Academia, Love Me Back

Academia, Love Me Back

My name is Tiffany Martínez. As a McNair Fellow and student scholar, I’ve presented at national conferences in San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami. I have crafted a critical reflection piece that was published in a peer-reviewed journal managed by the Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Council for Opportunity in Education. I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and Dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University. I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls empower program and craft a thirty page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first generation college student, first generation U.S. citizen, and aspiring professor I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced content that is of high caliber. 

I name these accomplishments because I understand the vitality of credentials in a society where people like me are not set up to succeed. My last name and appearance immediately instills a set of biases before I have the chance to open my mouth. These stereotypes and generalizations forced on marginalized communities are at times debilitating and painful. As a minority in my classrooms, I continuously hear my peers and professors use language that both covertly and overtly oppresses the communities I belong to. Therefore, I do not always feel safe when I attempt to advocate for my people in these spaces. In the journey to become a successful student, I swallow the “momentary” pain from these interactions and set my emotions aside so I can function productively as a student. 

Today is different. At eight o’clock this morning, I felt both disrespected and invalidated. For years I have spent ample time dissecting the internalized racism that causes me to doubt myself, my abilities, and my aspirations. As a student in an institution extremely populated with high-income white counterparts, I have felt the bitter taste of not belonging. It took until I used my cloud of doubt and my sociological training to realize that my insecurities are rooted in the systems I navigate every day. I am just as capable if not more so than those around me and my accomplishments are earned. 

This morning, my professor handed me back a paper (a literature review) in front of my entire class and exclaimed “this is not your language.” On the top of the page they wrote in blue ink: “Please go back and indicate where you cut and paste.” The period was included. They assumed that the work I turned in was not my own. My professor did not ask me if it was my language, instead they immediately blamed me in front of peers. On the second page the professor circled the word “hence” and wrote in between the typed lines “This is not your word.” The word “not” was underlined. Twice. My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that. As I stood in the front of the class while a professor challenged my intelligence I could just imagine them reading my paper in their home thinking could someone like her write something like this? 

In this interaction, my undergraduate career was both challenged and critiqued. It is worth repeating how my professor assumed I could not use the word “hence,” a simple transitory word that connected two relating statements. The professor assumed I could not produce quality research. The professor read a few pages that reflected my comprehension of complex sociological theories and terms and invalidated it all. Their blue pen was the catalyst that opened an ocean of self-doubt that I worked so hard to destroy. In front of my peers, I was criticized by a person who had the academic position I aimed to acquire. I am hurting because my professor assumed that the only way I could produce content as good as this was to “cut and paste.” I am hurting because for a brief moment I believed them. 

Instead of working on my English paper that is due tomorrow, I felt it crucial to reflect on the pain that I am sick of swallowing. My work is a reflection of my growth in a society that sees me as the other. For too long I have others assume I am weak, unintelligent, and incapable of my own success. Another element of this invalidation is that as I sit here with teary eyes describing the distress I am too familiar with, the professor has probably forgotten all about it.  My heartache can not be universally understood and until it is, I have to continue to fight. At this moment, there are students who will never understand the desolation that follows an underlined “not.” There are students who will be assumed capable without the need to list their credentials in the beginning of a reflective piece. How many degrees do I need for someone to believe I am an academic?

At this moment, I am in the process of advocating for myself to prove the merit of my content to people who will never understand what it is like to be someone like me. Some of you won’t understand how every word that I use to describe this moment was diligently selected in a way that would properly reflect my intellect. I understand that no matter how hard I try or how well I write, these biases will continue to exist around me. I understand that my need to fight against these social norms is necessary. 

In reality, I am tired and I am exhausted. On one hand, this experience solidifies my desire to keep going and earn a PhD but on the other it is a confirmation of how I always knew others saw me. I am so emotional about this paper because in the phrase “this is not your word,” I look down at a blue inked reflection of how I see myself when I am most suspicious of my own success. The grade on my paper was not a letter, but two words: “needs work.” And it’s true. I am going to graduate in May and enter a grad program that will probably not have many people who look like me. The entire field of academia is broken and erases the narratives of people like me. We all have work to do to fix the lack of diversity and understanding among marginalized communities. We all have work to do. 

Academia needs work.

