As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Thuan M. Duong, Roberta Hunte, and Gita R. Mehrotra—Nonfiction

“Navigating an institution that wasn’t created by or for us”:
Finding our compass as women of color in the Academy

We came together as 3 women of color with diverse social and institutional positionalities to have a dialogue about our experiences within higher education. Collectively, we represent a range of identities, including:  Vietnamese, South Asian, African American, cisgender women, queer, working class, middle class, able-bodied, diverse geographic backgrounds, and more.  One of us is an assistant professor on a tenure-track, another is a fixed-term faculty member, and the third is a research associate and doctoral student.  It is our belief that sharing stories, connecting and building community, and asserting our voices are radical acts that are counter to the mainstream values of white, patriarchal, corporatized university structures.  Inspired by dialogues and interviews we have read by Barbara Smith, Gloria Anzaldúa, and others, we approached this dialogue with a spirit of resistance and a desire to speak our truths in the hopes that doing so would contribute to individual and collective healing and knowledge.

We centered our collective dialogue on a few key questions:

1) What is your relationship to the institution? What are some challenges within that relationship?

2) How does the institutional context impact how you view yourself, your work, and the possibilities of what you can achieve?

3) In terms of navigating and negotiating the institutional context, what is the emotional labor involved? Can you speak to this in the domains of the classroom, scholarship and research, with colleagues?

4) Reimagining the institutional context and our personal and political relationship to the institution: What are the pieces we would hold onto and what would we need/want to be different?

We recorded our 2 hour conversation and then edited and organized our dialogue based on confidentiality/anonymity of information, length, and highlighting of key themes.  The excerpts that follow are partial, but represent some of the thoughts and reflections of our experiences as women of color in one institution of higher education -as shaped by our diverse social and institutional positionalities.  Key themes in our discussion included:  navigating our relationship to the institution, managing challenges of academic knowledge production, importance of mentorship, emotional labor, and staying centered in the midst of institutional challenges.

We organized elements of our dialogue by these themes, however we recognize that in some cases, parts of our conversation could fit within multiple themes.  Given limitations of time and space, we made decisions to connect certain pieces of text to particular themes for the purpose of the discussion presented here, recognizing that this did require us to edit down and sometimes decontextualize parts of our dialogue.

Limited Ways of Knowing in the Academy:  Legitimacy, Objectivity, and Scholarship

Gita: One of the things that I think is significant for me in terms of my work and what I can achieve and all that is related to what kinds of research and work are valued, what kind of thinking is valued, what counts as real “capital R” research… like, if you write a conceptual piece or theory piece or an editorial. I’m working on an editorial right now with a couple of other people. It’s a “think” piece. It’s actually kind of harder to write than a quantitative research paper. Not to minimize that work, but there’s a lot to it. And the reality is that the editorial won’t “count” for tenure or be seen as valuable as an empirical paper would be.  I think that the institutional context of the neoliberal corporatization of the academy, what that means for research production, and then what kind of research can be produced in that frame is so narrow…

…if you do community-based work, or conceptual work, or really deeply interdisciplinary work, it’s not seen or valued in the same way. You can’t produce that at the same pace. I mean, if you’re gonna work with a community agency in a really meaningful way, particularly in communities of color and other marginalized communities who don’t necessarily already have relationships and trust with the academy, it’s gonna take time. But when you’re on a tenure line, you don’t have time. I think particularly in our discipline, I can’t speak for others as much, but there’s such an emphasis on numbers of publications. I mean, what your count is is so much more important than what the quality of the work is. For me that has a huge impact on how I view myself, my work, and what I feel is possible.

Roberta:  I feel a tension around how my scholarship is viewed within the institution. I am community-based and starting to work on a new project now. To get to this point I’ve been cultivating those relationships for two years.  I am a cultural worker. I have begun to use the medium of theater and film to dramatize themes from my research so that it has a wider reach. It has meant that about 2,000 people have seen my theater project and have been in conversation about that work. I’m beginning to work with some community groups to do trainings related to my subject with stakeholders. It’s amazing the reach an alternative medium is having.  In written form not that many people are going to read my dissertation or a book I might write on my focus area. Creating theatre and film is all consuming. I’ve been doing this non-stop for three years. I am exhausted.  But I recognize I have not been good at playing the scholarship game. All of my projects are great, and those articles and conference presentations are still important.

