My Tufts Daily Column (4/25): It’s Complicated…But Not Really

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Guys, so many feelings about all this, and updates on my role at the Daily. Know that even in this column, I was censored and threatened that my words wouldn’t see the light of…print…? For now just read and tell me what you think.

Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders It’s… complicated. But not really.

By Brionna Jimerson

Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013

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Question: How do you exist in this system without allowing it to consume you? How have I existed for four years at Tufts and in the Tufts Daily, and how will I exit both, not necessarily at peace but intact? By “complicating” — that is, questioning and assessing — them both, and always with a spoonful of salt.

This is my last column before the Commencement issue, and I want it known and marked that with this column, there is power in “the record,” in claiming space for language and experimentation, and I think I am outgrowing these three inches. But there is success — if this space for critique and voice was not open before, it’s open now. Please, fill this echoing void with consciousness, purpose and fun. A little fun.

You have probably never been to the Daily office. It is below Curtis Hall — down the driveway, next to the UGL office. Pop in sometime — the office is small and the walls are painted teal. This is where the editorials are discussed and written and the phone calls for additional sources go unanswered. This is where the writers and editors — all students, and none of them paid for their time and energy — work for upwards of 40 hours a week on end to inform a campus dialogue. The Daily has an institutional history, and it has been largely absent of brown folks, not for a lack of trying or interest. I was the first black managing editor of the Daily, and though I’ve been loved and cared for I feel I have been severely disrespected. I have watched and helped the Daily operate for four years, and I’ve worked alongside some of the strongest women I know. They came, saw and left. Why did they leave? Why did I stay?

I stayed because you deserve better. You deserve to read great articles about complex “issues” that don’t speak about you as a subject or topic in a policy report. I stayed because we require a prominent place at the table, not for representation but for respect and autonomy, because I have known too many women of color to take “medical leave,” their lives compromised after spending four years on this campus. How did we let that happen?

I stayed because some of the most opinionated people on this campus with the most to say literally cannot afford to pay the fee (time) because they are — you guessed it — already overbooked, overlooked or overwhelmed. I have lived in two worlds at once, and right-minded editors of semesters past — Alexa Sasanow, Gabrielle Hernandez, Bianca Blakesley, Amsie Hecht, Laina Piera, Annie Sloan and myself — have tried to make the Daily into a respectable house, though it is built on privilege and systematic supremacy of the “Tufts in general,” not “Tufts in ‘particular.’” Yes, my language is coded. No, “safe spaces” do not exist. Yes, you can break the code. Just try.

If you notice the impact my body has made in the Daily, know that our impact is there. I saw them trying to erase me, you and us and decided it was time to let them know. In the words of Kenya Moore, the queen of fan-induced shade-throwing showdowns, “Do not come for me unless I send for you.”

If you are brown and are interested in working at the Daily or, better yet, maintaining a literary and historical space of your own, tweet me so we can figure it out.

Now this is the hard part, letting go of the frustration and imagining and building a future beyond the scope and traumas that Tufts students, administrators and bystanders have enacted on its own community. We are moving from property and into personhood. Your silence will not protect you, but maybe we can find your voice. Yes, I just said that.

Dedicated to N., V. and K., and the great John Kelly, who, reminded me that we can be Christians and “radicals” at the same time.

My Tufts Daily column (3/28): Degrees of Separation

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Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

Degrees of separation

 

Published: Thursday, March 28, 2013

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What's gonna keep me warm at night? That's right. Those degrees.

When I was applying to colleges, none of my potentially first−generation college−bound friends had the nerve to entertain the thought of a gap year. I never thought critically about the prospect of volunteering on a political campaign or working full−time at an internship before delving into the overpriced pressure cooker that is higher education. “College is not an option; you will go to college,” my grandmother would say at the outset of any conversation we had about higher education.

A lifetime of being looked over and professionally punished for not having completed a college program had taught her that, while academic pursuits and interests were just dandy, college degrees breed opportunity, for better or for worse.

