Fostering Community, Transparency, and Vulnerability in the Academy
Some Reflections on Research Writing Groups
Academia can be a notoriously lonely place. Many of us toil away on our work alone and attempt to make progress towards our goals of graduating, getting a job, and achieving tenure without a community that understands the pressures we face. Much of our time feels like stumbling in the dark towards our goals unless we have strong mentoring or support structures embedded in our institutions.
The academy’s standards and processes are opaque and built to purposefully weed out those who “can’t cut it.” Many programs are reminiscent of hazing rituals in which only the "strongest," i.e., the most privileged, survive. Some graduate programs and tenure processes intentionally pit scholars against one another, discouraging collaboration and information sharing and increasing isolation.
People from historically marginalized groups, as well as first-generation college students, face additional challenges because the academy is built on white male culture, which privileges and mentors other white men and, to a lesser extent, white women. So many people of color are the "only ones" in their departments, and they face even more isolation when microagressions pile on top of one another and the larger system is designed to keep whiteness in place. Many institutions have attempted to diversify in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder by hiring more Black faculty or admitting more students of color, but they have not addressed the lack of support or community our colleagues feel when they arrive.
Today I’m going to discuss two types of research writing groups that I belonged to while in graduate school. Neither of these groups was concerned with reading each other's projects and providing content feedback; rather, both groups recognized that the academy strategically separates us and fails to explain all of the game's rules to everyone. Both groups taught me a lot about the various stages of an academic career and how “paying it forward” is key to transforming the academy.