Historian Walter D. Greason has a great social media community
Walter D. Greason, PhD is a historian, educator and urbanist. He is Chair of the Department of Educational Counseling and Leadership at Monmouth University, helping to shape future educational leaders.
“In my new role, I get to basically teach principals and superintendents how to build very effective schools and school districts.”
You’ve probably encountered Walter’s tweets at one point or another if you’re a regular on #AcademicTwitter. With a community of over 26k on Twitter alone, Walter is prolific on social media.
In this chat, I ask about his research and work with The Wakanda Syllabus and Afrofuturism.
I’ve been hearing about Dr. Greason since my time at Monmouth as an Honors School student, of which he served as Dean not long after my graduation. So I was excited to be able to chat with him about his social media life. And he has some great advice from you.
Walter’s top recommendations for social media are
- having multiple topics of interest helps broaden and engage your audience
- it’s important to be aware of not just the content you create, but the content that you like and share
- and, building community takes work, but it’s well worth it
Learn why he suggests these, and why YouTube is his favorite platform. And, hear what it’s like to have such a big audience! It may surprise you.
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Jennifer: All right. So today we are talking with Dr. Walter D. Greason, an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Educational Counseling and Leadership at Monmouth University.
Hi Walter. How are you today?
Walter: Doing very well. Jennifer, how are you?
Jennifer: I’m doing great. So just to get started, I’d love to hear a little bit about you.
Walter: Wow. So you can go ahead and take up a lot of time giving me an open ended question. I am, you know, started as a historian in Higher Ed was fortunate enough to get a lot of background having to do with the industrialization, slavery suburbanization in my research and then I over time got to do a lot of work with kind of a honors or gifted education. And then now my new role, I get to basically teach principals and superintendents how to build very effective schools and school districts.
Jennifer: That’s amazing. That’s so many different things. And it sounds like, um, you’ve really enjoyed working with different groups of people. Uh, what is your current research and current work about, outside of the working with principals and superintendents?
Racism, urban design, and critical media studies
Walter: So at the core of my research agenda really are three things. So, racism, urban design and critical media studies. So there, there are three whole giant fields on their own, but I look at the ways that they intersect.
And so I’ve spent a lot of time, probably 30 years studying how white supremacy evolved and the ideas about different races of people got conflated with how that got conflated with culture. And so the intellectual underpinnings and the social consequences of racism are the foundation of all my work.
But then from there I started to get into the understanding of urban design.
How did cities function? And in studying cities I studied a lot about their economics. Uh, basically how commercial markets formed. The tensions that led to the civil war around free markets versus, you know, the use of slaves.
Ultimately the things that I study here in New Jersey the most are about suburbs and the way that real estate practices reinforce patterns that we inherited from early industrialization. And in some cases even from slavery.
The last phase is the stuff that’s gotten the most notoriety is the critical media studies.
Looking at Afrofuturism is really the core of my work in that area is the idea that not only is there African American history, but there’s also within science fiction, the need to project people from different cultures into the future.
And so when we don’t do that, we end up replicating systems of oppression. And the work I do in Afrofuturism is about creating a more just and inclusive world.
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The Wakanda Syllabus
Jennifer: That’s very interesting. And is that what inspired the what Wakanda Syllabus?
Walter: Yes. So I had been working on questions around the Black Panther character as far back as 1998-1999.
I had worked in kind of exchanged ideas with the writers starting around 2002 or 2003.
And I taught a class on the Black Panther in 2003.
Yeah. So we spent a lot of time from my 2003 to like 2010 exploring the possibility of maybe one day there could be a feature film. And so it was absolutely miraculous when, when we saw the character appear in the Captain America: Civil War, not Civil War, Winter Soldier movie.
And then we knew the opportunity was on us. And so we started putting a lot of ideas together.
And for my part, I did the Wakanda Syllabus to give the audience a way of understanding the importance of the character and the way his world had evolved over the last 40 years.
Jennifer: That sounds so interesting. So what is included on the Wakanda Syllabus, and where can people find it if they want to find it?
Walter: So if they just put in the phrase Wakanda Syllabus into Google or Bing or whatever search engine they use, they’ll find it right away.
Also, my main platform is Twitter. So if you use it as a Hashtag, #WakandaSyllabus, not only do you get the core content, but you get basically five years of like real revisions that have unfolded as we developed it.
So, um, that whole process, I guess to say what’s involved in it. Of course it’s books.
I’m a scholar. So, you know, the academic writing is at the heart, but there’s also a body of novels, and a group of websites that have contributed to Afrofuturism and multimedia.
