Re-Assembly Required

Critical Autoethnography and Spiritual Discovery

by Gresilda A. Tilley-Lubbs (Author)
©2017 Textbook XXII, 154 Pages
Series: Critical Qualitative Research, Volume 24


Entering the academy as an older woman, the author had not foreseen the challenges that awaited her when she left behind a successful career as a public school Spanish teacher/department head to pursue a Ph.D. She took for granted her position of power and privilege in an educational setting, not at all prepared for the rapid demotion of respect, self-confidence, and salary that she soon faced as an older Ph.D. student/Spanish adjunct faculty member at a research university that would serve as her academic, and later professional, career home for the rest of her working years. In this critical autoethnography, she troubles her journey through the Ph.D. and the tenure process, as well as in her position as a tenured professor. She describes a process that led her into/through the murky waters and mire of academic machinations into the light of spiritual discovery to affirm wholeness and celebration of Self. What sets this book apart is the author’s refreshing willingness to critically interrogate her Self throughout the process.
Re-Assembly Required: Critical Autoethnography and Spiritual Discovery can be used in graduate and undergraduate courses in arts-based research writing, advancements in qualitative inquiry, autoethnography writing, creative non-fiction writing, women’s studies, and critical pedagogy. This book provides a methodological explanation of critical autoethnography and serves as an exemplar for how autoethnography can be combined with critical pedagogy to perform writing that examines the university as institution through the lens of personal narrative. This compelling creative non-fiction narrative is appropriate for both academic and non-academic audiences.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Re-Assembly Required
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Chapter 1. Write a Book About What?!
  • How It All Started
  • Following/Finding the Labyrinth
  • The Journey
  • Living the Dream … or Not
  • Examining and Understanding the Conundrum
  • The Story Within the Story
  • So Why Write About a Painful Time?
  • Chapter 2. Navigating Through the Academy with Critical Autoethnography
  • Telling and Theorizing the Stories
  • Critical Autoethnography as a Way of Thinking
  • Critical Autoethnography and Research
  • Chapter 3. Taking the Leap
  • Running Away
  • Running Away Again
  • An Escape Route … to a Better Place?
  • The Journey Begins
  • Life on an Alien Planet
  • Chapter 4. Settling In
  • Oh, I Forgot! You’re Luis Leal’s Academic Granddaughter!
  • The Present Becomes the Past
  • The Past Becomes the Present
  • Education Can Be Interesting Too?
  • Co-Opting Identity
  • Foreign Language Education
  • Instructional Design to Cross the Border
  • I Can’t Believe I Get Paid to Do This
  • Not Running Away … Running Away
  • No Time for Anything but Work
  • Crossing the Border Into Despair
  • And Now What?
  • Chapter 5. Am I Still an Appalachian Coal Miner’s Daughter?
  • And Now What?
  • Deconstructing Unintentional/Invisible Racism
  • Stories and Racism
  • Deconstructing White Liberalism
  • Hillbilly White Privilege and Racism
  • So What Is an Appalachian Coal Miner’s Daughter?
  • Am I Really a Coal Miner’s Daughter?
  • Re-Visioning the Past: Meta-Autoethnography of “The Coal Miner’s Daughter Gets a Ph.D.”
  • Chapter 6. Moving Forward, Not Running Away
  • Anger Mellows Into Resolve
  • Can I Be a Spanish Professor?
  • Preparing the Prospectus Exam
  • Virginia Tech Doesn’t Hire Its Own
  • Interviewing for Positions
  • Where Do I Belong?
  • Who Am I Now?
  • The Final Defense
  • Two Years in Limbo
  • Chapter 7. They Do Hire Their Own
  • Is It Worth It?
  • The Personal Meets the Professional
  • Moving Across Campus
  • So This Is Home Now
  • Settling In … Again
  • Life Becomes Complicated
  • The End of an Era
  • Chapter 8. 4/16: Public Tragedy Collides With Personal Trauma
  • The Descent
  • Rising Above the Ocean Floor
  • Epilogue: The Circularity of Closure
  • Chapter 9. Finding a Place to Belong
  • Time Warp: ICQI 2008 … U of I Campus 1964–1970 … ICQI 2008 …
  • Academic Roots
  • May 2016
  • May 2008
  • Going Home to Create Home
  • Experimenting with Autoethnography
  • Waiting … and Waiting
  • Chapter 10. Body and Spirit Reunited: Now What?
  • The Journey Winds Down
  • Transformation
  • The Un/Reality of Memory
  • Tales of a Recovering Academic
  • A Whole Spirit, or Spiritually Whole
  • What Comes Next?
  • Series Index

← xiv | xv →


During my senior year of high school, I told my music instructor that I wanted to play trumpet in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign marching band. “You are not good enough for the band,” she said, laughing. I stared at her, deflated by her comment, and then sheepishly agreed. “Okay,” I replied. “You know best.”

