Monday Notes: Lesson Learned from Publishing an Academic Book

Ever since I graduated with a PhD in August of 2010, I felt like a failure. This isn’t to say I awoke every day and beat myself up about my lot in life, but rather, every time the academic year would begin, I’d be in a physical and psychological slump. It was an energy thing.

It began when I attained my first job at Georgia College and State University in Middle Georgia. Though the actual job was ideal, the location and circumstances were not. Middle Georgia is racist, both explicitly and implicitly; living there was like a step back into the 1950s or 1850s; take your pick. Also, my degreed and experienced husband was never able to get a job there, so we agreed to live apart and see each other on the weekends.

Two years later, a colleague sent me a temporary job at Florida State University, which I applied and interviewed for and took. They “loved me so much” there that they eventually hired me for what I thought was my dream job, a tenure track, assistant professor position in English Education. The problem was again two-fold: institutionalized racism existed and I’d chosen to commute 360 miles so that our family could live together.

Some people can deal with blatant institutionalized racism; I am not one of them. Three years later, I’d decided all of it was too much. I accepted a job elsewhere making twenty thousand dollars less and teaching more classes that weren’t in my niche. The first day of orientation I sat in the bathroom stall and cried. Then, I went to take my ID photo. To this day, my picture shows me as a red, puffy-eyed, hot-ass mess.

I’d failed. But I kept doing all things academic.

At first, I presented at conferences and published in academic journals just in case. I knew I’d need to show my scholarly worthiness just in case I wanted to attain another job at a different type of institution.

“Are you sure you’re done with academia?” one of my colleagues emailed after asking if I wanted to be nominated for some national platform situation.

He and others ignored my answer and continued to co-write and push me on the path we’d all begun.

I published at least once a year and eventually became the chair of a special interest group.

You may be wondering, like my cousin, how someone like me could feel like a failure. Let me tell you. It’s easy to do when you have a strict plan for your life.

When I graduated in 2010, life was laid out. I would find a job as an English Education professor at Prestigious X University. Five years later, I’d be associate professor. Five years after that, full professor. All the while, I’d be publishing my ass off and presenting research all over the world. It’s easy to let yourself down when you’ve got your whole life figured out.

So, each year I wallowed in a slump, while preparing for a just in case situation.

Life became clearer around November 2018. That’s when I met three ladies at a conference in Houston. We each presented our work, which was related to sports media, critical literacy, and diversity.

Afterwards, one of the women said, “We should write something together.”

In January 2019, Lexington Books emailed me with interest in turning my presentation into a book idea. I want to repeat that. I didn’t seek them out. They emailed me. Consequently, I suggested to the other three women that this be the “something” we write together: a book. That led to us creating a call and inviting others to join us.

This month, our book, Stories of Sport: Critical Literacy in Media Production, Consumption, and Dissemination will be released.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Everything is made up, and we can do ourselves a disservice living within made-up rules. Part of the reason I felt like a failure was because I couldn’t see any other way to be a scholar other than what I was told and shown. Those made-up rules clouded my judgment and created my own idea of so-called failure.

Everything is made up, and we can do ourselves a disservice living within made-up rules.

kegarland

I didn’t need to work at X University to attain a book deal. I didn’t need to follow a specific trajectory to publish as a scholar. All I needed was to trust my path and do what I enjoyed…writing.

Oh, and I secured tenure at my current institution. It turns out that’s not as important as I thought, either.


Purchase Stories of Sports: Critical Literacy in Media Production, Consumption, and Dissemination and use the code LEX30AUTH21 to receive 30% off.

Monday Notes: The Black People in Front of You 👽

kg_FSUI began a tenure-track position at a Research I university August 2013, a month after Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted. Our academic year began in one of the university’s ballrooms with announcements of new faculty, food, and light banter. I was the only black face at our round table. I’d grown used to being the only, but this felt different. I remember chit-chatting about inconsequential topics so minor that I cannot recall the slightest detail.

I remember wondering if I should ask any of these white faces what they thought about Martin’s death or his killer’s acquittal. After all, we were scholars. I remember wondering if this incident mattered to them at all, not in a Black Lives Matter way, but in a we live in the state of Florida and this just happened in Florida type of way.

Instead, I remained silent, returned to my office, and prepared my syllabi for the semester.

***

That August, I taught a class that was at an integral phase for my students who were studying to be teachers. The class was right before their internship semester. Strict guidelines had been passed down from the previous professor. Students could only miss two classes. The consequence? They’d fail and have to wait an entire year to re-take the course. Rigidity was important because they’d be student teaching the following semester and had to learn the importance of punctuality and attendance. They were two semesters away from being professionals after all.

Long story very short, there was a student who missed more than two classes, and because I wanted to follow the rules I was given, I failed her. The day she realized I wouldn’t budge on my decision, she stood in the hallway demanding to be seen even though my office hours had ended. She stood, with her face inches away from mine and yelled. She’d made such a commotion that the office secretary came out and asked if I was okay.

“Yes,” I replied, my voice no louder than a whisper.

The girl left. I gathered my belongings and left to teach class. I wondered if any white, tenure-track professors had ever been yelled at, in the middle of the hallway, in front of their offices at this Research I university.

I never asked. Instead, I taught, wrote my grant, and prepared to conduct my study, in addition to having to participate in several conversations that reached the dean’s office about why I should change my mind about this student’s grade.

***

Other bothersome events occurred at this university, like the girl who placed an online order and had a Jimmy John’s sandwich delivered to class…while I was teaching.

img_4048There was the time the same girl screenshot an email she’d sent to me to prove she’d completed an assignment. I noticed the emoji she associated with my name – an alien. According to her, she’d used that alien emoji for “all her professors.”

There was the time I was supposed to have a mentor. I asked for a black woman, someone with whom I could identify and navigate this particular university’s world. My assigned mentor was black and female, but she was not tenured. At the time, they didn’t have any black, female tenured professors in our college. She confessed that she had little to offer me by way of advice; she was just trying to keep her own head above water.

There was the time my white colleague asked me to speak to a black student about her use of Black English. I was tasked with placing her on probation if she didn’t learn to use “standard” English. How is she going to be an English teacher? my colleague asked.

There was the story of my incompetent, white, male counterpart, who initially made $12k more than I did, but who needed my help understanding how to create and teach his classes.

And, there’s the story of how I got this specific job in the first place. Spoiler alert: it was tied to Affirmative Action.

***

Since we’re all having moments of introspection and authentic conversations centered on race, I figured I’d share this partial list of how systemic racism manifested for me in three short years at a place I’d least expected it, the highest rated university in our educational system.

This post may be my last about race for a while, so I want to be clear.

Some black people will not encounter police brutality, but we will encounter white people in other spaces that weren’t initially created for us.

Subsequently, it’s important for two things to happen: 1) black people should speak up and be explicit about what we need, and 2) white people should understand systemic racism and determine how to engage in anti-racist ways.

For the latter, I think a great place to begin is with paying attention to the black people in front of you.