The Double Consciousness of Surviving or Thriving
Womxn in Student Affairs
September 16, 2020
To set the tone it is imperative that I share my lineage. I am the daughter of Eunice Algie Randall, granddaughter of Eunice Ruby Randall and Lillie Bell Timmons and great granddaughter of Algie Lee Nunn. I come from a lineage of Black women that know (and knew) everything about surviving in this country not just for themselves but for the very existence of their families. I was raised to be strong, to believe in myself that I could achieve any goal I set, and to trust that if I put in hard work it would pay off. Through formal education, I was conditioned (really socialized) to believe that if I followed the rules, earned the credentials, and developed the right skills I would easily climb the ladder of success. While somewhat true, what was not shared with me was the combination of hard work, skills, credentials, etc. does not always assure positive outcomes even when you make ‘all’ the right moves. In Eloquent Rage (2018), Dr. Brittany Cooper states “Being a Black woman in America means realizing that doing everything right may not be enough.” I am keenly aware of the systemic barriers (distorted history, numerous stereotypes, and expectations) that exist around my Blackness and Womanhood, that are present when I enter a physical or now virtual workspace. These barriers create additional identities that require me to wrestle with how I operate from a position of strength, knowing that there are deficit-based ideologies in which I am viewed.
Entering my nineteenth year as a higher education professional, it has been my experience as a Black woman that there are unspoken assumptions that I would and should assimilate in some form to the dominant culture. And do so (assimilate) willingly without the reciprocal expectation that the dominant culture would consider my cultural experiences or perspectives, or make efforts to learn about differences unless there is a major diversity issue. I’ve also learned along the way that you will do battle (more than you want) with chaos and have to make conscious decisions of whether you will fight for survival or fight to thrive. Even as I write this blog, I am navigating the complexities of sharing my truth while seeking to thrive (not just survive) in the field of higher education as a Black womxn.
To provide context, I analyzed both the words survive and thrive. Surviving defined, means to exist, live, especially in spite of danger or hardships (Retrieved August 15, 2020, from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/strive?s=t). Thriving is defined as to grow, develop well or vigorously, proposer, flourish (Retrieved August 15, 2020 https://www.dictionary.com/browse/thrive?s=t). Looking at how the two words are defined, the #BlacKGirlMagic in me wants to thrive because it is action-packed, but being transparent, there have been many times where survival has been the safest outcome. The great thing about the social construction of terms such as survive and thrive- is you get to decide what it will look like specifically for you based on your context. Surviving can look like showing up, being present and accounted for at work and thriving could look like creating conditions where marginalized voices are being heard by those in positions of authority. These days, surviving has meant supporting students and institutions even while you are personally dealing with an immense level of pain and hopelessness. Personally, there have been times when the cost to thrive has been too great a price to pay. In those moments, I remind myself that if I can survive and channel a spirit of resiliency from my ancestors, that provides an opportunity for me to be present for another day, another chance to thrive. Sis, whether you make the conscious decision to survive or thrive you are making a choice that is best for you and that is powerful!
In the backdrop of this pandemic, this country is also experiencing a heightened level of racial injustices and social inequalities. Both of which have been present at our institutions but now in 2020- This. Feels. Different. Higher education institutions are not perfect and sometimes cause us to question our own sanity and even rethink our career choices, especially when we have experiences with processes that were not created to be equal. Michael Render (also known as rapper Killer Mike) stated in a passionate plea on May 30, 2020 that now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize. As such, I have chosen to take a posture to thrive in environments I work in that were not designed for Black womxn. Although I may not be among the faces in the crowds protesting, I am actively working within my institution to embed myself in learning experiences and disrupting behavior that reinforces stereotype threats. I will no longer accept empty promises and I will demand real visible change, challenging institutional culture that alienates students and staff of color. I will also care for myself, because the work on this journey is great and the health disparities among Black womxn are greater. Caring for myself includes:
- Scheduling and attending regular health screenings because Black womxn bear a disproportionate burden of cardiovascular disease and cancer (Asiedu, et al. 2017)
- Finding moments of joy daily (waiting until the weekend to reclaim my time is not enough)
- Gathering with a support network of womxn that identify as accomplices that affirm that I am not crazy and my experiences are REAL
- Actively work with a personal trainer
- Meet bi-weekly with a mental health counselor where I have the space to be completely vulnerable and authentic
What is your plan? What are you doing for you? I challenge you to do one thing each week that prioritizes YOU because YOU MATTER! By making the conscious decision to write this blog, I am choosing more than survival, more than thriving, I am choosing to gain a place of true visibility and new ownership of my voice.
Sis, I want you to know YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH! Operate in YOUR GREATNESS!
Dr. Edwanna Andrews is the Interim Assistant Vice President for Community Support Services at the University of Central Florida (UCF). In her current role she works with students, faculty, and staff to create purposeful action that leads to an accessible and inclusive campus environment. Dr. Andrews is a three-time graduate of the UCF earning a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations, Master’s degree in Educational Leadership, and a Ph.D. in Sociology. She is also a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated.