I know it’s been a while since updating, but in my defense, I’ve been working. It’s been exactly a year ago today that I walked into my current job, and began this little adventure in being an academic expat. Wait, that’s not exactly true. I started being an expat when I realized the section of the academy I was in was unsustainable, deliberately aggressive and marginalizing for Black women, and just generally not a space where I wanted to spend the rest of my career. But a year ago, today, I walked into my office and started to try to figure out how to adapt to life outside of the academy. One of the things that has been admittedly the hardest to navigate is my relationship to a field and craft I basically dedicated my entire life to, and what to do with the relics that remained.
It’s hard to be an expat. 98% of my friends are in the Academy still, either as embittered adjuncts, professors, or graduate students. A few of them are trying to convince me to come back. That maybe it will be better at a different school, a different program, with different people. And for most of this year away, I have hard core flirted with the idea of maybe returning. The arguments my friends make are seductive, and parts of me really misses teaching.
This blog was born largely in part as a response to me wishing that I had heard better advice and more of the truth while I was still in graduate school. I was told that my skill set would only be fully realized in the academy, and that I would feel unfilled outside of it. Those narratives are in some ways bolstered by people I know, who still tell me that there is space for me in the academy still, and that I should come back. It is even harder to ignore these voices when they come from other Black Queer people who are doing amazing work inside of the academy. A big part of me wants to go back and do amazing work with them. To go to conferences with them. To support Black grad students and undergrads with them.
And then, I step back.
One of the things I’ve been doing lately is asking myself what I miss the most about the academy. The things are:
-reading incredible books
-interacting with smart and driven students of Color
- creating interesting work
These are all things that I can do and engage in outside of the academy. I actually have time to read all of the books I skimmed over during comps. I can read the things that were sitting on my bookshelf when I was busy drafting lectures. I can still do research and write things for blogs, make YouTube video lectures, do public speaking appearances. I have started to volunteer with youth organizations, I have use my time to help friends who are in the academy organize their comps/dissertations, thesis papers. I engage with grad students and try to help them find ways to navigate the academy. The third one is the trickiest, but I’ve still managed to make it work. I have been putting a lot of energy in to the creative work I neglected while I was in the academy, and using it to collaborate on creative/academic works with scholars.
I wrote that little paragraph not to brag about my life, but to give others (and myself) some perspective. One of the hardest parts of being out of the academy is trying to rebuild your self-perception. I spent so many years situating myself as an academic, when I left, I didn’t know what to call myself or do with my time. I thought, and sometimes still fall into the trap of the idea that my identity is so bound up in what I do, that without it, I’m not whole. That is another one of those things that the academy tells you, and when you’re stuck in the echo chamber, it is all that you hear. I’m doing the really hard work of learning to be a person, and not a career title.
There are still ways to do all of the things you find fulfilling inside of the academy when/if you choose to leave. You can still write. You can still do research (esp. if friends are willing to EBSCO you articles). You can volunteer with youth, or organizations that are meaningful to you. If you are passionate about the work you were doing, you can still do it, without the clock of tenure, or the sniping of colleagues. Or you can do none of those things. You have the freedom to do what you want, on your own time and terms. That was honestly one of the hardest things for me to navigate. That I am my own person, and not just an “academic”. That I’m allowed to watch TV shows, and have hobbies, and not think about how to write about them.
Another thing I’ve been really struggling with is this whole work/life balance thing. When I first started the blog a year ago, I got a few comments that called me naïve and unrealistic. That there would be no way that I would find a job that allowed me to balance my life and my work. I’ve been extremely fortunate, and I have. I’m fortunate to really enjoy my job and the work I do. I know a lot of people are not this lucky.
I guess the point of this blog post is really just me fleshing out what it means to be out of the academy for a year. I am still struggling sometimes with what it means to be in the corporate sector. There are days that I really miss the academy, and think really hard about asking my old advisors to write me letters. There are times when I cruise job boards, and daydream fellowship applications. Then I think about the reasons I left the academy, and what going back would realistically look like for me. I have to remember that what happened to me at Oregon State was not just a massive collection of isolated incidents. How I was treated, and how I saw other Black women treated is exactly the same as I see all my friends treated at their institutions, and how Black grad students, undergrads, professors, and adjuncts are treated. There will always be that dismissal, the violence, the overworking, the forced emotional labour. And please hear me, I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the folk who stay in the academy and fight to make it a better place. They should be supported, and the academy should be better. It has to be better. I just know that it is not the arena I’m interested in being in right now. And that I can be just as much as a shaper and activist outside of the Academy as I can inside of it.