Tag Archives: blackgirlmagic

Week 11, or A Classroom Should Be…

The high from last week spilled over into this one: I started out enthusiastic from putting on another successful Lemon Porch Talk, getting my article from the Junto republished on HASTAC.org, and finding out that I would be a HASTAC scholar for the next two years. Despite the feelings of excitement from gaining new Twitter followers and relief from actually finishing all my readings for once, I ended the week on a contemplative note.

I’ve been thinking about classrooms– how they are both sacred and contested, places of refuge but not life rafts. And while it was at first difficult to think of what exactly the magic of a classroom is, I could very quickly discern what it was not. It is not a place where participants interrupt each other, disagree aggressively or otherwise check out all together. It is not a place where hesitant attempts to contribute in discussion are met with snickers or side bar comments. It is not a place where you may take a pejorative or patronizing tone when explaining something that everyone else might not know. While these dynamics are understandable to a degree– excitement causes interruptions and the need to whisper your thought so as not to interrupt the person speaking can be understood– explaining away the problem does not negate the facts.

These dynamics are not conducive to a fruitful classroom environment.

If this is what I do not want my classroom to be, then what do I want it to be?

A Classroom Should Be…

  • A Safe Space; but that does not mean it is always comfortable. As an undergraduate at UVA, one of the first things I learned was that I loved my classrooms. I felt free to learn, make mistakes, and grow. As I took more classes, I realized that even though I loved growing intellectually, it was often uncomfortable. Professor Harold challenged me constantly, Professor Woolfork told me I wasn’t always right, Professor McGrady encouraged me to do the hardest thing I could imagine– because even if I failed, I could say I’d been courageous enough to try. I used to think those professors hated me, but they loved me. They loved me enough to force me out of my comfortable patterns of thought and actions so I would grow. It was tough love, but love nonetheless.
  • Conducive to learning. In order to learn, there is a certain amount of vulnerability one must have, and I believe we must respect and protect students in their moments of vulnerability. We need to make our students feel empowered and encouraged to share, because fear of being wrong is hard enough as it is.
  • A Workspace. In a classroom, learning is a communal process. A good class is one where I not only develop a rapport with the professor but my classmates as well. They become your teammates. One of the best classes I’ve ever taken was Interracialism my first semester in grad school, and the five of us fed off of each other, built off of each other, learned from each other, encouraged each other. It was beautiful, and I wouldn’t have learned as much without my team.
  • A Space for Mistakes. I have made my fair share of mistakes and misinterpretations in the years and years in which I have been a student. I have indeed failed a quiz or two in my lifetime. There have been moments in which I have read every page of an assigned book and got absolutely nothing out of it. (Seriously, it happened just last week.) You won’t understand everything, you won’t ace everything, and you will occasionally follow a train of thought so far in the wrong direction that there’s no coming back. But part of the process is feeling free to go in the wrong direction and fall down a few times.

For a classroom to feel like this, it requires certain degrees of trust and respect that sometimes, admittedly just aren’t there.

Classrooms are hard spaces to “get right” and there’s no formula for it. Particularly since every classroom has a different purpose, a different professor, a different space, and most importantly, a different combination of students. Just one minute difference will change the tone of an entire class. As a scholar whose duty lies in the classroom just as much as it does in my research, I’m making a point now to think through power dynamics of the classroom and decide what I can do to create the kind of environment I would want to learn in.

Week 5, or How to Successfully Defend A Master’s Thesis

Yes, it’s true, I did defend my thesis on Wednesday and I’m still riding on the high of being free from that enormous weight.

As I’ve got this step behind me, I want to reflect a little bit on the process. My program required me to write a portfolio, with the understanding that the essays will build off of those written for seminars over the course of the year. I used an essay that I wrote for my Popular Culture and Power class during my first semester, and the essay I wrote for my Harlem Renaissance class for the other. At the end of the year, my first step was to get organized…

STEP 1: Get organized! Make yourself a schedule!
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At the start of the summer, I was required to create and submit a writing plan to my advisor and the Dean. While this was primarily a formality so that I would be allowed to hold a part time job at Michaels, having this as a set of guidelines was really helpful.

I admittedly did not follow this schedule exactly, but I followed it well enough to get a first draft in on August 1 as planned and a defense by the end of September. Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was to be firm with your goals, but flexible about how and when you get there.

