Congrats! You have decided to attend graduate school! If you are anything like me, few things excite you as much as the first day of classes. You are eager to sink your teeth into the material you read the night before, and are looking forward to a discussion with your peers about your initial thoughts on the materials, as well as looking to push your thinking further. Essentially, you are looking forward to a cute little learning community where ideas are exchanged, the beginnings of thoughts are fleshed out, and you come to a richer understanding of the ideas presented in the reading materials.
You arrive the first day, and the professor says something that sounds a bit racist but you look around and everyone is nodding so you decide to shrug it off. As the class continues, your initial excitement and happiness fade away, quickly to be replaced by unhappiness and discomfort. As it turns out, the professor is continually spewing oppressive statements (e.g. racist, sexist, classist, etc.) but even worse, your classmates are nodding eagerly and reiterating the same sentiments as your professor. When you finally muster up the courage to speak up in class, and it took a while, your colleagues stare at you blankly and continue talking as if you had not said a word. This continues for weeks, and the happiness you once felt has disappeared. You no longer look forward to class. You dread doing the readings because you feel isolated. Have you gone bananas? Have you made a mistake? Is academia not the route for you? Are you just an unhappy person?
Does the above situation resonate with you? The above scenario was my experience as a Master’s student at an elite private institution. I found myself jaded by the world around me, isolated, and well, like a killjoy. I found myself wanting to be heard and understood. How could nobody else see what I was seeing? I soon became the killjoy of the cohort. I was the person who would speak and folks would roll their eyes as to say, “not the racism guy again.” In fact, I had a cohort member say that if I continued to cry racism during insignificant moments, nobody would believe me when the racism was real. Yes, a cohort member said about me. I was what killed the fun in the room! I found myself having to find friends outside of my cohort who were also thought to be of the killjoy variety. Before I proceed, I want to make sure I highlight why I use the term killjoy so often. Sara Ahmed, a renowned feminist scholar, describes the feminist killjoy as follows,
“Does the feminist kill other people’s joy by pointing out moments of sexism? Or does she expose the bad feelings that get hidden, displaced, or negated under public signs of joy? Does bad feeling enter the room when somebody expresses anger about things, or could anger be the moment when the bad feelings that circulate through objects get brought to the surface in a certain way? The feminist subject “in the room” hence “brings others down” not only by talking about unhappy topics such as sexism but by exposing how happiness is sustained by erasing the signs of not getting along. Feminists do kill joy in a certain sense: they disturb the very fantasy that happiness can be found in certain places. To kill a fantasy can still kill a feeling. It is not just that feminists might not be happily affected by what is supposed to cause happiness, but our failure to be happy is read as sabotaging the happiness of others.” –Ahmed, Sara, Feminist Killjoys (And Other Willful Subjects)
Those moments wherein we are looking to connect with folks about the commonality of experience around racism are important. I suggest you find the killjoys, the folks who refuse to let allusion of happiness rest on oppression. Surround yourself with folks who choose not to turn a blind eye from sexism, folks who are looking to grow in the realm of ideas they do not fully understand. Surround yourself with folks who push you in ways that are nurturing and stimulating. You might hear the mantra, “meet folks where they are at,” which is an important reminder; however, at which point does your learning get pushed when you are continually trying to get folks to agree that black lives, do in fact, matter? At which point will your analytic about the differential valuation of migrant lives be more nuanced when you are continually pushing back on the bootstraps narrative? Surrounding oneself with folks who might not know the nuances of your ideas, experiences, worldview(s), etc., but who fundamentally refuse to let “joy” obfuscate oppression can provide a space that will be safer —because no space is actually entirely safe —than being around folks who read you as angry because you are killing their joy.
Surround yourself with folks who revitalize you, who push you in your ideas, folks you can kiki with, folks who you can say, “oh girl the heteros were really trying it today,” or “mija deja te cuento,” because these spaces have the potential to be restorative. And, it does not have to be academic! You can talk about how someone is such a Scorpio. Or, “ugh, that is such a Cancer thing to do,” or “Y’all can’t trust a Gemini.” I cannot tell you the number of times cooking dinner (accompanied by a good wine or rum and coke), travelling to East Boston to get pupusas, or simply walking down by the river, revitalized me and pushed me intellectually.
Seek the folks that you can kill joy with, I believe this is the way to breathe life into the sometimes utterly draining ivory tower. Don’t believe the narrative that you MUST surround yourself with folks who disagree with you or bare the burden of trying to convince them (!), because as killjoys, we are continually reminded of these opinions daily, be it in the media, walking down the street, or in class. You know the narratives and you’ll learn more but put your (un)happiness first. Put your growth first. And have fun, and be joyful!
Author’s Biography: O recently graduated with his Master’s from an institution in the Northeast. He recently left sadness that is Boston for greener pastures of New York City. When not ranting about injustice or sending shady text messages, he can be found wandering the city, in the gym, cooking, or generally being up to no good.