No Peeing In Missouri: A Video of My Journey to Grad School – #BLM Guest Post

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Maya Edwards is a PhD candidate in Spanish Literature at Texas Tech University. Her primary research is focused on nineteenth-century Spanish Peninsular literature, centering on intersections of gender, mobility, and affect. Other research interests include cultural studies, social justice, digital literacies, and study abroad.


By Maya Edwards.

My story, while a personal narrative, is but a single piece of a much larger historical narrative that has not been spoken about often enough in our country. It underlines issues of race that persist, and speaks to the different (almost liminal) human experiences in common spaces. It speaks to the weight of fear and trauma carried into new experiences, invisible to many people occupying the same space. My story speaks of navigating a world with an ever-present fear of the possibility of confronting police violence and other threats, and a rehearsal of what to do in case it happens to you. These days we hear a lot about “the talk” that black families have with their children to prepare them for such situations in order to survive. 

There is another talk: one about education. This other talk is intended to prepare black children for the inevitable moments ahead when people will question their worthiness to take up space. It begins something like this: “to be successful, to make it in school and in life, you’ll have to work twice as hard just for it to be noted that you’ve completed your task.” We are prepared to engage with people along our educational journey who are surprised that we occupy the space we are in. And yes, it continues into graduate school. 

The iterations look something like this:

    -“You’re so articulate!” (I’m surprised that you are eloquent and well-spoken.)

    -It’s “the look” when you mention that you are presenting at a conference, or that I’m researching…

    -It’s “the look” when it is known that you are the Spanish teacher. I’ve not seen my white (also non-native) peers get the same look…

    -It’s having been told by a superior that to be successful, I should not wear my hair as it naturally grows from my head. 

    -It’s discovering massive salary disparities that do not align with experience and preparation. 

    -It’s being one of few, often times the only, in a space of academics. 

I do not share this to paint myself as a victim. This is not to say that I consider my graduate school experience to be negative. Truly, I’m surrounded by and supported by incredible people, for whom I will always be grateful. I do share this to acknowledge a facet of my life experiences that I’ve internalized and do not often discuss. Experiences have made me stronger and even more determined to be part of the change I’d like to see in the world. Indeed, as a black woman in graduate school and in life, I carry fears, frustrations, and trauma that others don’t see. Nonetheless, as stated in my digital story: I am bold. I stand on the shoulders of giants. I’m an agent for change on a journey about education: “the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” -Nelson Mandela.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


No Peeing In Missouri: A Video of My Journey to Grad School – #BLM Guest Post — 4 Comments

  1. This story is so relatable that it gave me chills. It’s the untold story, the extra layer, that’s invisible to everyone around us but so deeply personal to any Black person who knows what it’s like to do an “everyday” task with the cloak of fear (even subtle fear) that racism pins to us. & still we, very much like the author, rise. Listening to and reading this was affirming. Thank you so much for, Ms. Edwards!!

    • Yes—how can students have an equivalent grad school experience when the level of trauma just to get there is so different?

  2. This story almost makes me think Maya Edwards was with me when I was an innocent child eating the “Shoebox Lunch” on family trips to my father’s native Georgia. I did not know that lunch was designed to help save our lives. The story makes me believe Maya accompanied me as I wore the crisp, clean, decorated uniform of U.S. Army, committed to protecting others from tyranny, from the back of the bus. The story makes me believe Maya was with me in St. Louis, Missouri (traveling in uniform); when the movie theatre attendant let us know that “coloreds are not allowed inside.” I pray this talented young lady will at some point be able to travel a road different than the one I traveled, so the world will be able to benefit fully from her gifts. And lastly, I am so glad I did not have to pee.

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