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The journey through studying your own communities leads to desensitization. You learn how to swallow your pain to produce writing. Your identity and experiences become intellectualized. You find a sense of control in advocating for yourself through your research, fluctuating between feeling overwhelmed by your personal connection to your topic and your detachment in turning it into a research project.
We learn to give presentations about topics so closely linked to our own marginalized identities and traumatic experiences without flinching. Rehearse and rehearse until you perfect it. The audience wonders how you do it. Some thank you for your contributions. Others invalidate your work as “me-search,” putting it on a lower rank and overlooking its importance as academic work.
While there is a joy in feeling like your fingers are running on autopilot on the keys of your laptop as you get your message across, there are also stark reminders that the trauma doesn’t leave you when you pour it out onto the pages in neat sentences and citations. There are also times when the words don’t come because you feel burnt out.
When I took my first immigration class, I felt seen. I felt validated. I felt recognized.
I saw it as my first “fun class” mixed in with my math and science classes at the time. I appreciated the balance it brought to my STEM focused schedule my first year of college. But one class did not feel like enough. It felt like I was drowning in STEM, so I dropped that path and followed my passion: studying immigration. Because I had only ever taken an immigration class as a “fun class,” I was under the impression that life would be easier now that I had steered away from my intended chemistry concentration.
My first semester studying immigration, I declared a concentration in History and Literature for the Ethnic Studies track and finally felt like I was where I belonged. I took on more and more immigration classes throughout several departments. Though I felt happier with all that I was learning, I noticed the effect these personal topics had as I began to feel like my own personal experiences, my classes, my relationships, and my extracurriculars revolved around immigration.
I noticed the intense anxiety as I felt trapped in my studies and wondered if I made the right decision. Reality was setting in that this was not going to be easier than STEM. The passion kept me going as I got more and more hopeful for what I was studying, but the occasional stress still found its way in. This stress is different from academic stress. This one is personal.
Once I finally figured out a balance with my life and research when it came to immigration, my work took another turn as I encountered more readings in my class on social movements that forced me to come to terms with my confusion around my sexuality. I learned about my own sexuality as I studied gay liberation and became more interested in the Undocuqueer Movement. I felt like I was able to come to terms with my sexuality thanks to academics like Gloria Anzaldúa and Audre Lorde. Figuring out my sexuality became a new research project. Their work became a driving force for me as I hoped my own writing could one day have the effects theirs have.
I added Women, Gender, and Sexuality as a joint concentration, took four WGS classes my junior spring to catch up, and found myself feeling a similar overload to when I took on too many immigration classes. Outside of class, I experienced a homophobic microaggression that resulted in me shutting down one weekend. Readings were piled up for me to complete, but I didn’t feel like I had the capacity for them. How was I supposed to do any readings when I still had so much of my own internalized homophobia to work through? How could I read about immigration law and detention when my own future felt so out of my own control?
There have been many instances when I need to step back from my work because my personal life gets in the way. It becomes hard to separate the two. The anxiety is recurring as this work becomes complicated. We risk burnout. We worry we’ll be seen as imposters in our own communities. We open ourselves to negative feedback from academics who don’t have a personal stake in our work the way we do. We have to stand up for ourselves as we try to carve room for ourselves in the academy.
In thinking about going on to grad school after college, I worry about how to make this work sustainable. It is important to find a balance. We have to learn how to take breaks from it. We need constant reminders that we are more than our research and the parts of us that fuel it. We need to constantly remind ourselves the purpose and worth of our contributions when we feel like we can’t escape our research or when people try to invalidate it.
Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20, a Crimson editorial editor, is a joint concentrator in History and Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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