The Chair

Season 2 premiere! We take a deep dive into The Chair, the new Netflix series starring Sandra Oh about the first woman of colour chair of the English department at the fictional Pembrooke University. Everyone (or at least all academics!) are talking about this new show, created by Amanda Peat and Annie Julia Wyman, and we have lots of thoughts, from the moments that resonated with us to why many are finding the show a bit triggering.

Joining us on are Jamie Chai Yun Liew (@thechaiyun), an Associate Professor and Director of the University of Ottawa Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, and Kimberly McKee (@mckeekee), past Director of the Kutsche Office of Local History and an Associate Professor in the Integrative, Religious, and Intercultural Studies Department at Grand Valley State University.

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Automatically generated, lightly edited.

Ethel Tungohan 0:00
I was so pissed off. I hope this isn’t just trauma bonding.

Jamie Liew 0:03
It’s okay if it turns out to be that way, I’m okay with that. Yeah, I can commiserate for a long time on this.

Ethel Tungohan 0:21
I’m Dr. Ethel Tungohan, an Associate Professor of Politics at York University. Welcome to season two of Academic Aunties. In today’s episode, we’re taking a deep dive into The Chair. If you haven’t heard about it yet, The Chair is a Netflix series starring Sandra Oh, as Ji-Yoon Kim, the first ever woman of color Chair of the English department at the fictional Pembroke University. We talk about the aha moments that made the show resonate for us, why the show was triggering to watch, and a lot of other things. Needless to say, there are spoilers, you’ve been warned. Joining us today is Jamie Liew, an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law, and the Director of the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa, and the host of the podcast Migration Conversations. We also have Kimberly McKee, an Associate Professor in the Integrative Studies program at Grand Valley State University, and past Director of the Kusche Office of Local History. I have long admired Jamie and Kim and it is such a privilege to have them here with us today.

Kim, Jamie. The Chair. Visceral reactions, immediate reactions, we felt all of the feelings. What did you think about the show? How do you feel when you were watching the show?

Jamie Liew 1:45
Let me just say that when I first heard that this show was coming out, I was being offered the position of Chair of the Institute of feminist and Gender Studies. And so I was mulling over my decision, and I really wished it was out before making my decision, it would have been informative. Um, having said that, you know, it’s the early days of my position, but I was, you know, very interested in the fact that there was a woman that looked just like us, you know, an Asian woman taking on this leadership role in an academic institution. It couldn’t be more on point to our lived experience. So I was really, you know, word was that the show was coming out, I was really excited. I really was interested in how the story would be told, having binge watched this in one night, I can say that, it’s it certainly was triggering, you know. It certainly was, in some ways, traumatizing watching your life unfold on a TV screen. And in some ways it ignited some interesting conversations. And you know, people are messaging me going “is this really what it’s like,” you know, so it’s really interesting, because a lot of people don’t realize what it’s like to be a racialized person in an academic institution.

Ethel Tungohan 3:08
Awesome. Thanks, Jamie. How about you, Kim?

Kim McKee 3:11
When I binge watched it, it was, for me, both jarring, right, a lot of things that got they got right, in terms of just really capturing some of those nuances that are certainly lost, especially when you’re talking about Asian American or Asian women’s experiences in higher ed. And then there are some parts that just seemed super far fetched, but also made for TV, right. And so I think that when considering both Ji-Yoon and Yasmin as colleagues, and what that feels like, that’s where I could see those similarities. But also thinking too, about my own experiences both achieving and earning tenure at a regional comprehensive in the Midwest, as well as a my time as a postdoc at a small liberal arts college. There are moments where I was like, Oh, yeah, that happened, or Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that happen to friends of mine. I think for a lot of folks, at least within my own social media, one of the biggest things were people talking about sort of the white mediocrity of Bill Dobson. What does it mean that Ji-Yoon ends up with somebody like him?

Ethel Tungohan 4:19
It’s these aha moments that I found really hard to grapple with. I just remember in the first episode, because it was pitched as a comedy, right? And as the episode went on, and you know, she starts the department meeting. And it’s like, this phalanx of like, whiteness. I was like, Oh, God, and so I kept waiting for it to be funny. But it just wasn’t funny. I felt that it was depicting my life, obviously, you know, stylized and Hollywoodized, right. But I think I wanted to ask both of you were there particular scenes that resonated with you particularly?

