Welcoming Remarks From Our New Editor, Dr. Victor Ray

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Dr. Victor Ray is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His research examines race and gender discrimination in organizations. His commentary has appeared at Newsweek, Boston Review, and Gawker. He is the new editor of Conditionally Accepted. You can follow him on Twitter at .

This essay is my first as the new editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” a career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for marginalized academics. I’ve been a reader and contributor since before “Conditionally Accepted” became a part of Inside Higher Ed in 2016, and I am happy and honored to be taking over editorial duties for “Conditionally Accepted,” a continual source of advice and affirmation.

I’ve supported the vision of Eric Anthony Grollman, the founder and outgoing editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” from the start as a behind-the-scenes confidant, occasional adviser and scholar-activist fellow traveler. In 2016, Eric asked me to become a regular contributor for “Conditionally Accepted,” where I’ve written about the racial landscape of funding in higher education, the inherent whiteness of “mesearch” and attacks on free speech from the right. I’m generally committed to public scholarship, publishing in other outlets like Boston Review and Newsweek.

Eric and the column’s contributors have created a remarkable and rare intellectual space where writers from the margins regularly challenge the status quo in and beyond academe. Eric made their own lane right out of graduate school. They eschewed the safe, docile path that graduate students are taught leads to academic success and eventually tenure. Instead, Eric centered the traumatic experiences that many marginalized scholars face in spaces that were never made for us. Eric created a model — risky though it is — of committed resistance and scholar-activism. By doing that, they opened up a national platform for scholars who remain underrepresented. I’m humbled that Eric trusts me to edit “Conditionally Accepted,” because this space is an important, meaningful outlet for marginalized scholars like myself.

Over the past four years, contributors to “Conditionally Accepted” have regularly subverted comfortable thinking about higher education. The writers frequently featured in this space — people of color, queer and trans folks, and women — face barriers at every stage of their academic careers. At (sometimes considerable) personal risk, the bloggers at “Conditionally Accepted” have laid bare higher education’s inequalities through deeply personal narratives. This format helped make “Conditionally Accepted” a high-profile institutionalized space that remains ahead of the curve in national debates on diversity and racial inclusion, white supremacy in higher education, free speech, and sexual assault, among others.

Reading the column, I often think about a famous quip from W. E. B. Du Bois. According to Taylor Branch, upon becoming the first black person to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Du Bois said, “The honor, I assure you, was Harvard’s.” Du Bois deftly inverted the white supremacist narrative of racial belonging that assumed people of color were incapable of intellectual excellence. “Conditionally Accepted” — in this Du Boisian tradition — continually reminds us that despite claims that we are only here because of affirmative action or are “,” the truth is that the honor is the academy’s. To remain legitimate, the academy needs us more than ever.

So, Eric, thank you for creating this space and entrusting me to continue the work. (Be sure to read Eric’s farewell essay as outgoing editor of “Conditionally Accepted.”)

My Goals As Editor

Because I have so much respect for the space here, I don’t plan on making big changes. I will continue to feature a diverse array of writers and topics. But I do anticipate two slight adjustments.

My first goal is to provide more coverage of current events from committed experts. The political environment in the country at large, and in higher education in particular, has become increasingly hostile to people of color in a number of ways. Republicans are doubtful about the importance of higher education generally. Attacks on the free speech of faculty of color, the promotion of so-called alt-right speakers, cuts to funding, changes in immigration law and assaults on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the rollback of protections for LGBTQ folks, the weakening or eradicating of tenure protections, and the vast and growing precariousness of the labor force are just some of the present threats to higher education. These trends will tend to disproportionately hurt marginalized people; thus, marginalized folks should be at the forefront of the debates about them. I hope to recruit public scholar-experts for commentary when new legislation or case law appears on the educational landscape. At a moment when the very notion of truth is threatened, our scholarly expertise — communicated through clear, accessible writing — is needed more than ever.

Second, I will be looking for writers who use personal narrative to illuminate structural issues in academe. So, for instance, a discussion of personal experiences with microaggressions, which are typically thought of as individual slights, could expand into a description of how organizational forms and institutional histories facilitate or hinder negative racialized and gendered interactions. Too often, the work of marginalized people is seen as overly personal or anecdote. This framing is belied by the huge body of research that shows discrimination and harassment against marginalized folks in the academy (and elsewhere) are not aberrant or surprising. Rather, such hostile treatment is common and mundane — although no less damaging for its mundanity.

I hope to publish work that connects personal experiences to broader disciplinary literatures. For example, Adia Harvey Wingfield’s contribution to our 2017 sexual violence series showed how the gendered nature of universities contributes to the perpetuation of sexual assault on campus, as high-status male professors are often protected at women’s expense. Of course, as this is a career advice column, I will also continue to feature writers who offer valuable advice on how to survive and thrive in academe as an underrepresented scholar.

I’m excited about this and look forward to writers trusting me with their words, just as Eric and Inside Higher Ed have trusted me with this space. “Conditionally Accepted” published some of my earliest public work, helping me to gain the confidence to write for other venues. I hope to provide the same opportunity for other writers. So please send me bold, fearless, truth-telling pitches at .

by Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman

Reflections From Our Outgoing Editor, Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Richmond, and a Black queer nonbinary scholar-activist. They are the founder and outgoing editor of Conditionally Accepted. Dr. Victor Ray is our new editor; see his introductory blog post here.

This essay serves as my last as editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” a weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for scholars on the margins of academe. I am pleased to announce that my friend, colleague and co-conspirator Victor Ray has officially assumed the position of editor of “Conditionally Accepted” as I step down to focus on other activities. This isn’t goodbye, for I will remain a regular contributor to the column.

At the same time, this change in editorship provides an opportunity to pause and consider how far ConditionallyAccepted.com has come since its inception as a blog in July 2013. It has certainly beaten the odds by not only surviving but also continuing to grow years past the average lifespan of most blogs. In fact, we are fortunate to simply have one editor pass the reins to another. That is an incredible feat that I intend to celebrate. This is the first thing I’ve ever created to actually exist beyond my leadership. I am confident in Victor’s forthcoming tenure as editor — both to keep “my baby” alive and to help it grow in new ways and move in new directions.

Admittedly, I am doing my best to celebrate this milestone in the life of “Conditionally Accepted.” It would be disingenuous to paint an entirely positive picture of this major decision, with no second thoughts or regrets. I feel that some unfinished business still remains. I want to see more essays by Latinx scholars, First Nation scholars, scholars with disabilities, fat scholars, Asian and Asian-American scholars, first-gen and working-class scholars, and intersex scholars. I’ll never feel we did enough to amplify the voices of women of color and queer and trans academics. But at the nudging of my “Conditionally Accepted” team and other friends and colleagues, I’ll make an effort to run a victory lap.

Through “Conditionally Accepted,” I have created a platform to amplify the voices of oppressed scholars like myself, to advocate for justice in academe and to aggravate the academic status quo. I successfully carved out a space on a mainstream, national higher education news site to regularly discuss injustice in the ivory tower. Every Friday morning over the past two years, Inside Higher Ed readers were faced with a tiny black logo featuring the word “Accepted*” that directs them to another weekly dose of calling out academic bullshit (predictably hostile comments be damned).

For me, this milestone is particularly significant because it took guts to create and maintain “Conditionally Accepted,” to publicly do work that is activist in nature. For the very foundation of my graduate training was the deradicalization of grad students; graduate school professors even made explicit their efforts to “beat the activist out” of me as part of the department’s professional socialization. The better part of my time as a tenure-track professor has been consumed with fear that I would be fired or denied tenure over something that I’d written in the column. Though traumatizing, the experiences that I’ve described in my writing did not silence or paralyze me; rather, they fueled my passion for shining a light on the ways in which oppression pervades the ivory tower just as it does beyond it.

I can humbly outline the ways in which “Conditionally Accepted” has been significant for other marginalized scholars, as well. Since 2013, we’ve published nearly 400 essays by roughly 115 different writers. More than 100 writers have shared their critiques, pains and joys, and advice with the world — all through a blog I created fresh out of graduate school. Each piece is read between 1,000 and 8,000 times via our Inside Higher Ed column (with one outlier at 20,000 hits) — not to mention the thousands of readers who read our posts on our home site, ConditionallyAccepted.com.

