Tag Archives: black girl

Week 1, or Ravynn Begins Again

Sometimes it’s still hard to believe that I have an entire year of graduate school experience under my belt. I was an editorial apprentice for a year, I presented a paper at a conference, I took six classes and wrote substantial papers for all of them. I did archival research, wrote a Masters thesis, and even took a summer job as a Course Instructor for the Keio program.

One entire year later, I stand once again at the precipice of another academic year, filled with surprises, challenges and joys, knowing that if it gets harder, at the very least, I can say I got through one year already– what’s another?

This year, this semester, looks a lot different for me already. Instead of the highly structured work of being an Omohundro apprentice, I’m now working with the nebulous Lemon Project, where my physical presence is only required for one hour a week, which I am to spend in my office in Blair Hall. Thus far, this year’s assistantship has been a lot of e-mails and meetings, going to events and planning for them. It’s a good year to be doing the work I’m doing, as it’s the 50th anniversary of residential African-American students at the College. I’m sure a lot of interesting opportunities will arise because of this over the next year.

My current task is simply to organize the first Porch Talk of the semester. I suggested making it self-care themed, as this is a particularly difficult time for a lot of people, given the political climate of America, and also recent events in Charlottesville. Now’s as good a time as any to work on keeping ourselves sane while preparing to fight the good fight.

In addition to this, I’m also going to help my boss move forward with her idea for a Lemon Project journal, hopefully to come out during the Lemon Symposium in the spring. I’m certain that this is going to be my pet project for the duration of my time with Lemon.

In terms of classes, I’ve got a dope line up: New Media, Old Media (it is what is sounds like, a media studies class); Anthropological Reflections of the African Diaspora (taught by a former Black Panther); and Feminist Theory (a class that I have astonishingly managed to miss despite my interest in feminism). It’s going to be tough: it’s the first class line up I’ve had in grad school that doesn’t have at least one literature course, which usually helps me break up the monotony of the academic-ese and theory I have to read. Plus, I’ve never taken a media class (I just sort of got drawn to it on my own and was self-taught until now), I did anthropology once my first semester at UVA, and theory isn’t my favorite. But, given that I do comics and often talk about their television and film counterparts, New Media, Old Media will be useful; I love doing Black Studies in basically any form; and who doesn’t need a good feminist theory class? (Rhetorical; I can think of a few people who think they wouldn’t need it.)

Not only will these courses take me out of my academic comfort zone, they will also challenge my critical thinking skills and how I express my knowledge. New Media, Old Media is going to require me to write blog posts and do a scalar project (I don’t know what this means yet, my first class is tomorrow), so my final paper will be shorter because I’m doing so much other work. Feminist Thought is going to have me thinking outside of the box as well: my professor wants us to write a book review and an oped during the semester, and a research proposal or a lit review for our final papers. She thinks it’s worth being able to express yourself in a variety of ways; I couldn’t agree more. Reflections of the African Diaspora will be more traditional, but even that final won’t require me to do a research paper: my professor wants a lit review.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to have different creative projects this semester, but I will admit, I was already starting to think about the research paper I could write for Feminist Theory about the Dora Milaje in Black Panther. It would be a cool paper that could potentially turn into a dissertation chapter, or at the very least, something to submit for a conference. At least I can write the proposal for that paper and tuck it away for a later date.

And amid all the chaos of starting classes and a new assistantship, I have my biggest project yet looming over me: my Masters thesis. The Dean kindly reminded my advisor that I need to be defended in September. It’s not as though I won’t be ready, but the message definitely jolted me awake and reminded me that I can’t let edits drag on forever. The fact is, I had my first draft in to my advisor on August 1. She gave me my edits back. Now, I’m working on them and the goal is to have draft 2 in by September 15. That gives me time to organize my committee and prepare my notes for my defense for the last week in September.

I can absolutely do it. The edits my advisor gave me are substantial, but doable in the amount of time I have, if I focus. Fortunately, time management and self-discipline are some of the strongest tools in my arsenal.

