Here at the intersection of my various identities, I hear with my Black ear, I want to respond with my Higher Education academic voice, embrace with my Southern arms and comfort with my feminine heart. I wonder what it means to be at the university where as I walked back from a meeting, I saw three BMWs and a Ferrari all driven by students. I wish I could give my students my experience of sharing $100 worth of food stamps between 6 people just to save our money for the Alpha party on friday night. I wish I could gift them with a Jocelyn Milton, a Denelle Niles-Brown, a Demetrius Richmond, a Jane Redmond, an all of the other mentors that we had at UT who pushed the Black students to be not only successful but to achieve things far beyond our eighteen to twenty-two year old vision.
I get so angry sometimes with administration who claims to want to increase diversity, yet makes it so difficult for those students to stay here. I get frustrated at no step shows, no cookouts, no sets, no cultural identity here on this campus. It falls heavy on the backs of one student organization that has no frame of reference or invested support. But then…there are those who lend their time, and love, and advice, and will help you in any possible way but they cannot do everything for every student. What is the solution? Is it more money? Does it go deeper than that? Why is it a struggle…why do I have to convince you that the welfare of Black students is and should remain a priority of university administration?
I thank god multiple times a day that I am my mother’s daughter and do not hesitate to question authority or speak out against the status quo. I am grateful that for the times I have asked for help, it has been offered to me. I am proud to be a Black woman in pursuit of a PhD from the south in a family that appreciates education and the importance of pushing outside of one’s comfort zone. And I often get extremely sad when I hear about stories that make my own the exception.
I ask myself, often, how this work–the work of diversity and educational equity, minority retention in higher education, and specifically the success of Black students–will take shape in my life and my work. It is just a much a part of me as spirituality and as one of my major defining identities, has definitely shaped if not guided many of my decisions. How can I use the passion I have for this work in a productive way that will not severely alter my faith? I find, far too often, that when I have had “the race conversation” it is never genuine, it is never productive, it is never more than mental masturbation. How can people learn without me teaching? I always thought that if I was simply myself, this amalgamation of alleged anomalies: an educated Black woman from the south with supportive family, no illegitimate children or baby’s daddies, who speaks well, writes well, can articulate herself clearly in an array of populations, etc….if I were just me then people would surely see that maybe Black isn’t what I always thought it was.
I don’t know if I was right.
I am not sure if that is enough. Maybe I need to paint a broader stroke with a bigger brush. What I know is that, it pisses me off that my people, Black people feel they have no resources; specifically my students, surely they know all the people in their corner rooting for their success? Where is the disconnect? Can’t you see me doing this work, talking on these committees advocating on your behalf? Programming, advising, mentoring, don’t you see I just want to help? And its not enough, and if I continue on this path it will exhaust me. It can’t be this…the work has to be different. This work is not my work, it is everybody’s. And the fact that we don’t see that…