As a quantitative researcher, I like to see those kinds of numbers. But I am equally floored by the responses I have received — mostly in the form of fan mail — that cannot easily be quantified. I’ve received dozens of emails thanking me for my work on “Conditionally Accepted,” for creating a platform for marginalized scholars, for giving voice to hurts so many of us typically suffer with in silence. My goal of creating a space to air the traumatizing experiences I’ve endured has been realized again and again through my own writing and my invitation to dozens of other marginalized scholars to write, as well.

Introducing The New Editor Of “Conditionally Accepted”

Going forward, I am confident in Victor Ray’s abilities to offer sound critiques of organizations and social systems. Victor is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, a public intellectual and an activist. Over the years, he has written several pieces that astutely outline the ways in which racism pervades the academy. He has also exercised his critical voice, expertise and courage on other platforms like Newsweek, Gawker and Boston Review, sparking the beginnings of a career as a respected public scholar.

Victor offers structural criticism of higher education, and I believe this is the direction in which “Conditionally Accepted” urgently needs to go. He would probably disagree with me on this, but I firmly believe he is far braver and wiser than I am. I feel honored that he has agreed to step up to shepherd “Conditionally Accepted” in the years to come.

Thank you, Victor. And thank you to other regular contributors to “Conditionally Accepted”: Jeana Jorgensen, Jackson Wright Shultz, J. E. Sumerau and Manya Whitaker. Thank you to our former assistant editor, Sonya Satinsky, who helped me to launch “Conditionally Accepted.” Thank you to the many guest writers over the past four years for lending us your voices, your stories and your joys and pains. Thank you to friends and colleagues who supported me on this journey, regularly lifting me up as I felt afraid that this blog would cost me my job. Thank you to Scott Jaschik, Sarah Hardesty Bray and other staff members at Inside Higher Ed for taking a chance on us and this project, for giving us a platform, and for continuing to support us during this transition. And, of course, thank you to our loyal readers, followers and supportive allies.

See y’all soon.

Welcoming The New Editor Of Conditionally Accepted, Victor Ray

We are pleased to announce Dr. Victor Ray as the new editor of ConditionallyAccepted.com and its weekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed.  Our founding editor, Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman, has decided to step down as editor after 4.5 years in the role. Be sure to read Victor’s introductory blog post as the new editor (here) and Eric’s farewell blog post as the outgoing editor (here). We express our deepest thanks to Eric for their leadership, and extend a warm welcome to Victor as he shepherds this continually growing project.

Classrooms Must Be A Frontline In The Fight Against White Supremacy

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Dr. Nicole Truesdell is the senior director of the office of academic diversity and inclusiveness, and affiliated faculty in critical identity studies at Beloit College. Her general interests are in radical pedagogy, academic hustling and social justice. Her research focuses on the intersections of race, racism, gender, class, citizenship and the modern nation-state, higher ed, and radical black thought in the US and the UK. Her latest co-authored article, “The Role of Combahee in Anti-Diversity Work,” is forthcoming in Souls.

Recent events in Charlottesville, Va., and Shelbyville, Tenn., show us the modern face of American white supremacy. Rather than marching under sheets or lurking in the backwoods, today’s white supremacists stand proud in their tan khakis and white polos with tiki torches in hand. No longer are sheets needed to masks their faces as white men and women boldly shouted racist chants like “blood and soil.”

Instead, we see a disturbing trend emerging in larger society to label this speech and action as opinion-based ideology with no social, political or economic ramifications. While some people will look to the current U.S. president as the source of this normalization, his administration is not the only location to push “both sides” rhetoric. Instead, we can also look to colleges and universities as sites that help both disseminate and normalize racist hate speech.

Alt-right/white supremacist speakers and organizations are choosing to use and abuse colleges and universities as locations at which to speak and recruit. Speakers like Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter spew their hate-filled opinions from college lecture halls, relying on academic free speech as their alibi of legitimacy in these locations.

Colleges and universities that allow these speakers on their campuses say they are committed to upholding “free speech” rhetoric, no matter its consequences to the students, faculty and staff members who live and work in these places. “We welcome a diversity of opinions” tends to be a favorite tagline of places that invite these controversial speakers to come and set up shop, signaling a welcome to (and normalizing of) hate speech. Yet when those who are committed to antiracism, antioppression theory and practice — such as Lisa Durden, Johnny Eric Williams or Tommy Curry — use these same locations to push back against this toxic rhetoric, they are met with death threats, job loss and/or lack of support from those same institutions.

