Category Archives: Other Resources

Reflections of an Incoming Black Graduate Student Association President

I decided to run for president of my institution’s Black Graduate Student Association.

Spoiler alert: I won.

My friends went through a range of responses, from being anxious about how much stuff I already do to referring to me immediately as “Madame President.” Some folks thought it was a snap decision, while my Dad said, “Well it’s about time.”

The truth is, I’ve been in a growth process surrounding Black student organizations since I was on Black Student Alliance’s board at UVA seven years ago. I served there for one year, and due to my declining mental health, I quit the summer before my third year.

And as much as I’d love to contribute my decision to leave that space solely to my mental health, I also had a hard time with the way men’s voices were privileged, the “in-groupness” of it all and what I felt, at the time, was a performance of activism. I felt like there wasn’t space for me, not realizing that I had the agency to make space for myself.

So I left.

Still, the imprint of my time there remained. I stayed in touch with a fourth year who had also been on BSA and went on to pursue a doctorate in English, and she became a huge resource for me throughout my graduate school journey. It showed me the beginnings of what I would come to understand as a number of interwoven Black communities, rather than one group that could not be effectively serviced as such. And, in some ways, most importantly, Claudrena Harold’s, our BSA advisor’s, teachings about the activist and advocacy roots of Black student groups at Predominantly White Institutions lingered long after I had removed myself from BSA.

For the rest of time at UVA, I became very involved in smaller scale organizations. I worked as an intern with the Outreach Office of Admission and the Ridley Scholarship Foundation. I invested in the French House and Language House Council. And I became the stage manager for the Black Monologues.

In an institution where titles were collected like souvenir coins, working with these organizations helped me to undo harmful notions of leadership without purpose. Though often unrecognized, the work of my last two years were the most fulfilling. It taught me to invest wisely and in communities you already belong to.

Bloom where you are planted, but also make sure the garden others inherit is well tended for them when they come along.

By grad school, which you will know if you’ve been following along with BGDGS, I was feeling lost again. I resented feeling forced to participate in my program’s student organization given that I felt the program often was a place of hostility for me. So I turned elsewhere for support at the institution, frequenting the Black Law Student Association gatherings and getting involved with a short lived Black undergraduate student publication, but nothing seemed to stick.

My solution was to turn to the digital. You know that story: I worked for a few years building up my network of Black graduate students and Black faculty to turn to at other institutions through Black Girl Does Grad School and Twitter. Between my thriving digital life and the various pockets I began to occupy at school, most notably with the Lemon Project, I began to feel more supported.

During this time, the Black Graduate Student Association began to emerge in a new iteration. It had once existed at the institution, but with little documentation, it was difficult to know much more about it. Madeline Williams worked to get this new formation of the organization off the ground, and in my thirst for community, I began to frequent meetings.

I would be lying if I say I hadn’t considered running for the executive board over the few years of the organization’s existence. But the timing was never right: first I was in the midst of comps, then trying to complete a first draft of the dissertation. So I settled into being a fairly active member.

But this year, two big shifts occurred: I joined the Arts & Sciences Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee (CDEI) and I began talking to my friend, Taylor, very seriously about transformative work.

Though seemingly unrelated, the two were inextricable. Through the CDEI, I gained the language to identify and articulate what I didn’t want in a university community. It then gave me ideas for possible solutions to these problems. By the end of the fall semester, I was able to articulate with ease the issues with pipelines, climate, and siloed diversity work, which was bolstered by my formal training in being able to articulate how power dynamics work from American Studies. But I quickly became frustrated that though we were very good at identifying, articulating and offering possible solutions, there seemed to be a disconnect, at least for me, between having a firm understanding of how these infrastructures work to disenfranchise and oppress, and breaking down solutions into actionable items.

In a word, I was faced with the gap between my values and my actions.

My friendship with Taylor has turned into an incubator for transformative thought. She makes me think harder and want to move with more intention. Before having these conversations with her, before we began our All About Love book club, I knew abolition made sense, I knew how love practices worked in theory, but I didn’t know how to center those ideas in my daily life. I didn’t know how to act on them.

What I began to understand was that transformation in our society begins at a community level. It begins with us practicing being loving towards each other. It begins with investing in each other. Small actions will lead to larger change.

Perhaps, I thought, I wouldn’t be able to take down the Academy, but I could cultivate a garden in community with others in which we are cared for and valued. Even though I plan to leave the academic space, I know others will come, so I began to ask: what tangible things can I do to make sure those who come to occupy this space will feel cared for and valued?

