Determined

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.

I’m literally only including this selfie that I literally took five minutes ago to show off my magnificent pink hair tbh. Boo at professionalism which is rooted in white supremacy culture. This is my authentic self: pink hair, tattered tank top, earphones in listening to “Lovesick Girls.”

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.

I honestly don’t know what other image to place here so I’m gonna put another picture related to “Lovesick Girls”‘ just to further cement my love for it. The blog post focused on “Lovesick Girls” is on its way, I promise to no one because who even reads these captions lol!

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!

11 Comments

Filed under Personal

11 responses to “Determined

  1. I don’t know much about the academic world. It seems prioritizing being published is a odd. Surely there are better measurements. I remember my cousin (who is a professor) told me once the office politics can be very brutal. My only advice to you is to develop a good, strong network of trusted colleagues who share your values. They can provide you with insights, perspectives and information.

    p.s. I have now developed this fetish for strikethroughs. And I do read captions. hahaha…

    Stay strong.

    • Thank you Matt for listening to my concerns and validating them! Yes, I have a few trusted colleagues and I have great friends outside of academia so I can stay balanced in my perspective. Yayyyy for strikethroughs and appreciate you taking the time to read the captions. (: Hope you’re well.

  2. AAAAAAAAA

    We need thoughts on the black pink documentary on Netflix bc idk if I should watch it or not… also how do you balance prioritizing yourself and your own health while also being accommodating and helping others? There’s so much divide between people thinking they don’t owe anyone anything, and people thinking the opposite… how much of yourself can you give without giving too much??

    • The answer to watching the BlackPink documentary is a definite yes. I feel like it portrays them with a fair amount of vulnerability and realness. I do wish that the documentary could have explored more about the gendered component of the KPop industry as well as their deeper emotions surrounding their struggle as trainees and as idols, though because of KPop’s lack of transparency I knew going in that content was unlikely to emerge. Would be curious on your thoughts if you watch it!

      And hmmm yes that’s an intriguing and important question and I’m glad you raise it. My initial reaction is there’s no perfect balance between helping others or helping yourself, rather, one can try to do both and practice self-awareness surrounding one’s own mental health. Like, people can check in with themselves about how they’re feeling so they don’t run on empty and hurt others because they’re not tending to themselves. Would be curious to hear your further feelings about this at some point!

  3. I’ve seen such academics and I’ve also seen decent ones who do not harm. There’s no way you’d ever harm one of your students. Remember you have learned from the abuse you had inflicted upon you: you will not perpetuate it blindly as some do.

    • Yes thanks for the reminder about the academics who do not harm! And also I believe that even if I do accidentally hurt someone I will take the necessary steps to repair the relationship and hold myself accountable. Appreciate your validation Liz and your belief in me. Hope you’re well. (:

  4. Manaal Siddiqui

    Hi Thomas, thank you for such an inspiring post. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Can you guide me to some books/articles about the power dynamics and differentials you mention? I’m really interested in finding out more about how power impacts my relationships with others. Thank you and looking forward to your next post!

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