I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.
If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.
Today’s post is by Tiffany Monique Quash. Tiffany is a PhD Candidate at Indiana University-Bloomington in the School of Public Health’s Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Program and Associate Instructor. She is studying Leisure Behavior with a minor in Higher Education, and completing a certificate in College Pedagogy. Quash is also a member of the Aquatics Institute Research Team, under the direction of Dr. William D. Ramos. Her primary research interests include: Aquatic Equity and Inclusion; College Pedagogy; Leisure Theory; Qualitative Research; Social Justice; Higher Education Leadership; and Research Methods.
Tiffany is collaborating with faculty from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly white Institutions (PWIs ) on the historical analysis of aquatic programs at HBCUs and doctoral student and faculty mentoring relationships in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Studies academic programs. Her dissertation focus is the narratives of Black Collegiate Women Swimmers from HBCUs and PWIs across generations and institutions. Outside of academic life, Tiffany spends time with her partner Tasha planning their wedding, takes care of their child, Leo (a red-eared slider turtle), and works with the International Water Safety Foundation as the Director of Operations.
Tiffany and I discussed whether or not she wished to publish this anonymously, and she decided to publish it under her name, saying “I am very comfortable moving forward with my name being placed on this piece. If I do not, I will feel like he has won and I have bought into playing ‘their’ game. This is my life and I need to take it back. I hope someone else finds their strength as well.”
In my ideal world, I would enjoy introducing myself as, “I am a 39-year-old Black Queer Mermaid who has a mood disorder and had an unexpected partial hysterotomy before my qualifying exams”. My reality includes being open and honest about being bi-polar; openly discussing the intersectionality and stigma associated with race, gender, and mental health; challenging the narrative that black and brown bodies can swim through my research and professional roles; and visibly being the only Black woman doctoral student in my academic program. I love the water! I find myself fortunate to have mentors whom I trust and confide in about my academic experiences.
The advice I have received when it comes to questionable interactions between anyone who falls within the categories of white and/or cis-gender males has been, “Keep your eyes on the prize” to help encourage me to push through and focus on my dissertation. I loathe this response because it does not validate my voice, my experience, my way of moving through the academe. I have realized that I am exhausted having to assimilate to the submissive doctoral student role. Recently, a tenured Black cis-gender male attempted to derail my doctoral candidacy.
In April of this year this faculty member accused me of plagiarizing my written qualifying exams. Though he never filed a formal complaint, it was the beginning of other accusations. This faculty member accused me of making plans to leave the institution this upcoming academic year early (this would impact my financial and credit status), turning in my work late (which was incorrect and my advisor had to step in), wanted to remove himself from my committee, wanted to fail me on my qualifying exams, and wanted to remain on my committee all within a week. Ironically, that same week I received the doctoral student of the year award from my department. After receiving the award, I thought the emotional pain had ended from someone whom I highly respected in my department, but it did not.
This was just the beginning from what my mentors told me were a part of Academic Hazing.
How I was being treated by this particular faculty member would become evident to others at a symposium attended by 20-25 other academics in my field who gathered to discuss race. Prior to my attendance, I sent an email (cc’ing my advisor) demanding no contact between myself and the faculty member during the event. After delivering my presentation to the group, the amount of pressure I received to focus on the narrative of Black people drowning and omit other narratives was overwhelming. My knowledge of Title IX and the historically inaccurate research related to bone density as to why Black people cannot swim was challenged after acknowledging my role in athletics (as a former athlete and administrator) and former publication. Though this faculty member did not speak to me, the line of questioning came from colleagues whom he publishes with constantly.
I knew in that moment that something had been said to everyone.
Imagine twenty people in a room watching words being exchanged between a doctoral student and 4 faculty members with no one putting an end to verbal abuse. I thought I had imagined the entire situation. I realized this was not the case when I walked out of the room for air and let out a guttural cry that I had never felt in my entire life. Confirmation of my experience came from two attending faculty members from different institutions.
I have taken the measures to speak to my mentors, advisor, administrators and have spoken to my institution’s proper channels to find out that because there was nothing said sexually inappropriate and I was not touched this cannot be proven. Nothing can be done.
This trauma was and is real.
I have been asked, “What do you want from this?” from everyone. My response has been, “I am telling you because you need to know”. I have been reminded that I am only an academic year away from graduation, but there has not been any acknowledgment of the trauma this has caused. I have been warned by other faculty members to not say anything because it may deter institutions from hiring me in the future. My partner has pleaded with me to not say anything because any action may prohibit me from graduating. I have been reminded that legal action would be costly and limit my writing and research time.
Today, I can walk with my head a bit higher and sleep more sound. My therapeutic team (whom I affectionately call Team TQ) remains supportive and I am trying to celebrate every second of the day. I know that my experience is valid.
Know that I could not sleep for more than 3 hours a night. I was afraid to be in the hallways at school in case I saw him. I refused to open my email for days in fear of receiving an email from him and/or his colleagues. I would walk through my academic office with the fear of hearing his thundering voice. Know that it was my partner and the few friends who endured the countless nights of me crying about how I avoided being seen on campus. Know that I became afraid to trust every black and brown student, faculty and staff member because they adored this faculty member. Know that I was afraid to leave my house and have been known to strategically move appointments to one or two days, so I do not leave my house for the other days of the week.
But who would believe a known, opinionated, “crazy” Black Queer student?
Who would believe me?
Many assumptions can be made from my experience but know that I am not the only one has endured this type of emotional, intellectual abuse. There is a difference between civil academic discourse and academic hazing. If institutions and organizations acknowledge that “hazing” is an illegal action that can result in various forms of harm, what makes “academic hazing” any better? It is in my opinion that the academe understand that such behaviors can occur across and within racial/ethnic lines and that these behaviors should be dealt with accordingly. Otherwise, voices will remain silent out of fear for their future.
So, let me reintroduce myself. Hi, my name is Tiffany Monique Quash and I am a 39-year-old Black Queer Mermaid who has a mood disorder and I survived Academic Hazing. I survived abuse. I will not remain silent.