Scholarly Insurgency at “Fugitive Futures: Grad Students of Color Un-Settling the University”

Scholarly insurgency is a way of life.

I don’t often think of what I do with this blog as “insurgency.” I do, however, think my work on Black Girl Does Grad School is urgent and necessary, which is how I came to “Fugitive Futures: Grad Students of Color Un-Settling the University.”

I saw the CFP circulating around Twitter and enough people forwarded it to me via e-mail, urging me to submit, that I decided to do it. The title alone was enough to draw me in. Fugitive Futures. Here was a group of young, up and coming scholars committed to reimagining the Academy as we know it. After attending “Intentionally Digital, Intentionally Black” at the University of Maryland last semester, I knew that I needed to be a part of more—for lack of a better word—intentional spaces.

A note about conferences: I honestly don’t think I do conferencing “right.” I’ve yet to present at or even go to a national conference like the American Studies Association or the Modern Language Association conference. I haven’t even presented at many conferences at all—“Fugitive Futures” is only my second. Let’s remember this is my third year in grad school and only my second conference presentation. In the interest of transparency, I was feeling overworked and not very confident about my “research.” I didn’t believe I had anything to contribute, and the only thing I managed to do consistently throughout my three years in grad school was write my BGDGS posts. But then, as I’ve written about, “Intentionally Digital, Intentionally Black” shifted my mindset. I started expanding my own conception of myself as a scholar and started to consider my digital work a scholarly intervention. The moment I stopped pigeon-holing myself as strictly a comics scholar, I started to blossom. After that, I realized I was ready to get back into the conference circuit, but I did wait until I was ready. It may not be the most solid advice, but it’s real.

“Fugitive Futures” marked a huge turn in my life. It marked the beginning of my second decade of life (I celebrated my 25th birthday the day before I boarded my plane to Austin). It marked my first real taste of total independence as it was my first solo journey to a place I’ve never been before. It marked the end of an academic dry spell. There was a lot riding on this trip, this conference, this presentation to be good—and I fortunately was not disappointed.

We kicked off the two day conference with a keynote by Saidiya Hartman. It was her book, Scenes of Subjection, that kept me from walking out of my Histories of Race class last year. Given her work is the epitome of scholarly insurgency, Hartman’s keynote was a perfect fit for the event. And while I could spend this entire post discussing her keynote alone, it is the graduate students and their fugitivity in their respective communities that I want to discuss. Presentations were wide ranging and conversations surrounding them were generative. I admired Carlisia McCord’s brutal honesty and her bravery in naming individual oppressors in her talk, “Can This Be Un-Settled: Why Not Just Flip the Table, and Burn it Down.” I heard from a group of doctoral students from UCLA speak about their collective efforts to organize for themselves in “’The Only Hope’: Black Doctoral Students Reclaiming Their Time.” Creative writers and Ph.D. students Maurine Ogbaa, Onyinye Ihezukwu, and Novuyo Rosa Tshuma gave illuminating talks on what it means to be African writers in “(Re)membering Africa: sneak[ing] into the university and steal[ing] what one can.” I was particularly taken with this talk because I had no idea one could get a Ph.D. Literature and Creative Writing and I will admit my mind was spinning wildly, wondering if I could do something like that. I have since come to my senses and am recommitted to my American Studies program. There were collaborative presentations and presentations from across the nation (and even a really cool student from Canada); presentations that made me laugh and made me cry, and both that made me consider what it means to have work that elicits such reactions and what a revolutionary act that is in and of itself.

When I’m in these sorts of spaces, I start to imagine what it would be like if we could coalition build with these people. As a digital humanities scholar, I’m always up for connecting via Twitter and apps like Slack. I think the digital can be a wonderfully generative place to imagine new futures. It is my hope that I will remain in contact with the people that we met this weekend, and that we will be active colleagues in helping each other navigate these spaces that were not designed for people like us to succeed.

If any of the organizers of “Fugitive Futures” are reading this, or even any of the wonderful people I met this weekend: Thank you. I see you. You can do this. You are appreciated.

We are the future, and the future looks insurgent.