Why are colleges and universities prime and targeted sites for white supremacist speakers and their allies? Because it is in these locations where administrators saw diversity as a problem and not, as Christina Berchini says, “the symptom” of the ways white supremacy is embedded in the structure of higher education. Students across the country organized and began to protest and create sets of demands on the various ways they saw this inequity within their colleges and universities. In response, college administrators and boards of trustees have created “diversity and inclusion” strategic plans and initiatives to placate student demands. Many of those plans have not focused on structural changes but instead have relied on Band-Aid approaches that give just enough to student demands while never addressing the racist structural barriers that created the issues to begin with. In the process, many colleges and universities are now invoking “academic freedom” and “dialogue” as a way to “speak and hear” across difference in order to stop “divisive” rhetoric from taking hold.

Yet the implementation of such initiatives seems one-sided, and, instead of making space for students, faculty and staff members at the margins, they have ended up further marginalizing the demographic groups that demanded change in the first place. Instead of moving institutions forward, both diversity/inclusion initiatives alongside pleas to have more neutral stances inside and outside the classroom focus more on making majority students (namely, white students) comfortable at the expense of those who took the risk to protest injustice in the first place (usually black, brown, queer and trans students who sit at multiple intersections) because they sit in institutions that were not made for them. In this process, structures of oppression are never interrogated and instead everything is rendered “opinions” that can be “debated.” This process of deflection has helped normalize (and even welcome) hate speech on campuses, making them prime locations for white supremacists to target.

Many people call for an end to politics in the classroom, as this is seen as the source of the problem. Rather than address systemic and structural oppression and discrimination, faculty are being asked to take “neutral” stances and just teach our disciplines, leaving politics to social media and in-person conversation. Yet for many scholars, this is our work. Many of us are trained to see and then speak on institutional and structural systems of oppression. I have been trained specifically to see and call out institutional racism through an intersectional lens. If we are being told to just do our job, then we are. So the real question becomes, is society ready to accept the true point of an education, which is to develop a group of critically thinking, conscious citizens? Is higher education ready and capable of taking on this work?

That is the true point of education, what James Baldwin meant when he said in 1963, “The paradox of education is precisely this — that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” As educators, it is our job to teach students how to think critically so that they can engage with larger social issues. That is not confined to just the social sciences, but has an impact on all academic disciplines and departments. Yet as Baldwin also said, society is not always that anxious to have a mass of critically thinking and engaged people, because “what societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish.” That is why education matters more so now than ever as a location that should be unapologetically committed to developing students to become true critically engaged thinkers who learn how to apply those knowledges, methodologies and skills to locations outside spaces like this.

It is on college and university campuses, and within our classrooms and through our programming, where resistance to this encroaching normalized white supremacist ideology must be challenged. Now is not the time to side with neutrality. In my office, we have taken up this challenge head-on through our programming and work with students. This academic year our #GetWoke series is focused on Organizing and Activism During 45. We created an open-source to accompany the panels we host around this theme, using both music and accessible reading pieces to guide and contextualize each of our panels.

Our goal is to have the campus and community understand what organizing and activism are, why individuals and groups participate in these practices, and what possibilities there are or can be when we engage in other ways of knowing and being. In doing so, we hope conversations and actions move away from partisanship and into understandings of what we want humanity to be. What humanity should be.

by Jeana Jorgensen, Ph.D.

Teaching About Trauma & Sexual Violence As Contingent Faculty

Photo by Erik Mayes

Jeana Jorgensen is a folklorist, writer, dancer and sex educator. Her scholarship explores fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, gender identity, women’s folklore, and the body in folklore. Her work in/on sex education addresses professional boundaries, the intersections of belief and sexuality, and understanding the cultural and historical contexts informing public sex education. She is a regular contributor to Conditionally Accepted, Patheos and MySexProfessor.com. You can follow Dr. Jorgensen on Twitter at .

Teaching Trauma While Contingent

I have been on a trauma-research kick for a couple of years now, and the topic has found its way into my teaching. But as an adjunct professor — thereby lacking job security — I must be mindful of the potential professional costs of teaching about trauma.

I am especially concerned about teaching triggering material because I am an adjunct. I worry about complaints from students, parents and perhaps colleagues — not for mishandling contentious material (which would concern me, too), but for bringing it into the classroom in the first place.

