academia, feminism

Identity (It’s Complicated)


The concept of identity is complicated, at best. Why aren’t white people called “European American”? Why aren’t Asians and Latin Americans known by their respective colors (or shades of brown)? When we talk about black people, what do we actually mean? I identify as an African American woman. What does it mean to identify? In an article by Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper titled “Beyond ‘identity’” (2000), the two theorists complicated the question of identity as a category of analysis. They argue that “the prevailing constructivist stance on identity—the attempt to “soften” the term, to acquit it of the charge of “essentialism” by stipulating that identities are constructed, fluid, multiple —leaves us ill-equipped to examine the “hard” dynamics and essentialist claims of contemporary identity politics.” (1) In other words, these theorists doubt the existence of identity based on the many, complicated definitions of identities across academic disciplines.

Surely, this complication of identity will be a shock for women, especially women of color, who are constantly oppressed and exploited because of their identities. As women, we are paid less than men (often justified by our ability to birth children), we are sexually abused, battered, and are offered less opportunities for social mobility. As women of color, we face what Frances Beal calls “double jeopardy”, the uncomfortable and problematic socio-cultural position of being black (or of color) and female. If identity does not exist, why are we being punished because of it?  

For people of color, our brown skin is an empowering reminder of historical tragedy, past racial struggles for human rights, and the very real continued struggle against all forms of oppression. For men and women who are not of-color, oppression and exploitation are also very real; we must not discount any struggle based on our racial and sexual differences. Like bell hooks says in her book title: Feminism is for Everybody. We must work together towards this inclusive feminism to reject all forms of oppression. Until then identity will be a hazy, complicated signifier used to enforce social, political, and cultural dominance.

academia, graduate school, guest post, lifestyle, writing

Work: A Piece on How to Survive Grad School

Guest Author Sarah Snyder is an M.A. student in Eastern Classics at St. John’s College. You can find out more about her on her academia page.

How to survive in graduate school?  Arrange to be alone with your work.  Make it your being, tether yourself to the enrichment of your own mind, and you will emerge knowing a little.  Follow your intellect and your smallest whims, and you will not go astray.  The creative mind succeeds only when it trusts itself alone.  Allow your education to become the ink on your skin, but amorphous and accommodating as a tattoo.  Love every second of your time spent reading.  Make yourself love each word, to feel around inside it.  Read one word a day to begin. Find the joy in your work, find the center of a circumference without equidistant points.  Keep the meaning and the happiness not in the peripherals, but in front.  Make sure to leave some behind, since not everything is sure to work at every time.  Do not allow habits to become the nuisance of your thinking hours.  Allow your mind to approach you with its ideas, give it your attention full.  Make your relationship with your studies known, never disrespect the gift of education with your inadequacy and laziness.  But do not fail to recognize corruption when ideology is present, and do not neglect your own conscious mind as the basis for right and wrong, true and false.  Be alone with your work.  Understand that you’re not alone when the voices of those engaged in their own pursuits may echo through you—Emerson, Homer, Woolf may be the closest alliance of your life, do not allow time and space to make crude your connection.  Make yourself responsible for your intellectual growth; cultivate love between your ego and your inner teacher.  Practice going within and without your mind so that you can see the difference between subjectivity and objectivity.  Ignore and subvert both accordingly, finally realize each simultaneously, alone with your work.

academia, discrimination, stress, Uncategorized

Grad School is Hard

The day I walked into the Cathedral of Learning for the first time I had no idea what I was in for. No one told me that graduate school was this hard. Waking up after half an hour of sleep, studying for months on end for my Comprehensive Examinations, teaching hundreds of Spanish I and Spanish II students, attending professional conferences, reading dozens of books, the list goes on. Did I mention how little you get paid? Did I also mention you’re probably not going to finish all of the work you need to? Lesson 1 about grad school, if you’re a perfectionist you’re going to cry a lot. Lesson 2 about grad school, grad school is NOT like college; it’s really hard and it only gets harder with each coming year. Lesson 3 about grad school, we don’t talk about grad school.

The third lesson is actually the most relevant for this blog. No one talks about how horrible grad school is. No one stopped me on my way to my first class to warn me. I’m sure no one warned you either. Well, now you’re stuck in school, with loans and have a dozen papers to grade. Take a minute and tell me about it. This is one of your first and only free therapy writing sessions.

I’ve been asking friends what they wish someone had warned them about when they first got to grad school. So far, my husband (who quit) wishes someone warned him about the culture shock. In his physics program, there were 50% Southeast Asians, which was obviously very different from his Southeast rural PA upbringing. I, personally, wish someone warned me about the racial discrimination. No one told me that as an Canadian woman of Jamaican descent, people would get lost among the hyphens and just lump me in with a typical “African American” woman, whatever that means. I constantly have to defend myself, which is something distinct, new and unsettling for me. Hopefully it gets better, but I doubt it. The shock still hasn’t worn off and I don’t think it ever will. The one stability that I have in grad school is that it is constantly a challenge, constantly stressful and therefore an accepted part of my crappy student life.