Tag Archives: academia

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.

Motherhood and the Academy

Confession: I was supposed to do this a long time ago.

Technically, I don’t need to confess to anything here. It’s not like you know. But it’s important, I think, to put this out there. Because over the course of last semester, I heard so many students say the same thing. With guilt and shame, with frustration and with stress clear through their voices.

Wonderful addressed this beautifully in her last blog post about how we can take care of ourselves when life gets in the way. Life certainly got in mine.

Many of the people I work and go to school with know that my life is often overwhelming and very busy. I commute, I work, I go to school, and most importantly, I am a mother of two really freaking cute little boys.

Coming back to school after a 10-year break was a really hard decision to make because my husband and I knew the transition from staying at home with my kids to being gone for entire days, sunup to sundown, was going to be a challenge and struggle for all four of us. Ten years out of the academic life is hard to come back from—for me at least—because it involved retraining my brain to click into academic mode.

As a mother, I’ve found that my brain is always “on,” particularly when I’m around my children. Even when they aren’t in the room, I’m always tuned in to the whole house, watchful and waiting and curious. (I overhear some fantastic imaginative play, it’s funny and weird and sweet.) When I’m here, being my school self, my brain is on in a completely different way; learning to switch between academic/work Tania and Mommy involves a lot of conscious effort. I suppose my kids are old enough that I might not always need to be tuned in so much but it just happens anyway.

But the truth is, I don’t want to. When I can’t switch out of academic and work mode, my mind is never truly at home. And the first thing I promised myself when I decided to take this on was that no matter what, my children would come first.

Now, I’ll be honest here. Other mothers in the academy and I have talked about this: going back to school and figuring out how to juggle and sacrifice and not sleep and not have a social life are sacrifices we are making to better our lives. And living a willingness to do these things models so many things we want our children to learn. Right now, my children are watching me work hard. They are watching me learn and fight for the things I am passionate about.

They are watching me believe in myself.

But I don’t always get it just right. I get frustrated and I’m tired and sometimes when I’m home, it’s so hard to enjoy my family when my brain is always being pulled toward the assignments and projects I have to do, or staying on task with my job. It’s that learning how to balance that wears me down more than anything.

But what this means is that there are many, many times I have to make choices about what I can and cannot do. Sometimes, I have to choose not to do that reading, or assignment, or make myself wake up at 5 am just to fit it all in. And when I choose not to do the thing, so that I can do this other thing, most important thing—enjoy and love my children and be present in their lives while I can—I have to deal with that guilt and shame and frustration with myself because of the things I’ve dropped.

So often we in the academy here push and push ourselves to do better, to get it right, and to never drop the ball. And we say things like, “I fail,” or “I can’t do this,” and “I suck.” I hear it all the time. And lately, on my long freaking commute, I’ve been wondering if all the kindness and love and self-worth I work so hard to give my children isn’t something I need to give myself.

So this long, long blog post works in a few ways. To paint a little portrait of what it’s like to be a mother in the academy. To talk about the many things we’re all asked to do, and how hard it is to do them all. But most importantly, so ask each of you to be as kind to yourself as you are to others.