Dedicated to the seven Black women and author, Ntozake Shange, of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf… and the five Black women who have come forward as TCU’s Jane Does.
I skipped a department meeting this week. There’s nothing particularly urgent about this fact since such meetings are usually futile in their ability to accomplish actual tasks anyway. This time though, I just couldn’t bear the performance of non-Black faculty or graduate students, who are not usually even invited and were even once barricaded from entering a department meeting by a dean. Somehow all have discovered a new political voice in relation to instructional requirements under the Coronavirus… and have been deathly silent when it comes to the abuse faced by Black folk. Yes, this is a new resistance of a sort, but it is solely in the service of whiteness for whom danger and death under COVID are newfound, daily realities. I plan to keep chanting #BlackLivesMatter because I know we are not included in this rage against new white precarity.
This meeting that I skipped was with an administrator who started at the university less than a month ago. And, yup, you guessed it: a woman of color. And, yup, you guessed it: from all reports I have heard, faculty and graduate students piped up in ways they have never publicly done when white leadership was at the helm (even when it locked them outside of the door), and especially not when Black pain was the topic of discussion.
Black pain is not an abstraction in this space. In FACT, you can read all about it below in the 215-point STATEMENT OF FACTS of this lawsuit. I am pasting the whole thing here because this text needs to be required reading for those who are interested in anti-racist teaching, the racial history of higher education, and especially the brutal experiences of Black women-identified undergraduate and graduate students today.
This is what higher education looks like for Black women across the country, and these five Black women— called Jane Doe #1 (read pp. 30-66; pp. 94-99), Jane Doe #2 (read pp. 67-74), Jane Doe #3 (read pp. 74-78), Jane Doe #4 and Jane Doe #5 (read pp. 78-94)— are making history today. They faced abuse, ridicule, and neglect at the hands of their peers, faculty, and administrations in ways that would have us in uproar if they weren’t Black. The lawsuit details the ways that these women filed complaints with leaders of programs and departments seemingly everywhere, with any kind of faculty member who seemed they might listen, and with every Title IX-ish type of office designed to officially investigate such claims. NO ONE—and I mean NO ONE— ever helped or protected them. Honor and recognize these women in the ways that their campus hasn’t. I plan to keep chanting #SayHerName because I know we are not included in this rage against new white precarity.
Even though it’s summer time and technically, educators have the summer off (unless teaching summer courses), every week is some new foolishness in my inbox. It’s like school is still in session. So let’s REALLY get in session here and stay mindful of who we are as Black staff, educators, researchers, and students in this moment. Remember the stories of the Jane Does above and show some courage. It’s what they deserve. We are not going to change the academy overnight, but we can most certainly control how we act upon it RIGHT NOW:
All kinda folk need a Black friend or colleague to co-sign or advise them right now. Black advice and guidance are now the Golden Fleece of the Academy. Do not participate in these informal discussions, ad hoc committees, or free consultations. Your ideas will be plagiarized by people who do not have their own (this has always happened, but expect it to escalate). White feminists will especially call this collaboration. It’s not. Folk of color will try and milk your ideas for their own white favor and visibility too. It’s all just plagiarism without the Turnitin. Call them on it and steer clear. Stop needing to be needed. The closer you are to these vampiric people, the more you are implicated in their violence.
Let’s stick with #1 a little more here: All kinda folk will need you on their new committees, task forces, programs, mission statements, or suddenly conscious projects. Take notice when a group of BIPOC faculty is gathered together and led by a white (usually male) leader (or a person of color acting for a white leader). You are there to help the white leader who will get the credit. You are like a corporate silent partner, except without any remuneration. Don’t be fooled into thinking that whiteness values your thinking all of a sudden. The closer you are to these inauthentic projects, the more you are implicated in their violence.
If white administrators and leaders have been accused of racial harm and do not voluntarily step down from their positions, know that these are NOT allies. At a time of a global pandemic that is targeting Brown and Black peoples during unprecedented racial protest in every state of the union, an administrator who has not practiced real anti-racism and has caused harm to Black people is INCOMPETENT for the tasks at hand. IN…COM…PE….TENT. This ain’t something a workshop, apology letter, or deep meditation can fix. They must step down. If they do not, do not work with them, do not support them, do not sign on to their ideas. Monitor AS VIGILANTLY as you can how many of their meetings you must attend, how much of their policy you must implement, how much time you must spend with them. Keep your distance as best as you possibly can. Stop taking their classes and attending their workshops (contest it if it is a REQUIREMENT). The closer you are to these harmful administrators, the more you are implicated in their violence.
Notice the close friends of the white administrators and leaders who have been accused of racial harm. Their friends are NOT allies either. These are friendships based in white nepotism and advancement, a value system a real ally would forego. If you are a friend of a white administrator or leader who has been accused of racial harm, hold your homie accountable and if they refuse, get yourself some new homies. The closer you are to these anti-Black campus leaders, the more you are implicated in their violence.