My plan for this week is to keep editing as I’ve done the last few days, letting my reading for class sort of take the backseat for a few weeks until I’ve gotten through my Master’s Defense. (Though I have every intention of keeping up.) I want to see my advisor about a few finer points she brought up in her comments, suggestions for citing a few things, and maybe a pep talk, but after that, I want to kick into high gear.

If all goes to plan, I’ll be 23 with a Master’s Degree, and the newly freed up mental space to take on new projects in 2018. Then, I can think about the next set of obstacles: Comps.

Fortunately, I have a low key assistantship with flexible hours, so I can afford to spend more time on my thesis this first month of the semester. Most of the work comes in the spring, I hear, with the arrival of the Symposium and Branch Out. I’ve also got a dog that I love, who helps remind me that the most important things in my life are not on my computer, a mom and dad nearby to catch me if I fall, and a community of mentors, scholars, and friends who encourage me. Talking to a friend from UVA who is now ABD at Penn gave me the jolt I needed to jump start my year; Kels is my perpetual hypeman– she keeps me going when I want to give up, so I do my best to return the favor when law school plays too much; and seeing all that Professor Harold has accomplished reminds me that, if she can do it, so can I.

My academic community may not necessarily be here with me in Williamsburg, but I know there are some people out there who’ve got my back. They give me the strength to begin again.

Week 7, or Baby’s First Conference

After stressing about presenting at the Southern American Studies Association Conference all week to the point where I couldn’t even enjoy the thought of Spring Break, I was grateful when Thursday finally rolled around. I told myself, “Okay, Ravynn, you just gotta make it through Friday and Saturday, and you’ll be home free.” 

Originally, I was supposed to have class and meetings all day Thursday, but as it turned out, pretty much everything I was supposed to do got cancelled, so my usually jam packed Thursdays were beautifully light–until I remembered I had to finish writing my conference paper.

I can’t even explain why I nearly lost my mind writing this paper. It was only supposed to be a 15 minute talk (which for reference is about 8-10 double spaced pages, depending on the pace of your speech) and yet the thought of filling those empty fifteen minutes with nothing but the sound of my voice and force of my ideas sounded terrifying.

To be perfectly fair, it’s surprising, even to me, how anxious I was about my presentation. Under any other circumstances, I am a powerful speaker. I tend to give moving, emotive speeches. My work naturally lends itself to being spoken, as I write the way I speak with little to no variation. Academically, I’m more comfortable giving presentations than I am writing papers, simply because I’m better at explaining my ideas out loud and teaching them, than I am at writing them down and giving direction. This is probably because I am really good at talking. I love talking; for the most part, a considerable part of what I’m saying is interesting; and I have a charm and wit that makes me enjoyable to talk with.

(I’m not being narcissistic, but I am well aware that I talked my way into more than one award/scholarship/university.)

(I’d probably be a really great politician if politics didn’t actually disgust me and if I didn’t have a tendency to be so dang rude. But I digress.)

I avoided the conference on Thursday, despite my newly freed time, and instead choose to work (to no avail) on my paper. Rather than get discouraged or panicked, I convinced myself that I needed a good night’s rest and I’d wake up refreshed on Friday and finish it the next morning. 

Friday morning, I was definitely calmer, but when 5 PM rolled around, I realized I’d wasted almost the entire day.

Well, actually, it was a really productive and fun day– I just didn’t write my paper. 

Around 9 AM I started to get antsy while I moved individual words around my word document, knowing that people were almost certainly flooding into the education building to hear the first of the day’s panels. Suddenly, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to see what was happening and was hit with the novelty of attending a real academic conference. So I texted my cohort mate to see if I could just go hang around, and at his encouragement, I packed my camera, my journal and my laptop into my drawstring bag, slipped on the first clothes I could find (patched boyfriend jeans and my Howard law sweatshirt) and trekked off to the School of Education. 

