I think has been really great in helping the students. And just looking at their commitment and drive to combat the situation I think has been really inspiring.
Ren: Right. On the flipside of that what concerns you? What worries you?
Joe F: About the students in general?
Ren: Just kind of across campus, some issues.
Joe F: That's kind of a tough question. I guess these are all my personalopinions on stuff.
Joe F: I think just kind of the overall I will say dismissiveness when it comes75:00to issues of injustice or stuff that I think at other campuses would have way more of a student activist, student rallying together type vibe. When these kinds of things happen, versus at Virginia Tech I think a lot of the community doesn't have that want or maybe it's just a focus, right. One of the sayings in undergrad was stay black and on track, right, so don't let this stuff get to you. You're only here for four years. Just get your degree and move on and don't worry about whatever kind of negative experiences happen. But that's not leaving it here as a better place for the folks that come after us, right. If some of these issues, if we don't bring them up to administration how will they ever know that that's an issue in the first place that could be impacting retention and that kind of stuff.
So, you know, making sure that students feel empowered to speak up when things76:00happen and then what I would like to see is more involvement from the Virginia Tech community at large, right, to come together when things happen versus you know, not talking about it, right. Maybe one or two posts on fb, but that's the extent to which folks are willing to go out there to do something. I think with Ut Prosim right, our philosophy here that we may serve, and we see a lot of service trips abroad, but not necessarily work that can be being done in Montgomery County, right. We've got Shawsville right across... You're saying your wife is in Shawsville Middle?
Joe F: Yeah, so Shawsville really in a lot of areas is really underimpoverished, right, underserved.
Ren: That's the only reason she went there, because she was at Blacksburg HighSchool and she left to go to Shawsville for that exact reason.
Joe F: Okay, yeah, and so she knows even better than I do, right. I remember77:00even us driving home with a student from Independent Secondary to Shawsville and kind of seeing the area and just like we at Virginia Tech that does all these service trips when we've got folks that need our help right next door, right. We've got issues that we can be solving in our own community that we don't have to spend the money on to go do foreign aid. And that's not to say anything against foreign aid, but even in some of the things that we may be doing when it comes to foreign aid may not be what best serves that community that we're going out there, right. If we're going out there and telling them what we think needs to be done or building something that they very well could have built themselves, because maybe that's not what they needed at the time, not listening to those voices as far as them saying what they need and that we could be doing that same thing here.
Joe F: Even with the Big Event I feel like most of the projects in my undergradthat the groups I was with went and did were largely superficial, and I think a 78:00lot of students can count that as well I did something today, right. I did my part. It was like no, you went to rake some leaves in some rich guy's lawn; that's not doing your part. And so really focusing on when it comes to activism here at Virginia Tech and what service looks like, you know, if we're not serving those who need it most and we are just doing largely superficial things, just kind of a, I don't know, a self-realization or reflection of is the work you're doing really serving, or is it just something that makes it easy to post on Facebook and check off a box on your resume.
Joe F: I mean if service was easy right we would all be doing it. The thing isit's not that easy, and just seeing more folks who want to put the work in to actually create meaningful change.
Ren: Yeah. So you were talking about Big Event, and another story that willprobably have to be redacted is a couple of years ago before we moved into our new house we were living in Walnut Creek, which is a pretty nice subdivision in 79:00Christiansburg. We were renting a house at the time because we hadn't bought our house yet and I was in the office of the house and I look out the window and my neighbor kind of across the way, really rich, white with a lot of money, and people from Big Event were painting his fence.
Joe F: Yep.
Ren: It kind of really cracked me, because I remember doing a Big Event as anundergraduate student here really when I guess it first started. And I saw that and I was like why, you know this guy had the means to do these things, to either do it himself or pay someone to do the fence, but he was taking advantage of this organization. And this is nothing against Big Event, I mean I think they do do good things, but at the same time like you're saying, we need to do more for the communities that really need it like Shawsville and others. But yeah, I remember they were painting his fence and I just remember I was like what in the world? It's one of those things you scratch your head and it's like oh man. 80:00
So, kind of a big question here, if someone simply says the words Virginia Techwhat's the first thing you think of?
Joe F: That's a good question. This sounds really basic, I feel like the firstthing I might think of is like Tora Bridge. I did a lot of my studying there in undergrad. That was probably my favorite place to get work done. Granted one complaint is that when it was hot it was too cold in that building and when it was cold outside it was too hot inside the bridge. But yeah, I always think about the bridge. Even when I first visited Virginia Tech through the, what program? I think it was Access Program and I did a tour of Virginia Tech with a couple of students and we stayed up here for a while and stuff. But yeah, that bridge that really stuck out to me. You know that's awesome. It's a bridge you can walk through and study in over two streets. I don't know why that really stuck out to me, but that's probably the first thing that I think about. 81:00
Yeah, I don't know, because I don't necessarily have this romanticized view Iguess of Virginia Tech. It is no offense to Virginia Tech, but I mean I was the same way in high school. Maybe I'm lacking some gene for loyalty when it comes to places where I spent my time, but I guess I feel like at every place that I've been I was there for a reason to do work in that place. So maybe that's why I don't necessarily have an emotional attachment.
Ren: Yeah. But I do think that in what you do, in this kind of activism thatyou're doing, in a way I think you are, you may not have an emotional attachment to it, but I think you are really serving this community well by what you do.
Joe F: I appreciate it, yeah.
Ren: And to that point, Virginia Tech's 2016 Aspire Award recipient forCivility, so congratulations on that award.
Joe F: Thank you.
