I have participated in some sort of semi- or totally public form of social media since my early adolescence. First, it was Myspace, Livejournal, and the discussion boards of a group for multiracial/multiethnic people. I joined Facebook the year it was created. I had taken to more formal social justice-related writing through Letters to the Editor and op-eds for my college newspaper. By graduate school, I went totally “public,” with my first blog that was neither limited in access to my friends nor in its content. So, now inching closer to age 30 by the day, I have been “at it” in this business, if you will, for over 15 years. So, now, being asked by others about my decision to “self-disclose,” or being “so out there,” I hesitate before responding, “well, I guess most people don’t.”
These days, publicly writing about my personal and professional life feel like a mundane, everyday part of my life. No matter my scholarly training, I have only one frame of reference for all things: my own. Sure, I can readily cite what is known from research in my areas of expertise, or figure out how to find it in other areas. But, the only solid perspective which I can readily access is my own view of the world. What separates me from “most people,” though, seems to be my willingness to do so publicly.
Before I get into why, I should take a moment to avoid giving myself too much credit. There is never a time I write without intensely reflecting on whether I am in a position to even speak about a certain subject, and the consequences of deciding to speak publicly. When I went on the academic job market, I combed my personal blog for any posts I deemed too radical or militant or even too personal. Though I (anonymously) started Conditionally Accepted, I quickly deleted it, hoping it was a temporary job market-related need for release. (I am so glad I decided to revive that impulse!) And, there are posts on both this blog and my personal blog that I deleted before ever posting, or after they were posted because of (real or perceived) backlash. Fortunately, with each time I write something personal or critical, even radical, and the sky stays intact (and I stay employed), I become braver the next time I chose to speak out. It is far from a perfectly linear development, but I can see a return to my braver, more outspoken self that existed before graduate school.
Now, on to the why — why self-disclose, so personally, so publicly, and so often? Well, the quick self-serving reason is the release I feel upon writing about a troubling (or even exciting) experience. After few years of living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I have found getting
shit bothersome stuff out of my mind and off of my chest is better than letting it eat at either or both. And, yes, some things are shared only with the pages of journal on my nightstand. Beyond that, sharing my own experiences is just one part of my larger project of intellectual activism. I work to make my own scholarship — both teaching and research — accessible beyond the paywalls of college classrooms and academic journals. Though I sometimes wrestle with feeling selfish for creating an academic blog for academics, I remind myself that this blog is, indeed, a form of intellectual activism. It is my hope to make transparent the social problems that, too, plague academia; it turns out the ivory tower isn’t so immune to oppression, inequality, exclusion, prejudice, and exploitation after all.
In graduate school, I did not see myself reflected in course material nor in the professional socialization I underwent. I had faculty with overlapping marginalized identities, but no one who shared my particular social location. Though I bonded with other, similarly marginalized students, we did not always share our pain because it is tempting to hide it, or we did not want to burden others as they dealt with their own demons. Also, as we were essentially in the same stage in our careers, we had little advice to offer to each other because we were still in the thick of it. I did not have access to the stories of people like me — only what I assumed was true for most students and what my professors told me should be my experience and values. Who knew I did not have to succumb to the pressure of taking a job at a Research I institution? Who knew I could resist that pressure to actually feel happy, have a sense of balance, and not become “irrelevant” in my disciple as I was warned.
The good and the bad of creating Conditionally Accepted, now regularly telling my own story, is that I am one of few voices. I am slowly discovering others who have been telling their stories for years now. But, many others are looking to me to tell mine. On top of the intense criticism one may receive in daring to “write in public,” some institutions and organizations have turned ignoring public scholarship into penalizing it. And, in general, “it does not count.” That all fuels a heightened sense of fear and the resultant self-silencing. I have been commended by senior colleagues for my bravery — even requests to be cited for or speak about professional development. (Y’all know I’m still suffering from my own impostor syndrome, right?!)
So, now a year after I secretly created this blog and then deleted it, I feel I have been assigned the task of telling my story — at least in hopes that others will be inspired to tell their own. I am resisting the internal and external pressures to be silent, reclaiming power by pushing my story into the universe. I hope for a day that scholars like me stop feeling alone, stop feeling that there is only one academic narrative to which they compare their own experiences and values, and stop feeling silenced and invisible. In the mean time, stay tuned and consider contributing your own story!