Navigating an Institution That Wasn’t Created By or For Us

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As/Us: A Space for Women of the World

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We came together as 3 women of color with diverse social and institutional positionalities to have a dialogue about our experiences within higher education. Collectively, we represent a range of identities, including: Vietnamese, South Asian, African American, cisgender women, queer, working class, middle class, able-bodied, diverse geographic backgrounds, and more. One of us is an assistant professor on a tenure-track, another is a fixed-term faculty member, and the third is a research associate and doctoral student. It is our belief that sharing stories, connecting and building community, and asserting our voices are radical acts that are counter to the mainstream values of white, patriarchal, corporatized university structures. Inspired by dialogues and interviews we have read by Barbara Smith, Gloria Anzaldúa, and others, we approached this dialogue with a spirit of resistance and a desire to speak our truths in the hopes that doing so would contribute to individual and collective healing and knowledge.

We centered our collective dialogue on a few key questions:

1) What is your relationship to the institution? What are some challenges within that relationship?

2) How does the institutional context impact how you view yourself, your work, and the possibilities of what you can achieve?

3) In terms of navigating and negotiating the institutional context, what is the emotional labor involved? Can you speak to this in the domains of the classroom, scholarship and research, with colleagues?

4) Reimagining the institutional context and our personal and political relationship to the institution: What are the pieces we would hold onto and what would we need/want to be different?

We recorded our 2 hour conversation and then edited and organized our dialogue based on confidentiality/anonymity of information, length, and highlighting of key themes. The excerpts that follow are partial, but represent some of the thoughts and reflections of our experiences as women of color in one institution of higher education -as shaped by our diverse social and institutional positionalities. Key themes in our discussion included: navigating our relationship to the institution, managing challenges of academic knowledge production, importance of mentorship, emotional labor, and staying centered in the midst of institutional challenges.

We organized elements of our dialogue by these themes, however we recognize that in some cases, parts of our conversation could fit within multiple themes. Given limitations of time and space, we made decisions to connect certain pieces of text to particular themes for the purpose of the discussion presented here, recognizing that this did require us to edit down and sometimes decontextualize parts of our dialogue.

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