For the folk who do step down (see #3 and #4), notice whether or not they actually STEP UP when they step down. I have never witnessed a white administrator step down and repair their harm. What I have always gotten is a lunch request where the only thing being served is gaslighting. For starters, the people who you have harmed do not want your lunch, coffee, or phone call so back off. We are also not interested in your life-story, list of Black-based volunteer activities as proof you are not racist, white tears, or convictions of how YOU perceive our misunderstandings of racism. Stay away from these lunches and excuses. And be wary of the warm, fuzzy, and congratulatory good-bye letters listing the outstanding accomplishments of demoted folk accused of violence. These writers are not allies either. Do not be lulled into this white complacency touted as sympathy for abusers. Wanna know what I call people who have made significant accomplishments for which they were never credited or recognized? BLACK FOLK! The closer you are to these fake apologies, the more you are implicated in their violence.
Black folk will be in high demand on thesis/ dissertation committees now. Ask yourself some questions. Are you the token? Has the rest of the committee (or at least some of them) perpetrated anti-Black harm? Does the dissertation center white theory and then merely pepper-sprinkle Black scholars on top and without deep analysis? Can you see trends in the racial politics of thesis/ dissertation committees across the country right now? How many students of a perpetrator have been hired in your field and department? How many graduate student assistants of a perpetrator have been hired in your administrative ranks? How has your department’s graduate program siphoned off its anti-Blackness into the rest of the academy? The closer you are to these anti-Black graduate students and their mentors, the more you are implicated in their violence.
Don’t trust whiteness when it uses this excuse: I didn’t know this was happening. Ignorance is not a justification for not acting towards racial justice. I have never had the luxury of not knowing when a Black student on my campus was being brutalized, even when I wasn’t actually present on the campus. Willful white ignorance is not a pass for the racial violence that serves as the foundation on which white institutions (and their white privileged accomplices) rest.
Everyone has somehow found consciousness and mission statements these days but all are still deeply wedded to institutional anti-Blackness. That is the nature of the academy. If you think your university is somehow better, then you ain’t thinkin right. If you think working outside of academia saves you, then you haven’t come to terms with the fact that INSTITUTIONAL RACISM means all institutions work within the terms of anti-Blackness, yes even in the non-profit industrial complex (actually, especially there).
These 7 points are things many of us have always kept in mind as we move through the academy. The stakes are higher now in a summer that will be like no other.
I hope this letter finds you
both well. Since spring 2019 was my last
semester, I am writing to share some of my experiences with the hope that my
insights might offer you a different perspective of life at the college for
BIPOC. Since my campus interview in 2013
up until my departure, I worked under two presidents, three provosts, three
deans, three chairs, and four program directors. To say that the university was unstable in
those six years is obviously an understatement, so I admired the peace that you
were trying to instill which, in turn, motivated my decision to reach out to you
here. I am not expecting a response to
this letter, but I felt it was imperative that I write it anyway.
My sincere apologies that I could not write this letter sooner as family issues got in the way. I never had any intention of choking my voice and always planned to offer you an image of the structural oppositions that people who look like me face in the predominantly white and hostile departments and programs that permeate the college. In my inability to write this sooner, I fear that yet another dominant, racist white narrative at the college has gone unchecked: namely, the willful ignorance surrounding the racial delusions that my departure, as well as that of other folk who look like me, was rooted in the simple desire for better resources and prestige elsewhere. You must know better than this.
You must know better than this!
