Last year, as I embarked on the academic job market, I created a blog — Conditional Acceptance. It was anonymous (I mentioned I was on the job market, right?). Throughout the five previous years of graduate school, I had learned the harsh reality of academia. It looked and felt nothing like the inclusive, diverse, egalitarian place I had imagined. Though I came looking for a place to train me to be a better advocate, to more effectively argue for social change, I found one that was de-radicalizing. My success in my sociology PhD program depended on my ability to adopt a distant, objective view of the social world. From the start, I was told that the professional socialization of graduate training programs includes “beating the activist out of you”; and, even as I began to challenge this publicly at the end of my training, I was reminded that many scholars believe that “activism and academia don’t mix.“
I quickly learned the game. I knew to be very careful about what I wrote (i.e., blogging) and how I presented myself. Funny — I got so good at it, when I asked an advisor for a nomination letter for a social action award for my work in the community, he asked “what service?” But, with the combination of three years freed from teaching (thanks to a fellowship), and then my final year freed from any service to the department or community, graduate school started and ended miserably. It finally dawned on me during a panel that the misery I had experienced for much of graduate school was the product of the dual-edge sword many academics from marginalized backgrounds face. During the first half of graduate school, I was miserable because I did not fit in; I felt too angry, too militant, too queer, and so forth to be happy with my training. During the second half, I had become quite successful — but, at the cost of my authenticity, my self. It seemed as though I had to compromise some aspect of who I am, of my values and politics to achieve the things that are highly valued in academia.
Going on the job market seemed to intensify the tension between authenticity and success. I knew that I would have to self-censor much more and to present myself as normatively as possible. It was quickly becoming apparent that being a team player and demonstrating that I could be a great colleague required biting my tongue about injustices I witnessed or experienced first hand. I was encouraged to hope for job offers at the top-ranked programs in my field, even if it meant moving to a place that would be rather inhospitable for a queer interracial couple (i.e., my partner and me). What the field considered prestigious always seemed to trump concerns about my happiness, health, authenticity, connection to community, and family.
So, I (anonymously) started this blog to create an outlet for myself while I was on the job market. But, after a few weeks, I felt that the project deserved much more attention than I could devote to it. Since then, the thought of recreating has returned time and again. But, I have dismissed it, feeling it is self-serving to devote energy to academics — a rather privileged group of people. Recently, I have spoken with friends who are about to embark on the academic job market, and have tried to advise them about what lies ahead. Unfortunately, I feel stories and voices like mine, and those like me, are not shared. Too few are brave enough to risk tenure to share their stories. Connections with more advanced students tend to die off once they get jobs, and younger students become apprehensive to bother them with questions and requests for advice.
I have decided to bring the blog back. And, in the spirit of improving academia, I do so without hiding my name or face. Through my research, teaching, and service to the academy and local communities, I aim to challenge inequality and unjust practices. I feel committed to supporting fellow scholars who are conditionally accepted within academe so that they may be empowered in their own work. For, we cannot fully address the inequalities beyond the ivory tower while it exists within it, as well. I hope, through this space, that scholars will find validation, affirmation, and inspiration. I hope to make clear that the challenges we face as individuals are often the reflection of larger problems within academia and society in general.
And, I hope you’ll keep reading, and even contribute to get this site kick-started!