Grad School: Not for Kicks and Giggles

Though I’m not sure why you’re here, I am not here for kicks and giggles.

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It has been about two weeks since my last post. This is mainly because I’ve had a question that I have been investigating. I will share those thoughts with you next week. However, this week, I have seen somethings that leave me shook. Cue rant:

I realized that my understanding of attending a graduate program differs significantly from some other graduate students. Across departments, I often hear that grad school serves as a holding place for not getting a job or a safety net. This absolutely blows my mind. Of course, I understand that the job market is competitive and difficult to get into (mainly because you need experience to get entry level positions and it’s about who you know). I also understand that all students know is school. From k-12, you sit, listen to teachers, and take thousands of tests. Afterward, some students start jobs, careers, or families while a few go to college (if they can afford it or were given proper resources to apply). The idea behind going to undergrad is to get a certificate, an associates, or bachelors degree to get a job (or become a manager). And that’s just it. People can go to undergrad for experience, marks to elevate them to their next step, or just take classes for fun that their previous education did not cover (kicks and giggles). You are gaining general knowledge about an area to use in some practical way.

When you enter graduate school, you are making the statement that you are going to specialize in a certain area (or become the expert in the PhD track). These people DO NOT show up for kicks and giggles. The idea (or at least in my opinion) was that people go to grad school with an ultimate goal that can only be reached with specialization in that area. For example, I believe that I want to teach college students which means that I need at least a masters degree to be hired by a university and it would be nice to have some published work (for street cred). Within academia, they want you to get as many degrees as possible and have credible work to back up that knowledge. Those with other aspirations or want positions of great power and influence might also need more degrees to set them up for success. The point is, you come to grad school with an idea or goal in mind and you grind. You are processing information and adding knowledge to the academic community. It is intense. Specifically within Communication, I am doing a lot of reading, writing, and presenting those findings each week about new material. My brain hurts.

The shook part is observing graduate students who are on Facebook or texting their friends in lectures (like non-emergency, emoji conversations). It takes everything within me to not stare them square and say, “Leave.” If your timeline and gossip blogs are more important than this course content, go home! You do not have to be here. I do not think the professor is even taking roll. You are not engaged and now are distracting me with all the blue and white lights. Just leave. If this is not interesting to you and you do not want to be here…LEAVE. I just think it is disrespectful and devaluing the positions we are in. There are people in the room who 50…80…100 years ago, would not have been allowed to study there. These people would not have even seen it as an option. You sitting in that seat probably means another student around the country was wait-listed or declined. YOU CAN LEAVE.

Studying for your masters or doctorate is a big deal and is super tough. It is an opportunity that most people never get to experience. People come to grad school because they have goals they need or want to meet. They have things that they are interested in knowing more about. They are not here for kicks and giggles.

End rant. Now I have more reading to do.

Best,

CJ

First Year Teaching: I bled through my skirt

I am a woman who has periods and it’s not the end of the world. I promise.

Welcome back! Many of you are probably prepared to pity me or sitting on the edge of your seats to hear the full story.  Others of you might think this subject matter is too private or personal or taboo. For those of you fall in the last category, I wrote this post for you, as a female human. Cue rant:

One of the things that I am very passionate about is talking about periods. I feel compelled to talk about periods and “feminine products,” because people do not want to talk about them…NOT EVEN OTHER WOMEN (sometimes). We have grown up in a society in which speaking out about periods, vagina, tampons, pads, or diva cups, is to be whispered. I live in a world which makes me feel as though having a period is a negative consequence, bleeding is disgusting and unsanitary (hints “sanitary products”), and being open about my personal life is “unlady like.” Well here’s my lady card, because I’m about to complete this full rant.

I was in a bit of a rush to get to my office hours before teaching a course. So I am frantically whipping eggs into a skillet and brushing my teeth while putting on a turquoise, floor length maxi skirt (because I was a goddess that day). I take a transit bus up to campus and walk into my office ready for the day. I finish speaking with other graduate assistants and realize that I should head to my class at about 15 minutes til. I stand up and one of second year students exclaim, “Oh, we have a problem!”

I was so shook and startled that I am intensely listening to hear what just happened. He then motions to another woman in the room to enlighten me on the problem (which only confuses everyone more). After putting two and two together, I look at my skirt to find a nice red smear in a sea of turquoise fabric. I explained to him that it wasn’t a big deal, because I am a female human and this is nothing new. He then suggests that I sit the whole class, so that my students can not see the stain. So I had to get him together:

First of all, as a young black woman teaching at a predominately white institution (PWI), I will not be sitting to teach a lesson with the intention to not make my students uncomfortable with the fact that I had a period! I hold myself to a high standard and make a point to live my life unapologetically.