I parked on the street, then marched across a field of grass, turned yellowish-brown by winter, that sloped downward, almost hiding the building in an indent in the earth. I remember thinking the space would be beautiful to photograph, especially if the grass turned back to green in the spring. The building itself was relatively new; its huge glass windows sparkled in the late winter sun and the brick had yet to be weather-worn. The architecture was smooth, clean and modern, so unlike the untouched traditional brick of the old undergrad campus where so little has changed since 1693.

I was in no particularly hurry to find anyone, so I took in the grandness of the atrium, the comfortable looking chairs, the outdoor tables and chairs on the patios just outside the building. Before long, I wandered along just enough corridors to find myself at the registration table, where two of my cohort mates sat with another girl, further along in my program than the three of us, chatting happily. 

I registered and received my materials. The program was difficult to read. For some reason, I didn’t understand until that moment, that several panels happen at once during one time slot, in several different rooms. Then, there’s a break, and then another set of panels, and you just have to choose which one to go to. 

So many of them sounded interesting: everything from Native Americans and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Saint Martin de Porres and “Lemonade” was discussed at this conference. I could barely make up my mind on which ones I wanted to hear. Finally, I decided that I was too late to slip into any of the current panels, but I would wait until the next set, because in the next set there was one I absolutely had to hear.

Professor Harold from UVA would be coming to give a talk on Al Green and gospel music. Yes, I excited to hear the talk, but I was mostly excited to see her, as I hadn’t since I’d left Charlottesville for good last May. I consistently took a “Claudrena class” every year from the time I started until I graduated. I’d never intended to do African-American Studies, always dead set on French and eventually I added Comparative Lit and a Foreign Affairs minor, but every semester, I made sure I had a “black class.” It didn’t matter if it was African-American Studies, or a African-American Literature class, or even African Oral tradition, but I had to get my fix somewhere in my schedule; and as often as my schedule allowed, I took with Claudrena.

Professor Harold had this way of commanding the class. Her material was always interesting, but she made sure you understood why it was relevant. Tests were never hard, and you never had to worry about you GPA at the end of the semester, at least with her–but if you didn’t do that reading, it didn’t take much for her to dismiss you from class. She made you understand that critical thinking was a skill to be honed, not a natural gift. Your natural instinct should ask, “why?” And that we, as Black students, had a responsibility to learn, not just for ourselves, but for our people as a collective. But you also learned not to speak unless you actually had something to say–because she was quick to intellectually drag you, as if to say, “You cannot walk out of my class thinking that is true.”

When Professor Harold rounded the corner to registration, I was so happy to see her, but also filled with a sense of mild regret. At UVA, I’d been so certain I knew the answer to everything. I’d go and ask for advice, that she’d willingly give, only to have me ignore it completely and do almost the exact opposite of what she told me. I’m almost certain she knew the first time she talked to me that I was destined for grad school, and even though she saw me sort of floundering through school, uncertain about anything past May 2016, she never did anything more than give me a nudge and suggest that I do IRT– Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers, a program for aspiring minority professors/grad-students-to-be.

I, of course, went to France instead.

But over the course of the weekend I got to catch up with her, and as I did so, I had a new found appreciation for the professor I’d always admired, and who’d always pushed me. That discomfort I’d felt was growth, and I needed it to get where I am.

I went to her panel and had the opportunity to meet some really cool grad students from UVA. Professor Harold (as is her style) took us all out to lunch. We chatted over cod, fried green tomatoes and beer, while a freak snowstorm raged outside the pub. After lunch I managed to catch most of my “big brother,” James’, panel and was astonished at how smart he is. I sort of felt myself deflate a little, wondering if I’d ever get to that level. Fortunately, I didn’t stay down long. Ari arrrived shortly after, as we were scheduled to volunteer to register participants that afternoon. Instead of going to another panel, I introduced Professor Harold to Ari (well, Ari introduced herself to Professor Harold, because…that’s Ari for you), and she talked with us both for a while.