Adjuncts often teach on semester- or yearlong contracts, lacking the job security of a guaranteed renewal and the protection of tenure. In an earlier blog post, “Adjuncting and Academic Freedom,” I reflected on how that affects my ability to teach contentious subjects: “At some point, the merit of the individual adjunct scholar ceases to be a factor in the decisions of large institutions, and negative press might be a factor.” When we choose or feel compelled to teach about controversial issues, we become vulnerable to negative responses that could hasten the end of our time at a given institution.

Sexual violence and trauma are still, in my experience, considered edgy or controversial topics to include in one’s curriculum. While it is certainly possible to misstep by handling those issues poorly or insensitively, merely including them should not be a risk. I say this based both on their deplorable prevalence historically as well as on my work today in the sex education world, which has taught me that trauma-informed education is essential.

Based on lessons that I have learned while teaching as an adjunct about trauma (mostly related to sexual violence), I offer the following advice to other contingent faculty members.

Start creating a civil classroom environment immediately. I do not usually lead with trauma topics on the first day or even in the first week of the semester. Instead, I begin to craft a civil classroom from day one, trusting that it will support discussion of tough topics later.

I share my guidelines for discussion in lecture, and the students and I talk about whether we should add anything to this shared agreement about how to comport ourselves in class. It contains basics of adult communication: things like using “I” statements when discussing your response to topics, respecting people’s boundaries and so on.

Instructing students on how to interact with difficult topics and each other is not a panacea. But it does give me something to fall back on if I need to intervene in a discussion in which someone begins to say something that sounds like victim blaming.

That relates back to the precarity of teaching trauma as a contingent faculty member because, if nothing else, we can point at our scaffolding and preparation as evidence that we did our best to create a safe classroom environment. Our best may not be good enough when facing a hostile administration, but it is something.

Learn about and implement trauma-informed approaches. In my time among sex educators and therapists, I have learned that trauma-informed approaches are a must. That means being aware of how trauma impacts the brain and memory, knowing what flashbacks and triggers are, and understanding how to provide social support in appropriate ways. (For example, if you are an educator, then your tool set is different than a clinician’s.)

I have blogged about crafting trauma-aware interactions. Whatever the situation, it boils down to giving the people with whom you are interacting agency in terms of what and how they disclose, and not judging or diagnosing them.

I guarantee that, in most classrooms, you will have someone who has a trauma history, whether it is neglect or sexual violence. It is so statistically likely, especially compounded by intersectional factors (e.g., with college students more likely to have experienced sexual assault), that we need to adjust our teaching to account for this.

Unfortunately, most adjuncts do not have the time or resources to pursue training in trauma awareness. I have attended workshops on my own dime to acquire that knowledge. That is a disservice to students, but I do not see college administrations changing their orientation toward trauma awareness any time soon. And even if that were to change, I cynically believe that full-time faculty and staff members would see the first wave of trauma training before adjuncts and part-time faculty would.

If you only read one book on trauma, I highly recommend Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. It is my guide to teaching about trauma.

Destigmatize the experience. I spend a lot of time thinking about what counts as normal and how normativizing discourse is deployed. I appreciate Dr. Debby Herbenick’s Tumblr project, , which aims to normalize the daily discussion of sexuality topics. I also think my colleagues who take issue with the word “normal” have a point in stating that it can have negative connotations, implying that normal is something for which people should strive.

For those reasons, I prefer to think about destigmatizing the study of sexualities and its various practices/experiences. I have received some pushback here, but luckily it has not come with consequences (yet?). It has mostly come in the form of students relaying parental complaints at my assigned reading for being “trash” when it focuses on alternative sexualities.

In a gender, women and sexuality studies course I taught on sexuality in fairy tales, we did a unit on abuse and incest in fairy tales, drawing on both texts from the Grimms’ collection and recent rewritten tales. Students spoke up about their own abuse in class and how it was helpful to see trauma and abuse reflected in literary and cultural sources.

When teaching about sexual assault and trauma, I try to destigmatize the very widespread experience of surviving abuse by including statistics about its prevalence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That helps students to realize how common it is, which can lead to a conversation about how we handle the topic. Hopefully, this also makes students who have experienced it — whether they disclose — feel seen and included rather than marginalized.