Secondly, this was nothing to panic about. I will admit that I did not like the idea of walking around campus with a stain, but that would be for blood or even coffee. As a teacher and graduate student, you want to look presentable to a certain extent…especially at the beginning of syllabus week! The only concern at this point was to not let it dry, because that turquoise skirt is my favorite.

So I head to a near by restroom to put some water on it and dim the vibrancy. I rotate the skirt, so that the stain is on my front hip and then I roll up the skirt from floor length to mid-calf. Still a cute skirt. Still professional.

Thirdly, if you were bleeding…and sitting…wouldn’t you…bleed through the skirt again?! Logic went straight of the window for my male counterpart, because he does not have to think about these things. I make an effort to be conscious of that which is not conscious to my everyday reality. Just because you do not deal with it everyday, doesn’t mean that it never happens. For example, I think about race ALL THE TIME. Why? Not because I’m racist or looking for an opportunity to “play the race card.” I think about it because I have to. It is a defense mechanism. I live in a country that separates families, hosts Nazi and KKK rallies/ marches, and doesn’t look for missing people with brown skin. I do not have the luxury to live life without think about the fact that I am black nor a woman.

As a woman, I bleed. Maybe it’s once a month. Maybe it’s once every two months. It all depends on my body, diet, and stress level. When this happens, I may have cramps and mood changes. For some women, cramps can be so severe that they physically can not move. So we take pain medication, warm water bags, or eat those food that just…hit the spot. I am a free-flower. If I can get away without using tampons or pads, I will and here’s why!

Tampons and pads are expensive and dangerous. I spent an hour in a Target aisle once trying to figure out which brand to get. I challenge you. The next time you go to the store, go to the women’s section. Notice that it will be at the back or in the cut and always linked to “family planning” or “pregnancy tests.” I want you to look at the prices and quantity. Just with a quick google search alone, the cheapest set of tampons is about 5$ for 40 of an off-brand and pads is about 3$ for 22. If we pretend that your cycle is monthly, let’s assume that your period will last at least 4-7 days per month. Your period flow will also be important in these calculations. You may change 1-3 times a day (some friends have done more in one day). So for the tampons that’s about 2-10 months worth, pads about 1-5 months. Reminder that you really need both, because sometimes just one pad or tampon won’t avoid stained clothes and there are time limits for wearing these products. Also, don’t forget the special taxes and also, do you know what they’re made with?

Our sanitary products are laced with all sorts of chemicals and pesticides. I don’t even think that companies are required to tell you what’s in them. So recently, there’s been this new wave of interest in organic or diy products. But I purchased a diva cup. This isn’t common within my family or friend circle. It is 40$ and you can use it up to a year and wear it for longer hours than tampons. The material doesn’t have nasty chemicals. As I am writing this, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but again…it adds up and men don’t have to think about any of this. Plenty of women live their mature lives without knowing about their bodies or cycles. I am not good at math but worst case scnario, you could be paying about 10$ for 2 months of period related products…which could be 60$ a year (depending on flow, brand, and financial status). These products are a luxury that many women do not have access to all over the world. We shouldn’t have to pay for this…or worry about where to get the funds to do so.

So back to the original story: I checked in with some women around me to see the adjustment with my skirt looked like it had been planned. I strolled across campus and walked into my classroom to teach about 5 minutes or so early. After class, I took the transit back home, so that I could soak the skirt, because it makes me feel like a goddess. So I left all my clothes to soak in the sink with cold water (you can also use your own spit or hydrogen peroxide, apparently). I drove back to campus in my personal vehicle to pay for parking, so that I wouldn’t be late for my next meeting and class that I TA for.

I began by stating that this post was written for those of you who think that this topic is too “private, personal, or taboo.” I wrote this piece for you because I wanted you to know that this happened to me and the world kept going. I want you to know a little bit about the world that I live in which doesn’t support me. Having periods is normal and sometimes an interestingly timed surprise, but that’s okay…or at least it should be. I wrote this piece for you because I want you to be able to calmly say to another woman, “You have started your period and there is a stain on your skirt. Do you need help getting anything?” I wrote this for you, so that when you go to the store and see all of these products hidden a way, you start to imagine the unspoken shame attached to that. I wrote this piece for you to notice those who may not have access to pads, tampons, or cups. I wrote this piece because it is a real life, every day occurrence. I am writing you so that you may one day ask the right questions to the right people. I am writing you this piece so that you can help the next woman. 