A challenge for me came as I finished my dissertation. I am a Black feminist researcher; that informs my projects. My core focus area has been on the experiences of women, and Black women specifically, in non-traditional work. The people who research my area are a very small group. There was an opportunity to work on a grant focused on my population. It was funded by a governmental body that I had worked with for a couple of years in an advocacy capacity, while I completed my degree. I was excited to potentially join the research team being created to work on this project. Long story short, I was not included among the research team. I was shocked. I knew the people who commissioned the study and the research team. I talked with both of them and asked to be on the study to no avail. I was networked, I was as networked as I could have been and still not included. I was never given a real reason why I wasn’t included. I think the government department wanted a researcher who was not connected to the material. Someone who could be considered objective and neutral because of their lack of context for those researched. Somehow this quest for objectivity meant that I was somehow not an expert in my field. That was a really painful moment, and it caused me to question being in academia. I had something to contribute to the team, and I wanted the opportunity to learn from the more seasoned researchers. It would have been good for my department, for the project, and for my career.

Gita: I mean, how do you recover from that? It’s basically the biggest institutional fuck you. It’s the thing that you are, I mean I hate this framing, but an expert in. This is what you do, and to not be seen or valued for that contribution, actively actually iced out of it, is just so wrong. I think the other piece of it, is the failure to recognize what you can bring to it. It’s not even just that you’re not included. You actually could have produced for them something amazing because of the way people would have spoken to you as an interviewer because of who you are, and your relationships, and all of that. It’s so painful. Of course, it would make you have those kinds of existential questions. It’s horrible.

Emotional Labor:  The Psychic Tax of Positionality

Thuan: …One of the processes that’s come out of working on strengthening my workplace’s equity lens, being the person of color talking about diversity issues, is I feel under fire. Often I do things like say “Oh, it’s okay. You know, I’m just really cranky.” I feel like I have to let people off the hook and then take a hit myself so that I can have a message that I feel is heard.  That takes an emotional toll, and also not knowing, “Is that actually helping? Or is it making it worse?” You know, and sort of taking that on for a group. That’s been really tricky. How to promote this value? But, it feels like sometimes I have to be sacrificed for that.

Gita: it is really hard to be ‘the person of color’ in equity conversations and feel all of this responsibility and pressure to uphold all of that, but also take care of yourself…

Thuan: It is hard … It’s certainly not the role I thought I would be… My goal when I was doing this work  was to make sure I did a better job at my own work, but I realized the real project is around getting a whole group geared towards equity. That’s so much harder and so much what I didn’t want to do.

Gita: It’s a really great and unfortunate example of this unspoken labor in navigation that you have to do.

***

Gita:  I feel like I have so many mixed and complicated feelings about hearing students of color talk about their experiences. …On one level, I know that I’m in a position to change some students’ experiences of those things, particularly in the level of the classroom, or that I’m already doing some of the things that they want done. I also feel it’s kind of… It’s really painful to hear the stuff that students are saying, in the sense that, I relate to so much of it. So I don’t feel I’m having this totally different experience than students of color on campus, as a faculty of color. Even though I have this institutional power as a tenure track person.

I’m realizing it’s this very weird mix of things, where on one hand I feel like I have institutionally assigned power by being in a tenure line, but then I also feel very disempowered as a junior faculty, as a woman of color, as an out queer woman within the space that I’m in. How do I make sense of that?  It feels like a lot to negotiate sometimes.

Roberta: …What sometimes comes up for me is trying to negotiate landmines among my colleagues. Where are the landmines, and how do I not step in them? At one point, one of my departments was having a very hostile time, and I kind of just accepted that I was going to step into the landmine. Just by who I was at the time. I was new to the department, a woman of color and non-tenure track. When I raised issues within the department I knew…I was going to hit a landmine. Those landmines can be humiliating, and can result in private and public hostile kinds of personal attacks. I do find academia to be an interesting place… Some of the things that have happened in academia that have been uncool, I’ve never experienced from other places. There’ve been places where I didn’t agree with colleagues in nonacademic jobs I’ve had, but there hasn’t been the attacks in the same way. I think that’s a cultural piece around the academy. The academy is not as progressive as it could be in terms of thinking about working conditions. That’s a real limitation…. It’s more impacted me in relation to my colleagues.

I find that I don’t want to speak as freely in staff meetings, or I don’t want to  share as much of what I think we could do because there can be this inertia that I’m met with. It can feel stifling and crazy-making. … My new strategy is to put out a little bit of an idea and I see if it’s received. If it’s received with, “Oh great, and I’ll lend a hand there,” then I’ll push it. But if it’s not, I no longer try. In some ways I feel like, “Okay, am I protecting my nose? Or did my nose already get lopped off and now I have nothing to put out there?”

****

Gita: I saw a quote one time that said, “Walk through the world with the confidence of a mediocre white guy.”

Thuan: That’s amazing, exactly. If I could just generate that!

Roberta: Yeah. I think it’s really hard to have a lot of confidence here. In one of my departments, I realized that I was having a hard time having confidence because my peers would shut down my ideas. And having that happen for years, you do begin to think that you’re a little nuts. … I’ve started to have a different experience now where we have a new chair, and she is very receptive to me. She’s receptive to hearing what I have to say. Being able to say “I’m thinking about this,” and having her say, “Yep, that’s exactly what we need to think about.”… I feel my body feel a little less burdened.

Gita: …We have to be in a constant state of vigilance, like avoiding the landmines. Like you said, we’re in a constant state of vigilance, and navigating an institution that wasn’t created by or for us. And just that is a whole level of labor on an emotional psychic mental level -that the average tenure track white guy is not in. And that’s not to say that people don’t have struggles. But it is a different… I think it’s a qualitatively different kind of emotional labor that is connected to our social positionalities within the institution. The other thing that we haven’t spoken to… I mean I think we talked around it a little bit that I just want to mention is, all of the work we do that kind of doesn’t count in significant ways for tenure and promotion.

For instance, being on committees and meeting with students…I would actually say that we do a lot of that labor. I think service is very gendered. Roberta, you said something earlier about… thinking about the good of the whole. Really thinking about the group and wanting to contribute in this way. I think I’m very oriented toward that and I feel it’s culturally how I was raised, with much more of a collectivist kind of orientation… So if you’re part of a group then you’re accountability is to that group in some way, much more than just for your own personal gain or whatever. Which is, I think both of those things: the value of a kind of emotional connectedness and relationships, and service that often is connected to contributing to this greater good. I feel those are really gendered and cultural. I also feel … those things don’t count for as much.

So the fact that I spent two days over the break writing 14 letters of recommendation for my students, nobody cares. I literally spent two days, it was so many letters! And those were two days that I wasn’t writing a publication. Those were two days that I wasn’t prepping my classes, I wasn’t applying for a grant, all the things that are supposed to count. But it is this gendered labor that feels important to me because, it’s to me a huge part of why we’re here. But it doesn’t count. There’s something about this invisible labor. There’s the emotional labor, but there’s also this kind of invisible labor, or labor that we perform that’s less valued. And yet, it’s less valued and yet it’s so needed. Things would fall apart if we didn’t do it, but nobody cares that we do it on an institutional level. And that feels really hard. I think what’s hard for me as a person on a tenure track is that those are often the things that I care about way more than the things that count.

***

Gita:  Related to the emotional labor is teaching social justice content to really mixed classrooms. I feel like there’s a lot of emotional labor involved in that process because on one hand, I feel an accountability to every single student in my room, even the super racist asshole guy who’s never thought about social justice before. I feel a certain amount of accountability and responsibility to all my students in my role, in my institutional role as the instructor.

Roberta: Yeah.

Gita: As somebody who cares deeply about my classroom teaching, on a personal and political level, I feel a lot of accountability to the students of color, and to the politicized students, who already get it and who have more shared values. But I find it incredibly hard to balance all of that and to meet all of my students. I find it incredibly difficult when people are in such different places. Sometimes I feel like I end up spending a lot of time with the white students or more resistant students. I’m starting to really think a lot about changing my practice around that because I do think that that re-centers whiteness in this way. At the same time, they’re the ones who are expressing a lot of struggle. So it’s always this kind of navigation …

And there’s also emotional labor involved with holding all of that racism and classism and sexism and homophobia in the room.

Roberta: Absolutely.

Thuan: That’s a whole exercise that, people teaching quantitative research methods, they’re not doing that labor.

Gita: … They’re not having white girl tears in their classroom that they have to manage. They’re not having that kind of work. They’re also not having stuff coming at them that is directly about who they are, that they have to then figure out how to manage emotionally.

Roberta: I find that tension between really wanting to support all the students in the room… And I really want to particularly support the people of color in the room who may be experiencing this place as one of the few spaces in their education where their lives are reflected in the curriculum … I teach a black feminism course, right? What they’re studying is deeply personal to them, and it is tough to balance the ways that some students of color may feel that I’m letting them down, that I’m not calling somebody out enough, or speaking it in the way that they dreamed it would be spoken. … It can be hard because I think as women of color in the world, professionally, we have been a mixed bag in terms of our willingness to connect with each other, our willingness to support each other. I really want to consciously work to be supportive of the students of color both as my students and as future colleagues. There’s places where what I have to say to my students is, “I need you to expand more” and that meets their resistance. Our shared identities can soften or harden that resistance. Or there are places where we have real conflict and that one’s really hard. I also see the ways that students skewer those that they feel have not been down enough in their minds as anti-racists or what not. That frustrates me … that’s not about critical thought, or supporting the room to engage with hard material. The emotional labor of holding all of who and what is in the room, and gearing it towards something constructive, is exhausting and unexamined.

Gita: Yeah that resonates for me and it’s work to not internalize all of that. You know, and to not feel like, I’m doing a really bad job, and I am really letting down the students that I care most about. And sitting with the fact that I am actually now officially a part of the messed up institution you know, all of that stuff. It’s so hard to not spiral with all of that.

Paperweight on a String:  The Tenuousness and Importance of Mentorship

Thuan: I’m considering leaving the doctoral program- for lots of different reason, and some of them are my own personal stuff that have nothing to do with larger policies. But I think one of the things has made it harder is that, there are so few faculty who are good advisors and mentors…The ones that are really good, … their social capital is tenuous, so in order to ask someone to expend their social capital on a student… I mean, that’s a lot to ask of someone…

When I was assigned an adviser who I actually stuck with, I chose to stay with someone who had a lot of institutional power at that time and who had no idea who I was. In many ways, she was a really good advisor. I don’t know that it was the right decision. I think her not really understanding where I was coming from, my experience as a student, and my experience around my work, might not have, in the end, been the best decision for me…

****

Roberta: My dissertation work was interdisciplinary. My first job as a full-time academic had me straddling three departments. It wasn’t ideal, and it got me into the institution with benefits! I wanted to show myself as someone who really worked for the good of the group and the good of students. I didn’t have a mentor. I wish I’d had because all the departments were happy to utilize my skills. But in two of the departments, I realize my skills were being utilized, but I wasn’t growing, and I wasn’t really given a lot of direction about what it looked like to succeed there. I didn’t even know to ask. I was like, “Okay, so my contract says do this, so alright. But I see you have a need over here so because I care about the discipline, I’ll help.”

I realize now that generosity was not the wisest thing for me to do. It contributed to my own exhaustion. I also didn’t realize that I was so low on the power grid of the way that the different departments operated. That was kind of surprising. I know in one of the departments, my gender absolutely impacted how I was treated; and with the other department, the fact that I was new really limited how effective I could be. I didn’t realize it at the time. I was constantly getting caught in crosshairs or trying to move upstream and really not getting very far. But then the impact that that had on me was that, it impacted on my scholarship…

I recognize I have not been good at playing the scholarship game. And what I also realized was I haven’t had a lot of mentorship around how to be better at this. What associations should I join? I recognize myself as a fringe academic, what do I need to do to help legitimate and professionalize what I do?

Thuan: Yeah. I feel like my experience as a researcher, one who centers equity in my work, is that I can progress as long as there’s a benevolent someone up there helping. The institution itself is not gonna reward fringe unless someone just happens to care that day. Which is really tenuous. You don’t know how to feel confident in your security…

***

Gita: I think mentorship is a huge issue,…the lack of mentorship….There’s also this piece about who’s offered mentorship, and who’s not, right? I mean, I feel like I see it all the time. I saw it in my doctoral program. I see it here. There are certain people who have no trouble finding mentorship and people want to mentor them. Then, there’s others like all of us who don’t, and I think part of it is about all the dynamics of power and privilege in the academy.

It also is about the kind of work you do…For those of us, where there’s an intersection between who we are in the world and our identities, and the kind of work we do, people don’t want to engage. I think a lot of times in doctoral programs in particular, there’s less investment in the people that they don’t think are going to go out and be traditionally successful or famous.

…There is not a benefit in some sense for mentors to invest in people like us who are doing more fringe kind of work, who are women of color in the academy, who don’t necessarily reflect the mainstream goals that we’re being socialized into. I do think that’s an ongoing issue and something I heard a lot in the things that you’ve been talking about.

***

Roberta: I have written three articles. One of them was written in partnership with the faculty here and the others were written because my old advisor said, “Here, write something for this book.” And I just think, “Wow, if those two opportunities hadn’t happened, then I wouldn’t have anything written.”

Gita: I even notice dynamics about who gets asked to participate in projects and who gets asked to be co-authors on stuff. …

If you don’t have access to those opportunities, you’re not gonna be professionally successful in the way that this institution wants you to be. If you get to have opportunities to author papers with other people, or you get to have opportunities to be on a grant, that’s a form of mentorship.

Thuan: I think the other thing about not being invited or asked to join, whether it’s projects or publications or whatever, is that I’m from a culture where you don’t self-advocate. …So it’s this double whammy, “I’m just gonna wait for someone to notice me.” And I know that that’s not gonna pay off for me. Yet I still can’t do it.

Gita: I can’t go and advocate for myself.  I really resonate with that too. And I feel like that’s a gender and culture intersection.

***

Roberta: … [in my research] I interviewed these women in construction, and asked, “What are some of the things that kept them working?” And some of them, they said, “Trying to find the best place, the place where you can have the most support to be there.” I resonate with that. They will say that even being there, it’s still hard, but having support there gives you the ability to keep going. I have definitely watched how, particularly, one of my bosses has really been an anchor for me. … I feel like I’m a balloon, and I’m tied to her as a paperweight. If she wasn’t my paperweight, I don’t think I’d still be here.

Thuan: It’s kind of tenuous. Right, because it’s like benevolent person is needed. I have one of those people, and my career has progressed because of this person. But it’s like what if that person goes away? What happens to me? It doesn’t feel like something I can count on, not because that person isn’t reliable, but because it’s not an institutional value.

Roberta: No. And in some ways I feel like she’s trying to make enough space for me that hopefully another wave or whatever will come through … Which I appreciate… For a lot of the women that I interviewed, there was the paperweight that helped them be there. And the paperweight was there for that time, for that moment, and they were able to survive or not after that paperweight.

Gita: …your paperweight analogy, that’s really good. Part of what’s so poignant about it is you can picture it, and you can see how tenuous that weight is. If it slips off the thread it could just so easily be gone, and it’s the only thing.

Thuan: That really speaks so powerfully to the lack of it being an institutional value; that it’s really just held in this one little space, usually in a person.

Finding your Compass:  Strengthening Relationships, Resistance, & Vision

Roberta: I think the challenge has been to keep my compass focused. It can be very easy to lose my sense of personal direction or purpose in the midst of having hundreds of students, and negotiating dozens of faculty. I keep thinking, “What is my self-determination?”