So the TV shows, online series, music, movies, all, all the elements that basically people started to try and suggest that there was a possibility or there was a gap in how we were representing people.
I tried to put together a kind of, a brief online encyclopedia or more like a library guide that people can use every day to kind of find resources that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Jennifer: I love that and I especially like that it’s a lot of different types of media. There’s something for everyone to connect with.
Walter: Oh, that’s crucial.
There’s so many young people that have responded to it and you see the way their lives are changed just by encountering a different way of looking at their world.
So you know, that’s huge for me is to be able to give resources to people that wherever they’re coming from, whatever country they’re in, whatever age they may be, they can open up a new sense of themselves by engaging with that work.
Jennifer: Yeah, that’s amazing. Having that kind of global conversation. Why did you, I’m curious, why did you start using social media?
Social media,”it was like seeing the printing press for the first time”
Walter: Wow. So, literally the first time I came across the social media platform was because one of my student researchers, mentioned that she was connecting to a younger student to kind of advise them and mentor them on Facebook. And that was around 2007.
And so I really got on Facebook just with like an anonymous profile just so I could see how students were connecting and interacting.
And then when I saw it, I realized like it was like seeing the printing press for the first time.
I was like, it’s going to change everything.
And so, man for me it was just like, how do I get scholarly ideas and debates out into public discourse quickly?
So much of what scholars do, the work is tied up for at minimum six to nine months.
And then in many cases, the most powerful ideas really don’t reach people in the public for almost three decades.
Jennifer: Three decades, wow.
Walter: And I was like, that’s really decades. Wow. So it was like if you publish a really popular book, right?
Say you take Thomas Piketty’s analysis of capitalism. Now economists are going to write a lot of articles about the book and it’s like three to five years after it’s out. But that concept and that core idea is not really gonna make the impact and how we teach macroeconomics for almost 20 years.
It takes a long time for it to get through the process to get into like the accepted knowledge that people use.
I saw through Facebook and ultimately through Twitter, a way to kind of shave off that time to make it almost immediate.
And so a lot of the work I do on social media is connecting with journalists and activists and other educators who can use really powerful ideas much more quickly and distribute them and share them and grow together in ways that just weren’t possible a decade ago.
Jennifer: Hmm. That’s, that’s really, um, that’s amazing because I feel like, I feel like it’s something that people, people think about. But especially when you think about long term impact that that 20 or even 30 years before it gets into the teaching practices in the classroom, that, you know, getting out there and saying something on Twitter about your research can just be so impactful right off the bat.
Walter: Yeah. It’s been really amazing to me, the number of like journalists and kind of pundits and people who are in the media now, they’re much more accessible and they can see a wider range of questions and evidence and ideas and they then take it out to mass audiences through traditional venues like cable news and then that again creates a feedback loop where people are coming back into social media and then talking about what they’ve seen or what they’ve heard on the radio.
And that dynamic interplay is, is it’s called convergence media convergence is all these different platforms intersecting.
That’s become kind of my, my specialty within critical media studies is how do you take scholarly content injected at a moment of real controversy in the public eye and then have it spread a new level of debate through all these different media platforms.
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Social media is like being on television
Jennifer: Wow. Yeah. Media Convergence. Great term. So you use social media to share all sorts of things. And you post often, almost every day. How do you decide what to share on social media?
Walter: Well, the first big screen I say, that I teach to people is that realize it’s like you’re on television.
Realize you cannot put anything out that kind of misrepresents or puts you into a poor light.
There are always gonna be people who react negatively to whatever content you want to have.
But when you start to put out things like I, I try to avoid kind of a vulgarity, you know. As a person I try to avoid content that is uh, visually that graphic sexually a graphic violently.
Those things I’m very thoughtful about before I’ll, I’ll consider hitting retweet or even like.
But I just realize, you know, like at every moment that you choose to share, I choose to share something. I have to kind of have to be consistent to my core values about sharing content that provokes thought and reflection. And so that, that’s what I’ve hoped to cultivate.
What I think is worth is the variety of different conversations that I engage. They do have their like Venn diagrams, they kind of intersected at key places and audiences who love to deal with technology may also be interested in some of my economic questions. May also be interested in some of my architecture questions.
And so I’m always dealing with kind of where do I hit points of intersection between my different audiences. And it’s really hard.
Now it’s gotten big enough and the audience is really responsive enough that, you know, almost every piece of content really reverberates. Like even if it’s just a couple of retweets from my network, it’s gonna reach, you know 2,000 or 5,000 people.