Yes, I am a woman and I have periods, but I continue to thrive…and next time I’ll have spare clothes.

Best,

CDJ

What’s a Mindset Shift?

I will admit that I never realized how much of a mindset shift would be require in graduate school. Many people say that graduate school is intense, but will be the most exciting, fun time of your college career (obviously, for us nerdy types). While all of this is true, I do not recall having a conversation with anyone about the change of mindset.

When you opt into a graduate program you are making a statement to the world. As Professor Barajas said in a group session, getting a Master’s says to the academic community that you are wanting to specialize in a particular area and getting a Doctorate says you are being an expert on a specific area. My undergraduate professors explained that we were creating knowledge. With knowledge and the power to pass it down to others requires great responsibilities.

In addition to being a graduate student, I am an instructor and teaching assistant for undergraduate students. So not only am I expected to be on my studies and giving back within my discipline and communities, I have to be a greater example to young adults. I’m still figuring out adulthood and some things I have mastered pretty well, but I am now in a space where I am “the professor.”

Within that role, there are quite a few unspoken rules, because this community is so small. Though I was never one to frequent parties and bars, now I have to think about the optics of that, whether here or elsewhere. My role in certain on campus organizations may be different. It’s less about “let me hang out with my friends” and more so “what will project me to that end goal.” With that in mind, how one even approaches dating is different. I do not say these things to communicate that I am feeling trapped or restricted. I say these things because I am noticing a shift in my approach to life. Like leaving behind non-sense and moving forward in non-toxic environments.

I am making personal and mature decisions with more intention than I think I ever have before. I am surrounding myself with people who get it and with people who are go-getters. I am lucky to be surrounded by a team that supports me and holds me accountable. I am working with wonderfully, skilled individuals who can coach and collaborate with me on various projects.

I feel like a lot of trust has been placed on me and my ability to develop better humans. And I am ALL ABOUT IT. It is fun, but it’s different than what you would imagine it to be. It requires you to ask the right questions and be intentional with your actions. Although I’m sure it will be stressful (just give it 3-4 weeks), I’m excited to be in the place in my life where I am more aware of who I am, the roles I play, and the life I live unapologetically. 

Best,

CJ

End of Gap Year: What’s Next?

I’ll be starting a new adventure soon and hopefully I’ll have more time to write.

This time last year, I was going through one of the biggest transitions of my young adult life. I had completed my undergraduate studies and begun to define womanhood for myself. I made a terrifying, yet beautiful decision to take a Gap Year. Here’s what I learned from that experience.

Long story short, I graduated without a plan, but had great options. I deferred my enrollment at the University of Arkansas, in order to gain more focus in my life. My undergrad career was draining physically, mentally, emotionally, and academically. So during my Gap Year I completed internships in event planning and studio art, served through AmeriCorps to develop Social Emotional Learning or soft skills in young students, traveled aboard, attended conferences and trainings, while having a lot of fun (some might say too much)!

During this time, I learned that I am someone who has high expectations for excellence and will work endlessly to improve a situation. I have been creative, strategic, and intentional with putting myself in the right circle of people and places. I learned the importance of taking care of yourself and what that might look like for me. I also learned that teaching is where I am meant to be. However, I do not believe k-12 is my calling.

During my Gap Year, though I enjoyed working with middle and high school students, I do not believe that the Education system supports teachers to develop great students. Therefore, I applied to four different graduate programs around the U.S. I am now enrolled at the University of Arkansas to encourage more inclusive communities and be a part of changing what education looks like in the U.S.

Through serving long hours in various school systems and summer camps, I noticed that I was passionate about giving students the best quality experiences. I noticed that I put my students first in every capacity. I believe that those intense emotions or connections should never be ignored. I hope that my graduate studies will show me ways that I can be more influential and allow me to make tangible goals to improve our education system.

This learning matters because I noticed my calling. I think I had been running away from it for so long and not identifying it for what it was. In every aspect of my life, I have been a leader and teacher. I use to think that I was the only one without “a thing” or passion or clear direction. But now I believe that my “thing” is leading within education and what better way to do that than through graduate school.

As a result of my Gap Year journey, I gained more focus on what makes Cayla happy and who adult Cayla might be. I am still writing my story in pencil for now, but I’m starting to get a better picture of the final chapter.

I want to thank everyone for following me on my Gap Year Journey. I will continue writing about my new transition on the First Year Grad tab.

Take safe risks and always put yourself first.

Best,

Cayla Jae