Shawna Felkins
7 min readJun 8, 2021


Photo of fan from an HVAC unit

This March as our first warm day of spring rolled into Kentucky our air conditioner kicked on only to blow hot air.

My fiance and I were both annoyed. We’re sweaty people with short tempers when we get too hot, and we both tried frantically to will our thermostat to give us cool air.

We Googled. We searched for our instruction manual. (Somehow they’re never in the place you need them to be and you always have four separate drawers where they’re “supposed” to go.) We watched Youtube videos. We flipped breakers. We stared at the outdoor unit. And no matter how bad we wanted to be able to figure it out, we just couldn’t will it to work.

You see, we’re both relatively smart people. We both teach at our local university, and soon (fingers-crossed) we’ll both have terminal degrees in our respective fields.

We’re both even a bit handy. Being in graduate school on a (very) limited budget means that I do my best to figure out issues that would be too expensive to take to someone else. When the heat quit in my car, it took $74, 3 trips to an autoparts store, and several hours laying in my floorboard, but I got it running.

I come from a long line of people who fix things, both because they had the knowledge to and because sometimes a lack of money necessitates that you figure it out. Grandparents who were mechanics, carpenters, truck drivers, who worked hard in factories, at lumber yards, and on farms. Grandparents who kept gardens, canned their bounty each year, mended clothes rather than throwing them away, and turned flour, milk, sugar, and cocoa powder into the best chocolate gravy you’ve ever put in your mouth. So good it’ll make your tongue slap your brains out trying to get to it…

Both of our parents have that same work ethic. I’ve seen my parents work hard their entire lives, sometimes working extra jobs and doing all of the things that make a home function. They live on a small cattle farm and my dad is an electrician. He’s also a retired teacher who helped other young people learn his trade.

I have always loved learning, so, I grew up knowing I wanted to go to college and then continue my education. To be a doctor or lawyer or professor. But unlike a lot of the people I’ve met in universities, I also grew up around a building full of people who worked hard with their hands. People who could take a pile of nothing and turn it into something. They welded a see-saw for my brother and me that was so fun and worked so well it turned out to be a bit dangerous. They’re all skilled tradespeople who know more about building houses than I ever will, no matter how much HGTV I watch.

So, when we flipped that breaker another time and we still had hot air, we decided it was time to call in reinforcements. I made a call to an HVAC company our friends had recommended before and, thankfully, they could get someone to us the next day.

It was just me at the house when the HVAC guy showed up. He stood six feet back from the door and removed his mask to say hello. He was young, probably 5 or more years younger than me, if I had to guess, and he asked where the thermostat was and got right to work. He looked at the thermostat, looked at the indoor and outdoor units, and within 15 minutes, I felt a gush of cold air blow from the vent in our living room.

He placed his toolbox down on our living room floor, sat down on it, and absentmindedly rubbed our beagle’s ears as he got my payment information and entered it into his phone. We made small talk about the day, the weather, and I expressed my frustration at not being able to seemingly figure out something so easy. He gave me some tips for things to try next time if it gave us trouble again, handed me a business card with information about a survey to fill out, picked up his toolbox, and headed down the driveway.

I’ve you’ve made it this far into this bit of writing you might be curious as to what is going on. Why would I tell you a story about our air conditioner, an overall uneventful one at that? Why would I talk about my family or being a broke graduate student?

First, I thank you for your patience, and second, I sure hope you’ll humor me for a minute and read the rest of this before you go.

It seems to me that HVAC and CRT are an awful lot alike. In case you’re a bit puzzled, CRT is short for “critical race theory,” which has been at the center of a lot of heated discussions recently. Both HVAC and CRT have the ability to get people a bit heated. Both are the subject of Youtube videos that claim to tell you what they are, even though some may not really be that helpful. Both are studied by people who must pass years of training to be licensed to use their skills. Both can be discussed on new stations who know kind of how they work, sort of, but don’t really know the specifics of how they function.

I can tell you with full confidence that unless you’ve trained or took courses on HVAC, you probably know about as much about HVAC as you do CRT.

In the past few months, I watched this theoretical framework become more and more of a boogeyman. Politicians, news anchors, social media personalities, and random people on the street have decided they’re experts on the subject without ever reading a book on the subject themselves. I’ve listened to these same people try to define, describe, and give examples of CRT and they’re all so wrong. They’ve taken a highly specialized tool used to understand race, law, and public policy and picked out a series of buzzwords from their original context, and used them to wage a war on knowledge and curiosity. On people who want to understand how our world works and make it better for everyone.

You see, I’ve been in college for twelve years now, eight of which I’ve spent in graduate school. I’ve spent eight years of my life studying critical race theory, reading the foundational texts, discussing it with my professors and peers, critiquing parts of it in my papers, and teaching it in my classroom. Even with this background, I wouldn’t call myself an expert. I’m still reading and still learning. However, I am certain that I know more about it than so many of these people trying to pass legislation banning their version of “critical race theory” from curriculum and government training programs.

In the past, I’ve approached conversations about race the wrong way with some of my loved ones and community members. I was quick to anger and forgot the power that so many of these topics have. I hope to rectify that and do it the right way from now on. With patience, love, and understanding.

I hope that, maybe, if you’ve found yourself reading this today and have become afraid of “critical race theory” in the past few months that I’ve given you something to consider. I realize that many people who read this will be older than me, some much more. It may be tempting to read the words of an almost 30-year-old and feel annoyed that I would challenge you and the opinion you’ve formed on the issue. That I wouldn’t take your decades of living on this Earth as proof that you can understand race or CRT just as well as anyone else.

When I opened the door to that 20-something HVAC guy, I didn’t slam the door in his face because he was younger than me. I didn’t tell him about my degrees and all of the books I had read on topics that were unrelated to HVAC. When he set about trying to fix the problem, I didn’t loudly declare that I had been living in houses with HVAC for more years than he had been alive. When he offered advice on things I could try the next time an issue arose, I didn’t scoff or roll my eyes or tell him about how my dad’s friend does HVAC or that I saw on the news that HVAC specialists were trying to brainwash us all so we’ll be too weak to go outside in 90-degree weather. I didn’t get angry with him because I had tried to understand the problem myself and I couldn’t.

I trusted him because he was an expert. And he used his skills and his knowledge to make me a better person. (This sounds hyperbolic, but I come from a long line of people who are really angry when they’re too hot.)

I thanked him for his work. I shook his hand (a habit hard to shake even in a pandemic), and I left him an excellent review on that survey.

There are better people than media personalities to turn to on this issue. If you’re someone in my family, community, or hometown who feels frustrated and worried and scared by all of the rumors and arguments around CRT, I would be happy to speak with you. I’ll do my best to listen, answer your questions, and point you in the direction of things you can read, watch, or listen to if you want to know more. I won’t pretend I have all the answers, but I will promise to treat you with respect as we wade these murky waters together.



Shawna Felkins

Graduate student, teacher, and researcher, writing about academia, mental health, and feminism.