Today’s Writing Challenge asked me to talk about the most interesting people I’ve met this year. I wasn’t super motivated by this post so I’m using this opportunity to post a blog I saved from just before the challenge began. When I meet new people it generally happens in an online forum nowadays. But there are people that I’ve known for years that I still find interesting. Interesting to me are people that challenge me or push me to think about things differently. In the last year these have been friends, professionals, and student affairs colleagues among others. Here’s a story about an interaction I had with an online colleague that really got me thinking and inspired this post.
So one Saturday I’m toiling away in the library and an acquaintance (someone I just met and who doesn’t really know me yet) texted me just to say hey and ask about my day. I told him I’d been in the library all day working on a paper. Whatever. His response was “I don’t miss that!”
I felt some kind of way about that comment because yeah I didn’t want to spend my sunny Saturday inside but hey this is the life I’m living. Lol
Well I was bothered and annoyed more than usual and I tweeted about. I tweeted the setup (“Things to not say to a grad student” I think), his comment and my internal response “Duh. If you missed doing research and writing papers you’d be doing it! #bye”. Now. I intentionally phrased it that way because 1) I know I have a lot of student affairs followers 2) I know that you don’t have to be in school to do research and write articles or papers 3) I get that thrown at me from different directions and so I wanted all to be included in that so they would stop saying it (minus one or two of my closest friends that get a pass because we regularly talk about my graduate work and who have explicitly expressed their support of my current academic pursuits).
So, I get a tweet from a newer follower with a cautionary message of “hey not everyone is able to go to school full time for personal or professional reasons” or something like that. And she was right. That’s totally true. And my response to her was something like “I agree but the people who have a desire to be in school but can’t be right now wouldn’t make a comment like that.”
So what’s my point? I have two.
First of all, when people say “You can have that” or any of it’s variations, it’s really hard to shrug off. I made a conscious choice to go back to school. It was something I wanted to do for me. It was another choice to switch from part time to full time. Lots of mitigating factors in that second decision but real talk I could’ve quit school but I didn’t. I made another choice to stay. Anyway. So when people say things like that it kinda hurts because it’s like they’re crapping on my life choice. A really important decision that I made for myself based on my own personal goals and motivations. Even though the initial motivation was a little shallow (I needed a hobby), it’s grown to be a big part of my life. So it’s like you disapprove of my life. That’s tough.
Secondly, the main reason for this post is that that “callout” made me think about how much privilege was behind my feelings and potentially in the interpretation in my comment “duh you would do it if you wanted”. I’ve always been good at school and been able to afford it and never worried about not being smart enough or good enough (well except in HS when I didn’t apply to Georgetown because I didn’t think I could get in but I was 17 lol). Anyway. I was fortunate to be accepted everywhere I applied for all three rounds of higher education.
I had a scholarship in undergrad and my parents paid room and board and extras. I had a full assistantship for my Masters and my stipend covered books and my folks helped with rent. Currently, I was able to secure an assistantship for my PhD after the first few credits were covered by tuition remission from my employer. But still my parents are helping with my rent while I cover the rest. So I’ve never worried about not being able to go to school. And I’m not saying all that to brag. I’m really checking my privilege after that.
It makes me think about all the privilege I have. As a young, single, African American, female that is not privileged in those identities that are most salient for me (as listed), I still have the privileges that come with being a heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied American citizen.
I appreciate the colleague that challenged me and called me out on a comment that I can only assume spoke to her or triggered her in a way that made her respond. I only hope that as my peers challenge me I will continue to consider the perspectives of others as I think about my experiences. What other careless comments do I make that might cause someone harm? I know what that feels like and I can only hope that I can continue to be open and cognizant of the words that I say. I hope you’ll do the same.