In my high school, the graduating seniors wrote their university acceptances on paper stars outside the college counselor’s office. I watched for weeks as stars were decked out with bubble letters of household name institutions and filled up like laundry lists of acceptances. I asked a student why he had not written anything down (as if he had to explain his decision−making), he said, “College isn’t for me.” I realized that I, like most of our peers, had assumed that the college would bring with it the promises of its magical symbolism. We had not taken into consideration the fact that so many of us truly are not “cut out” for endless lectures, rote memorization or academia.

But what about our peers, the foot soldiers who maintain that college isn’t the right option, and the strength it takes to actively reject the social flogging that comes along with actively deciding against college?

A great friend of mine inspired this column about the foot soldiers who opt out of college in pursuit of work, stability, discovery, duty or an unknown number of other quests and decisions and how they are judged without any regard to the internal work required to make such a decision. It is as monumental a choice to choose, at 18, an institution where you will live, study and be molded as it is to choose to be shaped in the “real world.”

Not until relatively recently in Western educational history did lawyers, doctors, journalists and architects pursue higher education to learn their trade instead of the usual route of apprenticeship. An added emphasis on “formal” education instead of vocational skill makes it easy to judge the individuals who choose not to go to college because they know that it’s not the only option.

The concept of a college education is extremely complex, way too intense for 600 words, and every day, it’s being further complicated, glorified and debunked by those inside and outside of the “ivory towers.” College degrees try to connote that a person has chosen one life path over another, aligned herself with another set of goals and expectations over another, and the parallel is to be drawn stiffly between those with degrees and those without who instead attend the school of life.

We are going to call these degrees of separation. Let us consider the self−knowledge (or −awareness, or a lack thereof) that it takes to do that and the people who are not in college because it was not for them, because it was not made for them. These spaces weren’t made with everyone in mind — we can be honest about that. From what is taught to which programs are funded and underfunded to how dissent is “managed,” it is clear. So when someone can break from that and know it’s not for them, that is why they are they judged, put down as “go−nowhere” people. They are seen this way because they refused to enter into situations that could do more harm than good, because they don’t subject themselves to these environments.

My Tufts Daily Column (3/7) — 73 Days, but who’s counting?

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Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders

73 Days — but who’s counting?

By

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brionna Jimerson column

One of my best friends’ Twitter byline reads, “May 19, 2013, 11:30 a.m. in the J Field,” the time and place of his graduation ceremony. I think he is over the 76 Days celebration.

Anyway, last Sunday we celebrated the 76 Days Celebration after Blizzard Nemo pushed back the 100 Days Celebration to last Sunday’s less symbolically trendy date, and members of the class of 2013 (and some subversive and hungry 2014 kids) filled the Alumnae Lounge, dressed in the most semi of semi−formal and ready to mingle awkwardly with classmates. It felt like pre−frosh orientation all over again, except this time there were free Jumbo magnets, sunglasses, portfolios and muffulettas.

I did a couple of laps, talked to some acquaintances, gave awkward hugs to folks I haven’t interacted with since freshman year, stood around a table with my friends, made firm plans to get lunches and dinners (finally! No more “should!”) and watched the slideshow of photos that all looked the same. It took a while for the gravity of the moment to sink in — that in 76 days I would be referring to Tufts in the past tense, and my friend’s Twitter bio would come to fruition. While we are angst−ing it out over the next few stress−filled weeks, my friend is planning — at the ready and excited — to put Tufts in his rearview. But how did we get here?

The 76 Days Celebration probably had good intentions — an excuse to enact “tradition” and get us all feeling warm and cozy about our Tufts career, just in time for alumni giving, before we forget some of the emotional and physical trauma that accompanies growing as people in a foreign environment on our own. We were nostalgic for 2009 in that lounge, but tradition and the whole thing is making me feel claustrophobic, like there’s something expected of me, and unless I agree with all of the fluff I’m unworthy, when in reality I’ve worked my ass off, and it’s a celebratory time. I’m alive. We’re alive. Where is the dance floor?