It turns out that Ari’s mentor at UMichigan, Brandi Hughes, and Claudrena (who is definitely an unofficial mentor) are buds.

I was pleasantly surprised at the revelation, but Ari was moved to tears. The world had become so small for both of us in that moment.

I tapped Ari and said, “You know, in like ten or so years, that’s going to be us!” I gestured to Claudrena, who was texting Brandi and smirking to herself. “We’re going to have students that meet each other and realize that they both had us, and that we’re friends–and it’s going to explain so much about them, and the kind of scholars they become.”

I think she heard me, because she nodded and laughed through the tears, but she might’ve still been crying about Brandi.

Finally, towards the end of our shift at the table, James came wandering by. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, but an hour and a half later, James, this education doctoral student, Jaymi, and I were engaging in an intense discussion about Chance the Rapper and black boy joy, before James was finally like, “Okay. I GOT to go.” James and I ended up in a corner because I was spilling tea (I’m always gossiping–I need to stop), but it quickly spiraled into relationship advice, which took a left turn into 2016 biopics, Nate Parker (we slowed down long enough to let Jaymi in) and Spike Lee joints. We took a left turn at Lemonade and A Seat At the Table, Beyoncé and Solange, before we hopped right back on the hip-hop highway, discussing Cole, Kendrick, and Drake (to take a quick u-turn at Issa Rae because “all college educated Black girls like Drake,” right?) and finally end up in the Chance the Rapper parking lot.

Sometimes you just reallyyyy gotta talk to Black people.

By the time we’d finished talking, it was starting to get dark out and I’d already stayed an hour later than I’d meant to, and I’d written not a single word all day.

So I went home and decompressed for an hour or two, before I finally pulled my laptop to me and hit a flow.

As I’d watched panels and interacted with people all day, I understood that this was not meant to be a final dissertation presentation. It didn’t need to be the most polished thing I’d ever write. It just needed to be what I was working on, what I found interesting, the threads I’m following, and where I want to go with it. I didn’t need to get in the weeds because, no one was going to test me on my knowledge, they just want to hear what I’m thinking about. They trust me to know my subject. They wanted me to share. 

Around 10:30 that night, I read over my last draft, and satisfied, I fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up much later than I meant to. My panel was at 9, but my panel agreed to meet at 8:45, and I’d meant to get up at 6 so I could practice my speech a few times, and time it. I woke up at 7:15 and hastily walked my dog, nose in my phone, and I mouthed my paper to myself as we went. I made a few tweaks and cut a few lines here and there, but it was still a little over 15 minutes, no matter what I did. At 8:30, I started to print out my paper but OF COURSE when you need to print, your print wants to be possessed. So, mildly panicking, I raced over to the clubhouse at my apartment complex to print my paper at 8:35. At 8:39, I was in my car and at 8:45 I was waddling as quickly as I could over the sloping grass and into the building. 

I fell into the room, out of breath and flustered, calling, “I’m here!” (Because I’m still 5.) 

Ari was already there and was a God send, helping me get my life together in the few minutes before the panel. She fixed my hair and got me a coffee as I set up my presentation on the screen. As I worked, a kindly-looking blonde woman came up to me and introduced herself as the chair of our panel. Pleasantly surprised, I shook her hand– as I understood it, our panel’s chair had triple booked herself on accident and wouldn’t be able to make it. We sort of played a game of “Not I,” and so it ended up that Travis would play chair in our original chair’s absence. (Note: the chair of the panel is supposed to introduce the panelists and keep time of the presentations, giving us notice when we have about 5 minutes left.)

When the clock struck 9, the panel began and I did my best to ignore Professor Harold’s intense look from the back of the room.

Betsy, our chair, introduced us all while we sat at before the crowd and in front of the projector screen. My friends in the crowd gave small, encouraging smiles when my name was announced.

Shana was up first, and Travis, Scot and I, took seats in the front row so we could watch her speak. 