I have started to incorporate trauma every semester I teach, because it relates to most aspects of human experience. While I am still learning the ropes, I believe that following the aforementioned methods has been helpful, both for my own experience and for my students’.

Recently, I did an hour-long lecture about trauma and folklore in The Forms of Folklore, my large lecture class at the University of California, Berkeley. I was only a visiting lecturer without the possibility of renewal, but I believed that my students deserved to have access to information about how trauma works and how it might impact their fieldwork experiences while collecting folklore. It was nerve-racking for me to prepare this lecture, but it went extremely well. Lots of people thanked me afterward, including a few who identified as survivors.

It can be disheartening to study and teach sexual violence and trauma, especially when faced with the apparent contradiction of administrations who are either apathetic about what we as adjuncts do in the classroom or unduly vigilant about controversial topics that might damage the brand. But students need access to this information as humans traveling a world that is rife with abuse. Knowing that this helps students makes it worthwhile for me to teach trauma, no matter how precarious my situation might be, and I am curious to hear if it is the same for others.

Scholars Of Color Should Create Supportive Communities To Thrive

Note: this was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Macy Wilson is a doctoral student of clinical psychology, currently completing her internship at a federal prison. She identifies as a biracial (African-American and Xicana), queer, cis woman. Macy’s research integrates issues of masculinity, womanist and feminist issues, and culturally competent proactive intervention.

Self-Care Through Intentional Community

Earlier this year, I gave a presentation on mental health, cultural competence and services for African-American/black folks at the Cultural Impact Conference. This particular conference was one in which multiple cultures were highlighted, and special attention was given to the ways that mental health impacts these groups. It was an inspiration to see so many people collectively dedicated to the advancement of mental health for marginalized communities.

Unfortunately, however, such crucial conversations are more of an exception than a rule, and they are recurrently missing from our personal experiences as scholars of color, particularly in navigating the academy. That missing link contributes to fostering a highly polarizing atmosphere for academics of color. It is important to recognize the value of community when navigating these experiences; the presence of community can often be a form of self-preservation, rejuvenation and comfort.

Lately, a lot of attention has been paid to self-care and the ways in which we practice it (or fail to). I firmly believe that, as a woman of color, having conversations about what it means to survive and thrive in predominantly white spaces is integral to my self-care and self-preservation. In order to embrace this aspect of self-care, though, I learned that I had to be intentional about the people with whom I spent my time, the mentors I sought out and the opportunities in which I partook outside school (read: the communities I formed or with which I engaged). It was sometimes a difficult balance to achieve as a graduate student, because time is a luxury.

Throughout all of my years of higher education, I have simultaneously worked while taking a full course load. This is a common experience for many college students, but the demands of graduate school add an extra layer of difficulty to the mix. Integrating the totality of one’s identity can also be a difficult task when many spaces are not fully welcoming of those identities — or even “conditionally accepting” at best. The importance of community during such times cannot be understated. Whether it’s having a fellow graduate student take detailed notes in your absence, someone lending a listening ear when you are feeling stressed or having someone with whom to celebrate the good times, I occasionally found myself relying on the help of others in spite of my “strong black woman” complex.

One thing I didn’t realize until the final years of my program was how crucial it was to communicate with, and seek advice from, mentors and scholars of color. Upon beginning my program, I quickly developed a feeling of resentment because it felt as though fellow students and many faculty members were not as invested in (read: vocal about) cultural competence and the myriad ways in which mental health must be tailored to suit the needs of complex individuals. All of this was compounded by the Eurocentricity of our readings. During those times, I felt as if parts of my identity were being dismissed, and I, subsequently, executed poor self-care strategies by isolating even further. I internalized the notion that I was a complex individual and that others would not understand, or care to hear about, my grievances.

In keeping quiet, however, I did myself a disservice because no one understands how to correct a problem that is never verbalized. Further, I prevented myself from making meaningful connections by not voicing my concerns to the scholars of color who had already paved the way and probably experienced similar feelings along their journeys. Had I done that from the beginning, I believe that my approach to self-care would have improved rapidly and that I could have made meaningful connections even sooner with scholars of color whom I greatly admired.