If something really picks up, like sometimes it’ll get 10 or 50 or a hundred, retweets, you know, then you’re talking about hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of people seeing it.
Jennifer: And seeing it like within like a day.
Walter: Yeah. And that’s the thing is being thoughtful and kind of curating that responsibility is a major priority.
So I’m always trying to be on message and one of my main topic areas and thoughtful about how the people who I know are looking, um, how are they going to receive it? How can they use it?
Jennifer: Hmm. Yeah. I think that you brought up two really good points.
One was that, um, you find that checking the content that you like or retweet is also really important and making sure that it goes along with your message but also doesn’t detract from it by showing like vulgarity or sexualized images.
I think that’s something that people don’t often think about enough.
And the other one was just like how quickly you can reach such a big audience and connect with different audiences because you know, just because your audience is interested in one thing doesn’t mean that they won’t also be interested in another topic that you’re talking about. I really like that.
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In 1 hour it had reached 250,000 people on Twitter
Walter: Absolutely. Now the one lesson that that hit home for me…and this was before this was when scholars were still kind of very skeptical about the value of social media. And there’s a huge debate right now among academics about is it productive use of time?
I guess it was after Charlottesville, um, with Heather Heyer been killed that next morning. Like I was still really angry about about the rally that has happened there and the assault.
And I woke up that morning like five and I saw people saying, this is not America, this is not us.
And so I, I had done work on that question. I was like, no, no. It was just, you don’t know how often this happens.
So I really just took an hour to lay out how I had taught this content for a long period of time.
But I think the key to that in this context when we’re talking about social media was the initial tweet that I put out with the hashtag, um, essentially was, we don’t know, we’re ignoring the content. I tried to teach it and when you start to go down the path, it’s really painful. And so I had to rethink how I did it.
It was a really kind of reflective and painful tweet for me to put together. But at the same time, people who were in pain and very upset at that time resonated with it.
And so what got me was inside of like an hour, it had already reached, you know, a quarter million people before I even finished like the thread.
Jennifer: Oh Wow. You hadn’t even finished writing it.
Walter: Exactly. Like by the end of the day it, it was clearly something far beyond anything I’d ever done online and you know, approaching over a million kind of viral interactions.
And then it just kept going for two weeks. Like I didn’t have to really, I just replied to people that had particular questions.
But for two weeks, like it reached over 4 billion interactions. Like people just kept coming back and kept coming back and sharing it.
It got translated into seven languages. Like it was, yeah, that was wild. And then since then I’ve, you know, you can’t always replicate that kind of thing, but just kind of building around that core audience and, and being vulnerable, being compassionate, welcoming people into different kinds of conversations.
You know, I look at a colleague of mine at Princeton is, uh, Kevin Cruz and the way that he intervenes when people attempted to deceive the public is really valuable. But it’s that same model of coming to a moment of controversy and bringing your scholarly relevance to the tables so that people get better answers.
Jennifer: Oh, I really liked it so that people can get better answers. It’s more of a conversation. Like when you, when you were putting out a big thread or anyone’s putting on a big thread on Twitter, um, just understanding that it is part of a larger conversation and that, that there will be replies that there will be other things that you know, you need to engage with to make sure that that message reaches, reaches people in the ways and to avoid confusion sometimes.
Walter: There’s a lot of amazing scholars that do really great work and they, they resonate in profound ways, but they still only speak to their core audience.
And that’s always the thing that I’m trying to do is find content that may be, has a hundred retweets or 500 retweets. But in my view it should have 2000 or 5,000 or 10,000.
If I can help really outstanding scholars get their work to kind of have the impact that pop stars have. And I feel like I’ve really kind of conveyed my responsibility. Yeah.
Jennifer: That will benefit everyone too. I mean, if more people are understanding the type of research that’s going on, the types of conversations that can be generated from it, that would definitely bring a larger conversation into the picture.
Walter: We hope. And then hopefully it’s not just even larger, but people get more out of it.
They, they are able to understand their world and, and put their lives into a context that they couldn’t before.
Everybody uses YouTube to consume multimedia content
Jennifer: More meaningful. Yeah. Would you say the, um, Twitter is your favorite social media platform then?
Walter: Oh, favorite. So it’s certainly my most effective. Um, that’s a, that’s a hard thing.
So, yeah, I mean at this point, because I treat it like it’s very professional, favorite is, is a difficult word for me to put on it.
I get a lot of amazing content and my career has grown immeasurably because of it.
Um, I would say I, I’ll be honest, YouTube is probably my favorite as a platform just because of the musical video content.