I always knew Shana was brilliant– she has a MA in English and JD and she knows how to use ’em– but hearing her speak was a whole nother ball game. She spoke on “Contested Spaces” explaining the connection between the Black female body, liberty of movement, and citizenship, using both poetry and laws, history and personal narrative, and one bad ass story about Ida B. Wells biting some dude on a train when he tried to forcibly remove her from first class.

Then, Scot showed off some truly impressive scholarship as well as some digital prowess. He essentially created a database to track one preacher from the late 19th century through the early 20th century, finding that he had done some of the earliest traveling civil rights tours and spreading progressive messages through his sermons and journalistic endeavors. He then tracked this man all over the United States AND in other parts of the world on an interactive map.

I was blown.

Travis goes and hits the crowd with a new theory about dispossession and explained how this theory of dispossession would effect displaced communities. In particular, he’s interested in Camp Perry, a military base in Williamsburg, the construction of which displaced over 400 Black families and some white ones as well. He’s trying to figure out what the effects of this process was on the local community, and much of his work is directly impact the people in this community.

Finally, there was me.

Sometime during Scot’s presentation, something in my head clicked. Scot was having so much fun up there. He really loved his subject and his work and he conveyed that love to the audience. It was infectious. It was vivacious. And I realized, I loved my work just as much– and I felt equally as enthusiastic. 

It happened in a flash–I set out my questions about the purpose of Wakanda, explained its critical role in times of crisis. I detailed Black Panther’s origin. I expanded on his first appearance. I linked it to DuBois, Hughes and Stuart Hall. I took it to from the 1960s to the 1990s to 2016. I was confident. I knew my stuff. I knew it was relevant. I loved it.

I barely even noticed Professor Harold taking several pictures… (lol. Professor Harold, if you’re reading this, I’m joking.)

I’d filled 15 empty minutes with nothing but the sound of my voice and the force of my ideas, and I was elated.

Afterwards, I fielded about 3 questions, happy that people were engaged with my work and they’d liked my ideas. One professor from UVA American Studies pushed me pretty hard, but I realized after the panel, it was because she’d really liked my talk, and thought with a little more work and research, my paper could be publishable. 

“And I’d do it soon, if I were you.”

Professor Harold, whose approval is so hard to come by, but so valued if you get it, called my presentation awesome.

I could have died.

I learned something in four years. I proved up there that I’d learned something. And not only did she think it was awesome, she was proud.

The rest of the time I spent at the conference was a blur of happiness. Professor Harold bought me, Ari and Shana a book each from the press stand, and I walked away happily, with a copy of her latest book, New Negro Politic In the Jim Crow South. I danced up to Charlie McGovern, singing, “Charlie! I did the thing!” To which he replied proudly, “Yes, you did!” Our American Studies Grad program took a group picture, and Charlie was beaming, happy that his “kids” had shown up and shown out at yet another American Studies Conference. And I happily departed from Claudrena, with the promise of visiting UVA for a conference soon, leaving to have lunch with Ari and Shana.

My high lasted the rest of the afternoon as I caught up with Micah on a facetime call that felt 20 minutes but lasted two and half hours, then this morning I brought Ari with me to my parents’ church to watch my dad sing in the men’s day choir.

The four of us passed a pleasant afternoon together in Suffolk, bookending a fantastic weekend.

I’m back in Williamsburg now, finally able to relax (for a w h o l e week!), and even though I’ve started to come down off my high,  I still get a little tingle of pride in my stomach when I think about what I accomplished this weekend.

Honestly, grad school is a pain, but it’s weekends and moments like these that give you gas to keep trucking on through.


Week 3, or Burn Out and (Intellectual) Soul Food

It was bound to happen: the burnout. I went straight from undergrad to a masters/Ph.D. Program with nothing but a (relatively) short summer in between, and was only just beginning to recover from four years of near tortuously rigorous education at UVa when I rolled up to William and Mary.