Jamie Liew 5:02
I can jump in. So one of the scenes that I thought was very alive for me was, there was a time when, early in my career where there was a question of whether I could teach a particular subject, because of my junior status. And some adjunct professors had taught this particular course. And they were seen as stars of the field, even though they were not permanent fixtures of the faculty. And I was asked to co teach, despite the fact that it was very open and discussed with me that I would be doing all of the work. I would be doing all the marking, the organizing, the meeting of students, but that, you know, this very famous adjunct professor would be teaching this course with me. And to be honest, at the time, you know, I did contemplate it, you know, I wasn’t put in the position that Yas, Yasmin was put in, but, you know, I certainly felt a lot of pressure. But I pushed back against it. And as a result, probably burned some bridges in doing so. But I feel like a lot of us sometimes are, you know, asked to do things that are not ideal situations, especially in the teaching environment, are asked to do things to make other people feel good, or asked to do things to make other things work for other people, and not necessarily for us. And I felt that for Yasmin. And then I felt that that she was put in a compromising position in her teaching that as a pre tenure person, her teaching evaluations would be subject to this shared responsibility in the classroom. I felt angry for her, I felt sad for her I felt, you know, really, I felt like it was very real that I you know, that I, it made me rethink, you know, the kind of experience that I almost fell into, and pushed back on but but felt like I paid the price for you know?

Ethel Tungohan 6:57
For sure. And just to clarify, right, Jamie, like when you say, because you’re at the Faculty of Law, so a star adjunct prof is someone who is like a practicing lawyer or someone who just is more known in legal circles, and is kind of taking this on on top of their kind of legal practice. Is that how it is?

Jamie Liew 7:14
Yeah, and, you know, to be honest, I had a lot of respect for the person at the time. But I didn’t feel it was fair that I would get half teaching credit, was expected to do all of the work, and also was expected to compromise my own ideas about how to teach the course, or what my, you know, role would be in that course. And so, you know, looking back, I do have regret that we couldn’t end, you know, resolve this in a way in which we all could have been professionals about it, I felt very constrained. And now, I feel like there was a lot of difficult discussions around this, and I felt like it was unnecessary. And I felt like, at the time, you know, I wasn’t treated like a colleague that was in a tenure track position, I felt like I was being strong armed to do something to make someone else feel comfortable about their position and, and to keep a star, you know, affiliate of the faculty involved.

Ethel Tungohan 8:14
Well, I do want to say as well, like that, that hurt me. Like it was the first episode and, you know, Ji-Yoon tells Yas, to amalgamate her class, right, her more popular class with what’s the name Elliot, is it Elliot? Yeah, okay, Elliot. And then on the first class, he’s like, Can you just hand these out? Like the handouts, right? And he was, she was treating her as a TA, when in actual fact, like, it was for a class that was over prescribed. And I think what you see Jamie resonates with me as well, because it’s like, women of color are expected to just do what we have to in order to make it work, even if we will face repercussions in doing so.

Jamie Liew 8:15
If I could just add just a second of that, that, you know, that scene where she was handing out, asking, you know, it, that, to me was so pointed, because I felt like, that’s what my experience would have been, like, you know, and, and I felt like, you know, what, I feel very conflicted because for Ji-Yoon, and I felt like, you know, what was her role in it, you know, she she sought as a way to try to promote Yasmine, her tenure application forward, but at the same time, you know, she didn’t really have Yasmin’s true best interests at heart in terms of her development of her career and her placement in the department. So it’s a very conflicting and I think, very real conundrum that people face when they’re trying to manage all of these elements.

