[We continue to welcome #BLM and BIPOC scholar guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Art/poetry also welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org]
Angie Mejia, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor and Civic Engagement Scholar at the Center for Learning Innovation at the University of Minnesota Rochester. Trained as a sociologist and feminist methodologist, her research uses intersectional analyses, critical participatory methods, and arts-based research collaborations to study emotional health inequities in historically marginalized communities of color. Her scholarly work has appeared in several academic journals, including Action Research, Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, Progress in Community Health Partnerships, and Cultural Studies <-> Critical Methodologies.
By Dr. Angie Medjia
Dear White scholar I’ve never met, from another campus at the university system I work in, that just emailed me from out of the blue last week,
Thank you for your email. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember you. You must have gotten my email address from a social media post that my campus’ marketing person retweeted. I apologize, but I don’t have time for a Zoom chat to “pick my brain” to talk about a class you want to teach. Your request bothers me a bit. (I lie, it bothers me a lot). Your email reminds me of what another Woman of Color academic said about this summer: “It seems that some of my White colleagues realized that racism is real, and now all I get are emails asking for my time to talk.” I’m going to have to decline your request to look at your draft syllabus on “race/ethnicity and mental health.” You see, I’ve been saying “no” a lot, and it feels great. In fact, you are my first “no” of this week.
Wait? You probably think since I have more time since I have been saying no and feeling great. You see, even with all the time gained from saying “no,” I have responsibilities, no matter how much I need the rest. There have been requests from Women of Color students on my campus who wish to talk. Not unlike me, they are navigating a pandemic summer filled with the exhaustion of dealing with similar requests from their White peers, and friends, and employers, and whoever comes out of the woodwork. All those who have suddenly discovered that racism is real and now they want to talk. Their email requests for my time, unlike yours, are filled with anxiety, fearing that they are imposing. Their requests for my time, unlike yours, will be honored.
Since March last year, students have asked me to listen to what they have repressed since freshman year. They want someone, often for the first time, to hear recollections of being othered every day by peers, instructors, employers, commuters, and so many other “Nice” (White) U.S. Midwesterners. The experience of embodying identities along the lines of Blackness, religion, class, gender, and so many other permutations of difference in the Midwest is a whole new level of fucked-upness this East Coast Brown girl cannot begin to understand. Unlike my East Coast Brown girl ways of reacting to oppressive behaviors by calling out racist babosadas in public for everyone nearby to hear, these students have kept all of these indignities inside.
I learned that these young women have been swallowing their emotions because they believed that being scientists would eventually free them from the effects of embodying difference. They ignored the distress caused by what White people said, did, downplayed, and perpetrated (actively or otherwise) because they were convinced that being competent in the discourse of medicine and science would eventually pay off. “Once I get my degree…” they told themselves while also asking others, “everyone feels like this during undergrad, don’t they?”
When one of these students finally connects with me, she might spend the first ten minutes in very polite conversation. “I promise to take only 25 minutes of your time.” They keep apologizing that they reached out, but being one of the few Women of Color faculty in a campus that boasts almost 40% of racially minoritized students, means that maybe talking to me can help them make sense of these feelings … Yet they are still anxious about bothering me because they know how busy professors are. “Stop. Start right now. How are you?” I ask in my usual abrupt way, which makes them laugh a bit and hopefully relax.
These students might be calling me on their break from an internship they accepted while working two part-time jobs and living at home with younger siblings asking for help in math because they are stuck at home learning from an iPad. But the brothers and sisters and internship and two jobs while studying for the MCATs are not really why they are asking for my time, because family obligations on top of internships and schools are things they do out of love …
They are asking for just a few minutes because they want to make sense of the swallowed-but-now-out emotional turmoil of having to be 24/7 othered at school, at the dorm, at work, at the internship place, at the store, for wearing hijab or braids or beads or hoops or speaking a certain way or with a particular accent even when they are versed in the language of objectivity and rationality, of science, math, and medicine. Feelings of shame at having to hide those other(ed) parts of themselves. Stifled bouts of anger at not speaking out when almost every White person they come into contact with has said something racist. Anxiety at being read in particular ways by White eyes. And will these parts of who they are prevent them from getting into med school? And during this hour and a half of listening to years of swallowed emotions, I’m sending them excerpts from This Bridge Called my Back, just like a professor once did for me in 2005 when I marched into her office and threatened to drop out of undergrad.
And it’s because I’m too busy honoring to these students’ stories of resilience and bravery despite dealing with so much racist-enveloped-in-Midwest-“Nice” bullshit that I cannot read your proposal for a graduate version of a class on race/ethnicity and mental health that someone else, a Black scholar most likely, has tried and failed, to get approved in the past, but that you will most likely teach this coming Fall.
- What Not To Say to Grad Students During a Pandemic – WOC Guest Post
- When a Cup of Coffee Means More Than a Cup of Coffee: Mentoring as a Woman of Color – WOC Guest Post
- The Lone Medievalist – BIPOC Scholar Guest Post
- What Mentorship? The Experiences of Black Female Faculty – WOC Guest Post
- Healing Racial Trauma in the Academy (Part II) – WOC Guest Post.