Shit Academics Say.

In the spirit of releasing the toxins of my graduate school days, I wish to do one more detox as I wade into the next chapter of my life as a professor.  I have already noted that time and distance have tremendously helped to heal some old wounds.  So, too, has moving out of the days of having to answer to and be molded by someone else (and now, refusing to do so on the tenure-track) and defining my own path here forward.

But, throughout, just disposing of some of that emotional and mental garbage is all it takes to feel free.  It’s just a shame that so many concerns about jobs, tenure, promotion, etc. rob us of outlets to really vent without repercussion.  So, I had taken to sprinkling vague references to offensive and unjust incidents throughout my blogs.  I’m just going to do it, once and for all, to get it out of my system.  But, I will still keep identities and contexts masked, unless it was shared in a public (and easily found) venue.

Sh*t Academics Have Said

Yes, I know the “sh*t [x group]” says is old, and became tired and repetitive rather quickly.  But, I still like the framing because there were some good and/or funny versions (e.g., “white girls to black girls“; “cis people to trans* people“; “everybody to rape survivors“; “black gays“; “white people to Asians“; “[straight] girls to gay guys“). I just found this one actually about academics and accessibility.  So, here it goes…

    • “You’re gay – do you like my shoes?”
    • “You all have ghetto booties!”
    • “What’s a Black Panther?”
    • “All Black guys have six-packs.”
    • “I’m glad I don’t have to worry about AIDS!”
    • “Can I touch your hair?  Omigod, please stop me.  I shouldn’t be touching your hair!”
    • “Aren’t fellowships for minorities a form of reverse racism?”
    • “Man up!”
    • “Don’t do that — that’s girly.”
    • “I don’t think homophobia is a problem anymore.”
    • “You don’t have to get uppity!”
    • “A little anxiety is good for you.”
    • “I mean, is it possible that these students came to graduate school with mental health problems?”
    • “You’ll have to remind them that you’re Black.”
    • “Don’t worry — you’re Black.  You’ll get a job.”
    • “You’re not going to get a job.”
    • “So, lesbian and gay falls under the umbrella of transgender, right?”
    • “I think you’re overreacting [about racism].”
    • “You know, as a woman of color, you really shouldn’t show up late.”
    • “Where is the hotel lobby?  Oh, you don’t work here?”
    • “The students here are kind of stupid.”
    • “Community service?!  Not before tenure.”
    • “You have anxiety?  What — too much service?”
    • We live in a “post-racist” society
    • Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation.
    • “She didn’t get the job because she’s a party girl.”
    • “You’re not going to get a job by studying trans* people.”
    • “She teaches an immigration course.  Can’t she teach race, too?”
    • “Do not have a baby before tenure!”
    • “You’re not really Hispanic.  You don’t even speak Spanish!”
    • “Why would you tell anyone that you’re Black when you can pass [as white]?”
    • “You’re not like other Black people.”
    • “Can’t you just breastfeed in the bathroom?”
    • “I don’t know who the new secretary is, but, I’m sure she can help you.”
    • “Oh, we haven’t beaten the activist out of you yet?”
    • Activism and academe don’t mix
    • “But, you’re research interests [on race and sexuality] are so narrow.”
    • “So, what are you?”

On A Serious Note

There is an element of fun and humor to naming these rather hurtful comments.  These are, by definition, various instances of microaggressions — or “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative” slights and insults toward people of color, women, queer people, fat people, and other marginalized groups.  These seemingly innocuous comments and actions are compounded by more obvious, major expressions of prejudice and discriminatory acts, and symbols in the environment that devalue marginalized people and/or elevate the values of privilege people.

So, in my experience, these verbal and interactional slights are just one (albeit common) manifestation of racism, heterosexism, and fatphobia in academia.  I also saw few faculty like me — scholars of color and LGBT scholars, in particular; my graduate department regularly struggled to recruit students of color.  My classes were held in a classroom named for a revered old white man scholar (whose picture watched over us), within a building named for another revered old white man scholar — all of this, at a school that continues to struggle to diversify its student body and faculty.  Within class, curricula regularly featured the work, perspectives, and voices of heterosexuals, cisgender people, whites, and men (especially white heterosexual cismen), and studying particular marginalized populations was not seen as rigorous as taking on a mainstream concept or theory.

What’s worse is that the pressures of the job market, tenure, promotion, and general status-mobility in academia force us to be silent about these realities.  If I played it completely safe, I would wait until tenure to finally open up about these experiences.  That would mean 13 years of silently dealing with microaggressions, discrimination and harassment, double-standards in evaluation, and tokenism — and, the real consequences for my livelihood and well-being.  But, guess what?  I could do everything the white right way and still find myself without tenure and a job in seven years.

Academics, we have a problem.  There is major need for change.

Further Reading And Resources (Again)

6 thoughts on “Shit Academics Say.

  1. thank you for throwing the breastfeeding one in there… yes, I *am* breastfeeding (my 4th child) in my graduation robes during commencement exercises in my profile picture. I was part of getting Ohio’s breastfeeding in public law in place in 2004-2005, the picture was taken this past May. I conceived, birthed, and breastfed to AAP guidelines my 3rd and 4th children during my MA studies, all from a wheelchair, with a name that doesn’t immediately register as “white” (I am a Euro-Mutt married to a Chinese immigrant). Your list is the tip of the iceberg and Academia is acting rather like the Titanic crew.

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