Did You Ask The Question?

Currently, there is a bit of an uproar at the institution where I earned my doctoral degree. The unrest comes at news that one of our seminal leadership courses will no longer be required, but will, instead, be offered as an elective. Days ago my email started to fill will threads from various other classmates (fellow alumni) who were shocked, saddened, and some piping hot about the decision made by our faculty. Among my most trusted friends I discussed the decision and shared my disappointment, but my admission that I was not at all surprised. In fact, nothing has surprised me in the world since November 9, 2016. 

I processed the news of both the new direction of my doctoral program and the new direction of the nation in which I reside, very similarly. There is confusion. How could we be so incongruent from one another? How could you have been so instrumental in making me the vibrant, wonderful, divine being that I am, and also continue to mine my kryptonite?  Better yet, why? Why did you open me up to a world ripe with possibility for compassion, justice, conflict with civility, spirituality and empathy if you had no intentions of valuing compassion, justice, conflict with civility, spirituality and empathy? 

It felt like a betrayal. It felt like my alma mater, just like my nation, had let me down in a way so profound, so palpable it took my breath away. But only for a moment. Because that's what I have been conditioned to do; get on with it. As a person of color, a black person, a black woman, a black woman who is single, a single black woman who has multiple graduate degrees, a F A T highly educated single black woman...there is not time or space for my grief. No, there is only the demand that we get on with it and look for the causes which are not lost, save that which is not yet beyond saving. That is what I have been told is my role. Fix it. Deal with it. Accept it. Embrace it. Ingest it. Believe it. 

Well, I am tired of that. When I wrote my LinkedIn article that reached over 13K people who knew what it felt like to go through a doctoral program, or any graduate program, and be hurting so badly but carry on anyway, I knew I had a captive audience. The, at least, 13K other people who knew that our suffering was senseless and who were asking ourselves how could we have done better? How could better have been done for us? Our pain gave us a platform to build. And that is what we will have to do at SOLES, and that is what we will have to do in the United States. 

But we won't get anywhere before we acknowledge the pain. Hear and air the grievances.  Think of how our actions impact those who may not have our same life experiences and consider how they would feel. We can't chart a course to paradise without acknowledging that we are in hell and it seems that no one wants to ask the question "How will this impact someone who is different from me?" Are we so consumed with our own smoke that we cannot see that our entire neighborhood is on fire? 

When I see 13,700 people affirm that graduate school lead to unaddressed feelings of depression, anxiety and pervasive sadness, I see a neighborhood on fire. I wonder what colleges and universities are doing to address the needs of graduate students' mental health and wellness? I wonder who else is asking that question? 

I wondered, when I saw exit polls, who are the people who voted for Donald Trump? Who is in that 51%? Can they see that my neighborhood is on fire? Can they see that I struggled with my mental health which impacted my ability to successfully maintain every other area of my life? Can they see that I was sold the magic carpet of higher education at the cost of $250,000 in debt to a government that does not speak for me or advocate on my behalf? 

And I await the a-ha moment that allows my experience of the world to become valid. Brought into existence by something other than my own breath, skin and bone. Why did it take the death of a white woman to acknowledge white supremacy and law enforcement's vulnerabilities? Why was Taylor Swift's "Me Too" louder than that of Tarana Burke? Where is her cover? Where is her settlement? 

Now they got two little nice statues in Chariot Park to remember the gay movement. How many people have died for these two little statues to be put in the park for them to recognize gay people? How many years has it taken people to realize that we are all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race? I mean how many years does it take people to see that? 
~Marsha P(ay it no mind) Johnson

Jessica Williams