Kim McKee 9:43
I think this idea of Yas is concerned about being seen as the TA right. And what that looks like, also speaks to the way in which women of color on campus or who are faculty are constantly mistaken for either undergraduate students or graduate students and what does that mean in terms of authority in the classroom in terms of people taking seriously our collective expertise. But for me in terms of things that really resonated with me, are those exchanges between Yas and Ji-Yoon. As they both sort of negotiate what it means to be women of color as Ji-Yoon has to also wrestle with what does it mean to be a woman of color as chair, and the various power dynamics that happen with that position? Do I wish obviously that some of this was written better? Where we could have fleshed out Yas, this character, in ways that were given to some of the other white characters in this series? Of course, right, because but, you know, the fact that she ends up leaving, right, and like letting, do you know, sort of at the end of the end of the season, I don’t think that’s surprising to anybody. Like when you’re not, when you’re not putting it, putting your money where your mouth is, in terms of you really want to support students of color, by retaining faculty of color? Well, this is what happens, right? This isn’t shocking to anybody. But I think for a lot of folks where I saw things split, and I don’t know, at all, if this was a conversation that you and I were also having on Twitter, was how folks who watched it, their reactions were very much rooted based on their own sort of positionality is within the Academy

Ethel Tungohan 11:20
You know, what I’ve noticed as well, it’s almost like, and I’m probably mispronouncing it, it’s like a Rorschach test, like, you know, how you see the show depends on where you are in your positionality. And so what I found really interesting is I do have another colleague who was like, you know, maybe this was true in 1995. And I was like, really? Because I think it’s true here. And then yet another, usually it’s I find that it’s usually cis hetwhite men who were like, please, it’s a satire, and you’re like, I don’t think, if it’s too close to home, does that fit the definition of satire?

Jamie Liew 11:52
Can I just say to you that a lot of things that I think are poignant about the show, too, is that and what you’re saying is that some of these things would not have not happened to certain people, because some people would think they wouldn’t be able to get away with it. Like, I don’t know, if how many of my, you know, white male colleagues would have been asked to teach a course with a star, adjunct professor and expect to do all the work, and only get half the credit for it. Do you know, I mean, so I think there’s something to be said about what I think the show depicts accurately in the sense that, you know, certain people will be asked to do things and other people will not do you know what I mean, and there’s certain kinds of limits of that. Right. And then the other thing is, you know, what Kim was talking about, you know, Bill, it was a character that I thought was done well, in some ways, because he got away with so much.

Kim McKee 12:42
I mean, I think too, when we’re thinking about Bill, or just not even about Bill, I think what you were saying to, sorry to bring it back further, though, about people being asked to do things, I think we see that a lot when you delve deeper into Joan. So regardless of like, I felt bad, I think she’s a great actress. And, but there’s like that weird RateMyProfessor subplot that I’m not sure, like, what was happening with that with the IT guy. So I’m just gonna let that sort of sit over there. But I, but I think her reflections about her own time in her own career in terms of being stalled and being asked to do all this service really speaks to how gendered the profession has been in terms of who’s expected to do certain kinds of service. And we also saw that a little bit, I think, when Elliot was talking to his wife about her own tenure denial, but how he didn’t see, and somebody else has written about this, and I forgot where I saw this. But how he also just didn’t see what he was doing to Yas through that same lens. Right. So it was seeing completely different. And of course, there’s like a racialized gendered thing happening there. So I mean, I think then to get back to sort of what this question around Bill and sort of the leeway he’s had, I think that was, you know, as much as folks want to deride sort of a lot of his character, but I think that was the purpose of his character was to be so over the top, not only in terms of just sort of his own actions, but also how much leeway and room he had to get away with certain things. But in terms of both second chances with the institution, but also second chances with Ji-Yoon. And I mentioned then what it says in terms of treatment of Asian American women or women of color, right, just in the show, right? Because she’s kind of cleaning up his mess, both personally and professionally.