3,769 thoughts on “Academia, Love Me Back

  1. I feel like this is a bit of an overreaction. You’re not the only one to experience these kinds of remarks from teachers/professors. Sometimes when I tried to use a word or phrase that I’ve never used before, my professors/teachers would pick up on it and ask me about it. They’re not calling you out on it to invalidate your experience or deny who you are as a decent writer or person or anything. Don’t take it personally. It’s just that their internal cheat detection system can pick up false positives when they encounter something unusual. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim, why not just confront the professor and ask them about it, like explaining “Why did you write this remark, when I was simply trying to experiment with new transition words and was doing it on purpose?” Maybe you can create a dialogue of understanding what your professors exactly want, and help them to appreciate the diversity of your writing style. Racism, classism, elitism have nothing to do with this.

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    1. Why do you assume that the word “Hence” was new to the Author when she wrote the paper in question? The professor made it clear that they didn’t believe she could utilize that kind of language that well. If it were a clumsy use of the word, that would be a different mark/conversation. Instead, from the marks and remarks, it’s clear that the professor thinks the usage was correct (because they ask about copying from something else) but that the language is either too highbrow for the author or at best not what they expected from her. This gets compounded with the unfortunate elitism that is pervasive in academia, where your worth is determined not only by how smart YOU are, but your ability to prove yourself smarter than those around you. When the professor let their ignorance or bigotry get the better of them for a moment, their elitism kicked in and they decided this was a moment to show that they’re smarter than their students, that they’re so clever because they caught someone cheating, or even that they’re doing the author a favor (in a twisted, disgusting sense) by slapping down her attempt to “talk up” to them.

      If, as you say, the professor just got a “false positive” on their “cheat detector,” I imagine it would have been a private conversation, not some grandiose and public calling out and overly snide/sarcastic marking on the paper. Most will write something like “SEE ME AFTER CLASS!” and address it privately. Public shaming is almost always about making the accuser feel good about themselves because they’re “making the truth known” and painting themselves as the hero in front of a group.

      I say this as a white dude who has worked in academia and been disgusted by the amount of racism, classism, and elitism that is, as stated before, pervasive in that environment. It’s especially present among the faculty and it was off putting how quickly they assumed you’d be on board with their bigotry as another white dude.

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    2. You do understand you made the same assumption her professor made? You don’t get where she is at this moment without knowing your shit, knowing what it takes. Those weren’t participation medals she cited.

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  2. “Some of you won’t understand how every word that I use to describe this moment was diligently selected in a way that would properly reflect my intellect.”

    While I can’t empathise with the surname/ethnicity bias, this statement resonated with me completely when it comes to being a woman in academia.
    As passive and veiled as it is, this kind of unfavourable treatment (for whatever bias/reason) happens far too often and, as you mentioned, causes us to go the extra mile to detail our eligibility as academics.

    I hope we’re both alive to see the emergence of truth-pursuing and the academic spirit of an open mind to all individuals one day!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Let it make you stronger. Deep cultural biases are very difficult erase and, as is apparent even,
    in these comments, difficult for people even to recognize and acknowlege. (esp. White men/boys, so accustomed to their privilage and daily experience thereof.) It is a weakness in them that will ultimately place them at the back of the room because they cant even “get it.”
    Your allies are all shapes, colors, backgrounds, and will will carve out a better world for all… But not without the pain of interacting with that bias. Take heart 💪 you’re awesome and they just cant handle it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My Boyfriend left me heartbroken, it was very difficult for me to cope without him and it made me almost killed myself , all hope was not lost because i believe he will come back to me, someone asked me to contact Dr Mack and after i did, something good happened, my relationship was restored instantly, I was happy that the outcome was fantastic, only 3 days after dr_mack@yahoo. com started it all. Never in my life have I thought this would work so fast. My boyfriend reconnected with me and he started acting completely different, I feel happy once again, and like never before. It felt so good to have my lover back again,

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  5. Firstly, how are you today? I have read some of the comments here and I just wanna know how are you?

    I have not experienced this kind of treatment ever because I look like I belong in a classroom. But I can’t simply imagine how soul crushing it can be. Hell even I wanna pursue a PhD sometime in the distant future.