For far too long, the conversations about retaining BIPOC faculty at the college have centered on support for tenure. This logic assumes that tenure and promotion are something difficult for us. I assure you that this has not been the case for me or my peers. My generation of successful Brown and Black professionals are a mobile generation and the most decorated amongst us do one thing when an institution continually devalues us: we leave. This is as true for academia as it is for law, medicine, and business, especially for successful Black women, as I am sure you are both well aware given the ready availability of such statistical data. This is also especially true for people like me who worked for six years at a salary much lower than male counterparts when their comparative CVs did not justify their higher salaries. While there were no attempts to correct this wrong against my labor and intellect, there were plenty of ploys to get me to do MORE uncompensated work far beyond the scope of what would ever be considered reasonable or equitable. All of this is just to say that Brown and Black faculty are not out here struggling with tenure and promotion requirements; none of us would have made it into and out of PhD programs, racially exclusive and hostile as they are, if we were struggling with research and writing processes. Like most places, the college excelled in: 1) the continuum between outright neglect and layered silencing of BIPOC faculty; 2) shrouded guidelines and continual shifts around tenure and promotion requirements; 3) unacknowledged exploitation of uncompensated BIPOC labor towards service and away from scholarship (resulting in a white-racialized structure of who is supported materially and symbolically as a serious researcher/ scholar/ writer), and last, but certainly not least; 4) the chronic mismanagement of hot-mess departments that couldn’t direct somebody through empty traffic much less a university procedure. When my former colleagues and administrators claim that I left the college because this is just my personality, you must know that this is merely a cover-up for all that is wrong with them. When top administrators feel emboldened to declare that a Black woman professor is only leaving because that’s her personality (that was said to me), that is a sure sign of the institutional incompetence in retaining them and will require a radical facelift in the colleges’ rogue team of untrained/untheoried leaders who have vacated a research expertise of their work. I have only ever left a university when I found its racialized exploitation, anti-blackness, organizational incompetence, and misogynoir intolerable. Any discourse about my departure that deliberately ignores the hostile and inept environments that make a place unbearable for faculty of color like me obfuscates the college’s failure to develop effective recruitment and retention models for BIPOC and promotes the racism that the institution sustains. After teaching at multiple universities in the NJ/NY area, my experiences at your college remain the whitest and the most alienating. Any explanation for my departure outside of these terms is just another example of routine gaslighting or, to quote Mary J. Blige, some real basic hateration/holleration in this dancerie. When non-Black faculty and administrators insist that positive, racial change has arrived to campus and yet struggle to recruit and retain Black, tenured faculty, the empirical evidence is simply not on their side. I share these experiences to contend that a university which does not value we high-achieving Brown and Black scholar-researchers is not a place that can ever critically educate students who look like us either.
Real basic hateration!
The fact of the matter is
this: being a professor at the college meant career and financial
sacrifice. Even the difference in the
larger contribution that my previous university made to my retirement funds
(though I worked at your college longer) was SIGNIFICANT. For sure, we do not choose the City University
of New York (CUNY) to become rich and famous; we know that the resources and
salaries will never be competitive. And
truth be told, with the exception of those who have wealthy spouses and/or
family backgrounds (a significant percentage of the faculty, by the way),
employment at CUNY cannot financially sustain even basic housing in NYC
today. When I look at all of the
professional and financial sacrifices, just to be at a place where I was
ignored, disrespected, and marginalized, I have real questions about the
institution’s commitment to diversity and equity and why any BIPOC stay. The
most strong-willed will leave or, when that is not physically possible, find a
way to do the work they are called to do in scholarly communities far away from
the campus. Attrition rates do not even
begin to convey what you have really lost.
It is not my intent here to
run a discursive style that might sound like I am singing an old Lou Rawls
tune: You’re gonna miss my lovin. Institutions pick up and go along as if we
were never there, but they do so at the grave risk of repeating past mistakes
and never truly moving forward. My
experiences as woman of color/Black Feminist/first-generation college-goer/working
class Hip Hopper/AfroDigital Humanities teacher illuminate more mistakes than
successes. Though my negative
experiences have been countless, I will share a few instances here.
More than attrition!
I’ll begin with my last semester at the college as part of the Gender Studies advisory board who attempted to revise the undergraduate major in Gender Studies, particularly those parts that promoted horribly whitewashed and white colonized historical content. In fact, the history curriculum in Gender Studies was more Western European in its content and racist in its outlook than anything I had witnessed in schools, even going back to when I began teaching in NYC public high schools in 1993. The response to our curricular revision in Gender Studies was met with such hostility from white faculty and administration that I felt the need to address the issues in a letter to the dean (that letter is attached here… click and read this mess). After learning of our proposed changes to the Gender Studies curriculum, history faculty secured letters from faculty across CUNY (with the HIS chair praising their efforts) about our work in Gender Studies. The most prominent CUNY faculty who wrote letters in support of HIS faculty rescinded their support after learning what these HIS classes really entail. That formerly supportive faculty also informed me that the HIS faculty themselves wrote the prose, merely asking faculty across CUNY to cut and paste their words into an email to the Dean. When they began quoting from these letters, they knew that they were, in fact, merely referencing their own words. When the advisory committee withdrew the revisions to the curriculum, the HIS department then sent emails to their original letter writers thanking them with the following message: “we accomplished our goal.” The only thing that they seemed to achieve was a bullying of the faculty who volunteered without any recognition or compensation to run an interdisciplinary program and the maintenance of a recalcitrant white colonized curriculum. This kind of curriculum, pedagogy, and discourse are quite literally rewarded and protected at the college and it is an embarrassment.
This particular instance with Gender Studies serves as an example and
not an exemplar. I arrived exhausted by
the battles and racist attacks that I had witnessed and fought at my previous
colleges. Your college only added new
dimensions and taught me that I can trust no institution to treat BIPOC well
and hence I no longer expect it. That pessimism is, in fact, the only gift that
your college gave me.
