Category Archives: Emerging Scholar Series

What Was the Point of This?: The Emerging Scholar Series

When I started this Emerging Scholar series, I was having an existential crisis, questioning daily my place within the academy. I wasn’t so much questioning my place within the academy intellectually, as much as I was questioning my place in the academy in terms of whether or not my work, and by proxy I, was valued. Most scholars I encounter tell me my feelings are normal and everyone has to prove the value of their work to someone, somewhere. I do not disagree that all scholars have to prove the value of their research; however, all scholars are not Black lesbians. All scholars do not live a “colored” life. All scholars do not have to constantly prove their worth and their value (as humans) on a daily basis.

Because of the struggles I faced proving myself and my work publishable (translation: valuable) in the academy—three rejection letters and counting, I decided I wanted to write about the difficulties I had in this journey to becoming a “scholar” and how the entire process made me feel that I, as a Black woman, had to prove I mattered. Every rejection and every insistence from a colleague, mentor, or instructor to give more of myself, to do more with myself, felt as though I was being asked to do more, being pushed more. However, the rejections from journals felt racial, homophobic, and sexist. When I submit on the lack of Black lesbian images and work in Queer Studies, I hear, “YOU have to PROVE DISCIPLINARY EXIGENCY.” (Translation: Black women don’t matter.) When I submit research suggesting Black women would not favor a National Language Policy, I was told, “This is NOT RESEARCH. You just have the OPINION of BLACK WOMEN.” (Translation: Black women don’t matter.) And while I understand that some of these instances are just the wrong journal or the right journal but the wrong time, this type of dismissive rhetoric placed upon my body by other bodies from the dominant culture feels raced, and this feeling is real and it’s valid.

Yes, one day I will be published. Yes, one day I will be the scholar who intellectually pushes her students and not the student who is intellectually pushed. But in this moment, I am neither of those things. In this moment, I am chasing my dream. I do not know what the stories on the other side of publishing, research, and teaching will be for me once I experience them. However, I doubt the feeling of having to constantly prove I matter will wane, if anything, and most likely, it will intensify. I wrote this series to understand where and who I am in this moment (feeling unappreciated), so I know who I can be in the next moment (a Black lesbian scholar that matters). Because Black women matter.

When Life Gets in the Way

I did not intend for this last post on emerging scholars to be about self-care; however, after my own recent struggles, I feel it important to discuss ways in which scholars—emerging or entrenched—can take care of their mental and physical health when life gets in the way. October freak-out is over, but there still remains a residue of pain, struggle, and fragmentation. Normally, I refuse to allow my outside life to negatively affect my academic life. However, this fall, Life got in the way.

During this semester, I have experienced extreme highs of enlightenment, friendship, and community. However, I have also experienced severe lows with depression, loss, guilt, and shame seemingly etched on my skin and inscribed into my psyche. Somehow within this semester Life got in the way. So what does one DO when life gets in the way?
Sure I could give some standard advice about making sure you talk to someone or find a way to take your mind off the whole mess. However, I want to offer something new. I want to offer a story:

I entered a History and Theory of Rhetoric class and all I wanted was to NOT read Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Rhodes scholars, etc. But I read them because I had to, because they matter—still, even though I don’t want them to. But when I began to look at Indigenous Rhetorics as a practice, I noticed that it calls us not to think about the thing, but to do the damn thang. So I began to wonder by what means emerging scholars take care of themselves when life gets in the way.

This is a story about pain, shame, and guilt and how one Black body found a way to deal. Sometimes, I just can’t with Life. The only thing I do well is the academy. My Life, it falls apart. Recently, a Life event so depressed me and consumed me with shame and guilt, I thought I would never recover. But there were 6 weeks left in the semester.

Life CANNOT get in the way.

What is to be done when you feel nothing can be done?
Through this struggle I realized I had a process of doing that led to my recovery: talk about it, think about it, hear advice about it, and then dance on it. All of these acts are acts of doing and making the doing creates the making and the making, in turn, replenishes that which could not be replenished. These are things I had to do when Life got in the way. These are things I had to make when Life got in the way. And these are the things that made me whole when Life got in the way. I do not pretend that these measures I have mentioned can help every scholar who needs to deal when Life gets in the way. However, I do suggest that it is in the doing and the making—the habits and hobbies we choose—that can help us heal:

When Life gets in the way.

When Assignments Exclude: Consultants & Damage Control

Working through the tension of when it is wise to inform a student that all writing, even the very assignments they receive in class can, and sometimes must, be interrogated is no small canal to dredge. Often students are asked to write papers that are culturally insensitive or ethnocentric. For example, it may seem wise to assign students to find cultural artifacts unique to the U.S. legal system and articulate its importance to current U.S. ideologies regarding justice. However, to ask an international student to articulate how a U.S. legal artifact is related to a U.S. ideology of justice puts this student at a severe cultural disadvantage. What am I to do in this situation? How am I to assist students new to this culture articulate how a symbol signifies a U.S. ideal? How can I not spoon-feed them the information?

