We are individuals, not symbols

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Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels

You have no doubt seen photos on college websites of multiracial groups of students and faculty working together. You will find mission statements on these websites avowing values of equity, diversity, and inclusion. To all appearances, discrimination on college campuses has ended, Affirmative Action is a thing of the past, and we work, teach, and learn in environments of multicultural harmony.

This constructed image of diversity could not be further from the truth. I have written elsewhere about the lack of representation of faculty of color. As of 2018, Whites make up 75% of the total professoriate. …

We need to stop making people feel less than for not conforming to expectations

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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

If you have read my recent article, you know that I have not had an easy time in academia. My thirteen-year career has been fraught with delays, discord, and disappointments.

Along the way, I have wondered what I could have done differently to change the outcome. I have come to accept that whatever errors I have made, the choices that reflect who I am at my core should not be grounds for my exclusion.

1. Studying a non-traditional subject

Russian literature is not a field most people think of when choosing their specialization. …

Our anxiety is only getting worse

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Photo by Luxcama Sylvain from Pexels

I sat down to speak with therapist and long-time musician Bill Harrison about the challenges his clients face during this time of police brutality, protests, and reckoning with America’s long history of racism. Bill joined me over Zoom from his home in Chicago, IL.

Sarah Valentine: What motivated you to become a therapist for artists and writers?

Bill Harrison: Having lived and worked among musicians, actors, dancers, and writers for the last few decades — I played upright bass for over forty years — these are the people I know best. I have direct experience of both the benefits and the pitfalls of a life in the arts. In graduate school, I realized that artists as a population are underserved by our healthcare system — marginalized by below-average incomes and inadequate or nonexistent health insurance. When I combined those bits of knowledge with my training as a mental health counselor, focusing my attention on helping artists seemed like the most natural fit. …

Let’s ditch the White Savior trope once and for all

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Rafa Kalimann in Mozambique. Photo courtesy of Black Brazil Today.

In the summer of 2000, just after I graduated from college, I became an International Rotary Volunteer. I taught English to children, teens, and adults in the far-flung capital of Kamchatka, Russia. The work was fun and challenging. Three months later, I returned to the US with a new perspective on the positive impact international aid can have on struggling communities.

It’s academic job season, and I have mixed feelings about going back on the market

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Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Thirteen years ago, when I walked on stage to receive my doctorate in Russian literature at Princeton University, I felt like the world was opening before me. I wore my flowing black regalia with its broad orange velvet stripes, my sash from the pan-African graduation ceremony, and my puffy eight-cornered cap with its gold tassel. My doctoral hood hung down my back like a cape, its royal blue trim striking against orange and black satin. It was so heavy that it kept sliding down my back and against my throat. No matter, I was proud that day. …

I grew up in Pittsburgh in a white family who taught me to identify as white. Only at age 27 did I learn that I had a Black biological father.

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Photo Courtesy of Pexels

As a mixed-race woman who has internalized racism and white privilege, I undertook the journey of integrating an identity that felt “other” but at the same time spoke truth to experiences I had always known but failed to recognize. I have felt shame and guilt for having bought into my family’s lie, for passing, and for distancing myself from the few African Americans in my community.

In middle school, two of my Black classmates approached me and asked if I wanted to join their group. They didn’t say “group of Black students,” but I knew what they meant. I said no. Their recognition of our shared identity made me uncomfortable because I had been taught to see Blackness as “less than.” The white me couldn’t risk being associated with them. …


Sarah Valentine

Higher ed, race, and culture. Ph.D. in Russian literature. Professor of Humanities and creative writing. Author of When I Was White. www.sarahvalentine.co.

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