It was simply routine for faculty of color to describe senior white faculty who had reprimanded them for congregating with other faculty of color in the physical spaces and meetings of the college. I am not sure what shocked me most: 1) that POC faculty obeyed these plantation-styled surveillance regimes; 2) that the university does not face more discrimination law suits, or; 3) that the college has chosen these same white faculty as administrators today. I mean, really, this is the kind of stuff that made Marvin Gaye write songs like “What’s Going On” because this kind of madness needs its own whole melody. The outrageous behaviors of hostile faculty against BIPOC went unchecked in all of my encounters, especially in the first semester of my arrival with a dean and chair who remain the most unsupportive of any that I have encountered. I tape-recorded the discussion of my first classroom observation and, unsurprisingly, the tapes revealed major discrepancies between what was said and what the administrator recorded as evidence of the discussion. I secured a lawyer to review my legal options given the egregiousness of the encounter and the final record. I only decided to forego pursuing the obvious legal breaches so that I can present and write freely and openly about the events on a national stage. Since then, I have advised countless Brown and Black faculty to consult their state laws about recorded conversations and their allowance in court rooms, a lesson courtesy of my experiences at your college where a routine classroom observation did not follow basic, ethical employment guidelines.
In my time at the college, I was further accused by a white faculty member of stealing his property. My mail was opened and damaged on three, separate occasions. Since these three items included a paycheck, an honorarium, and a contract, it seemed obvious to me that my mail was targeted. On yet other occasions, when I would, for instance, inadvertently leave a text on the photocopy machine in what was then a locked room in the department (that only faculty could access), my papers were shredded with careful attention paid to ripping words and sentences that represented racial critique by BIPOC. I have actually kept these pieces of paper so that I can show national audiences exactly what macro-aggressions look like for BIPOC. None of these events are particularly surprising or new, but these kinds of routine experiences call into question the college’s market campaigns about “educating for justice” with a predominantly Brown and Black student body in a city with the highest concentrations of Black/Brown populations in the country. To keep the old skool R&B playlist running here, I’ll go with Keith Sweat on this one: “sumthin, sumthin just ain’t right.”
…Sumthin sumthin just ain’t right!
As a discourse community, the
culture was further troubling. I heard,
on countless occasions, faculty and administrators describe their desire for
administrative work in terms of being able “to get out of the classroom.” When I arrived, I had left an administrative
position with a 1/1 load, then turned down a more competitive offer at a state
university campus with a 2/2 load and smaller classes, just so that I could get back into the classroom. I chose the college for the heavy teaching
load and for its students and ended up traveling all over the country to cull
and share research-based ideas and theories about 21st century Brown
and Black classrooms because there was NO such intellectual exchange at the college.
To say that I was disappointed would be a compliment. It was also incredibly difficult to listen to
faculty talk about minimizing their time in Brown and Black classrooms while
performing a self-congratulatory righteousness that they were doing the greater
good by racking up years of course releases with their “service.” A very specific language was consistent and
repetitive: doing administrative/leadership work meant getting out of teaching
and being able to pick up one’s children in time from school (and in each of
these instances, the speaker meant an expensive, private or parochial
school). I heard so many public,
paternalistic pronouncements about us doing “the best that we can” from faculty
who sent their children to elite and/or private schools and colleges (even
expending extra endowments to them) that it became nauseating. What does it mean to celebrate doing “the
best with what little we have” for what education scholars call “other people’s
children” when you would never call those same things good enough for your own
children (or the children in your segregated neighborhood)? I share these
re-occurring instances as an indication of the kind of toxicity experienced by
a woman of color who had to constantly hear the students of color and people in
her communities discussed in this way.
It also became increasingly
more intolerable to hear faculty comments about the allegations of sexual
misconduct that were investigated in 2018-2019.
I appreciated the Climate Review process but did not feel safe in
attending a focus group with faculty given the nature of many of their
attitudes. On multiple occasions, faculty initiated conversations with me
defending the actions of the male faculty members who were investigated. Most often, faculty insisted that each of
these three men, naming each of them separately as longtime friends/colleagues,
had consensual sexual relations with the undergraduate students who filed the
complaint. I did not solicit these conversations and yet these were the
so-called “facts” presented to me. I
heard very little sympathy for the accusers, but all manner of excuses for the
accused. I didn’t know what to say to my faculty peers other than to simply
insist: my momma taught me betta than
that. At one point, the lawyer of one
of the accused emailed countless faculty, explaining that the accused did
research in poor and Black and Brown communities and learned to mimick these
people’s lingo and affect for greater street-cred; students, in turn, merely
misinterpreted the casual, street vibe.
As someone who comes from these po folk and these very same streets, I
can assure you that we do not look and sound anything like what this lawyer
suggested and we most certainly were not groomed to commit acts of violence to
people under our care as representative of our “street lingo.” Like I said before, we were taught betta than that. Listening to all this became, in of
and of itself, another form of violence.
It should come as no surprise that for someone on the outside of the
old-crony gangs that roam the college, and as someone on the outside of the
mainstream/ whitestream ideological apparatus that seemingly dominates all
space there, the campus climate just became more and more unbearable.
It deeply saddened me to
leave the young people at the college who gave me life for six years. My entire career has been dedicated to the
education of Black and Brown youth so it was an honor to do part of that almost
30-year career work at your college. Though it was difficult to leave them, it
was more difficult to watch institutional actors refuse to see or match
students’ brilliance in ways that are commensurate with a culturally-sustaining
and critical education rather than the current colonial,
rudimentary-skills-based, vocational training that racism and white settler
logics have designed for them. My only
salvation today is in knowing that the communities and ancestral heritages that
myself and BIPOC college students represent have sustained far worse and will
survive and thrive despite these new colonial regimes.
My heartfelt wishes for the
work ahead of you!
p.s. You should know that I plan to go public with this letter (of course, omitting all specific references to the college) in the hopes that my unsilencing helps other BIPOC faculty out there somewhere. You should also know that when my former colleagues reach out to me to assuage their white guilt or racial complicity, I have no intention of responding to or comforting them.They have done enough damage and will no longer have access to my mind, body, or spirit. I have refrained from using the names of the perpetrators who I have catalogued here because they simply are not important enough (they are merely generally representative and not especially individual in their routine acts of violence), but should you ever want to know who I am referencing: I will be more than happy to spill that tea.
A BLOG NOTE: Part of my desire to write this letter has also been to add to the archive of Black and Brown feminists who have taught at CUNY. There is increased interest, for instance, in the archives of Black feminists like June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Barbara Christian, and Toni Cade Bambara who started their teaching/writing/activist careers at CUNY. We learn important things from these archives: 1) that radical Black feminists were treated with disdain and disregard in their time at CUNY, despite the public celebrations performed for them decades later; 2) that radical Black feminists left behind a record such that their critiques and larger visions could never be appropriated without the truth behind their experiences; 3) that radical Black feminists worked with their students, often in isolation, to imagine alternative definitions and processes for a transformative, critical education for Brown and Black youth. I aspire to follow in their footsteps and also leave behind my own record. I hope that CUNY will someday end up on the right side of history when it comes to a radical Black feminist presence. It didn’t see it in my time there, but I remain hopeful that CUNY’s students might one day experience a culturally-sustaining and critical education. In the meantime, we can get real about what stands in the way.
It’s never just about the “microaggressions.” Daily aggressions derive their political and emotional meanings and are legitimized inside of the larger contexts of dehumanization. When the white male professor down the hall accused me of stealing his little measly stuff, that happened at the same time that I watched, over and over again, Eric Garner tell NYPD that he couldn’t breathe. They killed Garner anyway, for standing on the corner with some loosies. Though the inability to even walk down the hall at the college where you work without being perceived as a thief is not the same as Garner’s murder, a singular social system justifies both. When I was questioned by a hyper-privileged white administrator about my academic credentials, as if I didn’t have them, that happened at the same time that the initial jury wouldn’t convict Michael Dunn of first-degree murder of Jordan Davis. It took TWO TRIALS to rule against Dunn, a white man shooting at a vehicle with 17-year old Black boys in it. Again, my experience is not similar to Davis’s murder but the trial made the aggressions I faced all the more unbearable. The microaggressions that are sure to come as soon as school starts will be happening alongside countless other incidents: like white people, mostly white women, calling the cops when they see a Black child mowing someone’s lawn or selling bottled water . . . when they see Black folks having a BBQ in the park . . . when they see Black folk _____. When school starts, we will be fighting today’s current fascist regime to get Brown children out of cages at detention camps. When school starts, we will still be marching against more theft of Indigenous land and more police shootings of unarmed Black men and women. There’s only one thing you can do in the midst of all of this when you are a college professor and work in the academy. GET. OUT.
You’ve got to take your mind back. The microaggressions that you face everyday on campus and living your life in light of what is going on in the world will mess with your mind. And that’s what Fridays are for in a week in the life of a black feminist pedagogy. Honestly, you gotta take your mind back everyday, but by Friday, it gets real official for me.