I expect that I will feel more anxiety in the coming weeks than I felt in the whole of 2012. The countdown was initiated on the day I boarded the plane for pre−orientation in August 2009, and now I am coming out on the other side (yes, I have been in a portal−bubble for four years). The event may have been good in its intentions, but in my experience initiating countdowns brings with it the “should,” and we know how useful that is. But I don’t feel tethered to the Hill, the dining halls, the traditions; I’m ready to practice what I’ve been learning and to see what sticks. I’m ready to live on my own terms, sans a block schedule. Cue the claustrophobia.

When it’s “tradition” time, we don the brown and blue in the name of “community.” I think of my friends at Tufts, many of whom I’ve seen fall apart and shed themselves, only to come out stronger — and traumatized, to be honest — on the other side, ready to pack Tufts up and run for greener (and hopefully less steep) hills.

Between the celebrations, senior nights, senior dinners and other forced and inauthentic bonding moments, I’ve realized that so much time has lapsed between mindlessly wandering to the dining halls three or four times a day (remember when that was an option?) and now, fretting over projects, research, financial security and the simple things, like where the heck do we go from here? I motion for a collective nap and reassessment of life. Who’s with me?

http://www.tuftsdaily.com/features/brionna-jimerson-respect-your-elders-1.2815757#.UXa-vLXvvzx

My Tufts Daily Column (3/1) — The S-word

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Brionna Jimerson | Respect your elders

The S-word

By

Published: Friday, March 1, 2013

Brionna Jimerson column

Should.” The hell. Seriously, why do we still employ this word when talking about ourselves? I should have written this column five days ago, but here I am, after deadline, piecing my thoughts together in some 600-word cohesive something. Sorry to shatter the illusion (was there ever an illusion?), but I am 100 percent a procrastinator and the s-word revolution starts … tomorrow.

Yes, the s-word. One of the most crippling and ineffective words in our lexicon when referring to ourselves and our shortcomings.

Maybe it’s the senior-year nostalgia kicking in, combined with my longing to go back and rethink my college decisions, but I’m finding that everywhere I turn, either I or someone else is lamenting on personal failures — “I should update my LinkedIn page,” or “I should’ve majored in American Studies” (save yourself the trouble — reference the turmoil I mentioned a couple of columns ago and explore that major now) — and it’s kind of seductive, in a creepy, wallowing way. “Yes! Reminding myself of what I’m not doing is a surefire way to kick myself into gear!” said nobody ever.

So much of what we “should” do is driven not by personal fulfillment but by projecting onto ourselves what we see and admire in others, without taking into account the process folks go through to become who they are. We see it, we covet it, we want it and when our “shoulds” just aren’t enough we fall to pieces, and then blame ourselves because we “should” be stronger? See? See how gross and creepy this is? We should start a “should” support group. But actually.

Honestly, I think “should” is great for impeding progress, the sentiment being that whatever you are doing now or whoever you are now is inherently wrong, and there’s something better for you waiting if only you’d be better.

“Should” never leads to actual change, or a hint of it. It simply leads to more uncertainty and perpetual frustration. “Should” doesn’t take into account that we’re human beings who are capable of change in our own time. “Should” reigns at Tufts. Should is the reason why so many people graduate and continue on with jobs that pay the rent but neglect the self. If we are going to play this game then we “should” not have come to college, because we “should” have already acquired the skills, research abilities, knowledge and wisdom to transcend the need for higher education institutions. You see there? “Should” denies reality and discounts us as individuals.

As someone who lives in a perpetual state of “shouldacouldawoulda,” I can tell you in earnest that “shoulding” on yourself does more harm than good.

Telling yourself that you “should” study more effectively will not help you study more effectively. Telling yourself that you should spend more time alone getting to know yourself won’t lead to actual self-awareness, it’ll lead to self-shaming once you fail to carry through with what you “should” be doing, and it leads to judging yourself. And when this happens, all roads lead to Häagen Dazs and Netflix.

So, it is time to try something different. To change, we have to acknowledge how we’re feeling and thinking and make an honest assessment. “Should” makes us aware of what is wrong, without giving us the tools to fix it. Are your actual values in line with this desire? If you want to change, avoid “should” and work on doing. When you learn how to do this, let me know.

But seriously, we should get coffee.