I've been thinking about writing this post for a while--but, speaking of academia, my time often gets eaten up by grading, projects, and failed attempts at self care. However, a discussion in today's "situating composition studies" class, paired with a few rare hours of free time, told me that now was the time to write this post.
There will be some ramblings involved. You have been warned.
If I were to take away one lesson from this year at CSU--and there have been many--I would say that I am immensely privileged to be a grad student, much less a successful one, and there is very little coincidence that I am here. My education, class, and upbringing all led me to a circumstance over which I had very little agency.
Today, my professor instructed all of her students to stand up. With each non-stereotypically academic phrase that rang true (you did not receive A's in English, you do not remember getting praised on your writing ability, you do not have parents in academia), students were asked to sit down.
I was the last one standing. To put things into perspective, I'm probably the least intellectual member of my immediate family.
To me, being inherently academic isn't an accomplishment. I got A's in English, probably partly due to genetics, but also due to my parents' enthusiasm for looking over my papers. I relied on and learned to expect praise about my academic ability. I have not one, not two, but three parents working in the English department at Penn State. Even when I hated school and thought little of my intellect, I was still good at it (yay for desperate desires to please others!). Looking back at my sixth grade journal, I refused to call myself a writer, but knew that I would "go to college, of course." In many ways, I was funneled into a community that was comfortable, a game that I knew how to play.
We often talk about systemic issues in school, and in my case, the system is working directly in my favor.
No one, least of all myself, is surprised that I'm pursuing a masters degree in English. And I've realized this past year that I carry a heavy weight of guilt for following this path. I have repeatedly heard "oh, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," and, from the more aggressive of sorts, "it's about time you had an original thought."
I consider my privilege often. I am incredibly lucky to have been encouraged to go to college, to be funded through four years of college, and to be handed the resources to do well in academia. In parts I and II of this series, I discussed how much I love having professors as parents, usually from a humorous angle.
But we're in grad school now, and we don't have time for humor.
I do still, to a certain extent, love having academic parents. As I'm currently 1800 miles away from home, I'm grateful to have teaching and writing as a point of connection. But being in this particular situation, I also wonder if I'm doing what I'm doing because I'm genuinely passionate about writing and adore school, or because it's familiar and safe.
Like my professor, I admire those who have strayed from a familiar path, who have battled a system that works against them to get to CSU. They've had to consciously consider and shift their priorities to get to a place that makes sense to them. I often feel as though priorities were handed down to me like a second cousin's sweater, and I went "cool! Guess I have a sweater now!"*
In the various households in which I've lived, school has ALWAYS come first. I was to get a job only if it didn't affect my grades. Evenings and weekends were for homework. The house was consistently quiet, usually because everyone was working on a writing project of some sort. My fuckups were usually driven by a desire to get the highest possible grade or to associate with people who had similar academic aspirations (gee, what a pretentious asshat!). These priorities guided me through good grades and awards, but they never really felt like mine.
I never truly reflected on the problematic nature of embodying these secondhand priorities until this past Thanksgiving, when I was encouraged to stay at school in lieu of family time in order to get more work done. Feeling a tad wounded after four months of severe homesickness, I openly rejected this advice, got zero work done, and ultimately felt wonderful.
In case you're wondering, this is the connection to pie. Disregard the fact that I hate pie.
I have always known that it wasn't just sheer luck that got me here, but from Thanksgiving forward, I realized that I didn't have to run with the academic privilege I was given. I could--and should, in fact--consider my own priorities and create my own visions of success. In a way, my work with digital rhetoric (a field neither parent has touched) has started this shift (although it's still within the academy...baby steps, guys).
Despite these revelations that I perhaps had it easier going into higher ed, I still feel as though I made the right choice in going to graduate school immediately after college. I have found a passion independent of external influence (gender and identity on YouTube, anyone?), and, paradoxically, it was grad school that made me understand and critically consider my privilege in the academy. It also made me consider my role in removing barriers from those who want to further their education, but who do not benefit from the systems that have been put into place (I smell elimination of standardized testing!).
So I guess the second take-away from grad school would be to prioritize prioritizing. How profoundly intellectual.
As I'm at the halfway point to graduation (*gulp*), this is about the time I would be
This metaphor is getting a bit morbid, so I'll stop here.
To use a favorite phrase among my students, to conclude, I cannot discredit my own achievements in considering influences that led me to academic success. But I can realize that I am not bound by things that I'm good at or experiences that come easy to me. I may be tempted by security, but I am also an advocate of character-building, which I've learned isn't always reflected on a CV.
If I write a post in two months saying "jk, I've decided to get a PhD!", please slap me.
*I actually really need sweaters, so if you have any sweaters that need a torso to live on, please let me know**
**the actual point is that my parents in no way pressured me to take certain actions, and they have instilled wonderful priorities and work-ethics in me. Which is another way of me saying "hey, I've got a great work ethic, hire me plz!"