The title of this post might suggest that I am talking about a romantic relationship, but I’m not. I’m talking about knowing when it’s time to leave an academic job… and, yes, there are similarities to leaving a relationship.
Here’s what I mean. At my first tenure-track job, I designed a college-credit-bearing course for high school students that would use the history of African American literacies and education within an intensive, rigorous reading and writing curriculum. The idea was to get students so caught up in what they were learning that I would take that momentum and build in intensive college-readiness reading and writing competencies. I had an elaborate multimedia, project-based curriculum with tutor trainings fully planned out. The upper level administration offered full support while my lazy chair and disaffected colleagues offered, at best, lip-support and questions on how I would incorporate math (Yes, math, even though I am a literacies and composition researcher; even though no one else was expected to cover materials outside of their expertise). On one occasion, I was supposed to meet with my chair to go over the project details before my presentation to the vice provost. She straight didn’t show up because her dog was sick and so couldn’t bark and wake her up in time… yes, this is what $160,000-per-year for a chair can look like (and yes, this is the same chair who orchestrated “disciplinary meetings” that I have previously discussed). I canceled the project when the necessary departmental infrastructure was nowhere foreseeable. At this point, my chair proceeded to tell everyone in the provost’s office and in my department that she had designed the project herself and that I was only the person she CHOSE to execute it so that I could teach a class related to my research— according to her, this was her project and it belonged to the department. Did this chair have any background, experience, or research related to teaching black youth or studying black histories? None. Was this someone with a national reputation and body of substantial research? No. Was this someone who you could even call mentally and psychologically stable? No. Did anyone challenge or question her? No one. Needless to say, the project still has not happened and that was my last year at that university. After having successfully—maybe even masterfully— passed my third-year review, many were stunned that I would leave the university. They hadn’t originally thought a young woman of color like me would meet the publication requirements with teaching and service expectations for tenure at that caliber of university; when I announced I was leaving, they thought it was a low self-esteem issue, that I didn’t know how tenurable I was in such a tough place. Now let’s say this was my partner and let’s also say this partner stole my credit cards. The thinking was: hey, we are together, we need to share everything, so her credit cards must also belong to me. Now imagine that this fool has NO credit whatsoever so is going to just use what I have established and spend frivolously, without even asking me. You see, it’s real clear here: I need to change the locks, move if I need to, go get my cousins and meet this fool someplace dark, do whatever I need to do: this fool has GOTS to go… using me, stealing from me, without the kind of moral core to know any better, all while telling me that I am stupid because I am black and a woman. Of course, it doesn’t have to even be this extreme to get up and leave but the point remains: if I stayed in this kind of relationship, it seems obvious that I suffer from self-hatred and need serious counseling. So then why would I stay at a job that treats me like this? You don’t stay somewhere where people keep their foot on your neck so you can’t ever fully shine or grow, thief all your stuff when they need it, and are surprised that you are intelligent and accomplished… and will TALK BACK. Raise up and move on out.
Just like in a relationship, getting out is not easy though. You gotta plan and prepare. In the case of academia, it means you need to stay relevant, keep publishing, stay on the grind, and go out on the market which is basically a year-long application-and-interview process. If you keep complaining about your situation but refuse to do anything about it, then you are your own tragedy. Like with relationships though, when you get back out there, you take the past with you so the challenge is to transport the lesson, not the old wounds and negativity. I certainly learned a lot in that first job but not enough to circumvent the poor choices I made next. I got fooled by an attractive outward shell, saying all the right things, with no real substance inside. But I did learn something: take good notice of how you are being treated rather than being swayed by the nice words you are told.
Here’s an example. At a recent interview, I was asked repeatedly if I could teach something other than African American content. In my eight years as a tenure track professor, the majority of classes I have taught have been broad and in the seven years before that, still broader. So in 15 years of college teaching, I have, unfortunately, taught very few Africana-centered classes as clearly shown on my CV. Given these obvious facts, I saw this as a request to de-blacken myself in an incredibly lily-white faculty space. I was also asked questions about whether or not I could accommodate the specificity of their curriculum and yet no classroom that I visited was doing something that I saw as challenging for the 21st century or to my own teaching abilities. I was questioned about whether or not I would actually do the commute but why would I go to the interview if I weren’t interested? (I suspect a white male colleague in my field told some of the interviewers these things, but if those interviewers thought this white man could ever know ANYTHING about me or any black woman, then that’s just even more offensive and stupid). I was the first choice candidate and the offer was amazing but in the end, it IS like a relationship: you can’t be with someone who does not see who you are, does not really want YOU, and squashes the fullness of who and what you are/do/think. They seemed to need someone like me to forward their specific agendas, but they never really wanted me. Don’t be fooled by people and spaces that seem to be saying the right thing, but not meaning it.