I began playing the piano at the age of 8 and the trumpet around 10. I performed many trumpet solos for Catholic masses, participated in an honors band at Bradley University, and regularly served as the lead trumpeter at school concerts and basketball games. Was I great? No. Did I practice enough? No. But I was decent, and when I played, I tried my best.

Yet, having worked with the music instructor for nearly a decade, I trusted her; she was an esteemed mentor. So, at the end of my senior year, I ran away from the trumpet and suppressed any desire for making music.

* * *

Thankfully, I have returned to making music. Only now I use language and a computer keyboard as my instruments. I type as though I am playing the piano again. I try to write rhythmically, often singing the prose to myself to create captivating tunes with words. I sometimes resent my music instructor ← xv | xvi → and reflect on the career that might have been. I am ashamed that I allowed one person to ruin a dream—even if she may have been insightful about my musical abilities. Although the encounter occurred more than two decades ago, the experience lives with me, especially when I think about the power and privilege I now wield as an instructor, advisor, and mentor.

I once had a student in a course—her last class before graduation. The student did not complete many of the assignments. She never asked for help and, when I sent emails regarding her grades, she rarely replied. I encouraged her to drop the course while she still could, but she refused to do so even when I told her that she could no longer pass. Maybe she didn’t believe me. Maybe she thought I would offer extra credit. Maybe she just didn’t care.

The student received a D in the course, an insufficient grade, and she failed to graduate. She never contacted me about the course and stayed away from the university for more than two years. When she returned, she not only had to retake the course, but also three additional courses as graduation requirements had changed. The student now had to devote additional time and money to getting a degree.

Although I do not blame myself for the student’s lack of effort or having to fulfill additional requirements, I cannot avoid comparing my experience with my music instructor to this student’s experience with me. I recognize that I, by assigning one non-passing grade, may have severely obstructed a student’s life. She didn’t have a degree and may have feared returning to campus. She also may have questioned her abilities as a student, but I will never know.

I think of other students as well. I can recall several times when, exhausted from teaching and service, I could not give a student an adequate care or attention, or times when I have been short-tempered as a new student asks the same damn question—a question that, although a first for this student, is one I have heard constantly from others who have come before; my issue, not theirs. I think about moments when I haven’t confronted instructors who demand students speak some standard of “proper English,” and who express a need to rid students of their accents, the use of “incorrect” cultural jargon, and any trace of bilingualism. I think about the time when I did not challenge three senior faculty members who criticized a new faculty member for spending too much time with students. This was not only a criticism of the faculty member’s ability to be a sufficient professor, but it also established how much time faculty members should (not) devote to students. These moments make me wonder if I have become my music instructor. I tell myself no, but such ← xvi | xvii → reflections make me more determined to act different from the person who halted my musical career.

* * *

I open with these reflections to offer a sense of the autoethnographic stories Gresilda (Kris) Tilley-Lubbs shares in Re-Assembly Required: Critical Autoethnography and Spiritual Discovery. Throughout, Kris reflects on her extensive experiences in education, including postponing a Ph.D., having an initially satisfying yet increasingly turbulent career teaching high school, returning to graduate school, acquiring a tenure-track faculty position, and achieving tenure. She shows how the past informs the present, highlights ways in which power and privilege infuse educational contexts, and emphasizes the need for supportive peers, teachers, and colleagues. She also writes against sterile social scientific research practices such as the use of pretentious jargon; stresses the need for cultural acknowledgment and accommodation; and demonstrates the importance of writing as inquiry, arguing that we often do not know what we will say until we write.

Taken together, these topics will make this book of interest to anyone who has struggled with self-confidence, anyone who has been told that they are not good enough.

This book will interest anyone who has encountered adversity within educational contexts, dealt with vicious academic personnel and bureaucracies, or who seeks hope in what sometimes feels like a cruel and gloomy world.

This book will interest anyone who is passionate about learning, storytelling, and critical pedagogy, and who strives to make research more accessible, practical, and kind.

After reading this book, I am even more grateful for Kris. She identifies the ways in which we—as instructors, advisors, and mentors—can support, and fail, students. She motivates me to have fewer regrets about careers that could have been. She models what it means to care for each other. And she shows how writing can free us from suffocating pasts. I am certain that you too, after reading, will be all the more grateful for her as well.

Tony E. Adams

Northeastern Illinois University ← xvii | xviii →

← xviii | 1 →



XXII, 154
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (March)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XXII, 154 pp.

Biographical notes

Gresilda A. Tilley-Lubbs (Author)

Gresilda A. Tilley-Lubbs (Ph.D., Virginia Tech) is Associate Professor of ESL and Multicultural Education at Virginia Tech. Her work troubles the role of researcher/teacher power and privilege in vulnerable communities. She uses alternative literary genres, including narrative, poetry, and ethnodrama, published in both English and Spanish.


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