Jennifer: Oooh, I have not gotten that response before.
Walter: Yeah, YouTube is pretty amazing and there are a lot of folks it gets, uh, it gets a bad rap for the kinds of comments that people post on, on really controversial material.
But there’s a reach like, and I watch it with my children, and with my nephews and nieces. Everybody uses YouTube to consume multimedia content and there’s so many ways they take it in.
Walter: So I am working on becoming better at my YouTube presence. I have a lot of resources there.
But typically, you know, like the most impactful YouTube project I worked on really came back in like 2008 or 2009, where I collaborated with the student to do a hip hop video and that’s reached maybe half a million people.
Jennifer: That’s fun.
Walter: That, I mean, but that’s what I’m saying is that like there’s a way to get content there and connect with audiences that’s really effective because it brings in visual + audio.
Like it just is, is different than what you can do with, with a GIF or video on Twitter.
So I, if I had to pick a favorite, it’s YouTube. I’m still getting better at it.
Twitter is definitely my most effective. And then followed by Facebook and then Linkedin.
Linkedin is amazing for getting folks who are like my professional network and former students motivated about things.
Facebook has become overwhelmingly about people that I’ve just met either in person or are family members. So the intimacy is bigger on Facebook than it is.
And um, the way people are motivated to kind of grow markets is really big with Linkedin.
But now all of it together, like I have a very distinct purpose for each one. Um, but yeah, I’m determined to find ways to get YouTube to have a bigger impact for all of the work that I do.
Jennifer: Yeah. That’s amazing. I think that YouTube is, I mean it’s the fastest growing platform. It’s the one that everyone’s on, um, no matter your age. And so it’s a great place to reach just the public, like the actual public.
Twitter actually isn’t growing that much. Uh, so more people aren’t joining and they’re on YouTube, so it’s a great platform to work on. Definitely.
Walter: Yeah. I think if there was some kind of interactive, more interactive way than just kind of streaming and offering compliments through YouTube.
Like if there were kind of communities of networks where people, people felt like they got more responses from people right on a consistent basis. I think if they combined an element of Twitter, it would be even stronger than it is.
With over 26k Twitter followers, what it’s like to be visible online
Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Now, with such a large audience on social media and not just Twitter, um, how does it feel to be so visible online?
Walter: Wow. You’ve given me a kind of a chance to think about this question and it’s a really, that’s a, it’s a long answer. I don’t want to try and just kind of give the snapshot of it, but there’s a lot more depth behind what I’m about to say. Yeah.
So, the novel that basically shaped my life as a young adult was a Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and kind of the core image of that novel is, an African American young man who has decided to build a cave and a hideaway under New York City under a major city. It doesn’t say the city. Um, but the entire room is filled with light bulbs and they, it’s just blinding.
He’s just in there trying to find a way that he can see himself because as he goes about his life in the world, what he interacts with are all other people’s perceptions of him. He feels that no one sees this himself because he’s always trapped in somebody else’s stereotype.
And that has shaped so much of the work that I do. It’s, it’s such a profound metaphor.
I mean, prior to Toni Morrison’s work, you know, Ellison’s Invisible Man was considered the greatest American novel of the 20th century.
And so in terms of being visible on social media, particularly the way I craft how I interact with each image, I am very keenly of the way different people perceive it and interact with it and what they take from it.
It’s why I’m so careful about the kinds of content I put out. And that’s why I’m, I’ll say even more than I am in terms of curating my content more than most of the other people I know that have some following.
Like I, I curate my, my followers very aggressively, like six times a year I go through and I’m removing kind of spam accounts.
I block bots immediately.
Like I’m very aggressive about protecting the quality of the content that the people who choose to follow me get, including what they get from other people who are following me.
So, you know, there, there are, you know, several really prominent scholars and media figures that I don’t allow them to really have access to my community because they’re not careful with how they participate.
So for me, the thing about being seen, nobody watches or I shouldn’t say none of my followers watch their social media with the intensity that I do.
Jennifer: Right. Right. Very few people do probably.
Walter: I am aggressive about making sure it’s not just the quality I put out that’s, that’s outstanding, I hope. But that the people who I met worked with are also extraordinary and outstanding. And so they’re getting the most out of each other as well.
Jennifer: Well, that’s really, I mean, that’s community building and it’s not just, um, like being on social media that’s creating community on social media and ensuring that the community that finds you is also able to interact, you know, well.
That sounds, that sounds like a lot of work, but also probably what keeps people engaged and what keeps people coming back to that content because it is such good quality.
