…and that’s real.

I’m not always good about speaking up in the moment. I’ll watch or see or experience things and consider saying something, but I hesitate.  And then I replay the scene over and over wishing I had opened my mouth.

This happened to me yesterday. I was in class. We had a guest lecturer but my professor was still there.  The professor (a White male, this is relevant later) was invited to begin as we were all settled in.  Mind you, there are seven of us in class, 3 females, 4 males, 1 Black student, 1 international student, 5 PhD students, 1 undergraduate student, 1 master’s student, 5 psychology majors, 2 non-psych majors.

So, before this guest begins his lecture, he asks to go around and do introductions. So the first male student to his right introduces himself (name, major, senior year). The next male (the international student) is a PhD psychology student who the professor knows so he decided he didn’t need to say anything because they know each other. Cool. Skip. Next, male student (the master’s student in a non-psych major) introduces himself.  The next two students in the circle are the other two females, PhD, psych students. He knows them (they don’t do introductions by the way). Then me, then another psych student (that’s the circle.  So after the master’s student the professor just nods and says ok cool thanks. Or something like that. Checks in with my professor that the powerpoint is ready to go and then begins his lecture.

(Deep breath). I froze. He didn’t make eye contact with me. If he had I would have spoken up. I was waiting for him to prompt me to introduce myself but he didn’t.  The whole time in those seconds, minute before he began his lecture I thought I should speak up and say “oh hi by the way we haven’t met” or something nice and passive. I said nothing. I just got internally frustrated and upset and confused and then mad at myself and just replayed the whole thing over and over.

WHY DIDN’T I SAY ANYTHING?! I don’t know.  Maybe it’s that whole “speak with spoken to” thing I was raised under. I felt like I needed permission. But then I get mad. Why do I feel like I need permission? I have good thoughts. I’m a person. I have value!

WHY DIDN’T HE ACKNOWLEDGE ME? Did he think he’d already met me? Read: I must look like some other light-skinned Black girl in the psych department that he had in another class (side eye). OR Was he not interested in knowing who I was? He made sure to acknowledge the other men in the room. But my gender identity wasn’t as annoyed as my other identities.  I’m a freaking PhD student too! These guys were the educational minorities of the room. But they were acknowledged. I’m important too! Did he assume I was another non-PhD student? Why did he assume that?!

(Deep sigh) Needless to say, I was in my feelings the entire class. Plus, another student was facilitating a discussion (course requirement) and I was triggered by her choice of words. Ex. “women and other minorities”, “Obamacare”, variations on these themes. I wrote them down in my notebook since I wasn’t able to speak on that during the discussion. But I did rant a little bit on a related note in the discussion as I illuminated my opinion that the current societal shortcomings of our country are a direct result of choices made during our founding 200+ years ago.

So, Stacey, what’s the point of all this? My point is I’m still finding my voice. I’ve been silenced in different ways for different reasons so many times and I still struggle with myself. I’m screaming in my head and nothing comes out. Or I say far too much and wish I could stuff those words back inside my head.  I’m still looking for that balance. I’m still looking for those safe spaces where I can explore and test those boundaries. There’s a line. And a context. And relationships that allow for flexibility and trial and error.  I just can’t forget that I have a voice and it is valuable.

This post is dedicated to WordPress for providing me an outlet to share my voice, in a safe space, where I can test my personal boundaries. Thanks to those of you that read, comment, and like my posts.  You’re the relationships that help measure what’s working and what’s not.

The Callout

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.