Or how I came to hate warnings.
By Goyland Williams
I was warned. They told me how unprepared the students were. How most of the students were non-traditional. Not prepared. Eighty percent on financial aid. Not prepared. A Hispanic-Serving Institution. They told me how the students would struggle in class because they lacked the resources to succeed. I was warned they would make excuses for absences. They would confuse priorities at home with my responsibility as an Instructor. I was warned.
I was warned about how first generation students often do not do well in this course. How many of them were far from home for the first time at a PWI. How they lacked the appropriate communication skills to succeed in class. The irreverent way they would address me in class. How their accents would stand in the way of clarity at a Hispanic-Serving Institution! I was warned.
Before that, I was warned about student-athletes at another institution. How they don’t pay attention in class. How they sit together and watch videos instead of engaging with the material. I was quickly reminded how they were not here for the education. How they needed “paper-classes,” as opposed to “real classes” that made them do work. They had a better chance that way. How many of them come from single parent households and were first generation students. I was warned.
No one warned me about white students. They did not tell me the psychic violence that they could inflict upon my black body. Like the time I student wrote an entire 6 page paper defending the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade or the time when another student wrote in a midterm exam that U.S prisons were necessary to ensure the maintenance of black criminals behind bars. No one said they will question my authority and intelligence in ways that they would never do for another white instructor.
No one warned me about white students. How they would willingly enroll in a class that centers blackness and then get frustrated, resorting to defense that “this is just too complicated, why can’t we all just be one race” narrative when discussing race. No one prepared me for this. Not my colleagues nor my cohort. Surely not the administration. No one!
No one prepared me for my colleagues’ white supremacist practices in graduate school. Of their pedagogical and discursive violence. They were quick to quote Baudrillard, Burke, and Foucault, but gave no serious thought to Asante, hooks, or any cultural workers for that matter. Or the time when a classmate told me during a class break that she liked my analysis of a specific article but “did not agree with [me] saying Black Lives Matter.”
And then I read bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress, and she reminded me of what I always knew/felt in my body: “For black folks teaching—educating—was fundamentally political because it was rooted in anti-racist struggle.” That to pursue the life of the mind for black people is always already a revolutionary act.
That when an academic culture places so much value on preserving whiteness at the expense of racialized others, it is soul murder.
At every stage of my educational journey, as student and as teacher, I cannot recall a time or space where we could just be. Always too much, and never quite enough. Overdetermined.
I am eternally grateful for my students—the ones who keep insisting that our worth is not tied into someone else’s construction of what we are and will be. We are always enough.
Goyland Williams is an Adjunct Professor of Public Speaking at New York City College of Technology. He spends the rest of his days as a researcher and writer. Goyland’s research explores questions of language, power, and liberation. Particularly, he is interested in African American Rhetoric, social movement rhetoric, and what the philosopher and cultural critic, Cornel West calls a “deep democracy;” in which questions of race, class, and gender are centered as his points of intellectual and philosophical inquiry.