Considering how challenging mentally and emotionally UVa had been for me specifically, I really ought to have given myself more than a three month respite from academic heavy lifting. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I have an unquenchable burning desire to know, to learn, and to be in an environment of constant stimulation. Academia is the perfect place for a person like me, except for one thing: academia tends to push you too hard, and more often than not, you’re not really in a position to push back.

It started with discovering an entire class had been cancelled on me. My tinge of annoyance turned into frustration and then to panic as I tried to find a solution. Panic turned into a constant and heightened state of anxiety as I’ve struggled to make up missed reading for the class I’ve since substituted for my original, keep up with the weekly assignments, write my lengthy (w e e k l y) précis as I can’t attend Tuesday classes, and find my footing generally in the class. This course was an imperfect solution to a decidedly perfect and well planned semester. 

Let me be clear: Academia is my stability. I can control very little, but there is something calming and steadying about sitting down each week, copying down all my assignments and readings, organizing it into manageable chunks that stabilizes my ever changing life and my incessantly active mind.

It was nothing but a misstep. It was like missing a step walking down the stairs and your heart flies into your throat. 

I still haven’t quite recovered.

Add all this to the fact that I’ve switched from working on the William and Mary Quarterly to OI books this semester, where the chapters are long and the turn around are short; that I’ve had 800 page texts for the last two weeks; and I’m attempting to orchestrate an art exhibit for the end of the month? And of course, now is when family issues intensify and time is slipping between my fingers, like my days are two hours shorter than everyone else’s. 

In the midst of all of the insanity, I managed to fall ill (which I’m starting to think is just as much a reaction to stress as it is actual sickness), Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States of America and I’ve been to a protest almost every week since. 

The emotional energy it takes to simply exist these days in a political moment that is less political than it is a circus of baffoonery takes away from my ability to do even the most basic things, like properly feed myself. I get caught in a maelstrom of cynical tweets and lengthy facebook posts and articles and photos and videos, a never ending stream of panicked negativity, and when I finally get my head above water, it seems impossible that I have to work and study when the world seems to be ending.

I am absolutely not the only person feeling like this. But it’s particularly isolating these days. 

I console myself by playing the Harry Potter movies on repeat, eating a small mountain of dark chocolate chips every day and ignoring responsibility by teaching myself to hand letter via instragram videos and Pinterest. I spend more time decorating my (bullet)journal, which I use for class notes, than I do actually taking notes. I can get through about a half hour of work at a time before everything gets overwhelming and I have to watch the first three minutes of Finding Dory to cheer myself up.

And a surprising amount of my comfort has come from reading (parts) of my 800 pages monstrosities of African-American history. In two of my classes, we’re wading through texts from the Nadir, the period of after Reconstruction and into the early 20th century that has been classified as one of the worst periods of racism in U.S. History. I’ve read The Philadelphia Negro and Black Reconstruction for one class, and have been encountering more and more Ida B. Wells in my supplementary reading. My teachers often talk about the W.E.B. DuBois’ hardness of personality and I think to myself, was there any other way to be? Was there any other way to endure the hardness of life during the Nadir? Was it not the grit of surviving the Nadir that gave Ida B. Wells the steel to not run when her printing press was burned down? Not only did she stay, but she got twice as loud and twice as fierce. 

I like to think that it was their belief in the ability of humanity to improve and in their own personal ability to do what they felt was just that sustained them. I like to believe that it was a combination of faith and passion and a strong sense of morality that kept them going. Trying times reveal the worst and the best of us, and I’m just hoping that my current weakness will give way to strength. All I can do is move one day at a time, having faith each day, feeding my passion, and doing at least a little good each day, for myself and for others. I have to have faith that each small, positive thing will add up to a happy life in a larger picture. 

So I read a little Black history every day. I thank God for their strength and pray for my own. I admire the intelligence and tenacity of those who came before me, and pray that I can do my forebearers justice. I praise the good they did this world and it inspires me to do good in my own way.

Thus far, that’s been the best medicine for Burn Out– taking it day by day, and letting my work inspire me to do just a little good each day.