On learning to thrive in the academy by turning outsiderness into strength
If you don’t see things the same way as everyone else, if you feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, can you succeed in the academy while staying true to yourself? Can you survive, thrive, and make a significant contribution?
These personal questions connect with my professional work in multicultural education and ethnic studies, both of which interrogate institutionalized processes and structures in education that benefit groups with power at the expense of everyone else. I have spent much of my professional life trying to figure out how to transform those processes and practices to support the intellects, cultures, identities, and perspectives of students in our schools, and particularly those from communities minoritized on the basis of race. At the same time, I have had to wrestle with various dimensions of my own outsiderness, and learn how to thrive in academe without losing myself.
When advising young scholars and graduate students faced with vexing choices that affect their professional and personal lives, I always tell them to listen to their gut, to follow their heart. This is something I learned to do gradually, as I waded through years of distrusting myself. I also advise them that following your heart is not necessarily easy. Academe may well not be organized to support your passions and perspectives, so to thrive, you must be willing to invest effort in learning how academe functions in order to map out a path that fits you. But ultimately, thriving in the academy begins by valuing what makes you, you.
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