This is not to say that all scholars of color will automatically take us under their proverbial wings and happily share their own stories, but speaking with scholars of color at my institution and in the community (even if it wasn’t directly about how I was feeling) helped to create a safe space in the midst of an experience that sometimes felt unwelcoming or silencing. Hearing some of the frustrations from their time in graduate school was encouraging and liberating, because I realized that I wasn’t alone.

That understanding was especially helpful because it made me feel visible and heard. That visibility was (and continues to be) empowering and it has encouraged me to be more intentional about expanding my chosen community. One small thing I’ve prided myself on over the years is remembering and using people’s names. It goes a long way, probably because it recognizes one’s individuality among an abundance of generalities. Not only does it make the person with whom you are speaking feel good, but it increases the likelihood that they will remember you.

That will definitely come in handy when you need some help down the road. In hindsight, I’ve realized that many of the scholars of color to whom I reached out were beyond happy to share their experiences with me, and part of that enthusiasm may have been because they knew what it is like to be glossed over, ignored, rejected or just not taken as seriously in predominantly white academic spaces.

Standing out positively in academe is important but sometimes difficult, and it can be easy to slip into the comfort of anonymity by just doing your work and graduating, or quitting altogether. As an introvert, I loathed conversations about “networking” because I assumed that meant small talk, but I slowly learned that it doesn’t have to! One-on-one conversations with individuals can be as meaningful as you choose to make them, and a big part of that depends on how much you are willing to share of your authentic self. That is easier said than done, however, because it takes courage to make oneself vulnerable and willing to humbly learn from another.

Scholars of color know well that we must work at least twice as hard to be considered half as good as our white counterparts, and that this work is augmented by our other identities that may further marginalize us within predominantly white spaces and institutions. Attempting to compensate for the “black tax” and other penalties for being a minority can be exhausting. The work that we have chosen to do is important, and it is imperative that we take care of ourselves while staying the course; we owe it to ourselves.

Looking forward, other people will be able to stand on our shoulders as they journey to improve academe and the broader world in which we live, because we were proactive and not reactive. Additionally, we can be a lighthouse for those behind us because we stayed true to ourselves in the midst of the isolation and attempts to silence us — because we were committed to our own self-preservation. In the words of Audre Lorde, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Lorde, and many like her, reclaimed their time in efforts to practice effective self-care, and it will be a boon for us to integrate these same efforts in our personal and work lives.

The academy and future scholars need our voices now more than ever. Speaking out, writing and intentionally connecting with others will enable us to survive and thrive within these spaces, because this work cannot be done alone.

Power-Conscious Approaches To Campus Sexual Violence Prevention

Harris & Linder

Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Dr. Chris Linder () is an associate professor of college student affairs administration at the University of Georgia. Dr. Jessica C. Harris () is an assistant professor of higher education and organizational change at the University of California, Los Angeles. Be sure to see their first blog post on challenging taken-for-granted assumptions in research on sexual violence.

Feminists have long advocated that sexual violence is more about power than about sex, yet few people understand what this means. Further, when mainstream feminist movements (i.e., white, middle-class, educated, cisgender women) highlight that power is integral to understanding sexual violence, that usually (re)centers power connected with only sexist oppression. While misogyny, patriarchy and sexism contribute to sexual violence, we argue that the root of sexual violence is deeper than the sum of these sexist systems.

The root cause of sexual violence is oppression, in all of its manifestations, including racism, cissexism, heterosexism, ableism and sexism. Oppression results from people abusing power or lacking consciousness about how power influences their own and others’ experiences. For these reasons, we advocate a power-conscious approach to addressing sexual violence.

What does “power conscious” mean? Simply put, it means paying attention to power dynamics at work in individual, institutional and cultural systems of oppression. Developing power consciousness means that we ask:

  • Who is missing in this discussion? Who is centered? Why? (See our previous essay for a fuller discussion on this.)
  • Who has the power — both formal and informal — in this system?
  • How do social identities influence who is heard and who is ignored and silenced?
  • Who benefits from this system? Who does not?

For example, how do social identities influence people’s experiences in the criminal justice system? The cases of Cory Batey and Brock Turner illustrate how racism and classism show up in sentencing processes. Cory Batey was a black football player at Vanderbilt University; Brock Turner was a white swimmer at Stanford University. Both men were convicted of committing sexual violence. Batey was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and Turner was sentenced to six months in jail. Although state law and specific contexts make up for some of the discrepancy in sentencing, they cannot account for the drastic differences in the sentencing in these cases.

