They call New York City (NYC) the city that never sleeps, there is always something to do and/or something open. New York City is my hometown, so when I moved from NYC to Bloomington, Indiana I knew I was in store for a transition.
After I settled into my assistantship and course work, I began to seek out social outings in Bloomington. Back home I went to a lot of poetry events and was searching for that in Bloomington as well. I thought I would have to pause my passion for poetry, but I was able to find a monthly open mic and poetry slam right downtown. This was a monthly event, created by people of color that brought together various communities for communal storytelling. Whether it be a monthly slam, an informal gathering at someone’s home, or a night out at the bar, I always find comfort in these spaces. Graduate students of color take ownership of our experience here at IU and create the communities and bonds we want to be a part of. There is always a gathering happening somewhere with graduate students of color. I am able to engage with different graduate students from different disciplines and full-time professionals in Bloomington. I never knew when I came to IU that I would find a strong community of graduate students of color that would play such an integral role in my social support. Bloomington is no New York City, but I still manage to find spaces that rejuvenate and refresh me.
In Freedom by Beyonce she sings:
I’m telling these tears, “Gonna fall away, fall away”
May the last one burn into flames
Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move
Freedom, cut me loose!
Freedom! Freedom! Where are you?
Cause I need freedom too!
It is the point in the semester where all our assignments and responsibilities are piling up and we are questioning why we are in our programs and/or the academy in general. This period is usually consumed with early mornings and late nights, sometimes filled with tears. It is important that we remember our education is the freedom our parents dreamed of. As some of us pursue our second or third degrees freedom still seems far and inaccessible. It feels as though we are trying to open a lock, in which we now have the key for, but our hands are too big or small. Which is to say that there are always hurtles to overcome.
Beyonce continues to sing:
I break chains all by myself
Won’t let my freedom rot in hell
Hey! I’ma keep running
Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves
Although you may currently feel stuck and/or lost, you have the capacity to break the chains and persevere on. The ultimate freedom is your education and what you do with it. You are creating a legacy for future generations that are yet to exist.
1. Stand in the Sun
Olivia Pope talks about standing in the sun by embracing full vulnerability and facing her truth head-on. She honors the joy that comes with standing in the sun, while simultaneously recognizing the hardships. For many of us, graduate school is a life-changing 2-7 years of standing in the sun, whether it be confronting hidden demons or feeling as though you are not enough or deserving to be in this space. Regardless of the discomfort, you must remember your end goal and continue to stand in the sun. Its 3 months until winter break! Keep striving through the challenges of graduate school because your goal is worth it. Someone is watching you stand in the sun and face your truth head-on, only hoping to have the courage to do the same. You will come out of this experience a stronger and wiser person.
2. Be a Gladiators in a Suit
Being a Gladiator means fighting for what you believe in. Olivia Pope is a Gladiator, but also has other Gladiators to support her. In graduate school, your beliefs may be challenged and invalidated, but you must stand firm in your truth. Olivia is a powerhouse because she is grounded in her values and core principles, but she is nothing without her Gladiators. Graduate school is not a journey you should tackle alone. You must find other Gladiators who are also being pushed and challenged to lean on for support and comfort. They will get you through the long exhaustive days when the readings and coursework began to pile up and home becomes a paradise you daydream about.
3. Wear the White Hat
Is it a Friday night and you are contemplating between the bar crawl and the paper you have due next week? Is it a Sunday evening and you are torn between watching Insecure or going to bed early? If so, remember that graduate school is mined with endless difficult decisions. There is no right answer to these questions. Wearing the White Hat means doing the right thing for you. Olivia Pope works endless hours to maintain the state of the country, but she is only of use when she can show up as her best self to do what needs to be done. Sometimes doing the right thing is going to the bar crawl because you need a social gathering to decompress. Sometimes it is staying in and working on your paper, watching Insecure or going to bed early. It will look different for everyone. You cannot serve others if you do not first take care of yourself and do what is right for you.
I won’t deny that it is quite difficult to stand in the sun with your gladiators and wear the white hat. It is an attempt to: be open to vulnerable and transformative growth, center your health and wellness, and find a community who will ground you in your journey. Nayyirah Waheed said, “a friend. is someone who supports your breath”. Your Gladiators will assist you with the work necessary for your survival on this journey.
So ask yourself:
1. Do you know why you’re Standing in the Sun? Your purpose will ground you when you lose sight of why you’re here.
2. Who are your Gladiators in Suits? It’s 2am and you break down from frustration with a theoretical framework or you remember the time in class when you felt silenced, who are you calling?
3. What is your White Hat? What is doing the right thing for you? What is going to ensure your health and wellness so you can best support the greater good and live your purpose?