A few days ago, at a party for a student who finished her PhD, I heard a professor and a fellow grad student make a joke about how grad school is supposed to be easy and fun. I gritted my teeth a bit and managed to merely make a comment about how that’s not necessarily true, but I was honestly kinda pissed off. This is something I’ve heard repeatedly from faculty and other grad students, all of whom are, coincidentally, able-bodied white men. Now, before I keep going let me just state that grad school isn’t easy and fun for all able-bodied white men, nor is it necessarily awful and terrible for women, people with disabilities, people of color and all intersections therein. We’re talking about cultural trends, not hard and fast rules.
My experience, though, hasn’t been fun or easy and I’ve actually had a professor tell me that I was doing grad school wrong because of that, basically saying that I didn’t belong if I wasn’t having a good enough time. Well, I’m sorry that I haven’t enjoyed being insulted, dismissed, harassed, sabotaged, and then having the temerity to be affected by all those things. I’m sorry that I haven’t found it fun to be treated like I’m broken because I had the arrogance to simultaneously be disabled and a woman. I’m sorry that I don’t have a good time when I get my ideas talked over (at best) or shouted down (at worst) and then a male colleague gets to say the same damn thing minutes later and be taken seriously. I beg forgiveness for being hurt when I have to sit and get homophobic crap thrown at me while faculty just shift uncomfortably in their seats. I hope I can pay penance for my anger that my mental disability has meant I’ve needed more help and understanding, but I’ve had that need thrown back in my face as weakness or poor work ethic.
You might read that and think “Clarissa, why are you still in grad school” and honestly some days, like today, when I’m tired and close to burning out I don’t know. I love learning, I love the kinds of math that I get to work on when things are going well, and I love teaching. That means grad school should be great for me, but in a lot of ways it just hasn’t been. I’m tired of constantly feeling like I have to prove myself because the default is to assume that I don’t really deserve to be here or that I’m not good enough to earn a PhD, when in reality I’m having to try so much harder all the time than some of my fellow able-bodied white male grad students who have stay-at-home wives that take care of everything for them and yet they feel like they have the right to look down on me because my life isn’t effortless.