Gita: Just to go back to the thing that you were saying too, Thuan, about finding your people and connections…  this is an institution that is so invested in people not being connected…This institution benefits, as do many, from people being disconnected, and for lots of reasons; like people are more powerful when they’re connected. Academia is a very individualistic project in terms of this idea of success and professional mobility and all that, I mean there’s just lots of reasons. It’s a very masculinist environment so relationality is just not valued. Coming together and having these kinds of conversations does feel like a tiny little act of resistance to what we’re being socialized in this institution to do.

I can also say that I think one of the things that has been most challenging for me around finding connection is that some of the people that I have found very difficult in the time that I’ve been here, in this institution, are people of color who do not share my values and who tend to be much more assimilationist and oriented toward the dominant culture of the institution. They sort of have a mentality of, “If I was able to make it in this way, then other people should be able to as well.” When I am really struggling with some of those folks, I really work hard on my compassion and my dialogue about it. People survive oppressive institutions in all different kinds of ways, and this is a strategy, but it’s so not mine!  So I find that it’s hard. But it also is politically very hard, because when there is a set of people who have shared identities in some ways with you, and they’re spouting a very different politic, it makes us look irrational. I mean, it really just makes us look like there’s something wrong with us. I feel like those folks of color can be held up as examples, “Well these people aren’t having any problem.” Or, “This person’s been very successful.”

Thuan: I have been in similar situations, and what’s particularly challenging is, if it were, let’s say a white person who was saying something, I would be quick to challenge that. But if it’s another person of color, I can’t.

***

Gita: If I get promoted in the future, it feels inevitable that I will become invested in this system that promotes me. That’s the fear, that you lose sight of the compass. How do you not? There’s very few examples of people who are professionally successful who don’t, on some level…

Roberta: Make that negotiation. Because it’s a negotiation. Which I think also comes back to that compass. I think if you’re more tuned, attuned, despite everything, you’re healthier.  I’ve been thinking about self-care. For me, self-care is now about knowing what I’m here for and doing that, making my plan and working my plan, having a sense that I’m not just buffeted. That, for me, feels really important because there’s so much that I’m asked to do, and is asked of me. I then have to marshal my ovaries to accomplish it all, and I need to know that it’s worth it.

***

Gita: …something that also really comes up for me is the importance of finding your people, your allies.  But then there is intersectionality and how that complicates finding the connections and who the like-minded people are, and the allies.

One challenge that I’ve experienced here is that I just don’t have a lot of community. I don’t have a lot of queer people of color to connect with. I can be around people of color who I share politics with, but who maybe aren’t as invested in gender and sexuality, and then kind of vice-versa, like anti-racist white folks, who really get gender and sexuality, and they’re lovely, and they have good politics, but it’s a different lived experience. That for me has felt complicated. Relatedly, the specificity… I mean we’ve been talking in kind of generalities about being people of color, but we all have very different experiences of being people of color in the world, in the U.S., and in this institution. I think living in a region of the country where there’s not a very visible or large South Asian population really impacts how I’m perceived, the kinds of microaggressions I experience, and also what kinds of supports I have culturally outside of this institution.

Thuan: Yeah, I resonate with that.

Roberta: Totally, it does complicate the idea of finding your people. It probably makes it impossible to do in this community, right? I feel like if I hadn’t connected with you all, and our small crew of graduate students, that my people would be very small on campus, but it’s also interesting that we’re not in the same department, we’re not in the same college. We don’t see each other. So in my day to day, it’s a lot harder. I have collegiality with my colleagues, but I don’t think that that puts me in scholarly alignment in the same way, it doesn’t. I used to have it, I had it with two colleagues on a deep level and one of them passed away, and my other colleague and I have been struggling with like, we were a triangle, you know?

Gita: …And maybe some of it is expanding what finding your people means. Given who we all are, we’re not gonna have the same ease with that. It might mean that you have a few people on campus, but you have more people off campus; or for me, I feel like still a lot of my people are not in this institution, or this city. Maintaining those relationships is part of what sustains me. But it’s work.

