A Posse to Protect Your Star Player: Scholarly and Comedic Advice

FWCAIn March (28-29) I attended the Faculty Women of Color in the Academy Conference, which was hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This conference brought together faculty, graduate students, and post-docs “for professional development, personal development, and community building.” Through workshops and various discussions, the conference sought to identify challenges within the academy for women of color and suggest strategies to deal with working and succeeding in the academy. Although often cited as one of the best careers, a career as a college professor can be quite stressful.

Friday’s Keynote Address was by Nell Irvin Painter, distinguished historian and professor emerita from Princeton University, who provided suggestions on navigating the academy. She gave us the benefit of her experience and wisdom, and I was determined not to miss a word. Then, on Saturday, I attended a workshop that was presented by Carmen G. González, professor at Seattle University School of Law and one of the editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. Both of these scholars offered sage advice and coping strategies. One of the themes repeated during their presentations and throughout the weekend was that women need to build networks of support in order to prosper. Their wise counsel took me to a less than scholarly place, however. These professors gave the same advice as one of my favorite comedians, Katt Williams.

People of color can find themselves feeling quite isolated on their campuses. To cope with the isolation and stress of academic life, Prof. Painter emphasized the need or collective support. She cautioned us not try and deal with academic life alone. Instead “you need your own ‘posse.'” (Yes, Nell Irvin Painter said posse!) This posse, for example, may include friends, mentors, congenial colleagues, older women, administrative staff, sorors and church members. You need to have a friend who will listen–without interruption–when you have had a bad day. You need people who can offer good career advice. In short, you need a group of people who will defend you when you need it and support you when you need it. While it is helpful if you and the members of your posse work at the same institution, it is more likely that at least some of them will not.

Similarly, Prof. González stressed the need for collective responses to life in the academy by building alliances. These alliances can be cross-generational (with mentors and sponsors); horizontal (with peers from your department or university); or cross-border (with people outside your department or university).

KattWmsIn much more colorful language, but with the same message, Katt Williams gives similar advice in his 2008 stand-up comedy DVD It’s Pimpin’ Pimpin’. This comedy show is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Williams riffs on everything from Pres. George Bush to Michael Vick and Brittney Spears. But “Jesters do oft prove prophets.” Williams contends that we have to be a bit more selfish and take care of ourselves. After all, YOU are your “number one star player.” So, “make sure you got your team set up” because you will need four or five people who will “jump in and block bullshit” during a crisis.

America is a country that celebrates individualism, but it’s clear to me that there are times when we will all need a little support from our friends, no matter what careers we’ve chosen. Each one of us needs a posse. I’m fortunate enough to have a posse that includes my husband, former professors, friends from graduate school, sorors, and former colleagues. Who’s in your posse?



Encouraging Yourself to Happy

Happy Face at the beach

Happy Face at the beach

On Monday, Da Realist 1 wrote a post, “Rejuvenating My Passion,” which is about her experience this past weekend attending an academic conference in IL. She spoke about it as being a “coming home” experience, one in which her attendance rejuvenated her spirit as an academic. It gave her an opportunity to go back to the people and the work that that was important to her.

Da Realist 1 was on to something in her piece. In fact, many of you, our readers, felt that she was as well, as demonstrated by the email and Facebook responses that talked about how her post was right on time for them. Personally, it reminded me of the value of doing the things that we enjoy and that we should try to do them as often as possible. Doing the work that we enjoy helps to balance the blahs that many of us experience when our professional and personal lives are not producing the type of fruit that we hoped it would.

The truth is, too often we don’t feel rewarded for our hard work, whether it be the work we do in our homes or the work that we do in the office. For me, however, I have always been thankful for is the relationship that I have had with my students. It has provided me a community of scholars with whom I could engage in conversations.

I have had students who are energized and optimistic about the research and scholarship that we do. They are also activists in their communities, volunteering to make a difference for women of domestic violence, educating young black students, campaigning in elections, and working in any other ways that they are needed. We are connected to each other on Facebook and Twitter and we continue discussing the issues that impact black people’s lives long after they have graduated. Some, I have even become friends with.

Not too long ago, I received a Facebook message from one of my students, telling me about the impact that my class has made in his life. Conversations like that make all of the academic bureaucracy worthwhile.

Wishing all our readers peace and joy!

Click here for Frankie Beverly and Maze’s song, “Happy Feelings” to help you get to happy.

Rejuvenating My Passion

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.~Confucius

SHAAs I sat down last week to write a post about why I chose to become a historian, I found it extremely difficult. There was so much to say, but I was unable to corral those ideas into a suitable post. Perhaps it was because I have been on the sidelines of the academic world for a while and feeling somewhat isolated. Or, maybe it was because many of the recent articles I’ve read about academia have been quite negative.

Over the weekend I attended the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association (SHA), and it rejuvenated my passion for history. It’s ironic that I have never been to this conference. It was the first historical association that I joined when I was in graduate school since my research was and is focused on the South.

It may sound silly, but in a way it was like “coming home” for me because there was such familiarity. The conference was held in St. Louis, and I lived in the St. Louis Metro area for four years. I attended the conference with one of my good friends that I’ve known since graduate school. I saw other friends, sorors, and colleagues that I’ve met over the years.

I enjoyed the presentations, receptions, the networking, and browsing the new book titles in the exhibit hall, but seeing my former professor, Theda Perdue, had the greatest impact on me. Her historiography course on the Old South was one of the first courses I took during my master’s program. She is a lovely person, but she is tough. I was petrified but so relieved when she found my writing to be sound. I felt as if all of the other students knew more than me (although they probably didn’t).

I had taken a Native American history course with Dr. Perdue’s husband, Michael Green, and I absolutely loved his passion. My excitement when I teach the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass or The Souls of Black Folk reminds me of how he behaved when we discussed From the Deep Woods to Civilization in his class. You could tell he loved what he was doing and that he was in his element. I was saddened to find out that he had recently passed away. Dr. Green was one of the professors who encouraged me to apply to graduate school, and I was flattered that he held me in such high regard.

I wanted to study history, in part, to tell the history of those who were unable to write it for themselves. I wanted to change students’ present and future by introducing them to the past. I’m glad this weekend I was able to attend the SHA and reconnect with the academic world.