As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Letter from the Editor

Recent events around the country have (once again) illuminated the insidious and pernicious experiences of racism facing students, staff, and faculty of color in institutions of higher education. Led by student activists and organizers of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, action demanding the resignation of University of Missouri System President led to widespread media coverage of the connections between experiences of racial violence and discrimination in communities and within institutions of higher education. The simple truth is that what happens in our communities also happens on our campuses. From covert and nuanced racial microaggressions to overt racially motivated assaults, the wounds we carry from the streets of our neighborhoods are also inflicted in classrooms and on brick paved pathways of universities. While campus protest against historical and ongoing racial discrimination and inequality is not new, recent protests have redirected public attention back to our places of higher learning, forcing us to look more deeply at the everyday occurrences of systematic domination and oppression in academia. In fact, while the actions at Missouri were taking place, dozens of less publicized actions were simultaneously occurring at campuses across the nation from ivy leagues to state colleges. Students, staff, and faculty across the country continue to make the invisible visible and it is no small task in our politically polarized society.

At the same time, national discourse heralding “inclusive excellence” in universities is elevated and emphasized in university media, rhetoric, and recruitment materials. Paradoxically, these institutions have yet to embody the praxis of inclusivity. In fact, it can be argued that the notion of “inclusion” continues to center the dominant norm. By inclusion, institutions are merely inviting folks of color to attend but not necessarily centering and supporting our experiences. Instead, students of color as well as faculty and staff of color often regularly experience verbal assaults, harassment, unequal access to opportunities and advancement, and a general feeling of isolation and lack of culturally responsive support. Intersecting identity experiences related to gender, sexuality, and class[1] complicates this. In terms of the experience of faculty, much has been documented specifically regarding the lived experiences of institutionalized oppression faced by women of color faculty [2]. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education described the impact of “invisible labor” for minority professors, particularly women of color, as the pressure we feel to “serve as role models, mentors, even surrogate parents to minority students, and to meet every institutional need for ethnic representation”[3]. While we meet these demands, our work is also often rooted in marginalized communities (that we may even be a part of) and valued less in the eyes of the traditionally White, masculine, upper class, Western, heteronormative academic model[4]. As studies and current media emerge describing the challenges we face as women of color, as well as gender non-conforming people of color in higher education, we continue to live the experiences daily, carving out spaces for our voices and experiences to shake and transcend these walls.

This special issue of As Us celebrates the powerful voices of women of color and gender non-conforming people of color in academia (students, faculty, staff, or affiliates). When we first wrote the call for submissions, we weren’t sure how big a response there would be. We were both surprised and thrilled at the number of submissions we received which illuminated the fact that we are here. It was a bittersweet problem to have — so many stories reflecting our complex, intersectional, lived experiences and celebrating resistance and survivance[5] of our communities within academia. The arc of these stories is broken up into three parts organized by thematic content from author voices. Embedded within each section, through intricacies and subtle nuances, are examples of considerations for class/community reflexive exercises, study approaches, and suggestions for mentorship and teaching for transforming academic institutions.

Part 1: I Am From. As I read through submissions, it became clear that exploration and assertion of identity, particularly cultural identity as it intersects with gender, sexuality, and class, is an important aspect of creating and claiming space in academic settings. Often, women of color are one of a few if not completely isolated within classrooms or meeting spaces and this works to socialize one into forgetting deep cultural connections to our planet, community, families and selves. The sometimes subtle, often overt pressure to conform into White, heteronormative, upper middle class, and positivist reality equally increases the pressure to resist. As we assert our identities, we claim space as our own. Inspired by Kentucky poet, George Ella Lyon’s “Where I’m From” poem that has been used as a prompt for self-reflection and meaning making in various educational settings, Judy Marquez Kiyama shares her “Where I’m From” story in the form of testimonio dedicated to current and future Latin@ students. As a first-generation college student, her testimonio reminds us that the story of meritocracy of academia isn’t truth in all places. “I am from the ranch, where doors aren’t locked, people aren’t fake, horses don’t judge, and having a PhD is not better than the strings of an apron”. As a 1.5 generation Chinese American, Diana Chun Dai Lin explores what is gained and lost through migration in her “I Am From” poem, “They tell me that I’m lucky—a bridge between worlds. From my standpoint I can see farther, See More. Well, that’s nice of them to say. Something given for something taken.” Very quickly, authors illustrate the complexity and intersectional nature of identity as it spans not only bodies but nations, land and water. Markus McIntyre shares their exploration of identity related to adoption, gender/sexuality, and indigeneity. Jennifer Bartell reminds us how the ancestral memory of our origins remains with us in the places we currently stand despite attempts at rendering us extinct. In “She Who Peopled We”, she gives thanks“that one of we who was eaten but not swallowed, sacrificed but did not die, went to the Door of No Return and came back and came back and came back and is back”.