***

Thuan : So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about… my friend who works in the private sector in health care. First I’m just annoyed that he gets bonuses and I don’t, but just how different it is! I’ve almost always worked in the public sector, almost always worked in the university setting, and am noticing the difference between innovation…There’s this promise of innovation in an academic setting, and for some reason it doesn’t ever really happen. It’s so slow and so conservative. I daily am surprised by it. As if I’m not learning my lesson. I think that’s related to this conversation we’re having. It’s not an organism that responds… It’s an amoeba, it sucks you in, or you sort of push up against it. It’s not something that changes for you. I really struggle, I’m surprised by it all the time.

Roberta: You know, I think that too. And I think that some of my struggles have been that real difficulty recognizing that this system is resistant to change.

Thuan: But it’s like the smoke and mirrors. It’s this promise of being on the forefront of political activism. And it’s not there. Or bait and switch maybe?

Gita: Right, if you work in the private sector, or like if you go to work at a bank, you’re not harboring an illusion that anything’s gonna be different. You understand what you’re signing up for. I think part of what’s so painful is you get into these systems (of higher education) and you realize… There’s the smoke and mirrors thing. It’s like, “You came into this”. And especially in all the fields we’re in that are fundamentally about social justice, change, making things better in the world, and you realize that it’s the same old replication of the status quo. So re-imagining it. I would like to reimagine it as actually being what I thought it was or want to think it is, or should be.

***

Thuan: I love the idea…of us connecting. Just a connection, I think it helps. And I didn’t realize how much it helped until I just said it! I think it sort of helps find that compass again. I think we can sort of be in our own floors and our own departments and forget.

Roberta: A takeaway for me is just thinking a lot more about my compass. A lot can come at me that’s superfluous. So, I have to focus on what guides me to where I need to be.

Gita: Just getting that as an image is really helpful and I think something that I wanna really spend some time thinking about. … being in this institutional space really has pulled me away from it, and I spend a lot of time thinking about my relationship to the institution and my survival within it. And that’s not actually why I’m here.

Roberta: No.

Gita: But, that actually fills up a lot of head space and time on a day to day basis…I need to really think about my own head space, and how much head space I’m giving to that versus the things that I’m actually here to do or the things that I actually really care about or feel invested in.

I think continuing to think about connection and what my paper weight could look like or paper weights could look like.  Because I feel myself floating away…I don’t quite know how to find that or tie it on my string or whatever.

Roberta: We need to see relationship-building and connection not just as social, but really as part of self-care.

Thuan: Yeah.

Gita: And community care. This is part of how we can stay centered and grounded in who we are and what we bring to the work, because the institution doesn’t support us to build intentional, affinity-based,or political community or relationships, but we can create it.

Thuan: It also feels like a form of resistance too.


Thuan M. Duong is a Research Associate and Social Work doctoral student at Portland State University. She has over 15 years of research experience in both public health and social work. Her current research is in child welfare, with a focus on including family and foster youth voice -in services and in research. She approaches her work thru a feminist and emancipatory lens – which includes developing processes that facilitate true participatory research.


Dr. Roberta Hunte is an educator, facilitator, consultant, and cultural worker. She is an assistant professor in Black Studies and Women Gender and Sexuality Studies at Portland State University. She teaches courses on reproductive justice, inequality, feminism and the African American experience. She facilitates trainings on equity, diversity and inclusion. She is a collaborator and producer of the play “My Walk Has Never Been Average” with playwright Bonnie Ratner, and a short film “Sista in the Brotherhood” with filmmaker Dawn Jones Redstone. Both projects are informed by her research on black tradeswomen.


gita r. mehrotra is an assistant professor at Portland State University in the School of Social Work. She has a PhD from the University of Washington and a MSW from the University of Minnesota. Over the past 20 years, she has been involved with domestic violence work in a variety of capacities: direct service, education/training, and program and organizational development, with a focus on Asian and South Asian women and LGBTQ communities of color.  gita has also been active in community building within queer South Asian and QTPOC communities in multiple cities around the US. Her current areas of research and teaching include: identity and well-being of women and queer and trans people of color, diversity and social justice education within social work, domestic violence in minoritized communities, and the application of critical and feminist theories and methodologies to social work education and scholarship.

Countdown to Launch

Issue 3February 14th, 2014
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