Jamie Liew 14:42
Can I also say that the other dichotomy in terms of like, you know, for a large part of the show, you know, there’s that distinguished lectureship, and you know, there’s a lot of attention being paid to giving it to this white man, David Duchovny, who’s a star, you know, but yet there’s this other underlying understanding that Yasmin is a star in her own. Right. Right. But yet, for whatever reason, people don’t see it, except Ji-Yoon. Right? And so it’s really interesting how this depiction of who is a star, what does it mean to be a star, and then this kind of contrasting about how Yasmin likes, you know, slowly drips, you know, things as to what her research is, throughout the series, but then we hear David Duchovny’s like aged talk about his dissertation, you know, and you realize he’s only a star because he was on, you know, a TV show. So, you know, it’s, it’s really interesting to see what is valued, and what kinds of star value is being attributed to worth worthiness in, in that, and then I thought, you know, the series did a really great job of kind of depicting that, in a sense, in a very, you know, has-been academic, you know, or tried academic against Yasmin, who is a true star, you know. Who has been recognized as a star by Yale and is at risk of being poached, you know, and this is, I think, a very common problem, you know. And as a chair, now, I’m thinking about, one of my greatest fear is, you know, not mentoring or nurturing, you know, my colleagues who are racialized, who are junior, and fostering an environment where they want to stay. That scene where Ji-Yoon says, I stayed here because of you, you know. Part of the reason why I joined the Institute, because there’s some fabulous people there. And, you know, it would be such a disservice for me as chair to see some of these people go, so I, I, I feel so much for Ji-Yoon where she says, You know, I stayed because of you and she has an interest and she was fighting for Yas’ place on this distinguished lectureship. And yet there’s these other forces that define what is a star scholar.

Kim McKee 16:52
Well, I also think to right where she said she stayed for her. She also says she stayed for Joan and Bill, and I think there’s room there, like, what did Joan and Bill look like, you know, five years before? Right? Because I think to just assume that they were always like this, I think really misses being able to sort of see these people as three dimensional characters, right? And to really think about how with mentors, your mentors don’t have to look like you. So for you, and perhaps one of her strongest mentors and advocates at the university could have been Joan. But I think too, it could also serve as an explanation for the kind of relationship Ji-Yoon and Bill has always had. So maybe, but it was never like this. And I realize I’m sounding like some funny Bill apologist. That was never my intention. But as I watched it a second time, right, so I watched, I’ve binge watched the series again last night in this before we’re doing this, I was struck by that line where she’s where she’s saying, No, I, I stayed because of basically Joan, Bill and Yas.

Ethel Tungohan 18:02
What’s interesting, as you were saying that Kim is I was thinking of Yas, her parting line to Ji-Yoon right, which contrasts with Ji-Yoon’s line at the meeting where she was like, just because he removed bill I’m paraphrasing obviously, doesn’t mean the structural problems aren’t existing. But what I love is thinking that thinking of that line in juxtaposition with the line that Yas says where Ji-Yoon was like, Look, you know, you like you’re the only Black professor here, right? Like this is why, you know, we want you to stay, you know. But then Yas goes, and that’s why I’m leaving, because I’m the only one. What is this show us about the deficiencies of liberal modes of inclusion then, right? Like, it’s not about singular people. It’s about the structure. How are how are we kind of fighting for change when the structures of the institution are so rotten?

Kim McKee 18:55
Well, that sounds demoralizing. But I mean, I think it is also really good, though, because it prompts us to raise those questions. But I don’t know if folks who are watching, right, so thinking about administrators, for instance, who are watching who can sort of make those decisions around hiring, especially now in this mid COVID, I guess one could say this mid COVID time in terms of university budgets, and in this era of budget cuts, right, where we are talking about, as they reference in the show, butts in seats and what that means. What does that mean for hiring practices and as well as retention practices. So if we’re thinking about, we need to not only just continually to have the only the sole person of color in a department, the sole queer woman in the department, those kinds of things. Well, what’s what is needed to have full transformational change to happen right in ways where it goes beyond feeling like tokenistic inclusion, or that person in this case, Yas, or even some of the other faculty members of color that were referenced in the show by students, but not outright sort of present within the series? Like, what does it mean, then, for those folks who those folks who are actually doing the work at our own institutions who aren’t necessarily being recognized, or who’s labor and advising and mentoring and all of these other sort of informal service obligations that we all have, you know, where are those being made visible and legible, to to really encourage more investment versus thinking well, so and so can do it. They’ve always been doing it while they’re always been doing it, because they’ve been the only person.

