Pain. Hurt. Betrayal.
These three little word kept coming up during intimate conversations I had with my academic familia at education conferences this year. Pain. Hurt. Betrayal. How do these three little words burrow their way into our minds, body and soul?
How is it possible that pain, hurt, betrayal became synonymous to the experiences of so many marginalized and minoritized scholars? Yes, those of us with target identities have endured the physiological, mental and spiritual pain caused by daily MICROaggressions, however, this year was different. The thick cloud of pain permeated almost every space I entered. My heart has been aching for some time and I could not really place the pain, but this conference season gave me answers. We are hurting familia. We are witnessing hate tolerance. The constant targeting of Muslims and their places of worship, blatant attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, the vilification of immigrants, anti-Black and anti-Latinx sentiments and dangerous rhetoric of meritocracy have made many of us targets. The intellectual exchange of ideas is threatened when our communities are under attack and don’t feel safe.
My body was split in two. I know that having access to these exclusive educational spaces is a privilege that many dream of. Yet, I could not fully immerse myself in the experience knowing that outside the conference hotel, outside the walls that gathered the brightest minds in higher education, communities were hurting. It felt surreal to be in these spaces talking about our research when there were immigrant children being torn from their parents and put in jails. Puerto Rico forgotten. Flint, Michigan without clean water FOR 5 YEARS! Yemen … and the list went on …
Then, as I sat in the hotel lobby trying to gather my thoughts. I met a Latina woman, Eileen Galvez, who was distraught. She explained that at a previous conference she had experienced the appropriation of her intellectual property and had just learned that the perpetrator was awarded a fellowship to conduct cultural analysis. She struggled to gather her thoughts, but when she did, her words resonated with how I had been feeling. She said: “We come to these conferences to feel safe but these places aren’t safe for us. They perpetuate the injustices we are seeking relief from, and rewards them.”
I didn’t feel split only because of what was happening beyond the conference walls — at least not entirely. I was split because of how we replicate these practices within academic spaces.
Pain. Hurt. Betrayal.
Became part of these conferences, the glorious smiling faces quickly turned into tears far more often than I can remember. However, some of those tears were of joy and relief. They were tears that shed months of impostor syndrome residue, MICROaggressions, mansplaining and feelings of isolation. For the first time in months the carnal body and soul finally felt affirmed and heard. For many minoritized scholars, conferencing season is about coming home, refueling, regenerating — like a snake shedding its old scarred skin — then returning to our respective institutions to share our gifts.
To my new colleague who said, “No one at my institution cares if I live or die. If I don’t show up tomorrow, they won’t care,” We care. Those of us who have built tight communities, lets continue to bring others in and show them that we care. For institutions who care about recruiting and retaining minoritized scholars, provide us with sufficient funding and support that will allow us to shed our old skin and return to our workplaces reenergized — despite being charged a daily minoritized scholar tax.
Dr. Claudia García-Louis is an assistant professor of educational leadership & policy studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio.