Mentoring Lessons

Last Friday, the Mentoring Future Faculty of Color project (MFFC) held its final lunch and lecture series so I wanted to use this opportunity to reflect on what has been an incredibly inspiring and generative spring program. First, I’d like to thank Nikhil Pal Singh (Associate Professor of Social & Culture Analysis and History, New York University), Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman (Associate Professor of African and Afro-American Studies and English, Brandeis University), and Tina Campt (Professor of Africana and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, Barnard College) for agreeing to share their research and engaging us in conversation. Thanks also to my amazing allies in MFFC whose energies and organizing skills helped make these events such a success.

All three lectures raised important questions that have pushed me to reflect more critically on my own scholarship. Professor Singh’s talk, “Race, Crime and Police Power in the Making of U.S. Empire” reminded me of the important histories of racialized criminality and policing in the United States that will inform my thinking as I explore contemporary forms of racialization and disciplining that manifest within the U.S. academy today. Professor Abdur-Rahman’s discussion of her book, Against the Closet: Black Political Longing and the Erotics of Race (2012), introduced a different genealogy for African American literature by tracing the development of tropes of sexual difference, which both excites and inspires me to find other ways of reading and conceiving Asian American literatures in my research. Finally, Professor Campt’s presentation on the serendipitous encounters that led her to her current work on convict photo albums (collected at the Archives of the Western Cape in South Africa) and the haptic dimensions of working in the archive are lessons I will take with me as I prepare for my own archival encounters in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University this summer.

In addition to these public talks, however, what I found most valuable about their visits were the informal lunch conversations our group had with these scholars where we were able to talk candidly about issues regarding diversity, knowledge politics, and institutional racism that are at the heart of the MFFC initiative. Although I missed the opportunity to have lunch with Professor Singh, (which I heard from others was absolutely amazing), I was fortunate to be present for lunch with both Professor Abdur-Rahman and Professor Campt. I cannot express how inspiring and energizing it was to hear about the struggles they encountered and overcame to arrive at where they are today. Being in conversation with these established scholars of color gives me hope at a time when graduate students are continuously bombarded with bleak statistics about the handful of jobs on the market. Although the numbers may be true, these discussions allowed us to come together in ways that remind me of how the difficulties we encounter are shared struggles. More importantly, despite the oftentimes alienating and individual nature of scholarly work, participating in these lunches was a constant reminder that there is a community to turn to for support.

I will end with just a few lessons I learned from these conversations as a way of playing my own part in furthering the mentoring mission of MFFC:

  • As scholars of color, we need to use the discomfort we cause in others to our advantage rather than allowing ourselves to be discomforted by power
  • We should approach our critical analyses and research as diagnostic tools for engendering social and political change
  • We should always perceive the classroom as a space for social transformation
  • We must learn to hold the institution accountable to its own discourse of diversity, to instrumentalize diversity as a strategy for achieving social justice rather than allowing it to act as an empty signifier
  • We need to mobilize diversity as a way of opening up conversations about power in the academy as well as how to reconfigure it
  • Despite the risks of fighting for change in the academy, we have to remember that remaining silent and avoiding risk does not make us any safer

I hope these brief notes can spark even a little of the hope, imagination, and energy these discussions have given me.

Until next year,


Photo by geralt on Pixabay.

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