Sometimes I forget that in addition to having beautiful pink hair and listening to BlackPink, I also do research. A few weeks ago, a somewhat prestigious academic journal invited me to review a manuscript about sexual assault against men. Last Monday I got invited to revise and resubmit my Master’s thesis to one of the top journals in addiction science. About a week ago one of my former students got her independent project on LGBTQ+ Asian Americans and Kpop published in a reputable queer journal. While I wish I could feel only positive about these accomplishments, a part of me also feels dread: dread about owning my identity as a social scientist.
After engaging in a lot of introspection
because I introspect instead of learning how to cook or put together furniture, I realized that I feel reluctant to own my identity as a social scientist because of the trauma and adversity I have witnessed and experienced within academia. During my time in the academy, I have observed professors, even those who do research related to social justice issues, gaslight and abuse their graduate and undergraduate students. I witnessed people who pour all of their self-worth into their work and have almost no boundaries or separation from how many papers they publish. I have seen the academic system reward these people, because tenure review committees prioritize publications while often ignoring how these academics treat the students they work with. What feels worse is that so few people openly talk about this mistreatment, out of fear of professional retribution.
My internal angst stems from my fear that I may perpetuate this mistreatment if I advance as an academic. I do like research: I enjoy mentoring students, questioning dominant paradigms about gender and race, and engaging in the artistic components of creating a study and executing it from start to finish. However, as I advance in power, I feel concerned about my own capacity to enact harm, given that with more power often comes less oversight.
After reflecting on my identity as a social scientist a lot while listening to “As If It’s Your Last” by BlackPink and “Got That Boom” by Secret Number, I re-recognized a strength of mine that may help me as I advance as an academic: my determination. I remember as a child when my mother abused me day after day, I felt such a fierce, soul-encompassing determination that I would never act like her and dedicate my life to spreading compassion and kindness instead. This internal, intrinsic drive aids me in carving out my own path regardless of what society says. For example, patriarchy often socializes men into being poor communicators and emotionally unaware, while white supremacy and heterosexism often socialize queer Asian men into glorifying queer white men while not loving ourselves. However, because of my relentless motivation, I excel at communication related to emotions
thank you BlackPink for giving me the badassery to openly say that and eschew my usual modesty lol, I know my internal world well, and I love myself regardless of white men or any man thinks of me.
I am starting to feel more comfortable applying this similar internal drive to my work in academia as well. I can publish papers and always question my power so that when I interact with students, I practice nurturance and gentleness. I can apply for grants and at the same time solicit feedback from students about how they feel about how I treat them, while explicitly naming power dynamics and differentials. If I receive feedback about my own problematic or harmful behaviors, I will apologize, react with non-defensiveness, and take concrete steps to improve my actions to prevent further harm.
In a patriarchal and white supremacist society that lets so many people get away with abusive and gaslighting behaviors, I feel that consistent self-reflection and accountability are so important to prevent hurt. Though I have written a lot in this post about the mean and neglectful people I have encountered in academia, I have had a few nurturing, supportive, and uplifting relationships with mentors who practiced so much self-awareness and who prioritized caring for students over publishing or attaining a big reputation in their field. Just like how I always try to emulate my grandmother, I will do my best to act like these more compassionate mentors, to promote kindness and justice over products and achievement.
How do you try to hold yourself accountable to prevent harm to people in your life, especially people with less power than you? How do you practice self-awareness surrounding how your behaviors affect the emotions of those around you? General feelings or reactions to this post? Until next time!