I woke up today not knowing what the world would bring. Another ridiculous, racist policy from the current government coalition, sure. Another instance of someone being deported who has worked, lived, and loved the U.S. and their time here far more than most native-born citizens (certainly myself included), probably. Another strive toward my own personal salvation?
…Not sure. Still, I’m working toward it though.
The truth of the matter is that my time in graduate school was traumatic. Probably even lawsuit worthy, though I have no idea how they work (thanks primary and secondary schooling!). Even though I recently withdrew myself, the short time I have had away from that toxic environment hasn’t, alone, been enough to reinvigorate my energy reserves and capacity to deal with people without turning into a panicked, indecisive puddle.
I don’t know whether it was my school… my department… in particular that is culpable for the undue amounts of mental stress, fatigue, and hazing that I endured there, if it is a facet of academia at large, or if it is what “prestigious” truly means for those who were not incubated to be scholars the moment they arrived in undergrad.
The truth of the matter is that my time in graduate school was traumatic.
But I do know what a medical epidemic looks like, and everyone having a long-term therapist just to get through the academic quarter, everyone talking about their struggle with depression and severe anxiety since entering school, everyone on meds or drinking deeper and deeper into the wine bottle just to cope with the supposedly necessary stresses of the program… is an epidemic.
Between clear instances of what some of my professors called “benign neglect” (as though there could ever truly be such a thing as “benign” neglect), to other professors of mine – professors who I naively believed I should trust as mentors simply because they said they wanted to be one to me – call me incoherent, and declare that the theoretical underpinnings of my work were unworthy of discussion (unlike the method I would use to test the aforementioned – and once again, unmentionable – theories).
It became clear to me, as it had for many of the students of color in the upper years, that my ideas, questions, critiques of current paradigms, and willingness to push boundaries were not welcome in my department. My skin color and smile were very much welcome, however.
It became clear to me that I was window dressing for a department that was quietly known to be incredibly racist, sexist, and in my personal opinion abusive, toward its graduate students. And my role to them – as a part of the infamous “diversity” initiative that many white supremacists/nationalists/(whatever) rail against as evidence of their having been oppressed – was to be present. My body, my presence, my name on the roster of the department was important.
It became clear to me that I was window dressing for a department that was quietly known to be incredibly racist, sexist, and in my personal opinion abusive, toward its graduate students.
Yes, to answer your unasked question, they did pay me a stipend as was customary for their graduate students. Yes, it was, in essence, a job as much as it was an education program.
But it became clear that no one, much less the department as a whole, was willing to invest in me and several others that they had admitted. They had enough money to pay us off and keep us docile, good little “elite” workhorses for tenured researchers. Not enough to suggest that in any other job situation this climate would be at all tolerable or worth the small living sum they did give us. But enough, at least, that most of us weren’t homeless.
But no one had the time, nor the willingness to learn, how to mentor, or how to teach. That time was, in fact, spent denigrating both of those actions instead.
So then I come back to myself, and I wonder today, about the hesitance with which I drew open my eyes and lifted myself from the covers of my bed. I wonder that I can’t remember whether I ate last night. And I wonder, deeper inside, that yesterday I made the choice – to forget to nourish myself – on purpose.
I divested myself because I would not be in another abusive relationship, much less one with my employer.
I realized a few weeks ago that all of the investment that I had been putting into a clearly broken system of power JUST to stay afloat was… draining. I decided, voluntarily, to withdraw from my program even though I was well ahead on my track to get my masters degree, and even though my grade point average (g.p.a.) was well within the 3.7-4.0 region that it needed to be in.
I withdrew myself, even in all of this, to divest myself from a system that was burning me out in its effort to rocket me through the program without care or attentiveness. I – not my work – became a product to mold: make eye contact like this, sit up straight, don’t talk about your research idea but about this idea that I gave you to do, “You’re dismissed. Go. You’re still here?” I was clay with eyes only to observe, no voice, moving on a conveyor belt through a crumbling factory with the word “prestigious” written on it in blue graffiti.
I divested myself to reclaim my dignity. I divested myself because I would not be in another abusive relationship, much less one with my employer. But now, having dashed away my long-held dream of being an academy-bred professor, I am floundering.
I divested myself to reclaim my dignity.
What is there to do but push into the unknown? What, when you haven’t the means to press into the unknown?
All of those people who dropped out of school to make their large, sparkling private companies (Bill Gates, looking at you), had money enough to live comfortably and a vision of something better than the world they left within the ivory tower.
I have only the latter.
…Time to get out into the sun and put my thinking cap on.