While I’m busy filling out graduate school applications and trying to figure out what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, I couldn’t help but stop and think about the furor over Dr. Andrea Smith‘s negative tenure review in February of this year.  Both students and faculty here raised quite a ruckus about the Women’s Studies department’s decision to vote down her tenure bid.

I know that what I want to do with my life involves academia.  This is my home, for sure.  Being able to just be around such a wide variety of experts provides a constant stream of information and inspiration.  I love the University of Michigan, and I love the idea of being in a social milieu like the one I’ve found in Ann Arbor.  (Okay, maybe not exactly like Ann Arbor, but similar.  Maybe in a bigger city?)

The thing of it is, I’m already heading down the road toward being a professional academic.  My focus for my bachelor’s degree is philosophy of language — largely esoterica nobody else is really interested in outside of other philosophers of language and some linguists and maybe some computer scientists.  I want to do research, and I love to write.  I’ll also go ahead and claim that I’ve been well-trained in academic writing.

The problem is, I’m a transgender person of color.  Tenure committees generally work behind closed doors.  If Dr. Smith, who is arguably one of the most distinguished members of the academic community who happens to be a woman of color, can be denied tenure at the University of Michigan, then what will become of me when I seek a tenure bid?  In a lot of ways it’s definitely too early to say.  I haven’t even been admitted as a graduate student anywhere.  Yet I can’t help but wonder if the university system is more or less forgiving than the “outside world.”

I’ve long argued that the places we say are “liberal havens” are only called that because they’re more liberal than the areas that surround them, but how much do we have to settle for?  I know it’s impracticaly to say I’ll settle for anything less than safety and support and acceptance into a community both professionally and socially, but I’m not sure I want to find myself a published faculty member whose tenure bid gets voted down for reasons that look suspiciously like genderism or racism.

At the same time, the world is changing really fast.  The fact that people are talking about this issue and questioned the judgment of the Women’s Studies department for denying Dr. Smith tenure bodes well for the future.  Maybe by the time I make a tenure bid, it’ll be a non-issue.  A guy can hope, right?

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