Friday, May 23, 2014

Beloved Dry Erase Boards

I have a love affair with dry erase boards.  They make me feel sane, secure, and settled.  When overwhelming thoughts and “things to do” start to make my head spin, I go to my dry erase boards.  They always have the answer. 

Sometimes I use the board to brainstorm and create blobs of things to do.  Other times, I draw boxes and lines creating hierarchies of ideas, processes, or relationships.  For the feat that involves moving us to the D.R., we have 3 dry erase boards: one for my work tasks and things to think about on the D.R. side, another for my husband’s work/job hunt tasks, and this week we welcomed a third whiteboard into the family: I created a timeline of tasks for the first move – out of our apartment.  (The second move will be into a temporary place in the D.R. and the third move will be into our future apartment in the D.R.)

Our apartment lease ends on July 9th, so we have about 7 weeks to sort everything we own into piles: donate, store, and pack to take with us.  This week, we started by going through all of the kids’ clothes.  It took a few hours (during nap time and after bed time), but it feels good to have one step sorted out.  Next, we’ll put a few things on Craig’s List to sell, go through our own clothes, and box up the things we don’t use on a daily basis – books, DVDs, stuff in the attic.  “Stuff management” is a major step in the process…if I start to feel dizzy, I’ll go buy another dry erase board.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Owning My Voice: The Difficulty of Negotiating Multiple Identities


I have learned to downplay certain parts of my identity for the purpose of getting along with everyone.  This is something I pride myself on, and it has potentially contributed to my academic success.  I am good at school and I am good at making friends.  In order for this to work, I censor, filter, and second-guess most of the comments I make in conversation with others.  Often, I choose not to say what I’m thinking.  Sometimes it’s because I don’t want others to think of me a certain way, put me in a box I’d rather not inhabit, or engage me in a debate that I don’t have the energy to win. 

On the plus side, I  have good relationships with friends and colleagues who are of different races, religions, genders, sexualities, and political parties.  Further, sociological research suggests that there are material and social consequences for people who over-emphasize certain pieces of their identity.  For example, blacks who are vocal about race are labeled as “militant” and experience social isolation in majority white workplaces. The same is true for women who are vocal about gender in majority male workplaces.  Mothers are penalized in multiple sectors and are seen as less committed to their jobs.  So maybe it has helped me to be less political about “race issues”, assertive in maintaining working relationships with men and white women, and discreet with colleagues about the challenges of balancing work and family.

But the costly byproduct if this chameleon-like negotiation of identities is that I am unheard. People don’t know what I think and I am left questioning what my own voice really sounds like.

I second-guess my thoughts and opinions in the classroom.  I am never satisfied or confident enough in my work.  I am terrified of putting my scholarship “out there” because I have spent so much time cultivating my identity to be palatable that the fear of rejection is palpable.

So, what good am I? 

We can assume that in many circles (both professional and social), I may be the only black person/ woman/ parent/ sociologist/ liberal/ Christian/ “insert identity” in the room.  What good am I if my voice does not challenge assumptions in that room? What impact does my presence have?

Perhaps there are few spaces where I can be my whole self, all the time.  But isn’t interpersonal growth about learning from others?  I’m still getting used to this dance – put it all out there, put some of it out there, put none of it out there. My hope is that I can engage with others and also be true to all of my identities.

*Photo credit:

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ubuntu: I am Because We Are

I got a Fulbright Award to support my dissertation research in the Dominican Republic.  And after I jumped for joy, I thought, “thank goodness Louise watched my baby so I could go to my Fulbright interview!”  My four years in graduate school represent a collective effort on the road my PhD.  I have more ahead of me, but I’m feeling grateful and sentimental, so this is my love letter to those who have gotten me to this point.

I am standing on the shoulders of ancestors who have gone before me, fought, and died so that I can go to school today and have access to higher education.  I am because we are.

My cheering section includes people I have gone to school with, taught with, lived near, and served with.  I am because we are.

My kind and supportive friends at Duke have done statistics problem sets with me, they babysit, give critical feedback on my writing, commiserate when things are difficult, and celebrate our successes collectively.  I am because we are.

My mentors and advisors at Duke and at Davidson write recommendation letters, allow me to bring my sons to meetings, invite me to share my research, tell me I am capable, and push me to be better.  I am because we are.

My friends who are like family share their advice and experiences, encourage me to set weekly goals, pray for me, and laugh with me.  I am because we are.

My family is willing to drive an hour and a half from Salisbury to Durham to babysit a newborn so I can go to class, they babysit on weekends when I have academic deadlines, they listen to me complain and help me put my stressors in perspective, they celebrate birthdays/anniversaries/holidays with lots of food and fellowship.  I am because we are.

My life partner is the most supportive husband I could ever ask for.  He changes diapers, does laundry and dishes, builds me up, dries my tears, and pushes me to dream bigger.  I am because we are.

Thank you to my village.