Jamie Liew 20:40
For me too, when Kim when you’re mentioning about how Ji-Yoon mentioned, Joan, you know, I also saw that as, you know, a nod to mentorship too, you know, and that Ji-Yoon, was having a reckoning moment, I guess, at that time to think about her own role as mentoring Yas in a way, you know. And the, I guess the failure of that in seeing Yas leave, you know, and that feeling of, you know, did I do all I could do to mentor this person? And I think that’s a really important aspect to at least, you know, my own experience. I think the only reason why I’ve lasted this long in academia is because I’ve had amazing people who I could go to, to talk to about things to get advice on to read the bylaws with me. I mean, that scene where Yas is like, you know, you read the bylaws, and I’m you know, yes. Yes, it’s, you know, it’s a complicated place to be employed at it’s a complicated place to, to work in, you know, despite the fact that it is, in some respects, a dream job to be able to research and teach things that you love. Right. It’s a fraught place. And I think, you know, when she starts talking about that, that role of mentorship is really interrogated, I think in the show, and I thought that was really pointed about, you know, what, where have all these relationships fallen. And, you know, everyone’s in disarray by the end. And it just seems very heartbreaking to watch that.

Kim McKee 22:14
Well, but I wonder, Jamie, if it’s, if it really was a failure of mentorship on Ji-Yoon’s part with Yasmin, or if it was a failure of something else? And I say this, because maybe it was the mentoring that allowed her that allowed or encouraged, yes, to feel like, oh, she could leave. And I’m not saying that she needed like Ji-Yoon’s approval, but rather thinking about maybe it was a mentoring relationship, or at least from Yas’ perspective, where she also sort of realized, okay, this is it, like Ji-Yoon is being as transparent as she can about what this institution can offer me, I have to look somewhere better for myself for my own self care. Right? And so, maybe it maybe, yes, Ji-Yoon’s failure, rests with her ability to sort of effectively chair that situation. Right. But maybe it also speaks, though, to the relationship they had built over time, where, and the other mentors that Yas had outside of the institution to encourage her to leave.

Jamie Liew 23:15
So can I say that I don’t fault Ji-Yoon for Yas’ departure. I certainly see that as part of the, the structures around academic institutions and how it is sometimes, you know, works against keeping and retaining women of color. But having said that, you know, just in my very short time as chair, you really do feel an attachment to your faculty. And you and I guess I kind of wretchedly you know, felt that failure, that moment of failure for Ji-Yoon. All this to say is that we were all of this heavily, even though it is not our fault, you know, and that the structures around us create these messes. And yet, we’re, in some ways, Ji-Yoon’s like you said, left to pick up the mess, and we’re left to deal with with all of that both, you know, intellectually, but also emotionally as you as you say, Kim.

Ethel Tungohan 24:21
What I really find fascinating about this conversation is it’s making me think of three mentorship relationships. And it’s making me think like what you both were saying, women are always and women of color are always tasked with picking up the pieces, right. So we have Joan and Ji-Yoon, and we have Ji-Yoon and Yas, but we also have Bill and Laila. Right, like Bill is supervising on this. I think she’s Filipina, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because I want everyone to be Filipino on this show because I’m Filipina, but he’s supervising this woman of color grad student who is also his TA, who, you know, has been getting trying to get him to read her dissertation and she’s like, cleaning up the mess, you know when he’s having his breakdowns. And she’s the one like trying to get Ji-Yoon to figure out where a Bill is so he can keep teaching his classes. And it strikes me that there’s different portrayals of mentorship there. And I would argue that he’s not as engaged with thinking about the effects of his actions on Laila, his supposed mentee as opposed to kind of Ji-Yoon and even Joan.

Kim McKee 25:24
Well, and it’s kind of like late in the game mentoring, right, where he ends up reading the manuscript and sending it to his publisher, right, or it’s trying to, like open that door for like the very end. But I think it does also speak to at least when I was reading it, or watching it, I sort of read that situation is thinking too, about how Asian American and Asian women are read by society, right. So thinking about sort of her positioning, not only as a grad student, but also as her body as like an Asian woman, and what that signifies in terms of people’s assumptions about sort of being in that subservient type of role. Um, but I also, when you’re mentioning, Laila, I also am thinking about the reporter, right? So you have two Asian women walking and talking next to each other. And then you also have Ji-Yoon, who is advising the graduate students. So for me, there was a lot of interesting things to say about sort of just Asian American representation, as well as sort of those power relations. Then when we’re thinking about sort of these three Asian women kind of in conversation with one another vis-a-vis, sort of the scandal around a white guy.

Ethel Tungohan 26:37
Yes, that’s true. Oh, my goodness, that I didn’t even think about that. Like, it’s like, these three Asian women all have to kind of think through what to make of the scandal involving this white guy, right? It’s like, again, it’s it’s it centers, the white guy, but it’s also interesting how they all are. I mean, the reporter had like one scene, but they’re all kind of understanding it differently from different frameworks. Right.

Jamie Liew 27:03
If I can add on that, I just thought that the scene with the aunties also looking at Bill from afar and commenting on him also added to that, you know, you’re just like, wow, there’s like, a lot of astute observation by Ji-Yoon’s aunties, you know, and, and some, you know, underlying commentary about Ji-Yoon’s life, you know, and and what they perceive her professional life to be as well.

Ethel Tungohan 27:28
Yeah. But it’s still kind of centering Bill’s narrative.

Kim McKee 27:34
Well, no, so okay, so but I think…So you saying that just made something click. So I didn’t realize until this morning when I was being nerding out on this is that Amanda Peat and Jay Duplass the actor apparently had worked previously together. And she was excited about working with him again. And she initially when she ended up hooking up with the, oh, I’m blanking on her name. The other other main writer, the one who has a PhD from Harvard, right [ed. note: Annie Julia Wyman]? She had sort of conceived of sort of a show about a widower and sort of his experiences. So I think then, right, it becomes this merging of that idea, as well as sort of the co-creators idea in terms of what the show would look like. So I think, if you take all of that backstory into account, it makes sense, then we’re kind of all centering around this white guy. I don’t know. I just I know for better for worse.

Ethel Tungohan 28:37
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think a lot of my most heated discussions about this has surrounded the character of Bill, which is frustrating, because it’s supposedly a show about Ji-Yoon, but yet it’s still revolved around Bill and I just, I don’t know, and going back to what I said about it being a Rorschach test or whatever. I have had colleagues who were like, oh, but Bill so sympathetic, and I’m like, well, is he? He’s given allowances that, you know, women of color would never be given right? Like, I can never show, I cannot have a year long breakdown. You know, like, I can’t, I can’t show like, what like porn, or like…well, yeah, that was how it was construed. But still, I would be like, sent to the dean. I would be reprimanded. Right? Like, yeah, no, it was his wife giving birth right?

Kim McKee 29:28
Yeah, you can’t have such a like an extended bereavement in that kind of way if you’re not a white guy. But I think what I think to go back to sort of the original question that launched sort of this conversation about scenes and moments that resonated with me, I think it was also though what kept me going was Ji-Yoon and her her dad. Yeah, right that seeing a complex Asian American family kept me going, not only because we saw sort of Korean and English being spoken sort of interchangeably, right with with such ease, but seeing it in a show that wasn’t marketed as sort of being like an Asian or Asian American show. But just kind of having it normalized in these other sorts of ways, or even seeing the doljanchi. Right. So seeing that first birthday, and going to the dol and drinking soju and seeing the ajummas as they’re talking about, Bill, but also sort of reflecting on kind of this, these broader dynamics. I don’t know where I’ve seen that in sort of, in a show like this, right in a show that’s going to have such a wide audience.

Jamie Liew 30:40
I agree. I have to say that that storyline was very poignant for me. It was very powerful to convey how professional Asian women do caregiving that they rely on their community, they rely on their elders and how their elders do it without question. I really loved the father character. I loved how he was steadfast in speaking Korean no matter what. I loved how he also dressed up in that Mexican outfit and tried to support Juju and how he was like, you know, getting her excited to go into school. I also, you know, as much as the story centered around Bill, I felt like Bill was used as a vehicle during the dol to center the aunties’ discussion about Ji-Yoon’s life. They focused on him as a way to provide commentary about their worries, their aspirations and expectations about Ji-Yoon. And in sometimes a very funny way about how they would comment. Well, you know, that she couldn’t adopted a Korean kid, but Angelina Jolie could, kind of thing you know, but I felt like, for me, Bill was, so much as I saw him just as a vehicle for the aunties to talk about you. And so I viewed it differently. I viewed him as just an opening for them to kind of be like, Ji-Yoon’s not here. But let’s talk about her anyways. Because that guy’s there.

