by Delisa Perry
A lot of us who identify as queer, Black, or woman or a combination of the three may find ourselves at an institution that has explicitly or implicitly harmed or silenced parts of our identity. We may not fully realize how detrimental to our safety the ideologies and policies that uphold these institutions are until we are well into our respective academic programs. By that time, for various reasons, it may become difficult to either transfer or leave once we become aware of the lack of safety. Our physical, mental, and emotional health is crucial to our overall wellness as queer and/or Black women and needs to be fostered wherever we may find ourselves. My story is not unique but should be told anyway, given that the survival of my communities depends on telling our own stories.
Before beginning graduate school at a conservative evangelical institution, I was superficially aware of the implications of my race, sexuality, and gender as a queer Black woman. I was mostly concerned with my passion for philosophy and the desire to learn about the foundations of the field from a Christian perspective. This all changed in 2014 with Black Lives Matter quickly gaining traction and my white Christian “friends” revealing how they truly felt about Black lives.
I know that I am not the first nor the last Black woman to attend a PWI, therefore I find it necessary to aid my fellow queer Black women in navigating their own spaces within these institutions. Despite these institutions’ claims of wanting to “set the captives free”, for the most part, they do not have marginalized groups’ best interests in mind regarding our race, gender expression, and/or sexuality. Because of my experience at PWIs for the past eight years, I am aware that people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ folks may find themselves walking the halls of certain institutions. I would like to offer some timely reminders, warnings, and encouragement for my fellow queer Black women.
How to thrive at a PWI:
- Know that as a queer black woman, you belong at the table as a scholar who is fully human, and deserving of respect and critique from those who reciprocate respect and critique.
- Learn the rules of their game so that it will be easier to transgress in your own work.
- Pick your battles. Do not waste precious time “debating” cisgender heterosexual white men on YOUR humanity.
- Perfect the art of counter arguments, this will sharpen your academic work and conversations.
- When one of your peers reaches out in genuine compassion, try to think twice before lashing out. They may become one of your few close friends during your time there.
- Be prepared to have microaggressions lunged at you.
- Know how to combat the racist and anti-black microaggressions in whatever way feels safe for you.
- Deliberately reach out to other Black women in other programs. You all will need each other for support.
- Do not be afraid of taking a break from the predominant readings (i.e. White men) and seek out works from those who share your identities.
- Do not be deterred by the dismissal by your (white male) professors concerning your passion for your people.
- Know that there are Black women scholars who will provide an honest critique of your work. Stay in touch with them.
These are but a few suggestions that will hopefully better assist and heal those who are currently or plan on attending a PWI or private Christian institution. As a graduate student studying philosophy and the only Black woman in my philosophy program, I find it necessary to bring healing and knowledge to others who may be isolated. You are not alone.