The interview below is one I gave to a graduate student at the University of Texas. This woman has taught me a lot about her experience as a single mother and activist trying to make it through grad school at UT. Her life style is not the most stereotypical student experience. She has to take demanding classes while caring for a child. I got to interview her about her experience and the answers really hit home after all the work we’ve being doing to make the campus more accessible to women and mothers.
1. What did you expect to get out of going to grad school/what it would be like, compared to what it really is like?
Well, I don’t quite know what I expected grad school to be like. I think I expected it be less emotionally stressful and more intellectually stimulating. What I mean is, its strange to me that the biggest stressors in grad school are competitions for money that are supposedly based on how scholastically competitive we are. I’m sure I had a romanticized vision of grad school but I didn’t expect it to be this cutthroat. My favorite part of grad school are the professors here because they can really empathize with what we are going through and they don’t make grad school as stressful as they could. It is different actually getting criticism on my work from my professors, and although it makes me feel bad sometimes to read their critiques, I have to remember that they are helping me become a better student/scholar. Due to my professors’ kindness, grad school isn’t as academically stressful as it might be. Having said that, it is difficult getting all the work done sometimes, because I don’t always have the time to do it as well as I would like to.
2. How is it for women in grad school, especially those who are mothers/workers? Is there a lot of support for women and mothers?
I think there should be more institutional support for women and mothers in grad school. I have found no scholarships for mothers or single mothers, and there is no institutional recognition at UT that I have different financial needs as a mother, and there is no attempt to accommodate me. For example, at Berkley they award a yearly $8,000 grant to student parents in grad school. I wish they did the same here. And I wish that I felt comfortable mentioning my status as a student parent and a single parent on applications for funding, because I feel that it IS an academic achievement in and of itself.
Overall, I think it is more intimidating for women in grad school. In classes with a lot of men, I feel very hesitant to talk, especially if they are older. I also feel awkward in my interactions with them sometimes, not because they do anything wrong, but just because the dynamics feel off-kilter. I have plenty of male classmates with children, but I always feel jealous of them because I know they don’t have to fulfill the same domestic responsibilities as me, so they can study and/or relax more. It is the first time in my life that I wish I was a man, because I wish I could have children without having to really take care of them like a mother does (breastfeeding, etc.) I think the university should offer free or subsidized childcare for graduate students. They do have an early education center, but the wait list is 3 years long and it’s not that cheap, either. Childcare costs me $7,000 per academic school year, which is almost half of my fellowship stipend. The other half goes to rent, yet the university doesn’t think that I qualify for much extra financial aid.
I think they that institutions like universities and the state are reluctant to support single moms because they don’t want to “reward” our bad choices and encourage more women to follow in our footsteps. But this speaks a lot about the patriarchal and sexist orientation of the institutions themselves, as well as the greater society we live in.
3. How do you feel being a woman has impacted the classroom experience and your relationships with fellow classmates?
I just feel awkward talking to my classmates sometimes. Some of them are friendly, but I feel that some of them wonder about my intentions when I speak to them because I am a single mom so I feel that they make assumptions about my sexuality or sexual activity. Overall, I have a hard time fitting in sometimes. As far as the classroom, sometimes I feel that the men have an easier time being chummy with the professors, and I think male professors sometimes praise men’s comments in class more.
4. Why did you choose your program specifically? Do you feel that after your experience in grad school those reasons have held true in school for you, or will in the future?
I chose my program because it is the best program of its kind in the nation, and it is renowned for its activist scholars. I do believe these things are true, and I have been really impressed with the program. I just wish they didn’t keep us so stressed about funding for our second year of study.
5. How have you been able to get through school with all of the difficulties of being a student along with the outside responsibilities?
I only sleep an average of 4 -5 hours a night, so I’m always tired. I take little 15 or 20-minute naps while my daughter watches cartoons. My house is always a mess, even though I try really hard to keep it clean because I feel like I’m not a good mother if I don’t have a clean house. I try really hard to focus on my schoolwork while my daughter is in daycare. I only hang out with friends for a few hours per month. I try to prioritize my daughter, and remember that happiness is key and that I’m doing this for her. Finally, I often turn in rushed or incomplete work (in my opinion) but my professors are fairly understanding and they don’t think it’s terrible.
6. What does the university need to be doing to help support students so that there is not burn out?
The whole grad school system needs an overhaul, in my opinion. Education should not be further privatized, so that the university can hire more faculty. Then grad students wouldn’t have to teach so many classes in addition to completing their own academic work. More faculty would also provide more mentorship for grad students and undergrads. This is how it works in other countries, like Brazil. The university should provide stipends to grad students on a need-based basis, so that people like me are able to complete our educations (I’m not sure if I’ll be able to). This would also help eliminate the culture of cutthroat competition for money and resources. Finally, more people of color and otherwise marginalized people should be admitted. I recommend something akin to the University of California system, which asks for a “diversity statement” along with the application to grad school. This would help to correct the institutionalized exclusion of marginalized groups from higher education. I also wish that the state of Texas had better resources for grad students. For example, I need some expensive dental work done, but Medicaid (through the state) won’t give me dental insurance, and neither will the university.
7. Do you feel that being a grad student is rewarding in itself? Is this what keeps you going? How could it be more rewarding?
It is rewarding, because the successes feel very successful, if that makes sense. The progress is just so slow that it feels impossible to advance in my own work sometimes. It would be more rewarding if it were less stressful.
New to the group? We will meet every other week at 1pm. People are welcome to attend whichever meetings they can and to bring friends. You are strongly encouraged to do the readings, but we know life happens, so people are still welcome to come even if you have not read. We will try to summarize the readings so everyone can participate in the discussion. We will email out the readings a week before the group meeting. Any ideas for articles, movies, and/or activities are warmly welcomed. We hope to get your feedback on themes and readings.
Everyone is welcome to attend. For location information or questions you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
QUEER THEORY STUDY GROUP
How do we negotiate gender, sexuality, queerness every day? What do these things have to do with race, class, ability and other identities we hold? What does family mean to us? What does the struggle for queer
liberation look like today and where does it need to go? And what vision do we have for a society free of oppression?
Many of us have been discussing these questions for some time now. This is another opportunity for any interested people to come together, study, laugh, share stories and continue to make sense of the world we find ourselves in.
Here is the proposed syllabus:
Meeting 1. June 26, 1pm
-“Queer Liberation is Class Struggle” by JOMO on Gathering Forces:
-“Homophobic Workers or Elitist Queers?” by Joanna Kadi:
-Kate Bornstein, “My Gender Workbook” Chapter 1-2 (We will begin the
workbook this week, and may continue with it through study group.)
-Identifying key themes/definitions
-Introductions, goals, feedback on syllabus, ground rulers, etc.
Meeting 2. July 10, 1pm
-“Queer Race,” in A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory, Nikki
-Queer People of Color blog selection
Meeting 3. July 24, 1pm
–“The Transfeminist Manifesto” by Emi Koyama:
Meeting 4. August 7, time TBA
-Film: “Still Black: A Portrait of Black Transmen and Their Lives”
We wanted to share a dope paper written by a member of ¡ella pelea! on the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. As described by the paper, the League
“…emerged in Detroit in the late 1960s, a period of growing dissatisfaction with the mainstream integrationist civil rights organizations and the failures of the Democratic Party to address the subjugation of black people in a comprehensive way. A new movement which came to be known as Black Power or Black Liberation, grew out of these failures and gave birth to a new identity and a number of new mass and revolutionary organizations, one of the most advanced being the Revolutionary Union Movement and the League…
Catalyzed by the Great Rebellion of 1967, an upheaval of Detroit’s black poor against police brutality, poor living conditions, and limited jobs, the League saw the necessity of organizing black workers. Formed by a core of organizers who worked in the auto industry, they were also instrumental in organizing the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), in the Dodge Main auto plant and which pushed for addressing atrocious workplace conditions, speed-up, and the extension of the working day as well as their racist implications. Some DRUM militants were a part of previous civil rights groups but were discontented with the politics and took a more radical political stand that contextualized white supremacy through the framework of capitalist social relations.”
There are many lessons to be learned from the experience of the League and this paper takes an important step towards distilling that history for a new generation of militants today!
Thursday, May 5, 2011
¡ella pelea! & Resistencia Bookstore present
Stepping out of the Ivory Tower & into our communities & backyards:
Autogestionando/Challenging our university experience
Join us for a panel looking internationally at budget cuts to university and public education funding and the effects of those cuts on ethnic studies, students of color and their communities. The panel will feature Ana Elisa Perez Quintero from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras and Leticia Silva, member of ¡ella pelea!, Austin, TX.
The event will be held at:
Resistencia Bookstore, casa de Red Salmon Arts
1801-A South First St., Austin, Tejaztlan
For more information call 512-416-8885 or email email@example.com
Thanks to Alan Campbell for interviewing us!
We gave this presentation at the Abriendo Brecha Activism and Scholarship Conference at UT on Feb 17th. Thanks to Matt Gossage of Austin Indy Media for filming and editing!