Though we don’t always talk this way: as academics, we are also fundamentally scholars … writers … and researchers. You need inspiration to maintain that. I am talking about something different from self-care. I mean something IN ADDITION to self-care. Yes, you will need to know how to protect yourself from endless requests on your time and energy, long lines of folk who need something from you yet again and give nothing back, and just the general, never-ending drains on your time and energy. You have to learn how to replenish, rejuvenate, meditate, and calm your spirit for the work that you do. But you also need some intellectual inspiration and when it comes to radical theory and praxis where it relates to race, gender, etc, I have never found that at any university where I have worked. Like I said, you have to GET OUT or your ideas will be as compromised as the folk who tout justice and perpetrate microaggressions like in the campus examples that I opened with. While my students certainly inspire me, I still need to get away from the classroom at times. When the weekend comes, I’m out. It’s a struggle with errands and family but it’s hard to come back to work on Monday to more meaningless, inane, or violent situations unless you refilled your mind with something worthy of your people and your history beforehand.
You need intellectual inspiration in droves if you want to think new things, write in new ways, and research unexplored corners about anti-Blackness and radical futures. And so when T.G.I.F. comes, I hit the road and get far, far away from my college. I have even arranged my teaching schedule to accommodate my T.G.I. Intellectual Fridays and weekends.
Many colleges are lenient when faculty cancel classes, especially for professional travel. Unlike every other college where I have worked, my current institution does not play when it comes to canceling classes though. You better have that cancelled day of class on your syllabus with a detailed assignment that students can do and understand on their own. All kinds of other mess slides for college-level expectation at my college, but cancelling class does not, at least not in my department. I appreciate this vigilance on the part of my unit. My students are not busting their behinds for a college degree to have professors who do not bother to show up or just let TAs do the job. This means that I only teach on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and get the service work done by Thursday. I front-load the week so that come Friday, I can be out. This way I don’t have to cancel classes and disrupt the flow of my teaching. Allowing Thursday-Friday-Saturday for travel and other intellectual excursions is a lifesaver for my thinking. Even when I don’t travel, I try to attend some kind of event in New York City to get my mind out of the mess my institution makes of it during the week. It seems simple but I need to be vigilant with my time and energy too ….otherwise, I will hand over entire weekends to meetings, emails, or phone conversations coddling grown folks who dominate your time because they refuse to figure out meaningful lives for themselves. You have to fight for the time and space to think and be.
Faculty colleagues of color are not something you can count on either. There are either too few of them or the ones who are there are too busy soothing white egos and catering to white comfort. I have no patience for them and am REAL CLEAR that this does not belong to the Black Intellectual Traditions of our ancestors . One of my colleagues of color told me that they were warned not to fraternize too closely with other Brown and Black faculty (i.e., sitting next to one another in a department meeting). I’m not shocked that senior white faculty and administrators would articulate and execute these kinds of slave codes to Brown and Black professors (reminder: slave codes prohibited the enslaved from assembling without a white person present). However, I AM surprised by how many faculty of color comply so willingly with these campus-plantation rules. You won’t miss out on any real conversation or interaction of political depth with these Sambo types though. This is why you need to always fellowship with the radical Brown and Black academics across the country and form a circle that extends well beyond your campus. Like I already said, I front-load the week so that come Friday, I can be out.
I attend many conferences, but only those that theoretically and politically inspire me and that have folk of color in large attendance. I refuse to be mesmerized by attending an intellectually-mediocre conference because, like so many academics that I see, it is the only place that makes me feel famous and important. I also give many talks where I get to meet graduate students and faculty and hear more intimately about their work. This also lets me see what other universities are doing and keeps me from the provincialism that would suggest that the way my university does something is the only or most contemporary way. Other times, I am just reading a set of articles or a book that pushes me to see, think, or write something in a different way. I resist the academic rule that you need to read solely or mainly in your discipline. You won’t grow intellectually that way— you just join the old boys’ club. And if you are of color, you don’t have the luxury to be so closely wedded to any one field or discipline anyway since none have your people in mind (even ethnic studies often looks for its legitimation today from neoliberalism). So on T.G.I. Intellectual Fridays, I am reading and learning. It seems like working at a college, learning would automatically fill my days. Strangely, it’s not that way. You have to plan your week around thinking/ learning in order to take your mind back.
People often ask me about my experiences teaching a 3/3 and 3/4 load as a tenure-track, full-time college professor. It should come as no surprise that teaching fewer (and smaller classes) makes it much easier to publish, the holy grail of the academy. But the 3/3 load and large class sizes are not what dominates my time at a teaching college. I wish it was all about the classroom. It’s not. It’s all about the service.