 

STEP 2: Make sure to do your research!

I already wrote about the joys of archival research, so be sure to check that out, as well as the lovely piece that was written about me from the VCU end.

STEP 3: Just write! 

Write, unfiltered, as much as you can, every day if possible. I also wrote about that struggle over the summer as well in another blog post.

STEP 4: Editing, editing…and more editing.

IMG_4348After I wrote my first draft and submitted it to my advisor the first time, she gave me a nice little letter with general comments, as well as a physical copy of my paper with marginalia. It took me a little while to wade through all of her comments, but after I did, I compiled a list of all the edits as a check list with notes on how to address each point. (For example, she might suggest that I need to add historical evidence, and I would write in which books or articles had the evidence she was looking for. Occasionally, I’d write a sentence or two addressing the issue on the page. Or rewrite an entire section on the back of a page…)

This process was particularly stressful because I waited until school started to really get into this. So I did an insane amount of content edits in about two weeks. For two weeks, I carried my binder of notes and drafts and edits around with me until I felt like crazy Joe Gould, writing and rewriting his oral history. I was agitated and stressed out for two solid weeks, and in the days leading up to my second submission, I had every last one of my family and friends praying for me.

But fortunately, my second submission was defensible! I got my advisor my second draft Monday morning of the 11th and by the 12th, she’d e-mailed me saying my draft was good, that she’d go ahead and e-mail my committee to set up a date at the end of September, that I would have yet another annotated draft in my mailbox and that after finishing those edits, I should e-mail out my portfolio (my third draft) to my committee by the 15th. (Can I just take a second to emphasize what a SUPERHERO my advisor is???)

STEP 5: Schedule and prepare for your defense.

My advisor handled this part, primarily because I think she thought we’d be able to get the ball moving faster if she plead on my behalf. I had to get my defense done by the end of September and while I wanted to be done, the fast turn around had less to do with me and more to do with satisfying administration.

Because of this, I didn’t have any control over when I actually defended. They gave me a date and a time, and that was it. I gave myself a week break from looking at my thesis because honestly, I was burnt out from thinking about it. Then, I started trying to prepare.

My defense, as I understood it, was not a formal thing. It would mostly be a conversation. My advisor suggested however, that I write a short statement to introduce my work. I tried very hard to write it, but it only happened the night before the big day, and in the end of it was just a series of bullet points– cute anecdotes about being a precocious child in love with comics and a hotheaded teenager using comics to prove a point in English class. I talked about how I came to Black Panther comics and Incognegro, what I was trying to accomplish and where I wanted to go with my work.  I practiced it in my car driving from Suffolk to Williamsburg and to my dog, who had no idea what was happening but looked at me encouragingly.

STEP 6: DEFEND!

Even knowing that the defense was informal, that my committee members were awesome, that my advisor would not set me up for failure, I was still nervous going in. I put on my James Baldwin sweatshirt and prayed for the confidence of Angela Davis, the candor of Ta-Nehisi Coates and the presence of mind of Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, DuBois and literally every Black figure I’ve ever been inspired by as I walked up to the building.

We had it in the library in the American Studies building. I chatted with my advisor until everyone appeared, and soon after that, my advisor welcomed everyone and gave me the floor for my introduction. I did it and then the questions started. One of my committee members set me at ease by saying that all of his questions should be framed by the fact that he thought my portfolio was great and it was a really fun read. He got the ball rolling by asking me to talk about the parts that I enjoyed writing and did well in my portfolio and which could have used more work– and as I described how fun it was to go do archival research and learning about the historical presence of Black Panther, I finally understood what everyone was trying to tell me. I was the expert on this. I knew this stuff. This was my wheelhouse and I loved it. It showed in my work. It showed in my face as I lit up talking about my paper. So it went on like that for an hour and a half, fielding questions about intellectual property, time-traveling frogs, and Christopher Priest. They complimented sections of my close readings and pointed out one important section of an image that I completely missed (thankfully it didn’t destroy my argument and I can go back and add it as a footnote.) They gave me suggestions and helped me think through where I could go with my ideas. I took lots of notes, and then at last, it was over.

