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Tearing at my Heart: The First Year on Tenure Track

I reached for the tissue box and it was empty. The tears trickled down my face at a faster pace than usual. I rushed to the bathroom to replenish my tissue box. I slowly slipped into an uncontrollable sob. I felt like I was an infant again overwhelmed with emotions but left without the words to explain the depth of what I was feeling. Were these tears of joy, happiness, sadness, restlessness, exhaustion or hurt? I wanted to blame my tears on a episode of Little House on the Prairie I had watched earlier or the chapter I just read from the Internment by Samira Ahmed? However, at the core of my heart I knew what had triggered this all.

Early that day I had taken out my doctoral gown to air out for commencement. I remembered the hesitation I had when debating to purchase it or not, as it was nearly a thousand dollars to own. I went into debt to get it not knowing if it would be “worth it.” I did not know if I was going to secure a tenure-track position, and, if not, I would get little to no use out of it. It would be a dust collector item. Pulling out my gown marked a full-year completed on the tenure-track. What a year it has been!

I recently read an interview piece featuring Xicana feminist, Ana Castillo, where she stated, “Write what’s tearing at your heart.” It took me 40 days/nights to put these words to paper. My colleague and dear friend, Andrew Martinez, recently wrote a blog titled, “If You Want to Diversify the Professoriate, Don’t Scare Us Away,” where he opened up with the question: “If life as a tenure-track professor is so miserable, then why do you continue?” and ended with, “why do you love your job?” I am the first to admit that through private conversations and texts I shared some miserable experiences with him. He expressed to me that he would be interested to see what I thought of his piece. In response, I want to answer his last question as to why I love my job.

Dr. Nichole Margarita GarciaDr. Nichole Margarita Garcia

bell hooks, author and academic, reminds us that “the practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.” While I love my job, it is not always the safest place to operate in and there are forces outside of my control that cause loss, hurt and pain. The spring semester was particularly difficult after my body betrayed me because it needed me to listen to it. A reflective mirror, a best and honest friend said, “I think you need to go back to therapy, you have so much going on and I can only help so much.” I found a therapist the next day to separate the forces out of my control and the love. I love my job because I have the resources to get professional help when I need it, and I am not scared to share.

I turned to my mentors for support. One woman of color mentor stated, “it’s like having your first child, people can tell you how it is going to be, but until you experience it yourself you never quite know.” Another mentor reminded me that as a graduate student, when asked where we wanted to end professionally and why, I replied, “I want to work at a predominately White institution because I know what it meant for me to find that one Latina that changed the trajectory of my life.” I realized in these moments that I have become who I always wanted to be. I love my job because I have people invested in me that remind me why I am here and to love myself.

I had a meeting with a student before the semester ended and she looked at me with confusion as I explained to her that I had similar internal battles regarding sense of belonging and impostor syndrome. Without flinching, she interrupted me and said, “Dr. Garcia, we all think you are brilliant!” I held back my tears. At commencement I watched the next generation walk the stage, graduate, and go on in the world as social change agents. I had a part in that, yet I held back my tears. A well known academic and mentor called me to simply say, “congratulations on finishing your first year. I am proud of you, and I look forward to all that you will do.” I held my tears back yet again.

I love my job because words of affirmation, even the littlest ones, keep me going.

I learned that the tears I held back were from the whole academic year. By holding my tears back, I held apart of myself from being seen. I will not do that again this next academic year. I love my job because I learn from my mistakes and interactions. Just last week while speaking to McNair scholars who asked, “why did you want to be a professor.” My response, “so that you know you are loved, needed and you are my colleague in training.” I was able to let my tears fall in front of them. It was my first time crying in a professional setting as Dr. Garcia, and for that, I cannot imagine not being an academic because I love what I do.

Dr. Nichole Margarita Garcia is an assistant professor of higher education at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. You can follow her on Twitter @DrNicholeGarcia

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