Feel like you are the only one?

You are never alone and…
finding your people is an emergency

Feeling lonely as a social justice academic

Before I even put myself out there, let me remind you all I have worked at 3 universities and served a variety of councils and boards. So my description of experience cannot be pinned to any particular place!!

Now that’s outta the way. My academic career has included much loneliness. And fair to say that has 99% been due to my social justice efforts. Sometimes being lonely stemmed from being the only one teaching about racism or systemic oppression. Sometimes loneliness stemmed from speaking up for justice in faculty meetings and having zero colleagues support my points (even though they would praise me for speaking up once we were alone and no one could attach them to social justice issues). Sometimes, most of the time, it was also very much tied to my social class background and feeling unsafe to discuss class-based oppression. 

But I was never alone. And you really are not alone out there, but I know it feels that way. You question whether you belong in academia (I am too stubborn and rebellious to think that way). You feel like the only one who views your job as a mechanism for social justice work rather than a path to status. Maybe you are the only one in your department who internally critiques the worship of impact factors and traditional metrics for success or excellence. Sometimes, you may even begin to question your own perceptions of reality due to everyone around you happily accepting injustices. And if you voice these concerns, they label you as being difficult or sensitive.

I promise. You are not alone. We are with you.

Community as the vaccination (not the antidote)

Okay, I get it. Using any vaccination metaphor may be a bit much considering how much we talked about it the past two years. And yet, I am using it anyway. This just works too well. Hear me out. The scenario outlined below is based on the assumption that our character, Nina, has already built a community of social justice support. In other words, Nina received her social justice community vaccination.

  • the academy can throw a curveball of injustice at any given moment. While speaking with two department colleagues, they seem to respond only to each other and don’t look at Nina when she tries to contribute. Do they even hear Nina? Nina thinks, “am I even here?”
  • Nina feels invisible, annoyed, maybe angry. Then she thinks it may be worth checking in with a trusted member of her peer network. 
  • A quick phone call (people still do this) involves her badass friend making it unapologetically clear that Nina is being perfectly reasonable in her assessment of the situation. The friend brings up validations like “microaggressions” and shares a similar experience with two male colleagues at a conference last month.
  • Nina’s access to her trusted social justice peer reactivates the community vaccine. Although she did feel hurt by the isolation and attempts to render her invisible, her community vaccination acted as a buffer. She did not internalize negative beliefs or add to negative self-talk as a result of the encounter with two colleagues. Instead, Nina was reminded that she is not alone.
  • At the same time, the vaccination cannot serve as a pure cure or antidote that 100% takes away the pain. Just as with a vaccination, Nina will face moments of illness (harm), but can recover more quickly and get back to her justice work.

Breaking through the isolation

How will you break through the isolation this week and find community? This could be as easy as a text to a trusted colleague from grad school. You could reach out to schedule a wine and zoom session with a member of your support team. You could invite two of “your people” from your local invisible college to a restaurant patio for appetizers next week. Wow- most of my ideas involve food and drink… Anyway. You could even ask for some positive vibes on a social media group (one full of social justice academics). They will send puppy pics, rainbow gifs, and general messages of support. You do not even have to share the details of WHY you need support. They will just show up for you.

I know 2 things are true:

You deserve a solid community.
This is an emergency.


Learn more about the White Anti-Racism and Action course I created for (aspiring) white allies and my group coaching program for social justice academics called Choose Your Own Adventure
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