Difference and Support: To be a (Queer) Scholar of Color
For many (Queer) scholars of color (Queer is in parentheses because not all scholars of color identify somewhere on the Queer spectrum), including myself, attending graduate school is an enormous milestone. In my family, I am the first to attend college, let alone a graduate program. It was weird growing up, and to know that no one in your family could help you with your homework. When I was in 8th grade, I helped my cousin with her 12th grade math homework, so she could graduate high school. Although I knew my family would provide moral support, the support I actually needed would not come from them. I went through my undergraduate career without any role models with whom I could identify. Majority of the professors who provided me with opportunities, believed in me, and/or provided what support they could, were, majority, cisgender white women. I am thankful for all the opportunities and countless references these professors have provided for me. Statistically, I knew the amount of (Queer) scholars of color in graduate programs would be minimal: but, I had no idea about the trifling amount of support, or community, I would find in my graduate program.
As I am finishing up my first Master of Arts degree, and will be starting me second Master’s degree program this upcoming fall, I feel as if I pulled the shorter straw throughout my graduate career. As aforementioned, (Queer) scholars of color are not, statistically, applying and attending graduate programs; and if they are, they usually work full-time jobs while attending their program. I am one of those students whom had to work full-time while completing their Master’s degree. From the beginning, I was already at a disadvantage from my classmates who moved from other parts of the country to attend our graduate program. Within my first semester, I befriended another scholar of color who was in one of my classes. We were very cordial, and exchanged some conversations at first, but as our academic career continued, so did our friendship. Our friendship blossomed from a sense of community; which was something we felt lacked in our program. We are both scholars of color, I a gay man and she a heterosexual woman; however, we both came from religious families, working-class backgrounds, and had similar ideologies. My other graduate courses were similar in experience; they were very few (Queer) scholars of color, and if there were other LGBTQ identified people, they were usually white. Anytime I, or another scholar of color mentioned any race issues within class, the topic was glazed over, or, someone else suggested a different topic of discussion. In the United States, it seems if a professor is not a scholar of color, they are hesitant to speak about race relations, or, foster conversation around race relations that are present in readings. Furthermore, it seems difficult to talk about race relations in mixed race settings. Why is that? In academia, all scholars, regardless of their race, can see the disparities at play amongst faculty, staff, and student composition. Why is there a need to continue this “color blindness” thought process in the academic setting?
Additionally, regardless of conversations in the classroom, the faculty composition was astonishing. Within my department, there were no professors of color: thus, no role models to look up to, or anyone with some familiarity in my research topic. None of the professors offered any help when I was confused with the bureaucracy of paperwork, nor aid in the process of linking me up with professors whom had familiarity with my research topics, nor provide me with opportunities to apply for conferences, amongst other things. The two conferences I have been chosen to present at, were through my own trial and error process: Google searches about the proper format for an abstract, word choice in proposals, and others. For my first graduate degree, I feel cheated out of the many opportunities graduate school has to offer. If there is any advice I could give to other (Queer) scholars of color who are contemplating, or currently attending, graduate school, it would be:
- When you find a supportive community, regardless of its size, help to foster it.
- Look for those professors who will help you with opportunities.
- Do not be afraid to reach out for help.
If I would have known these things before entering graduate school, my academic career might have been different. However, what’s done is done. Moving forward, I hope my next endeavor turns out better than the first; and, I can foster that community, and support, that is necessary for us few (Queer) scholars of color in academia. Furthermore, to other (Queer) scholars of color pursuing, or about to begin their, graduate studies, do not hesitate to reach out to me. I will attempt to help everyone foster the community, and support, they need.
This is really interesting. I have only had a chance to skim it but will read it properly later. My next post is going to be on being working class in academia. It is interesting how rarely we talk about these things. people assume that academia is progressive and that gender, class, colour, sexuality etc are no longer obstacles to those who wish to study at postgraduate level.
Though I am aware that my position is one of privilege (white, male, able bodied, ‘straight’, thirty something etc) I still feel like I am living and working in a world in which I stand out as unusual because I grew up working class.
Your statement: ‘Within my department, there were no professors of color: thus, no role models to look up to’, rings true for me, too. Only I would substitute ‘professors of color’ for ‘working class professors’. I was lucky in my undergraduate degree that I had a couple of professors who did come from less privileged class backgrounds and they supported me a lot. But I don’t think this is the norm.
Also, I think it is great that you have offered to be a person that people in a similar situation can reach out to. Maybe you can be the role model that others need!
Thanks so much for speaking to the reality that many of us face (or have faced) during our graduate careers. Your voice resonates, and with hope, will continue to ring out.