Life is funny sometimes. Today was my second week of my Out-Ac job. I realized going home on Friday last week that I had an entire weekend to myself. I had no papers to grade, no articles to write, nothing to research. I had no guilt about taking an entire weekend to do whatever I wanted, which was incidentally watch professional wrestling and make apple butter. The important thing is I had both free time and peace. I used a bit of that time to think about whether or not I missed the academy, the tenure track life, and the grind of research. And for a few hours, I did.
Fast forward to today, where a couple of big things happened. I got an extremely touching email from someone who reads the blog, and sounds extremely unhappy in their tenure track position. I also had a former student reach out to me to ask me about things they've heard about my departure. I also had some former colleagues reach out to me with similar questions. These are three things that really closely encapsulate what I've been thinking since my departure, and wanted to address here.
First, to the scholar who emailed me, I am so sorry you are feeling this way. While you are in your current situation, I would like to offer this small advice that I gave myself:
1. Every day, do something, no matter how small or big, to take care of yourself. Self care, especially in isolating and demoralizing circumstances is a revolutionary act.
2. Make and stick to a viable plan of both self care and movement.
3. Know you are not obligated to go on a field trip of someone else's feelings about you. People are going to say what they want to say. You are not required to walk through their feelings about you with them. You are not obligated to entertain them. You are not obligated to respond to them.
4. I'm still serious about the imagination thing from my first blog.
I'm seriously wishing you luck and sending support to you. Despite what you've been told, suffering is not in the job description. There is a difference in doing hard work, and feeling sad by it on occasions, and suffering for the sake of suffering. This narrative of suffering in the academy is just as toxic in my opinion as the narratives of busy-ness that tells professors to work 80 hour weeks, neglect their families and health and happiness for the possibility of tenure.
Good luck, and always feel free to reach out.
I'm going to combine points two and three here, because I feel they overlap. I want to start with the best advice I've ever given myself; which is, again, I am NOT required to take a field trip through someone else's feelings about me.
I guess the round about purpose of this entire post is about dealing with "fallout." I've gotten a lot of questions and requests for me to be specific around the exact reasons I left the academy and my former position. I'm going to use this space to publically say that I'm not going to do that here. Having bad experiences in a situation does not mean you need to say bad things about a situation, especially not in a massively public forum.. And that is the philosophy I'm going to take here.
As far as dealing with fallout with former colleagues and former students, I'm of two minds. There are students, from every institution that I've been at/worked at that I keep in touch with. They are always free to ask me questions, and I try to make a habit of telling them what I understand of situations. With former colleagues, I as always, respect them and their work. I know institutional politics are a thing, and I do not begrudge them for doing what it is that they do.
I suspect that I'll be dealing with "institutional" fallout for a while. Especially since I am planning to still attend a few conferences I was slated for this year. (I already paid, and I miss my academic friends. I'm also loathe to give up a chance to talk about my side project, Professor Dresser in Exile). In the midst of parts of this fallout, I miss parts of the academy. I miss my students. I miss aspects of the community. But then I have moments that sharply remind me of why I left. I also am happy so far in my Out-Ac role. Ultimately, when I receive letters from people who appreciate the blog, or think about fall out, I remind myself about not having to take field trips. I have no regrets about leaving.
If you make the decision to leave the academy, you will most likely deal with similar "fall out" issues. There will be backlash. Things will be said. Ultimately, you are responsible for taking the best care of yourself that you can. Let people run through their own feelings theme parks by themselves.
How do you say goodbye to something that you have worked most of your adult life for?
A few days ago, I quit. I walked away from my coveted tenure track position at a majour university, away from a prestigious humanities center fellowship, and away from the academy in its entirety. After one year of being an Assistant Professor, I decided I couldn't do it anymore and left.
I know how flippant that sounds, but leaving was by no means an easy decision. There was a lot about the academy that I used to love. I had some amazing students, and worked on some really great projects. But the love I had for it always felt one sided. And staying in a system that was designed from day one to exclude me, at best, was something I could only sustain for so long.
Before I keep typing, let me make it plain that my leaving the academy, nor this blog post is meant to be a sweeping condemnation of the program I worked in. I worked with some of the most passionate, smartest, and interesting people, both in terms of other faculty and students. My year on the tenure track was no harder, or no more isolating than that of many Black women in the academy. Some of the problems I had during my first year are problems I would have had, regardless of the program I was in, because it is what it is. It's the academy.
But I couldn't stay.
I left in part because honestly, it's not the life for me. Simply, the tenure track life is not a life that I want for myself, and I did not like what my year did to me. I felt diminished and isolated physically, emotionally, and in countless other ways. I did not have the energy to do the emotional labour that being a Black professor requires, especially at a PWI. The toll that this year took on me damaged my family, health, and perception of myself.
I spent a lot of time during my year telling my students to imagine themselves in places that fulfilled them and made them happy. I told them that the fundamental beginning of being the change they wanted to see was imagining it and then taking tangible steps towards their own happiness and empowerment. During those talks, I thought about myself, and although I had achieved a goal that I had worked for during the four years of my doctorate, I was not happy, nor being fulfilled by the work that I was doing. But I refused to imagine myself in something else. It could have been in part that nobody ever leaves the academy, ever. There are no models on how to get out, how to translate your skills and experiences, or how to practically enter that process. There are too many narratives that your identity is tied into what you are researching, writing, and where you are teaching. I've been bound to the academy for too long to see myself out. So I didn't imagine.
Over this summer, several things happened that shifted my view of myself. I honestly owe a great deal to the late Brook Stevenson, who not only saw so much in me, but inspired me to be my happiest self. He made me promise to seek things that made me happy, and reminded me that I deserved them. I owe an infinite amount to my partner, who supported me through the year, worried about me, and encouraged me to be honest with myself. I owe a lot to my former students, from several institutions, who checked on me and held me accountable for the lessons I taught them.
I've said in a few spaces, that while my year on the tenure track was not as damaging as the years that other Black women have experienced (my story did not make national news), it was enough to encourage me to look outside the academy for my happiness. My exodus was not wholly because of this year. This leaving has been years in the making; the "breaking straw" events just happened to happen this year. Some inside of the academy, some outside of it.
This blog is meant to be a model to give people options. I learned about my options in the Rhode Island Writer's Colony, from my friends, from my former students, from my partner. I want to be a model to help grad students turn CVs into Out-Ac jobs, and give adjuncts, lecturers, and professors options on other things they can do. I want to be honest with myself as I was with my students when I told them to imagine the things that made them happy and to actively seek after them.
I'm really serious about the imagination thing. Seriously. Imagine your perfect day. Imagine a career that would be fulfilling. Imagine not feeling degraded and dehumanized by an institution. I'm not saying that the Out-Ac life will be unicions and high fives. It will have its problems and downfalls, and issues. But it's something I'm willing to explore, and will of course, keep tabs on here. I'm out here imagining for myself and blogging it here for you. The imagining is powerful. I had several former students tell me how much that imagining changed them, saved them. Right now, in my imagining, the life I save needs to be my own.
For those interested, Professor Dresser is still going to go on. It's renamed to: Professor Dresser in Exile, and it will be my Out-Ac outfits. The website remains: professordresser.com.