Walter: Yeah. That someone made a joke, ah, there’s this international network I joined in the last couple of months and they were asking people to kind of talk about what made their interactions distinctive through that particular set of tags and that chain of comments. And um, I ended up making a little joke, but I really do feel it’s true.
I was like, yeah, my, my network is the “nicest.” Like I guess not just, you know, high quality, unique kinds of content that people get, but I really cultivate it so that people aren’t attacking each other.
People aren’t trying to give each other hard times or taking each other’s work and claiming it for themselves.
Jennifer: Oh yeah, that’s an important one.
Walter: Yes. So in trying to make a really healthy online community, I know it’s almost impossible. But I do the best that I can with that.
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Constant learning, “its very hard for me to imagine my life without these interactions now”
Jennifer: Yeah. That’s it. That’s amazing. Now you, you just told me a bunch of things that you do for your followers, for your audience in terms of generating content and making sure that that community is a good place for them to have discussions.
What do you get out of sharing?
Like what do you enjoy about social media and connecting with people online?
Walter: So the, the constant learning, the constant learning is the main thing that has been the constant, like it’s very hard for me to imagine my life without these interactions now.
Because I’m so used to getting so much from the world every day that, um. I see other posts, folks who use the Internet broadly and websites to acquire info from major media producers at times, opposed newspapers, TIME magazine, CNN, they get all these, this content, but they’re still getting things that largely are made for a mass audience.
The best thing that I enjoy most out of my social media is that I can always, almost every day, find something unique that no one else knows.
Because I have someone in the network that does something that no one else does. And so that is just priceless.
You know, not just as a scholar or a college professor, but as a human being, to always find something that is, is beyond rare that made, that is easily missed and can be just like ignored or overlooked.
And I have the chance to grab it and make sure lots of people see it. That’s the best part.
And if I find something that’s an amazing piece of content, art, video scholarship and like it has no retweets… That’s like the highlight or mean like, oh, you going to get this, at least we’re going to get you 10 to 50, 10 retweets, 50 likes, we’re going to get a crowd to know that you exist.
Jennifer: I love that.
Are you looking to find your community online? Walter’s advice
Jennifer: So what do you recommend for new educators who are looking to find their community online?
Walter: So, the platform is not going to do it for you.
That the number one piece of advice is that you’ve got to dedicate, you know, 15 to 30 minutes a day cultivating and connecting.
There is so much good use of hashtags.
Following kind of the #FollowFriday thing was absolutely huge for me in the first two years. So when you find somebody who’s content is you like and they use a follow Friday tag, follow all those people that are likely to follow you back.
So that, that’s the basic stuff. You wanna use hashtags that are relevant to you, that you’re trying to find a community that talks about things that you like, have at least three of those kinds of communities that you follow their content and see where they overlap.
Um, beyond that, the second thing is in being very diligent about, cultivating your network so that when you have people who are just spamming and sending, you know, 5,000 tweets a day of generally useless content, you’ve got to unfollow them at the minimum, mute them or block them as necessary.
But, yeah, the thing about kind of cultivating your followers and making sure you’re just getting folks who are really bringing the best to your timeline and that you can share the most valuable things, most interesting things. That’s what’s going to help your account grow.
Jennifer: Well, that’s great. That’s great advice.
- Actually engage with people
- use relevant hashtags
- and find multiple communities.
I really like that one. Finding multiple, um, topics of interest and trying to see where they intersect.
Walter: Yes, indeed.
Jennifer: Well, this was a great conversation. I’m, I really enjoyed hearing about your social media use and some of the amazing things that have happened because of it.
It sounds like social media has really made an impact on your work and on your community.
So thank you so much for, for having this conversation with me.
Walter: This is a joy. I hope we can talk much more often.
Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. All right.
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Well that’s it for this month’s academic interview. Thanks for listening.
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I’m Jennifer, and thanks for joining me for The Social Academic.
Bio for Walter D. Greason of Monmouth University
Walter D. Greason, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Educational Counseling and Leadership at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey.
He has written and edited six books on racism, segregation, and economic development, including the award-winning text, Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey.
His Twitter platform, @WorldProfessor, created the standard for academic engagement with the public with conversations like the Racial Violence Syllabus and the Wakanda Syllabus, contributing to convergence media experiences like Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, and Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project.
Connect with Dr. Greason on
Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer LLC to help professors build a strong online presence for their research, teaching, and leadership. Jennifer’s goal is to help people feel confident sharing their work with the world.
Jennifer’s personal website
The Academic Designer LLC