I am not at all suggesting that these types of assignments are intentionally microaggressive against or purposely excluding those persons wholly unfamiliar with U.S. culture and ideology. However, it is important to understand that all writing carries inherent assumptions, biases, and exclusions that can, and do, render certain bodies to the margins of academic writing and the academy at large. When students receive these assignments, they receive messages—messages about not only what should be done in the assignment, but also messages about how much knowledge the professor assumes they bring into class.

When clients enter the Writing Center afraid and confused, seeking assistance if only to show that their confusion is a cultural and not a cognitive one, I wonder what damage we can do with one simple assignment. I also wonder, what damage control must I do in a matter of minutes, minutes that may not be sufficient to stymie the damage of an exclusionary assignment?

Tutor or Teacher?

Becoming a Scholar—capital “S”—is a vast undertaking which include encounters with cognitive dissonance at every turn that manifest themselves in the texts we read, the research we conduct, and the writing we produce. However, the becoming of a scholar is frustrating—rife with feelings of intellectual inadequacies, performance (teaching, researching, and publishing) anxiety, at times, an ever changing sense of belonging or exclusion. These encounters and feelings are not unlike those feelings of clients who enter the writing center. Although many clients are not grappling with teaching, researching, and publishing, they are often grappling with being a productive and good student, as well as learning how to read, critique, and write academic prose. Often, clients seek our assistance with helping them to fully understand both what they are reading and not only what they are supposed to write, but HOW the academy wants them to write. However, as a consultant, where does one ethically drawn the line between consultant and teacher?

I am not at all suggesting that writing center consultants do not, at times, function as a type of tutor/teacher hybrid; however, when clients, and in particular students, are given an assignment on any given topic, Queer issues, socioeconomic issues, class structures, etc., how much are consultants to challenge students to interrogate their own body of knowledge with regard to the topic, as well as challenging and critiquing the body of knowledge of their peers and teachers? Is there an educational line consultants should not cross when tutoring clients? What issues in client writing are best “left to the instructor” and how do we decide?

The Construction of Identity in Digital Consultations

Something to consider in online writing consultations is your process of identity construction, the power relations these identities rely on/reify/endorse and how this all affects the goal of peer revision, collaborative meaning-making and the writing center consultation.

When we engage in online writing consultations via Twiddla and discuss writing with a student by chatting and engaging the text (without audio or video) we are engaging writing through writing, as opposed to in-person consultations that sometimes involve very little actual writing. The creation of a writing space through online, real-time, digital communication is affected by similar pressures that exist in parallel online, constructed environments—like social media, blogging platforms and discussion boards. One such guiding pressure in this writing space is the construction of identity through written text. In an online setting as a writing center tutor, you are expected to endorse an attitude of peer revision and collaborative meaning-making, while also constructing an identity to engage with another peer in revision. Engaging in collaborative meaning-making requires people, and so both (sometimes more) people in the online writing center consultation are engaged in revision and are constructing their identities simultaneously, all through text.

This could be said of an in-person consultation too. I would argue that in person, though, we rely on bodily cues to signify identity. We rely on physical interactions and performative indicators to relate to each other as bodies and people. Considering the dynamics of identity construction in a virtual space can open up possibilities of change and awareness in the online consultation setting. What identity are you presenting/creating/relying on? Is your process active or assumed? What identity are you inferring about the “student” or “client” or “peer” you are working with and does that affect how you work with them?

IWCA: A Place for Emerging Scholars

IWCA_logoWhen I was at IWCA a few weeks ago to present on “What Makes a Space Raced: Exploring Whiteness in the Writing Center,” I noticed how conferences—despite the tales of elitist performances and pretentious discourse—provide young and emerging scholars a space to present their research and receive productive feedback. In my rush to get published, I find that conferences allow me to think about my research, to explore ways to expand and exhaust the research, and to nuance the arguments I posit. In other words, conferences allow me to continue being student, which I believe is integral to both teaching, research, and scholarship. Publishing never feels like a learning practice. It feels like a finality: an imagined end goal. Publishing functions as a way of (1) Espousing knowledge, (2) Critiquing knowledge, or (3) Drawing attention to new knowledges. It is a space for experts, not necessarily learners.

What conferences provide young and emerging scholars that is much like the publishing process— if a manuscript reaches external review—is an instant type of peer review. Young, emerging, and established scholars all attend conferences and tend to attend panels in which they are interested. Therefore, what happens when young scholars present is a type of low-risk (ideally) review that can further push and urge a scholar to explore, nuance, and better articulate their research and ideas. For more established scholars, hearing from young and emerging researchers can also serve as a way to better refine, rethink, and nuance their current research. As someone interested in Writing Center research, as well as research in Comp/Rhet, the IWCA conference is an ideal space to present research concerning race, language, and identity in writing center spaces. I never leave a presentation unsatisfied as the questions, suggestions, and resources audience members provide are invaluable in this early stage of my research.