They asked me to step out of the room for a few minutes and when the door opened again, my advisor came to get me, smiling widely and giving me thumbs up. “They loved it!” she told me, and I walked back into the room to congratulations and hugs. I chatted with them for a little while longer, got myself a celebratory hazelnut latte, and called my parents with the news as I walked to class.

STEP 7: CELEBRATE AND GIVE THANKS!

IMG_4389 I spent the hours after my successful defense buying myself ingredients to make stew, having Red Lobster with my parents and writing a blog post about my gratitude for everyone who helped me get to this point.

The celebration lasted a couple of days. I was taken out for dinner, ice cream and coffee by friends and family. My friend got me a hilariously appropriate congratulatory Superman card, on which she had crossed out the “birthday” with Sharpie and added “defense” instead. I got calls from friends and texts from advisors and mentors and I could not have been happier.

STEP 8: Attend to the final administrative touches.

Now, even though the hard part is over, I still have administrative touches to go through. My committee each gave me drafts with comments and line edits, though one member assured me it would be a day or two of edits at the most. I still have to submit it to an online system for the College, which could result in formatting edits, plus forms of all kinds which will allow it to go on JSTOR and I have to get it bound for the American Studies department once those edits happen.

My advisor suggested I get these done sooner than later, so I’ll probably take this up again over Fall Break. I applied to get my diploma in January, so I do need to make sure all of these logistic matters are in order so nothing stands between me and degree number 2.

It’s been a wild ride but the worst is over thankfully. Now, I can move on to the next step– I’ll admit, I’m already thinking about comps lists.

As my mom would say, “Keep it movin’.”

Week 4.5, or Gratitude

I’m coming to you with a midweek update to let y’all know your favorite Black Girl Doing Graduate School has successfully passed her Master’s Thesis Defense, which means that I’ve leveled up from Ravynn, MA/PhD student to Ravynn, PhD student.

Ravynn Stringfield, M.A….That’s a nice feeling.

I’ll be back to my regular schedule on Sunday with a comprehensive guide to successfully completing a Master’s Portfolio, but until then, I wanted to briefly give some shout outs to some people who have helped pull me through to this point.

Thank you to…

  • God. First and foremost. My relationship with God has gotten so much more intimate since I started grad school, real talk.
  • My amazing parents who love me, support me, encourage me, and push me. I would be nothing without my parents.
  • My fantastic advisor, Lynn, who really stuck it out with me when it got tough and who gives some of the best pep talks and critical feedback in the world.
  • My thesis committee for a fun and productive defense that I will take with me as I go forward in my journey in PhDLand. (Thanks also for just taking time out of your schedule for me, I know how busy y’all are.)
  • Cindy Jackson at VCU Libraries for helping me with my research!
  • MY CREWWWW, Kelsey, Micah and Leah, y’all are the realest, I love y’all. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten by without being to talk to y’all on the regular. Micah, you helped inspire my project and helped me think through it in its early stages. Kelsey, you push me and I push you because no one else is looking out for Black women but Black women! I would have never gotten here without your support. Leah, thank you for listening to me whine about how hard school is pretty much every day and for ALWAYS, and I mean, ALWAYS rooting for me. Protip to everyone: Get you a Leah.
  • Professor Harold, for always believing in me and having high standards for me. They’re not impossible, you know I can reach them and I know I can always ask for your help getting there.
  • Dana, you don’t know how valuable it has been to have a Black woman ahead of me in grad school to turn to when the going gets rough. Seeing that you have gotten where I want to be, encourages me to keeping moving forward. Thank you for lifting as you climb.
  • My William & Mary grad school peers: Ari, Chris, Hyunyoung, Felicia, Zarah, Adrienne, Shana, James, Travis, and Jaymi for encouraging me, whether it be bringing me books, talking comics, having Black (woman) moments with me, or simply hanging out and making me smile, y’all have all helped me get here, and I am so grateful.
  • My Outreach moms, Dean Gregory and Ms. Cathy, and my big sister, Alexis, for always reminding me that I always have a home with them, for believing in me and for just being family to me.
  • My family and friends, more generally, who have checked up on me as I’ve ventured along my grad school journey.
  • You, dear reader, whoever you may be. It’s been wonderful having this outlet to come home to every week. So thanks for reading, it encourages me to keep going.

I will more than likely forget someone immediately after I post this, but for now, consider this a working list.

Thanks everyone for helping me (and boy, did I need help) to get through this.