What are we ready to risk? Academia, advocacy, and activism

Over the weekend, Fordham University Center for Ethics Education Postdoctoral Fellow and Program Administrator for the Adolescent Scientific Access Project Dr. Miriam R. Arbeit graduated from Tufts University with a Ph.D. in Child Study and Human Development, and served as the student speaker for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Doctoral Hooding Ceremony.

Entitled, “What are we ready to risk? Academia, advocacy, and activism,” Dr. Arbeit’s speech addressed the concept of solidarity and risk sharing, particularly in an academic context.

Below is the full text of the speech, which is also available on Dr. Arbeit’s blog, Sex Ed Transforms:

As the non-indictment verdict arrived, I was working on my dissertation. Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, will have no trial. The people of Ferguson protest: Black Lives Matter. They call for an end to business as usual, but my business as usual was just getting good. I wanted to write my dissertation and I really, really wanted this degree.

And I was tired. Business as usual is exhausting and there’s no energy left for protests and movement building and solidarity.

Abigail Ortiz taught me that solidarity means sharing risk. I ask myself what risks I am willing to share as a white person in solidarity with people of color: Am I willing to risk arrest? Injury? Reputation? Career?

The system is built to maintain itself.
In the first month of 2015, four black trans women were murdered. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. The intersectionality of oppression is life and death.

Alicia Garza writes:
“Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.

Morgan Collado writes:
Support for trans women dwindles when we are still alive… It points to who is valuable and who is disposable. If you’re not a trans woman… think long and hard about the ways that you’re supporting trans women in your community. Do you see trans women in public community spaces? How are your actions pushing them out? 

I learned to do academic work that could inform advocacy. I wrote a guide for youth development programs about queer-inclusivity, racial justice, and trauma-informed practice. What is life anyway but one giant youth development program? These principles can guide both the work we do and how we run our workplaces.

But these systems are built to maintain themselves.
As PhDs, we are pronounced producers of knowledge. We can use our position within the system – and the peer-reviewed knowledge that we produce – to advocate for change. That’s our professional work; activism is the personal work. But activism, solidarity, is risky. I want a job, tenure, grants, clout. I want those things for myself and for my advocacy – I am building power and building knowledge with hope that I can leverage my power and my knowledge to make a difference.

Can I continue working on that, while also working to break down the systems that grant me this power?

These systems are built to maintain themselves. And I am a part of that.
But these systems are not okay. We need an end to business as usual, and we all need to commit to that end, as knowledge-producers and as human beings, each situated at various sites of power, within White Capitalist Heteropatriarchy.

So now that our degrees are not on the line anymore, what are we ready to risk?

For more information on Dr. Arbeit’s work, please visit her blog, Sex Ed Transforms, and follow her on Twitter @mimiarbeit.


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