    I hope you are well and whatever this professor was, he was one of a kind and you don’t have to face another one like him again

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Comment you made upset me as much as professor.”I LOOK LIKE I BELONG IN CLASSROOM”.How to obtain that look???what defines that look?I remember going back to farm from college asking my mother”what does it mean 2 of my classmates said I look and act like I AM FROM THE COUNTRY??Moms answer:
      1.you dress with style
      2. You are kind & beautiful
      3.You help your neighbor
      4.and I am sure you told them
      “THANKYOU”
      for the compliment.
      50 yr later..I understand..

      Point for student and professor:
      Be honest …Students writing perceived as plagiarized..has to be questioned and needs be given an opportunity of defending.we all need guidance and leaders in our lives..we may even have professors younger than us..I remember being asked by a high school English teacher if my brother wrote my paper??He wrote well!!I was so excited and remember like yesterday my answer.”.Do you think it is that good??I was quite appreciative.(obviously the teacher accepted)point life can toughen you and teach offense and defense.PROFESSORS need to support honesty as well as integrity..life will bring trials and strength in handling.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It wasn’t my intention to upset you (again) and I apologize.

        There is also a possibility that this comment might also upset you but I guess it is better to try explaining rather than leaving aside. When I say I look like I belong in a classroom because I just do but just because I do doesn’t mean I only belong in a classroom. I spend most of my time outside of it.

        Our looks shouldn’t matter when submitting our thesis. To judge anyone’s writing on their looks is wrong and needs to be prevented by taking it seriously.

        You are right in that regard. I apologize again 🙂

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  6. Congratulations on your having experienced an event that everyone does at some time in your life. Its unearned embarrassment and it makes us stronger. Now its become your moment in the SUN. Enjoy it, make it right with your professor and lose the bitterness and move on. I had the same thing happen to me with a Latino last name and somehow im still here 20 years later

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    1. Tiffany has had her 15 minutes of fame and her whiny self will bitch and complain and blame everything misfortunate that occurs on someone else throughout the remainder of her life. I have no doubt her life will be filled with plenty of underachievement.

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      1. Wow some of these comments are unnecessary. She published her feelings. You have the choice NOT TO READ.

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      2. So it’s not just a coincidence that the logo next to your name looks like a pretty snowflake.

        If you’re on a college campus, please check into one of the many “safe spaces” that are in each building.

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      3. If you were to strip away your hatred, resentment, and general self-loathing, I think you’d recognize pretty quickly that Tiffany’s a very good writer, an astute thinker, and someone who has a pretty valid claim about the treatment of Latina women in predominantly white classrooms. What I would LOVE to understand is what it is that happens to people like you that make you so hateful and aggressive. Usually, if it’s a white male, it’s because he’s failed at something or been incapable of something that’s been expected of him culturally or by his family or peers. Thus, the need to lash out and demean the accomplishments of others, particularly gifted and talented minorities. It’s unfortunate, because it’s very hard to bring people back from that soulless, seething place. The hate usually just grows, particularly as you repel more and more people with your language and feel more and more like the failure you are. I wish you luck in getting out of there, though I doubt at this stage that you want to try.

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  7. I teach composition so I give lots and lots of comments on student papers and this is pretty sickening to me. I think the best thing to do, perhaps impossible at this point, would have been to have a heart to heart with this prof, explain this is your writing. There are numerous ways the prof could do a plagiarism check. Turnitin.com has it. A paid version of grammarly, I believe, has a plagiarism check as well. Just throw it back it him/her and him/her do his due diligence. The prof needs to take the emotion out of his comments and keep it objective, which is kind of what academia is all about. If the essay “needs work” then why in the world would it have been published somewhere? The comments seem to contradict one another. Also, a comment such as “needs work” is totally unhelpful. What doesn’t work about the essay? That is the prof’s job to point out. (Perhaps this was included in an earlier in-text comment from the prof IDK.)

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  8. Dude, I think maybe you’re thinking about it too much. Maybe I’m not understanding clearly because I was not physically there but I’m sure the essay was great. Also this article is so well written it is ridiculously awesome. I have never been so intrigued for every word I read in my life. Cut yourself some slack I think you’re doing great.

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  9. Hey, you probably already know this, but just in case:

    Martinez, Aja Y. “A Plea for Critical Race Theory Counterstory: Stock Story versus Counterstory Dialogues Concerning Alejandra’s” Fit” in the Academy.” Composition Studies 42.2 (2014): 33.

    https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1044034

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