How does that relate to our campuses?

College campuses are mostly made up of the same people who make up our larger communities, so racism and classism are showing up in our campus accountability systems, as well. Campus police, campus judicial systems and even victim advocacy services are not immune from failing to consider the ways people from historically minoritized communities may not experience campus systems the same as students with mostly dominant identities.

So, what do we do? Below, we offer three specific recommendations for approaching sexual violence from a power-conscious perspective.

Learn the history of rape and racism. Ahistoricism, or failing to understand or account for the history and context of an issue or topic, leads to incomplete and ineffective strategies for dealing with sexual violence. For example, .

Early sexual violence laws in America were rooted in property law. White men were the only people who could file charges of rape, as rape was considered a property crime — something that reduced the value of a man’s daughter, essentially his “property.” Additionally, in the time period after the Civil War, of sexual violence directed toward white women to maintain white men’s power and dominance.

More recent sexual violence laws, specifically, the Violence Against Women Act, emerged during the “tough on crime” era of the 1980s and ’90s, which was also highly racialized. People in that era sought to address drug abuse, but , contributing to the continuation of portraying men of color as criminals.

Given the racialized history of sexual violence law and the current context of racism in legal and policy systems, administrators and educators on college campuses should consider community accountability processes as an option for addressing sexual violence. Community accountability, as described by the , means that communities stop relying on systems that perpetuate violence toward them and start relying on each other to hold perpetrators of violence accountable and work to transform perpetrator behavior. Community accountability is not appropriate in all cases and must be carefully implemented under the leadership of people with a significant understanding of it (specifically, women of color, who created it).

Further, in cases where campus adjudication systems are used, people involved in those systems must be educated about the role of oppression in legal and policy response, as well as the history of the intersections of oppression and sexual violence. A deeper understanding of history may lead to more equitable outcomes in campus adjudication systems.

Employ an intersectional, identity-conscious perspective. Foundational intersectionality scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw provides a to illustrate centering women of color and poor women in interpersonal-violence work. Crenshaw helps us understand that, by centering the most marginalized people in efforts to address interpersonal violence, no one is left out. When white, cisgender, heterosexual women at elite institutions of higher education are centered in sexual violence work (as they are now), they are the only ones to benefit. However, when marginalized populations are at the center of antioppression work, strategies are more comprehensive, resulting in more effectively dealing with interpersonal violence.

That being said, incorporating intersectionality into student affairs practice does not mean that every program has to be for every student. There is no such thing as an “all-inclusive” program. In fact, this is dangerously close to the concept of “color blindness,” or the notion that one does not “see” color when discussing race. In addition to the ableist nature of the term “color blindness,” using an “identity-neutral” approach to any issue effectively (re)centers people with dominant identities, who are treated as the norm or default.

Related to campus sexual violence, seemingly identity-neutral approaches effectively make the experiences of any victim who is not a white, cisgender, heterosexual woman invisible. Designing programs that specifically center the experiences of men survivors, trans and queer survivors, survivors of color, and survivors with disabilities (re)centers their experiences in the conversation. Doing so will result in better-informed providers and more empowered survivors. This also frees up space to develop programs specifically for white, cis, hetero women, whose experiences are distinct in and of their own — just not the only experiences, as currently portrayed.

Focus on perpetrators. We are working on a research project examining the ways sexual violence is portrayed in campus newspapers. An initial review of the data reveals that perpetrators are invisible in most articles about sexual violence. Language used throughout newspaper articles often implies that sexual violence just “happens,” as though there is no actor or explanation for it.

By making perpetrators invisible, we ignore important power dynamics at play. Perpetrators — not alcohol, not being at the wrong place at the wrong time, not miscommunication — are solely responsible for sexual violence. Failing to acknowledge this ignores the power that perpetrators wield, placing responsibility for ending sexual violence on the wrong people: potential victims, bystanders and advocates.

Campus administrators and educators should work to ensure that perpetrators are made more visible in discussions of sexual violence prevention. For example, rather than only focusing on teaching potential victims how to avoid being assaulted, we should spend more resources teaching people not to rape. Focusing on perpetrators as the cause of sexual violence may contribute to increased community accountability for their actions. People will begin to see the perpetrator — not alcohol or miscommunication — as the key problem.