Though the connections I am drawing here between an academic job and a relationship are intended to be comical, I do believe that the things you are willing to put up with at home match up real nice-and-neat to the kind of foolishness you are willing to put up with at work. I am reminded of a partner who I was with for three years. After the last and final break-up, this fool was ready to change to be with me again and wanted to get married. Then this fool went and made me a playlist to show regret and included music only by artists like Usher. Now I think Usher is talented but if you want to get a sista like me to even consider taking you back, you gon need to do better than that: Gladys Knight’s “Neither One of Us”… Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes “The Love I Lost”. There was no Dells, no Delfonics, no Stylistics, no O’Jays, no Teddy Pendergrass, no Luther… …I could go on forever here. Just imagine excluding something like the Chi-Lites “Have You Seen Her” below:
More than thirty years after the original recording, these brothers still sound good and, if that were not enough, be out here rocking mustard-yellow, three-quarter-length suits with matching church shoes, vest, hat, tie, and silk scarf. Now this is MUSIC! “Have YOU Seen Her”? Well let me tell you, that fool I was with for three years didn’t SEE ME! Today, this knucklehead claims confusion: why couldn’t we just be friends? After sopping up all of my time, attention, and support, giving very little of that in return, why would I need this fool’s friendship? It’s not that different from the experience at that interview. On the surface, it all looked good but I knew that there could be no room for me at a job that: 1) keeps talking ONLY about the people they already have or have had, ideas and decisions that are all opposite to who I am and what I bring to the table, and; 2) requests that I change, mute, and de-blacken who I am, all while benefitting from my unique gifts and talents. I declined the job and trusted that something better would come.
Put most simply, there comes a time when you need to just get up and leave a bad situation whether that is a relationship or a university position and you gotta be ready to leave it all behind. After the abuse and neglect, don’t expect apologies or acknowledgement from these folk, that’s not who they are. If they had valued you, were interested in doin you right, you wouldn’t have raised on up out of there in the first place. Cull a lesson from my past mistakes: I left my first job very angry. I had every intention of taking a photo of my naked behind and mailing it to everyone in the department with a detailed description of what they could kiss. A friend, however, explained that this could qualify as some kind of punishable crime so the photos were never mailed. Banned from that possibility, I never really healed and landed at a second job that I grew to hate even more. This time though, I am getting my own closure otherwise I will miss new opportunities in front of me. If you don’t know what I am talking about, just go to youtube and read the comments section on love songs (I visit these uploads often to get music that is not mainstream) and you will see grownass people begging for the return of their babymommas/babydaddies/ex-lovers (with Maury Povitch-styled paternity issues in full tow). After getting dropped on their heads (and wallets), these stupid fools be out here publicly professing a never-ending, undying love…online… youtube-dedicating or posting various renditions of “Don’t Leave Me” or “Lost Love” about an ex-partner’s “Dark side” who, in fact, was nothing but an affront to all humankind anyway (“you are my heart, my soul, my inspiration… I will miss the passion… you were the one… my guiding light” ). Why would anyone say these things to their predator/oppressor? The same goes for the new job: you can’t hang on to old abuses as something that was ever real or ever about you or ever about real intellectual work or social change.
There are serious issues related to race and gender in these stories I am telling here and I will certainly be unpacking all that as I start thinking about a new category on this website: Black Women in the Academy. Today, though, I was inspired by Crunkadelic’s words at the Crunk Feminist Collective. There is a different kind of charge and commitment to naming names and isms in this new era of the post-Zimmerman-verdict. Here is Crunkadelic on that:
This is a time for fighting, agitation, mobilization, and organizing for systemic change—yes. Absolutely. But this is also a time for reflection, reading, soft beds, self-care, and saying “no!” to time wasters and soul crushers. This is also a time for laughing, lovemaking, singing, crying, wailing, dancing, and holding on to each other tight. This is a time for potlucks, cookouts, BBQs, picnics, cocktails, karaoke, concerts, house parties, blue lights in the basement, slow jams, and dutty wines. You feel me?
Yeah, I’m feelin you. We got some fighting to do… and getting our minds, hearts, and bodies right and IN THE RIGHT PLACE is a good, first step.