The last two years have been Amaze-Balls for me. Never, ever, NEVER in my wildest dreams had I ever envisioned I would have been invited to the White House, be listed as a top African American Influencer, be at Cornell, or become a TED Fellow. It's exciting, and also overwhelming. As a response, I starting shrinking. I not shy, but I found the raised visibility made me feel like there was a bulls eye on my back. I thought by toning down, redirecting my energy I could get things under control. But I haven't; and that's because I wasn't redirecting my energy for me - I was redirecting my energy for other people. I was prioritizing other people's feelings over my own thoughts, needs, and ambitions.
The problem is...the prevailing academic climate cultivates insecurity. It just does. It sucks. And it seems to take an especially big toll on individuals from under-represented groups. Yeah, yeah, yeah, science academia has its hazing practices, but this stuff just doesn't seem to ever go away with women and men of color. Like never.
I get a lot of emails from young women of color in the sciences. Most of them are graduate students. And I've gotten "what should I do" email from them confronting the similar stuff. (In fact,they seem to be universally dealing with the same thing: an avalanche of microagressions, being ignored by peers, forgotten by advisors, committee members or other senior faculty.)
I had to acknowlege that I would not advise any one to do what I was doing. I was playing the "Do as I say, not as I do" card.
But who's my Dear Abby? The professoriate is still overwhelmingly white and male. This despite the years and money and energy to diversify the ranks, especially in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Oh, I have sister tribe. They rescue me, pull my chain, fix me a drink, and pat my back when I need it.
The most visible, activist, WOC in STEM right now are other junior scholars: Dr. Rubidium, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Dr. Monica Feliu-Mojer, Dr. Jedidah Isler, Dr. Isis - who only very, very recently just became a junior faculty member).
Let that soak in for a minute.
There are days I wish I could just sit at the feet of either of the Dr. Shirleys? And cry, and be fed, and told to keep my chin up, and stay in it. It's hard. And exhausting. But the Dr. Shirleys represent grand high status, where are the senior women in the academic halls? I mean those still teaching and researching at the the department level. Yes, administration level leadership is important, but department level presence is essential, too. We need presence in lecture halls and search committees, and plenary discussions at conferences. Is there really that much of a gap?
I recently attended a workshop at #SACNAS2015 on identifying mentors, sponsors, advisors and collaborators. As I was filling out my sheet, I halted and my eyes began welling up. My list was half empty and included mostly other junior scholars, mostly women of color and no white men, this despite the fact that most of my colleagues and superiors are white men and women. I realized that I was feeling traumatized. Because of some past experiences - of being hazed, or harassed, having opportunities hoarded away from me and/or other people of color, of being questioned (repeatedly) about my credentials, of being silenced or erased or minimized that I was skeptical of individuals who held more power than me - both professionally and socially.
It explains why I have spent so much time and energy shoring up capital outside of the typical science adacemic ladder. I never wanted to be completely vulnerable to abuse, or exploitation, or the whim of a single individual or institution. I still hear too many stories, TODAY, of students and scientists being dogged out by advisors or administrators who have them tethered to a short, jagged chain all because they don't have any allies or outside capital. This is how toxic relationships are made. This is what causes departmental sepsis and leads to bitter nasty interactions between colleagues. This is how you fail to diversify the sciences. This is how you run good people away.
And it's not that anything is actively happening with me right now. I'm defensive and that is bothering me. My past hurt is interferring with my current joy. Damn. You see how dysfunction propogates?
Academia really needs a mental health check up. For reals.