Ethel Tungohan 32:03
Were there things about the show that you really want us to talk about. That you’re just like, Oh, my gosh, this might be a moment for catharsis, if we were to just like, put it out there?

Jamie Liew 32:13
Can I just say it was also cathartic to see conversations between Ji-Yoon and Yasmin, and it reminded me of like, you know, the kind of kinship relationships I have with other colleagues and, and just, you know, it really resonate with me that you have different kinds of conversations with different kinds of colleagues. And and, you know, you don’t get a lot of interaction in in Hollywood or TV where you have two powerful professional women, having, you know, an honest conversation like that. I just, it was very poignant for me to see that to see it depicted in that way. And also reminded me of the importance of the kinds of kinship relationships we form in our profession. Right?

Kim McKee 32:59
To go off of that, I think you’re right, that those conversations between Yas and Ji-Yoon really reminded me of the conversations we have in hallways, the conversations we have over coffee, and drinks at conferences, when we are with other women of color. Thinking about the conversations at the that that was at the cocktail party, right, where it’s Joan, Ji-Yoon and Yasmin standing together, right? I think there’s something to be said about even those moments, right? Because those moments folks typically aren’t privy to right, unless you’re part of these groups. And what does that mean to sort of have them shown, especially when I think if if you are listening, if folks are listening to sort of the chatter about the show with intent, they shouldn’t be realizing that this really resonates for many of women of color. I mean, at the point in which folks are like, I actually can’t watch the show, because it’s aspects of it seemed to real people should be paying attention. If well, then who knows, but it should be giving folks pause. Because seeing that kind of kinship, seeing that kind of mentoring happening. And that support for me was really nice. And it provided again, these moments of opportunity, where I really enjoyed watching the show.

Ethel Tungohan 34:24
For sure. And I think one thing that we haven’t talked about, but I do want to mention because I think it’s important to mention is I do you like seeing, you know, the students of color advocating for Yas, I do. Like seeing the students of color mobilizing and understanding how the academy works and what they need to do in order to watch out for years. I feel that that resonated the most strongly with me because I’ve had so many conversations with students of color who come to my classes, grad students and undergrads and it becomes a deeper conversation. A more meaningful conversation, a more meaningful relationship by virtue of our identities and our social locations, right?

Jamie Liew 35:06
Yeah, didn’t you find that scene where there was these group of students who walked into Ji-Yoon’s office, and they were, you know, raising all these issues? And all she could say was, I know, you know, like, it was just like, she didn’t have to say much more. She was just like, I’ve lived through it, you know, and they understood, like, I felt like that moment to that depicted an important moment where racialized students felt comfortable to come to her to speak openly and speak, honestly. And she was like, Yes, you know, and I thought that was also very powerful moment that maybe not a lot of other people know that that happens very often, right, that you know, racialized and women of color are often the go-to for students, and we often go to them and lean on them as well. And and so there’s this relationship that sometimes is unseen.

Ethel Tungohan 35:54
Final question, if I may, like I know, because I just really want to talk about this with people the ending. Do you like it? Or maybe not like it? What do you think? It’s a TV show?

Kim McKee 36:08
I mean, it’s, it’s doing a particularly well, as you know, I think it’s doing the job in which it’s set out to do for me it was that the when you think about sort of the beginning of it, beginning of the series, in the end, it felt like, it wasn’t surprising to see them get to that point. Right. You know, even after all of this other stuff happened in the middle, but I wasn’t was I satisfied? Of course not. You know, what I’ve wanted to go differently, what I’ve wanted sort of the vote of no confidence to happen and for folks to actually stand up for her. But you know, I’m also if we, if we think about this in terms of the realities and the lived experiences of folks, it’s, you know, I think a lot of times, it may, it could be making us uncomfortable, because it feels so real, too.