In the past two months, here is what my service (committees, meetings, and such) has looked liked:
A graduate admissions committee where I read thousands of pages of personal statements, sample essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc
A classroom observation for my department
Attendance and participation at five different candidate talks for a new tenure-track position (this meant hours of meetings beforehand to determine the candidates and hours of meetings afterwards to discuss/select the candidates)
Participation on a departmental curriculum committee (no meetings yet but plenty of time needed to read an enrollment agreement for state accreditation issues, a new course proposal, a revision of a minor, etc)
Participation on a college-wide curriculum committee (which meets 3X-4X per month with heavy reading beforehand)
Participation on a committee to select undergraduate essay award winners
Participation in meetings and email exchanges to discuss/assess undergraduate capstone courses
Participation in meetings, email exchanges, and assessment design of my own undergraduate capstone course
Attendance at multiple department/program meetings
Participation in a site visit for external review of a program
Participation on a committee to select undergraduate ePortfolio award winners
Participation in a day-long outcomes assessment meeting as part of the writing program
I do not hold any administrative positions at my college and do not aspire to. And yet service takes up as much of my time as when I was an actual administrator. This list does not include service to the professional and community organizations I am part of since those are the things that I want to do. On Thursdays, day four of a Week in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy, I try to do the prep work required of my campus service obligations. I also mentally map out the next week’s meetings so I know when I will get some space and time to myself in an upcoming week. Many times, I am on campus, not teaching, but doing service.
I am sure I have forgotten some stuff from numbers 1-12 above. The list would be even longer if I had not outright said NO to many other requests. Every week brings me another email solicitation to perform yet another mundane task. There is no real recognition for any of this work and certainly no extra pay or course release. This is the nature of service at a teaching college in a moment shaped by the logics of austerity and neoliberalism: adjuncts teach almost all of the classes while the main role of full-time faculty seems to be the performance of bureaucratic tasks, bottomless meetings, and infinite committee appointments. Programs are so severely under-resourced that only a Herculean effort on the service work of faculty can keep them afloat, an exploitative cycle that admin will expect and naturalize if you let them.
To be sure, I see some of this work as necessary: the opportunity to select a faculty person of color as your new colleague; an opening to challenge the uber-traditionalist instructional model of a college; the chance to ensure that graduate students of color get a fair shake and recognition; the occasion to bear witness to the endless machinations that determine the look and color of a college curriculum, its assessments, and its awards. The procedures to do these things are, nevertheless, utterly ridiculous.
Necessary or not, I won’t be serving on most of these committees in the future. I can now say: yeah, been there, done that, it was a waste of time and I ain’t doin it again (I mean this very earnestly… this IS exactly what I will say). I have more to say about service as part of my hustle in academia but I will do that later as part of my ongoing Academia as a Hustle posts. For now, I will just say that service also has a Black Feminist ethos in my week’s pedagogy. On some level, many of my colleagues think they are doing socially transformative work in these uber-western, bureaucratic processes and can lose sight of their political center or the very meanings of radical transformation. Riddled with insecurities in an academy that makes you feel like you have to always prove your worth, many of my colleagues want to feel involved and important and they think this college service stuff is the way. Some of these folks act like these committees are the equivalent of planting a tree or working with disaster victims! Get a grip! What Tiffany King calls “Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism,” what I have been referencing across this series of posts, requires you to have a much more critical lens on the ways you are challenging or co-signing service and the logics of austerity and neoliberalism in higher education. This is especially true since it is women of color who will be most expected to do all this free labor. If you let them, folk will run your body, mind, and spirit into the ground by: 1) over-tasking/over-taxing you; or 2) wasting your energy and time in meetings and committees where progress is slow, where your input is miles higher than what the structure will allow as output. It’s always worth it to peek behind the emperor’s curtain and see how the shenanigans back there really work but you don’t need to keep visiting. One time is all you need. Skepticism and refusal are important services too.
I have met a lot of graduate students in the past three years: at national conferences, at talks and workshops that I have given, from personal emails/DMs, and in the classes that I teach. I wish I could stay in touch with ALLL of them. I have seen graduate students from seemingly every corner of the humanities and social sciences, and even some from math and science education. There is one thing that they all have in common at this historical moment: THEY. ARE. MAD. AS. HELL. I love it and hope with every connected fiber and tissue related to my being on this earth that they STAY MAD… MAD AF!
On day three of any given week, my Wednesdays, I teach graduate studies. This semester I am teaching a course called “Intersectionality and Activist Research in the Movement for Black Lives.” It’s a methodology course that tries to take seriously that a critique and refusal of neoliberal anti-blackness in higher education has to be achieved before our research can make a difference. There are 18 students in the class and at least another 10 still on the proverbial waiting list— there just weren’t enough seats in the room to let them in. I make my whole day available to my grad students, up to and after my class. I leave the house between 10am and noon and get back between 10pm and midnight. I wish I could spend more time with them, but that’s as long as I can stay awake. So this day, day three in the Life of a Black Feminist Pedagogy, is all about teaching graduate students in the 21st century.