In doing this, in centering communication, connection, care and celebration, we can build a sustainable environment for us, outside of the structures of the Academy, where we matter first. And perhaps that won’t break the system down… but actively choosing care may disrupt it.

In that break, we have the potential to replace what doesn’t work with something new.

What I propose is a building on the great work already done and being done. I’m simply asking: How can we connect Black graduate students to resources outside of their BGSA and their school? How do we establish long term connections? How do we provide networks of care for our Black grad students? What can we do to ensure academic success and value the work that Black grads are doing?

I think some of the answers are to build on and with. Five years at my institution has shown a number of pockets throughout the university that are doing really amazing work. We need to be working with them. We need to, if possible, find financial support for the research Black grads do, as well as provide venues for us to share our findings in supportive environments. I can tap into my digital networks and skills to help us create a repository of resources for us so that we always have access to things like local childcare, hair services, and churches.

But one of the most important things I can do is to make it clear that this is a space that values you. You deserve to be valued and cared for. So how can we work on infrastructures to better the climate for existing, incoming and prospective students, so that they know they’re valued?

I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I’m so willing to try.

It’s time to make the digital, physical.

Dissertation Check-In #3: Organizing, Scheduling and Tools of the Trade

It’s been a while since I did a post on my writing process– from organizing my writing, to scheduling time to write/setting goals and my favorite tools of the trade. So here’s what I’ve been doing and using to get to Ph.Done:

Organizing

Because I do a lot of different types of writing and because my brain needs to separate each style, I have a different journal for each type that I do. I have a dotted neapolitan bullet journal for my calendars and personal journaling; a lined leather journal with a quote from Toni Morrison on the cover for my long form fiction notes; a lined cahier for short pieces including my freelance and blog posts; and a classic large black hardback dotted journal with my initials on it for my dissertation thoughts. (I have linked to all below.)

The dissertation journal

I can not recommend having a dissertation journal enough. I use mine to take notes on readings, free write and do idea work before going into my Scrivener project to add pages, keep track of suggested edits from my advisor and draft periodic writing timelines as well as weekly and monthly writing goals. (I also sometimes use mine as a sketchbook….) Sometimes having a place to work through your thoughts before committing them to your dissertation file is super helpful.

The actual writing

My writing process is aided in large part by the software that I use for my dissertation. You don’t need fancy software at all– a word document or google doc will do– but I got Scrivener last year because I often write large projects, nonfiction, research, and fiction, and felt I could benefit from some specialized software. What Scrivener is most useful for in my opinion is the ability to jump from section to section with ease and move those sections around. You can write in chunks, which are then moveable on the left hand side of the screen. You can also outline as index cards on a cork board, which then expand out into a page that you can write in. You can set yourself daily word count goals and whole project goals, which the software keeps track of for you.

Scrivener is a one time cost of $38 and I have written three fiction manuscripts, a journal article and half a dissertation in it since I got it so I can say with confidence that it transformed my writing experience. I use it for almost anything longer than about 10 pages. If you’re a visual person, all of the functions of the software may help you to your writing goal(s). (I have linked to Scrivener below.)

 

Scheduling

I constantly and consistently adjust my writing goals, which then impacts my writing schedule for the week and/or month. The most important tidbit I can pass on for dissertation writing is to be firm about your goals but flexible about how you get there. Adjust, and do it often.

When I first sat down to break apart my dissertation into manageable chunks, I gave myself an ambitious deadline for a first draft and a realistic deadline for a first draft. From there, I calculated how many words/pages I would need to produce per month to reach that goal. Then each month I broke down how many words/pages I would need to produce per week to get to the monthly goal. I then broke it down to a daily average, which for me worked out to about 250 words per week day, or about an hour of writing per week day. I wrote down all of those goals and numbers in my dissertation journal to keep myself accountable.

Now, do I consistently write 250 words in my dissertation Scrivener project a day? Absolutely not. Some days, often several in a row, I write nothing at all, preferring to read and take notes over synthesizing into dissertation pages. But I might write 1,000 one day during the week, and 250 another day, getting me to my weekly goal. Some weeks I do write 250 words every day, but those weeks are few and far between. I try to schedule and goal set so that I can be flexible about how I’m getting my work done without being rigid. It helps me strike a nice balance between allowing myself to write when the mood strikes and holding myself accountable to write a set amount per day or week.

