I started the week frantically trying to finish the world’s densest book on Hispanic intellectual history ever written and finished it by dragging my worn and battered body to my parents’ house, so I could get good food and a chance to wallow.
What’s ironic is that I started out my Monday giving someone the same pep talk I received while whimpering pathetically in the passenger seat of my friend’s car later that very evening.
Grad school is hard. A friend of mine likens it to a really sick form of hazing that lasts anywhere from 5-7 years on average and though I laughed dismissively at first, I really started to rethink my stance on that as I wracked my brain for highlights from this week. Granted, I’ve never been hazed so I have nothing to compare it to, but it’s really not that bad.
Most of it’s in your head. In grad school, you are your own worst enemy. You do have a lot to contend with, like the small mountain of books you have to read each week and the fact that sometimes you stare at your own writing so long that the words no longer make sense…but for the most part, everyone around you is on your side. I spent a good part of my Thursday afternoon getting seriously positive feedback from the director of my program, having coffee with a young woman in the cohort a year ahead of me, and struggling through work at the Law Library with one of my cohort-mates.
So, yeah, that was great…but I still managed to walk in late to an important Common Hour for work. I still managed to feel completely overwhelmed and in over my head at the meeting for the Digital Humanities initiative I’m now a part of. I still experienced my first racially isolating moments, in not one, but two classes, this week. Then, even with all of my positive vibes from Thursday, I still spent my Friday cooped up in my apartment, staring at a computer screen. All. Day.
Waking up on Saturday, I knew I had to do something different because I was coming up on almost 5 pretty crap days. I read some more for class, then hit the road with my dog. I ended up on my parents’ doorstep an hour later and my mom graciously made me enough fried fish to feed a small army. Despite this blessed comfort, I still managed to find an opportunity to blog about race and comics (!), submit work, and then get promptly rejected. Three times. In the span of 5 minutes.
Now, I recognize how lucky I am. Not everyone is blessed with a family to fall back on or a significant other that they can whine to at the end of a no good, really bad week. Some people power through these days, oceans away from their families and loved ones, and everyone knows that even the best Skype call just isn’t enough some times. It’s days like these that I’m so grateful that I didn’t have an option to leave everything behind, because I know from experience, sometimes a movie or a cookie just isn’t enough of a pick me up.
This week was particularly hard when I was confronted with just how few Black people there are where I am. As someone who went to the University of Virginia where the Black student population hovered at just below 7% and Black faculty existed at somewhere like 2 or 3%, you would think that I would be less shocked.
But, here we are.
Even though I was the only Black person (Black female, at that), in most of my classes, my life at UVA was set up in such a way that, really, I was always around Black people. I worked for the Outreach Office of Admission under a Black Dean, and a diverse staff, for most of my four years. I joined Black Voices Gospel Choir my first year, then moved on to be a Peer Advisor with the Office of African American Affairs and the Co-Chair for Academic and Career Development on the Black Student Alliance Executive Board. I spent my last two years working as an intern for my Black alumni funded scholarship and then was the stage manager for the Black Monologues and the 24 Hour Play Project: The Mixtape.
Though a lot of people liked to question my commitment to the Black community while I was at UVA, I knew where my priorities were.
With a commitment that deep to Black people, it’s hard to move to an environment where the only other Black person I’ll see all day might be the other Black girl in my cohort. I resorted to rewatching A Different World, Stomp the Yard and School Daze in the afternoons to see if it would help.
There’s no Black Grad Student Union and though there are only a few other Black students in my program at large, I’m getting the sense that American Studies is probably where most of the W&M Black grads are.
It’s a little frustrating to think about when I’m driving home, fuming about how I had to point out that of course small Black owned businesses like barbershops have always succeeded: white people have a really hard time with Black hair! Could you imagine if I walked into a Cutting Edge with a bag of my Janet hair and asked a stylist could I get an appointment for box braids?
The lack of community is even more frustrating when you have to carry a conversation about it being difficult, as a Black woman, to date Black men, because they often are not interested in dating Black women. Aside from the European beauty standard being what it is, Black women don’t nearly get half the respect we deserve. When you then have to illustrate from personal experience what happened to a young black female friend of mine after being brave enough to call attention to the disrespect Black women at the University of Virginia have faced, and have your professor chalk it to immaturity, you really need some Black women in your corner.
After being surrounded by some of the most brilliant Black artists, historians, musicians, writers and educators, it’s hard to go back to the typical PWI life.
But it’s not just Williamsburg, VA or William and Mary. There’s a lack of Black faculty and graduate students everywhere.
So I’ve gotta do this for the kids coming after me. For me, yeah, but mostly for them.
I’m going to chalk this week up to growing pains. Everyone has them. I’ll spend Sunday licking my wounds, but Monday I’m getting right back in the ring, ready to fight.
For me, yeah, but mostly for them.