By Brandy Turnbow
The closing months of the year are often a time of intense reflection for me as I struggle to understand what has been most meaningful about the year thus far and what can be done to better navigate some of the challenges experienced as I prepare for the next year to come. I rely heavily on my simple meditation of Space and Grace. Both capitalized; they’re that important. Space to attend to my self-care and self-reflection. Grace not to hold guilt for prioritizing my needs.
The past few years have been tedious and difficult. Small wins met with larger defeats or complete restructuring of purpose. Suffice it to say, when the calendar begins to wind down toward November, my anxiety increases and I find myself vulnerable and heavily reliant on my protocols of self-care.
Of course, life in general pays little attention to my needs. There are no pauses in schedule accorded me during this time of year. In fact, I normally find my schedule picking up with personal and professional commitments, unforeseen obstacles to productivity, and even my own proclivity towards procrastination as the days grow short and grey (hello Netflix binge). Student Affairs does not come to any type of end; merely transitions from semester to semester. There’s always something, and it is usually urgent in some sense.
This season as I’ve been thinking back over my professional practice of feminism, my daily work, and my personal identities I’ve been drawn back to one central question: Where are the safe spaces? Where are the safe spaces for those whose identities are often partitioned in some way as they seek to make difference in the world?
Among my many identities, I am a black woman practicing my professional feminism in a women’s center, a space often referred to on my campus as belonging to white women. I challenge this thinking when I hear it expressed by my colleagues and peers yet in still, the stereotype remains and on days when I’m not in the office, the stereotype holds true. In the center we challenge ourselves to practice intersectionality and model it for our students and colleagues, but there are moments where I feel parts of my identity are unsupported. I can call out problematic practices, but I still can’t afford to be seen as angry, even among my fellow feminist peers. I’m lacking supportive Space and Grace.
What does this November do…November brings us a decision in Ferguson with December’s Garner decision following close behind. The injustice burns. I am beyond angry. My personal feminism lives at a point between fiery rage and an absolute numbing despair. All around me is a profound silence punctuated by half-formed questions, and tears of silenced students.
Where are the safe spaces? What can be done with this agony? Am I allowed to be angry now; can my peers exist with that? Can someone please consider my safety?
The center I work in has feminist activism as a focus and the injustice we’ve seen in the last few weeks has definitely seen continuing activisms occur and new activism develop on campus. I find myself working with students who are angry, afraid, moved to speak yet unsure of how to be heard. Even in this space, this place of venting and frustration and genuine desire to understand, there is a shared recognition that neither of us have true safety. We have little Space and even less Grace.
I struggle with remaining transparent and hopeful with young people. I want to model for them how systems should work but I don’t want to hide the broken pieces of the systems we have, I must be accountable. Yes, I’m here to support you; no, I have no guarantee that I will not be punished for doing so. Yes, you have every right to protest on campus; but, please have your campus identification on you and tell them you are a student if you are questioned by police.
Who are our allies in the academy? Why is that such a difficult question to answer?
Space and Grace. I return to my meditation. I’ve shared it with colleagues, students, friends and family alike. I need safe spaces in my feminism. Spaces to be heard and to heal. Spaces where I can wrestle with injustice so that I can provide safe spaces to students who are impacted by them as well. Space to just be present and feel what has happened. Grace to let myself be angry, sad, numb, checked out without trying ensure other’s safety. Space to ask for what I need. Grace to give myself permission to reject what hurts me.
2014 has seen transition, injustice, and uncertainty but in it I have also seen moments of growth that I struggle to put into words. For many of my colleagues, our work is a natural extension of who we are. I don’t leave my feminism at the office when I come home and I certainly didn’t leave my politics and my identities in the car when I first interviewed for this position. For feminist student affairs practitioners this is a basic understanding of what it means to practice, to live, as feminists. Space and Grace to bring our whole selves to our work because it matters to our lives.
I close by asking: How are you providing Space and Grace for yourself? For your colleagues? For your fellow feminists?
Brandy Turnbow is the Program Coordinator for Communications and Outreach at the University of Cincinatti Women’s Center. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter at @UCBrandyT