On a day to day, given the fact that we are living through unprecedented times in which every morning seems to bring a new disaster, I can’t count on being focused or disciplined enough to write every morning of the work week from 9 AM to 10 AM. Under other circumstances, I might block out an hour every morning to write, but in the spirit of waking up every morning and paying attention to myself so that I may tend to what I need to be okay in this moment, I prefer to take stock of myself and see what I feel is reasonable, every single day.

Bonus: Extend Yourself Grace

And because I do this stock taking exercise every day, there are some weeks where I can’t work at all, which necessitates review and adjusting my schedule so that I can stay on track but give myself grace for the next week. Extending myself lots of grace is the only thing that I can do to pull myself through.

 

Tools of the Trade

Here are links to some of the tools that I have mentioned above and some others that I have found particularly useful in my dissertation writing adventure.

 

Journals

Archer & Olive A5 Neapolitan Dotted Journal

lined Moleskine cahier

Large hard cover dotted Moleskine journal

Jenni Bick Toni Morrison Black Voices Journal

Pens

Yellow Lamy Fountain Pen

Pilot V5 Retractable Deco Collection

Cloth + Paper Penspiration Subscription Box Pens

Writing Software

Scrivener

Citation Manager

Zotero

Don’t Wait Until Tenure: A Journey of Hair, Self-Love and New Beginnings

By Angela Crumdy

On November 17th, 2018 my locs turn three years old. Yes, I plan on throwing a party or at least getting my hair done. It’s been a journey worth celebrating. Until this point, my relationship with my hair has ranged any where from indifferent to antagonistic. Growing up, I was teased for having ‘Oprah Winfrey’ hair. Hairstylists often described my mane as thick, coarse and one even likened doing my hair to “performing surgery.” I started getting relaxers in high school, but I was never really happy with that either—it was convenient, but my hair was always limp and lifeless. I went completely natural my junior year of college after spending three months in Cuba for a study abroad program. I was liberated from the ‘creamy crack’, but being a loose natural had it’s own set of challenges. For four years, I struggled to find the right products, tools and styles to suit my 4c hair. I poured over Curly Nikki blog forums and various YouTube channels like Napptural85 hoping that something would be the magic fix. I spent most of that time being frustrated with my hair and myself, and yet, I persisted.

When I began graduate school, there was very little time for me to fight my hair, balance a full course load, adjust to life in a new city, and, given my ever present imposter syndrome, try to figure out if I’d made the right decision to pursue a PhD in the first place. My hair looked just as frazzled as my brain, and it was not cute. As the only woman of color in my cohort, I was hyper-aware of my appearance and what my presence signified in the predominantly white space. Early on, I had the all too common experience of a white woman putting her hands in my hair “because she does it with all of her friends.” This, coupled with the fact that my nearly four year relationship was coming to an end, is what finally got me to start my loc journey. What else did I have to lose?

There was a running joke with a few friends of mine that we would loc our hair once we got tenure, but the graduate school experience was already taking so much out of me that I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to that point or if I even wanted to. I felt numb, and I realized that, life was too short to put off something I truly desired for an uncertain future. Maybe in all that was ending for me, I needed something to remind me that new beginnings were possible. I needed something positive to look forward to. So, after doing a Yelp search, I walked into a salon in my Brooklyn neighborhood, and made an appointment. I distinctly remember the loctician telling me that my locs were going to look like worms, but at that point, things really couldn’t get any worse.

As I approach this three-year milestone, I really think of it as a testament to how far I’ve come professionally and personally. There were times when I didn’t know what my baby locs would evolve into as they grew much in the same way that I didn’t’ know what would be in store for me as I developed my research project. As my locs matured so did I, and now, I am about to embark on fully funded dissertation fieldwork on a project that I found extremely rewarding. I’m finally settling in to myself as a scholar, and this is the first time in my life that I can honestly say that I love my hair. I finally don’t feel like I’m fighting myself, which is important when I am constantly confronted with external forces that would prefer I pursue the life of the mind and leave my body behind. My hair is now an adequate expression of how I’ve come to understand myself as person, and I am extremely grateful for the journey—ugly phase and all. Cheers to three years and not waiting for tenure to begin taking steps to become the person I’ve always wanted to be.


Angela Crumdy picAngela Crumdy was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina and is currently a fifth-year doctoral student in anthropology at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She holds a B.A. in anthropology and Latin American & Caribbean Studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  Her current dissertation research examines the experiences of Cuban women educators historically and during the country’s contemporary teacher shortage. In her free time, she enjoys salsa dancing, volunteering and blogging on her health and wellness site academicmuscle.com.