It’s only been in the past two years that I have even liked teaching graduate students. Before now, I found them mostly whiny, nervous, and needy and I gravitated towards the undergraduate students who were just so much better at keepin it all the way real! Graduate school infantilizes you, makes you feel like the big, bad academy and its arbitrary rules are beyond your grasp so you forget you a grownass wo/man who knows how to navigate and cut through bullshit (and you gon see a whole lot of basic bullshit in the academy; it ain’t nuthin erudite or difficult). It was exhausting being around so many graduate students who had no social awareness or critique of their environment or higher education and so just wanted you to hold their hands, give them rules/standards, and answer dumbass questions they should have been able to tackle with their own common sense. The graduate students who I meet today ain’t like that at all…. and they do solidarity like none I have EVER seen. Like I said, their anger and disgust with the academy and the whiteness, patriarchy, and exclusion of their disciplines fuels them to act and to act up. I love every moment of it. They come with RECEIPTS every damn week. Yes, RECEIPTS! Callin mofos out each week of class, naming the names and takin it to to folks’ face! These graduate students understand the depth and possibilities of decolonial refusal.
I know this is a radically different era because it diverges so sharply from my years in a PhD program (2000-2005). By the time I started dissertating, my advisors— Suzanne Carothers, Gordon Pradl, and John Mayher— supported and trusted whatever creative move I tried to make, regardless of whether or not it ended successfully because they valued my process. However, getting to that point was a LONG journey. My very first graduate seminar in my very first semester, a required doctoral course, was the worst class I have ever taken. I remember it vividly. I was simply cast as the antagonistic loud-mouth. No one wanted to make waves and jeopardize their future opportunities. This meant that no one had a intelligent critique of anything. It was a curriculum theory seminar and it didn’t matter where you landed on the political spectrum, this class taught you absolutely nothing. Because I worked part-time and did consulting as a full-time student with four classes per semester, I chose my coursework quite deliberately. I just did not have the time to waste on useless reading and writing. This class pissed me off every week! Many of our required readings came from the Brookings Institute. I was the only one who brought that up in class as an issue as, of course, the antagonistic one. Most of the students in the class did not consider themselves conservative or right-wing like Brookings and yet they did not flinch or ask a single question about the relevance of this to our work. After all, being down for the go-along eventually produces silence, complacency, and complicity. Internet search was a REAL thing back then (though google search was still a baby) but my peers had not even bothered to do that because they were determined to obey. If you asked most of them today, they couldn’t tell you what Brookings was/is or that Mickey D assigned so many readings from it (Mickey D is what I called that professor because he was about as real and deep as McDonald’s). There was only one required reading all semester about race (from Brookings) in a class about curriculum theory and nothing from a Black author. No one said a word against it. Not once. The class was so bad that even if you were a conservative, right-wing Republican, you wouldn’t have learned a thing, certainly not enough to get you taken seriously by Brookings. Issa all-around failure. Mickey D wrote on my final paper that he was not interested, as a white mainstream man, in my ideas regarding race, hegemony, dominance, and whiteness (his exact words) and gave me an A-. I got an A in the course but still stomped my way to the dean’s office on his basic Mickey D butt. My fellowship required me to present and publish annually and I so insisted that this would not be possible if I had to sit in submediocre classes that did not reflect current research trends. From that point, I got out of every required course in the program and only took the courses I wanted to take. It made no sense to me, as someone who studied language, to have to sit in classes taught by folk like Mickey D when someone like Ngugi was teaching across the street. I fought for myself and won that battle… and I was the only one in my cohort and program/school who took classes with Ngugi, who taught me more about teaching just from his presence than anyone I had met.
I had no peers who battled our curriculum and program with me, but if I were a graduate student today, it would be different. This is as much a rhetorical and linguistic shift today as it is a political/curricular one. I see and hear this in the ways that radical scholars like Tiffany King and Eve Tuck have taught me, work that I see within the terms of what Tiffany King calls a “Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism”:
Native feminist politics of decolonial refusal and Black feminist abolitionist politics of skepticism … diverge from the polite, communicative acts of the public sphere… they do not play by the rules…practices of refusal and skepticism interrupt and out codes of civil and collegial discursive protocol …. The force, break with decorum, and style in which Black and Native feminists confront discursive violence can change the nature of future encounters…. Refusal and skepticism are modes of engagement that are uncooperative and force an impasse in a discursive exchange.
I can’t say all graduate students today are ready to burn shit down. Many, if not most, are mediocre, careerist weasels with hopes of nothing more than selling us out so they can become the next celebrity tokens. But there are enough dope, decolonizing, critical graduate students today to get some fires started. There’s no way that I would go back and re-do graduate school. No one wants that but I do wish I had been in graduate school with the folk I see today. If I were a graduate student alongside the students I see today, I would be further advanced theoretically, politically, and ideologically because I wouldn’t be as suffocated by the mediocre theory and praxis that are often sold as the only viable options. I feel sorry for all these fools with their Mickey D inclinations today. Their days are OVUH!