Ren: How did you find that out?82:00
Joe F: Yeah, that was cool. See I feel bad because I don't want this to, I don'tknow who all is going to hear this, I don't remember who recommended me at the time anymore, so no disrespect to them. My memory is fading I guess. But no, it was great. I appreciated being honored up there. It was bittersweet I think, and that's not to sound like a jerk, because sometimes I think there are a lot of folks doing a lot of hard work and activist work in the community that I don't think is recognized. And you know part of that blame could be on me if I'm not the one putting their names forward, right. Sometimes I am the one putting their names forward, but you know, just what kind of work and service is recognized and why is that work or service getting recognized. Because sometimes I think it can be debatable about what's considered courageous leadership, right. I 83:00remember my fianc√(c) Karen was with me the morning I got that award, and that was one of the topics on our tables. We had like a conversation piece, we were supposed to talk with the people at our tables, and one of the questions was like what is considered courageous leadership? Folks were talking about how just getting out of bed to face the day is courageous. And I think that a lot of times some of these words and definitions can get watered down for the sake of giving out awards, where because for me courageous leadership I would think that there has to be some risk involved, right. But yeah, I guess if we get out of bed each morning there's a risk that something bad could happen.
Joe F: But you know, to put yourself out there in public right, where people cantake retribution if they disagree with your views or something, for whatever 84:00that is, I will say that's a courageous stance, right, or require some courage.
So, just kind of make sure that when we do these awards and stuff that we'rereally doing justice by the terms that we're using and not watering them down for the sake of giving out an award or something like that. I'm not saying that BSA does that all the time or anything like that, but I just remember that being one of the things that stuck out to me at that ceremony. And again, being really grateful for the award, I love to have plaques and stuff that I can hang up with all the Ferguson stuff and even the marches and stuff. I save all the news articles I can if I have my picture in them or something like that. So it's always great being recognized, but at the same time recognizing that a lot of people who are doing more work or harder work aren't being recognized at the same time, so just kind of keeping that in mind.
Ren: Yeah. The last few questions, what does Virginia Tech mean to you?85:00
Joe F: What does Virginia Tech mean to me? That's a good question again.[Chuckles] Oh man. I mean, I think at the end of the day it comes down to it being a great school, right. So I had good and bad experiences here. And again, especially when it comes to the bad experiences I always want to stress that these experiences weren't something specific to Virginia Tech or Hokie culture or something like that, right. I think they are definitely a larger reflection of the society that we live in, so none of that stuff was new, but I had a great time at Tech. If I could do it over again I wouldn't go to a different institution. And now Tech is paying my bills, so I appreciate it.
Ren: You and me both.
Joe F: Yeah, so Tech is a great place. When I think of Virginia Tech granted I'mstill here, but I just remember it as my undergrad institution and my graduate institution, where I was able to become the person that I am today I feel like 86:00mostly through, I guess my parents and my sister and the folks that I met here along the way. Yeah.
Ren: What would you like people to know about you?
Joe F: Um, oh that's a good question. I guess to know about me specifically, Idon't know, they should come holler at me sometime, get to know me. I'm a friendly person. I like to talk, and in grad school I was on an assistantship for the first year and still as a supervisor position at Center for Survey Research. And then my second year I had a TAship through the English Department and I worked with Dr. Klagge and I taught the recitation section for knowledge to reality. 87:00
And so I love to have, I will just say open and honest conversations, right. I'mpretty open about my life and experiences and I won't sugarcoat it, and I don't feel shame I guess about anything that happened, because things happen and you know you live and you learn. I really like to share that with students when they have something that they are struggling with or they feel some kind of way about something or want to talk, you know, when a student is battling maybe their inner demons and their views about religion and the life that they want to live and if that's in contradiction. And just all those kind of conversations I try to be open with my students that this is a place, if you feel comfortable and need to talk about that kind of stuff I love to help you all through, because I think we all learn from other people and other peoples' experiences. If I can offer some kind of insight to help students in their kind of struggles or things 88:00they are having questions about, or even just want a different opinion on something I love to do that.
So, you know, I guess what I want people to know about myself, yeah, basicallythat. I'm in 140 Squires in the back of the ACE Center and my door is always open. I love to have these conversations with students and I know the struggles that folks have gone through, whether it's people of color or whatever and can relate to a lot. And sometimes that makes all the difference for other folks to be able to talk about it.
Ren: For a lot of these students knowing that there is someone they can talk toI think is important, and I think that's probably what the Cultural Community Center's mission is. You kind of said it earlier, you not seeing people that look like you and this is somewhere that you can go and kind of learn and hang out and feel a little more maybe at home. Because this campus and Blacksburg both can be an isolating place for some people unfortunately. 89:00
One thing I want to wrap up here with is you mentioned is Freire, I've heard itpronounced so many different ways.
Joe F: I say Freire.
Ren: I've heard it pronounced by even scholars here like on Pedagogy of theOppressed, I've heard it pronounced differently, about powerful and powerless and here's another quote, when I read that it was one of your favorite quotes I saw this one from Chris Hayes who is a journalist and an author, says, 'We cannot have a just society that applies the principal of accountability to the powerless and the principal of forgiveness to the powerful.' I've already really enjoyed that quote and talking about some of these things that you've been able to take your experiences growing up and then take that into your education, and then kind of blend those things together and put it out in this activism that 90:00you've done at the Cultural Community Center is just inspiring man. I'm so glad I got to meet you and talk to you. I do a lot of these interviews and I was really looking forward to this one, so I really appreciate it.
Joe F: Yes sir. Thank you.
Ren: Is there anything else you would like to say or clear heart clear mind?
Joe F: Yeah, for all my students out there that are going to make it big one daydon't forget about me. And if you need to hire a personal consultant for six figures I will come out and help you out. [Chuckles]
Ren: Joe Frazier, thank you so much man I really appreciate it.
Joe F: Yes sir. Thank you.
Ren: Nice talking to you man. Nice meeting you.
Joe F: The same.