Friday, September 4, 2015
Working Class in Academia
I wrote a chapter for part of a forthcoming edited collection on Steve Rogers as Working Class Hero, how part of what defines him as a hero is his background as working class Brooklynite.
I'm no Steve Rogers, but more and more I think about how class impacts my scholarship and the ways I am viewed.
When I taught high school I constantly got snide comments from other teachers along the lines that the only reason I was able to do everything I did- curriculum design, outreach, parent and student contact, service, was because I didn't have husband and children at home. The implication that THEY could do these things if they were so unencumbered wasn't subtle. The implication that my lack of husband and kids was the ONLY reason I was so productive was also not subtle. It couldn't be because I was good at time management, or juggling or projects, or just that I worked hard.
When I was working on my Masters at a program filled with elite, private school students, I faced this again. As people were struggling to get their reading and writing done, I was often sitting out in the sun reading X-Men comics. Because I always did all my reading before courses started. And I read really fast, for things that came up during the course. And I work hard. So I often had down time. But when other students and professors saw me engaged in non-course related readings their first thought was not that I worked hard and got stuff done. It was that in some way in order to be finished early I had to have cut corners, not done well, rushed things.
I finished that program in four years instead of five. One summer I took three classes instead of two. Another semester I drove two hours to ECU for a night class, leaving right after my high school teaching day for a 6-9p course, arriving home after 11p, so I could transfer the credit in to graduate in less time. And I did it because I couldn't afford another summer. Because while I applied for work study I still had to take out student loans. So I busted my ass, I worked hard, and I graduated early.
I finished my PhD coursework in a year and a half. I defended my prospectus two weeks after finishing comps. I completed a draft (albeit a rough one) of my dissertation in less than nine months. I've turned the first half of revisions around in a month. I'm working hard, not so I can say I can work hard, but because this is just who I am. It's how I work.
Time is often a luxury. And it's often a luxury decided by class. The higher your socio-economic status, the more likely you can afford to take time- time off, time to consider, time away.
I don't take time off because often, I can't afford to, in addition to being willing to sacrifice things to reach goals. I sacrificed time off when I commuted to ECU because the payoff was worth it. I am willing now to sacrifice social activities to finish my dissertation.
I don't go out. I don't socialize. I don't do things. One, I can't afford to on a TAship and student loans. And two, that's not why I am here.
I don't share my experiences on how I work to make people feel bad, in fact I often tell people to steal my strategies but not use me as a role model. I don't have a husband. I don't have kids. I only have to work around the demands of my dog, Nehi. So my schedule is freer and more flexible than others. But I don't think that should mean that my work ethic, my ability to bust my ass, should be discounted. I don't think how hard I work should be discounted.
I work hard. And I work fast. Because I don't know any other way to do it. I spend 6-7 days a week, 12-15 hours a day working because it's important to me to finish my dissertation, to graduate, to get a job. And I'm willing to sacrifice things until that goal is accomplished.
I'm not saying be me.
I'm saying don't punish me for being me. Don't judge me because I'm not your work ethic, your socio-economic class, your approach.
Judge me on my own merits.