Part 2: Bridges, Backs, and Borders. This section is in honor of the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, and the radical feminists represented in their groundbreaking edited book, This Bridge Called My Back. Those voices are echoed through the voices in this collection. Although most of us do the work of teaching, service, research and studying from a deep commitment and love of our communities, the toll on our bodies, minds, and spirits is profound. This winter, I featured the concept of this issue in a community dialogue with Latin@ faculty here at my institution. I shared Joanne Dowdy’s brief but powerful poem, “A Raisin in the Milk” and the energy of the entire room shifted in quiet understanding with the reading of the last two lines, “Finally, it sinks to the bottom of the container.” We know these processes in our bodies. When I read, Marisa Duarte’s “Drilling for Oil”, I believe I let out a sigh of relief in pure recognition of the weight we carry in our work. “There are women living in worlds filled with hope and beauty. I am tired, so I am not one of them”. In her rhythmic poem, Antonia Alvarez calls out the contradictory messages women of color, queer women, and all the borderland dwellers receive everyday in academia: “I’m told I have one of those voices. Like the kind of voice that can seem a little too loud/strong/much. When I’m speaking my truths… But I’m also told you need my voice – you want my voice – my voice matters.” All of these contradictory messages and truths contribute to the price we pay to participate in the institutionalized higher education system. Sometimes the price manifests in restlessness, rumination and insomnia as described in Fatima Al-Shemary’s, “Midnight”—“When you have a conscience, it’s impossible to sleep at night…I’m awake but not really. The materials that form this screen trace to immeasurable violence and I don’t know what to do.” And yet somewhere within the exhaustion, contradictory messages, insomnia and internal conflict, we are reminded of why we are here in the first place. In her poem, “Latina, creo en ti” or “Everything we do, say, inspire is sacred!” Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs whispers to us “Your cards have been dealt, the ancestors bet on you, they worked hard, so you could redirect the thunder of your thoughts, recycle the memories of your foremothers, into what they dreamt for you…”

Part 3: We Transform (The Academy). Institutions of higher education aren’t created for us. They, most often, don’t acknowledge or support our unique cosmologies, ways of knowing, practices, and bodies. Academia, in its essence as a colonial project, transforms and exploits us. As Jenny Davis writes in “Academic Side Show Woman”, comparing academia to a circus “Come one, come all: To be shocked and amazed! by the working class professor! the two-spirit scholar! a Indian in academe!” Sometimes in our deep wounds from both external and internalized systemic oppression and colonial violence, we wound each other. As she writes in “Before We Were Ashes”–“…you must dine on the flesh of friends too slow to flee the blaze, roasted inside shells made strong enough to carry the world. They are the only food for miles across a terrorscape of ashes”. It creeps into our dreams and makes us question who we are and what we are doing as in Angel Hinzo’s “Jaagu Hirahate (What did you dream)” and often pushes us to question our ability and worth as Sarah Rafael Garcia accounts in her essay describing her journey through her MFA program. Despite the ongoing attempts at erasure, exploitation, and assimilation, we carve out spaces; we find each other, create community and hold each other up and in doing so, we transform the academy. Thuan Dong, Roberta Hunte, and gita mehrotra share an honest dialogue about their struggles in the academy via struggles to be seen as legitimate and legible, the “psychic tax” of emotional labor, especially when teaching social justice material across experience, and the important yet tenuous nature of mentorship for women of color. They leave us with examples of resistance through “finding your people” and building relationships of solidarity and shared vision. Carried by our dedication to healing the legacies of our ancestors, communities, families and selves, we push through. Again, we demand to be seen as we are – not as romanticized or essentialized caricatures defined by a limited dominant memory — as demonstrated by Viki Eagle’s “Real Life Indian” photography project. We even find moments of light where there is no question that transformation is not only possible, but it is happening now. We are undoubtedly transforming the academy. Daphne Jeyapal and Rhupaleem Bhuyan share examples of moments they disrupted the silence of racism in their classrooms and pushed the learning edge. Through sharing their experiences, where they were uncomfortable but intentional, they offer us suggestions for directly addressing the more nuanced ways difficult conversations can be facilitated for transformation. In her poem, “First-Gen”, Yvonne Delgado-Thomas completes the journey, “On my 50th, among smiles and laughter, with my two boys, I toasted my final student loan payment”. And we end our journey together in this issue exploring the promise and possibility of our classrooms and a final assignment to you, reader… “your final project is to Walk. In. Beauty”.

 Although this is but one small collection of voices from within the complex world of education for women of color and gender non-conforming people of color, it is my hope that this issue may share creative expressions and inspirations that contribute to finding nuanced solutions to the most pressing issues of inequality in our institutions of higher learning.

In solidarity and amor. Lios em chiokue uttesia.

Ramona Beltrán
Issue 6 Guest Editor

[1] We are aware that experiences of ability, age, and other intersecting identities are also part of the complexity of navigating institutions. With respect for targeted identities not highlighted, we describe the salient identities most indicated within this collection of works.

[2] For a more comprehensive overview of these issues, see Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. (2012) Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. Gonzalez, and Angela P. Harris. (Eds.) Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press.

[3] June, A.W. (2015). The invisible labor of minority professors. The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 8, 2015.

[4] Beltrán, R. & Mehrotra, G. (2014). Honoring our intellectual ancestors: A feminist of color treaty for creating allied collaboration. Affilia: 1-11. DOI: 10.1177/0886109914531958

[5] A critical term used in Native American Studies, coined by Anishinaabe author, Gerald Vizenor, Survivance is defined as “an active sense of presence, the continuance of native stories, not a mere reaction, or a survivable name. Native survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, tragedy and victimry.” from

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Issue 3February 14, 2014
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