Ethel Tungohan 36:58
And just to clarify, the ending we mean is when Joan, when when Ji-Yoon is like, you know, Joan, you’re going to be chair, we’re not talking about like, hints that Bill and Ji-Yoon are like getting back on track, right? Because for me, what was..

Kim McKee 37:09
Oh, I’m sorry, I guess for me, I guess I’m for me, I’m talking about both. So for me it was it. It wasn’t surprising. So this is the vote of no confidencein sort of, you know, Joan, now, sort of, I guess, being chair, right? Because in some ways, you’re trading a woman of color for a white woman. But what are we actually really trading? Right. Right, besides removing racialized misogyny, but there’s still other misogyny going to be happening, right. But then with, with, I guess, Bill and Ji-Yoon, ending up together, I mean, wasn’t that where we were going the entire time? Wasn’t that wasn’t that why he was watching Juju to prove that, like, he’s a decent guy underneath. That likability factor.

Jamie Liew 37:49
I expected it to have an unsatisfactory ending, let’s be honest, places like academia is a very, you know, fraught place. And I feel like the show really depicted that, and we were never going to be satisfied, because in reality, it’s, you know, there’s a lot of things that are unsatisfactory about the situation for a lot of racialized faculty. So, to me, it was I thought it was poignant that that happened. I’m like, yeah, typical, you know. And it to me, like that actually added, you know, to the validation, that there is going to be an unsatisfactory ending, unfortunately, for Ji-Yoon and I felt that for her, you know, and I felt like she wasn’t given a chance. And, and I felt like this is so pointed of like, you know, for a person like her, she can only make one mistake. And that’s it. And that’s what happened.

Ethel Tungohan 38:46
That’s true. And I think, yeah, you’re right. Both of you were right. It was never going to be a satisfactory ending. It’s not like Ji-Yoon would get like some sort of promotion or whatever for it, because we’re not allowed to fail. Right. Like, and she clearly wasn’t allowed to do that.

Kim McKee 39:01
I mean, she could get promoted to Chief Diversity Officer.

Ethel Tungohan 39:04
Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Yes. She will be the EDI like VP, whatever. Oh, my goodness. Okay, that’s another like another can of worms and trauma.

Kim McKee 39:14
I was like, well, could she thought?

Jamie Liew 39:20
Should she she take that job? I don’t know. Maybe we should start.

Ethel Tungohan 39:25

Jamie Liew 39:26
We can do season 2 with her as an EDI person.

Ethel Tungohan 39:30
Well, thank you so much. Professor McKee, Professor Liew for this, like super enlightening conversation. I think I’m still pissed off at the ending, but that’s okay. Like, but definitely, I’ve been wanting to have a conversation with brilliant folks about this. And I really appreciate both of you taking the time out of your day to come.

Jamie Liew 39:54
It’s been an honor to be part of this podcast.

Kim McKee 39:57
Yeah. Thank you so much. This has been wonderful.

Ethel Tungohan 40:03
There was so much more that we talked about that we couldn’t include. Kim actually also talked about how the show depicted adoption. Kim’s Twitter feed has her thoughts on this. Check out a link to this thread in our show notes. Also check out Kim’s book, Disrupting Kinship: Transnational Politics of Korean Adoptees in the United States, for a critical look at international adoption. There is so much more we could have analyzed too. One thing is for sure, The Chair has generated many conversations. For me, the most salient part of the show was how realistic it felt in its depictions of academia’s power structures.

That’s Academic Aunties for this month. If you enjoy this podcast, help us get the word out. The best way to do that is to leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts. It really helps. If you want to get in touch with us and read all the show notes for this and other episodes, visit We’d love to hear from you. We’re also on Twitter at @AcademicAuntie. Today’s episode of Academic Aunties was hosted by me Dr. Ethel Tungohan and produced by myself and Wayne Chu. Tune in next time when we talk to more academic aunties. Until then, take care. Be kind to yourself. And don’t be an asshole.