I was invited to participate in two projects this year related to race and diversity in the department. One was directed at growing our diversity and the other was about having discussions about race and diversity in the department (and the discipline more widely). They melded quite nicely together because, as my colleague, Magie Ramirez, and i realized – you cannot have one without the other.
We started a series for our department directed at opening up discussions about race and the discipline more broadly. We brought together our department (graduate students and faculty) to discuss moments in our lives (in or out of the academy) in which we were confronted with issues of privilege. The response was fascinating. We were met with questions about intersectionality and class (particularly), and had delightful conversations about the difficulty of navigating hose in our lives.
We are following up this Friday with an Ethical Pedagogies discussion that we hope will draw the conversation into the classroom setting – addressing difficult moments that we’ve encountered as instructors. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll blog about that after our meeting.
Today, i attended a luncheon put on by the Simpson Center in collaboration with the Public Scholarship certificate program about learning about race at the UW. It was wonderful and informative.
A few things came out of the conversation today that really has made me rethink my role as a woman of color in the academy. The first is that a director of interdisciplinary studies pointed out that the work that we are doing as a committee is really the kind of work that is a capstone project for an inter disciplinary degree, or even for the Public Scholarship certificate. I was struck by this (hours later) in that i have such a love for my discipline and my department more generally that i have not even thought about it as a “project” so much as contributing to my department as a whole. This disjuncture between my willingness to volunteer and the worth (cha-ching!) of the work that we are doing as a committee had never occurred to me.
I became involved because i care deeply about the success and worth of my discipline. And yet, i am reminded, yet again, that here we are, three graduate students of color (all women) and two faculty (also women) working so furiously to bring about the kinds of conversations that we think will make our department, and our discipline, stronger in its research, pedagogy, and openness in ways that are perhaps so far beyond the scope of our prescribed roles in academia. This is not about tooting our horns, so much as realizing that we have taken on a task that is far beyond the scope of “typical” commitment to the department.
Further, i am struck by the realization that, yet again, we are taking on the role of being the patient ones. We have struggled with people’s difficulties with this process – we are finding patience with the varying speed with which people are willing to confront the privilege of academia, more generally. But i was reminded today that, well, to be frank, how exhausting that work is. A woman from the Communications department said, “I’m not even that old, but i’m exhausted, i’m so tired” with having to take on the task of educating people about race.
But beyond that, what i found so invigorating was the positive response that i got from the group, as a whole. People were excited that we were willing to forge ahead to have these “difficult” and “messy” conversations. I was encouraged to write papers and to bring what we were learning to others to learn from it. And for the second time, i felt validated in the hard work we are doing.
The first time i felt that was when we had a debriefing with the graduate students. They were excited and delighted that we were trying to have these conversations in the department. They want these conversations. They need and desire them. And this is what i want to share with people… so many of the graduate students expressed a keen interest in using this to build TRUST with the faculty. They saw it not just as an opportunity to talk about race, something that can be tough in our world, but that to do it with faculty was such a relief and wonderful experience to get to share with our mentors.
Today, however, i felt it from a much wider audience. They wanted to know more. They wanted to hear about how we were addressing issues of power and hierarchy (yes, we worked with that – we used candy to break up committees and faculty and to put students and faculty into random groups) and how we dealt with discomfort (we made room for all levels of approach – not silencing the direction that people were ready to tackle our big issues from). And they encouraged us to publish.
The faculty that we are working with have heard this from the number of people they have addressed across the campus about how to put together a project like this. There is excitement and interest. But to feel it first hand has been really helpful. I suddenly realized just how important what we are doing is.
This is not intended as a kind of pat-on-the-back by any stretch of the imagination – rather, is an encouragement in the notion that creativity can really open doors to a whole new way of being in the discipline and in academia. We have stumbled and struggled and choked on our own insecurities as we push along this path. But ultimately, this has never been about us or about fulfilling some kind of diversity requirement. Really, this has been a labor of love and race.
As geographers, and as critical scholars, it has been incredibly important to us as a committee and as a department to make the efforts that we have to break the barriers of silence and of privilege to open doors to a new kind of communication – one that is honest and sometimes painful. And i cannot express enough how very encouraging and what an honor it has been to work with the incredible women of the committee and the earnest members of our community to really push all of our boundaries of comfort to be better scholars and better people.