Celebrating the holidays with my husband at Filoli Gardens

Two months: Harnessing my anger

Shifting from physical to emotional wellness

Terri E. Givens - terrigivens.com
Published in
4 min readJan 11, 2024

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It has been quite the winter holiday season. Physically I’m feeling much better, and the workouts I have been doing are definitely making me stronger. My back pain levels are staying relatively low, and I feel like I’m getting back into a groove where I can continue to build strength and hopefully avoid further damage to my spine. The holidays were a challenge on a variety of fronts, many of our plans were scuttled because of COVID and other illnesses. Stress levels have been high, and I’m doing the work to make sure that I get the support I need.

On the professional front, it has been a troubling and frustrating time to be a Black woman in academe.

Luckily, I had my workouts over the last few weeks to help me deal with my wide-ranging emotions. I highly recommend throwing down a medicine ball and yelling out the people you’re angry with as a means of de-stressing. Luckily, I rarely let these things get me down for too long — I’m more likely to start taking action. Writing this blog post is one means — I hope folks of good will read it and try to understand, maybe even have some empathy for, those of us who are trying to make our way in spaces that some think should only be the domain of white men. It’s not at all unusual that the most recent attack was led by a white woman.

When Claudine Gay was announced as the new president of Harvard University I tried to be happy for her. Unfortunately, all I could feel was a sense of foreboding.

The right-wing “anti-woke” machine has been itching for a fight and Harvard is one of the most high profile bastions of White supremacy. So many of us, Black women in particular, started holding our breath knowing how hard the job would be, and that she would immediately be a target for right-wing outrage.

Unfortunately, the media, particularly the New York Times, decided to feed the beast, rather than do their homework and present the real story of a strong scholar who had worked her way into her position. Even if she was a DEI hire, that just makes it hard to get into a leadership position and even harder to keep it — there’s no lack of merit, it’s just that a hiring committee decided to actually look at candidates that weren’t White men. Here’s some of the challenges we face as Black women leaders and scholars — the intersectionality is important:

· Being considered an affirmative action admit from undergrad to graduate school — despite the fact that we had to have better credentials than many of our colleagues to get admitted. Once in grad school, having to constantly deal with people who think we should be studying the politics of race or gender in the US, even though we may have different interests. I study Europe, and to this day, people make assumptions about what I should be studying. I’ve had to be a trailblazer to clear the path for others to study issues and countries beyond US politics — it shouldn’t need to be said that there’s more to Black politics than what’s going on in the US.

· Not having access to many mentors and scholars because they don’t think we are good enough (yes, I’ve been told by a potential mentor that she was going to drop me and focus on a white male because he had more potential).

· Being told by more senior women scholars that we had to be like men — e.g., don’t have kids, treat work as your life, etc. The problem is that academe was designed for men who had a wife at home taking care of the kids and typing up their manuscripts. Luckily that started changing early in my career as more men had wives with careers and had to take on childcare responsibilities. All of a sudden having on-campus childcare became a priority.

· Never ending gaslighting — particularly when I was at UT Austin and as Provost at Menlo College, the gaslighting was constant. Usually I could see through it, but in both places, people would say things to the president to try and pit us against each other. People were often jealous of my relationship with the president and provost and weren’t happy that I was calling out issues that they were trying to hide.

Those are just a few of the issues that Black women like me have faced. We are constantly having to justify our existence, particularly in the top-level spaces where we are still a stark minority. Somehow even having a few of us in these spaces is a threat to the men who think they own these spaces.

I will speak out and share my truth as much as possible. I will also be sure to protect my time for taking care of myself through all of this. It’s a never-ending battle that is only beginning to ramp up. I would like to see more of our top leaders speaking out against the actions of the folks who have managed to hijack the media into supporting their spurious attacks. The media has clearly decided that outrage sells, and we will have to work very hard to get out the truth. Share this post, talk to your friends, don’t let the misinformation machine win.

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Terri E. Givens - terrigivens.com
3Streams

Professor of Political Science, McGill University. Higher Ed Leadership, Immigration & European politics. Author of Radical Empathy & The Roots of Racism