Academia’s (Ab)Normal: Reconciling the Minority’s Double Consciousness in the Institution



By Nina Mesfin

“The training of the schools we need today more than ever,–the training of deft hands, quick eyes and ears, and above all the broader, deeper, higher culture of gifted minds and pure hearts.” – W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (2007: 5)

Before I arrived at university, I did not know that you could make a career out of academia. I expected to waltz in, study hard for four years, then waltz out again. I was completely unprepared for the world I would soon find. Despite my immersion in a hyper academic environment, pursuing a career in academia seemed intangible for me: a woman of color. This stemmed from the fact that professors who looked like me were few and far in between. Although many treat university as the great equalizer, a space where all of one’s past struggles and experiences cease to matter the moment one steps foot onto campus, academic institutions exacerbate differences in lived experiences. For the first time, I became acutely aware of my intersectional identity and acquired the tools necessary to articulate what I had only ever been able to describe as fleeting feelings.

This paper seeks to provide a space in which minority university students can use discourse they have found within the institution to share their experiences in academia. All of the respondents for this project self-identify as minority Dutch youths and are either studying or teaching in Dutch academic institutions in Amsterdam. Although I myself am a minority student, I am also non-Dutch. I occupy both an emic and etic position relative to my respondents. However, my respondents’ narratives transcend space and time. I recognize that national context, culture and history play a role in shaping unique minority experiences, but I also acknowledge the fact that specific ethnic, sociocultural and economic backgrounds within a specific national context also distinguish minority experiences further. I choose to focus on commonalities and the collective experience of minority students in academia as a means to encourage mutual understanding and open dialogue.

As Halleh Ghorashi points out, dialogue and discourse, especially that which is rooted in academic institutions, generally reproduces “normalized dichotomies of self and other” (Ghorashi 2016: 3). I seek to subvert this reproduction by relying on my respondents’ personal narratives as the crux of my research. The effect is to legitimize the voices of minority students, affording us a degree of authority and credibility in a world in which such qualities are elusive at best. In so doing, this paper, by “[contrasting] these positionalities through inter-subjective deliberations narrations,” also seeks to reflect the “normalization impact of dominant society discourses” (Ibid.). This paper, by consciously including a diverse array of minority experiences, endeavors to inject a degree of intersectionality into academic discourse. It further strives to dispel notions of normality in academia by focusing on the homes individuals have made in the institution and how they have gone about reconciling the unique positionalities that informed their conception of self before and after entering academia.

Double Consciousness

“Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?” – W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (2007:2)

My subject-self exists in relation to my respective social formation and my transition into a hyper-academic environment presented the starkest shift in my immediate social formation, critically impacting my understanding of my subject-self (Mesfin 2016: 1). Although matriculating at Yale necessarily involved a physical change in location, the move was abrupt to the extent that my mind was left behind in the place I called home, struggling to catch up to the rest of me. This internal conflict gave rise to a double consciousness. Gary Y. Okihiro (2016) defines consciousness as the ability to locate oneself in society, requiring that one has a simultaneous understanding of one’s subject-self and the social formation in which one exists at any given time. What happens when one finds oneself torn between two different social formations? Two distinct social formations influence disparate subject-selves. As the social formation and subject-self mutually inform one another, such a dichotomy produces two consciousnesses—a double consciousness as it pertains to a single individual.

W.E.B. Du Bois first introduced the concept of double consciousness in his book, The Souls of Black Folk, explaining that it is a “peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others …two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body” (Du Bois 2007: 2). Du Bois is describing the feeling that arises when one struggles to reconcile multiple aspects of one’s social identity, complicating one’s ability to apprehend a holistic sense of self. Academia stands in opposition to the masses, creating a binary over which its students constantly transgress. By virtue of boasting a social environment that exists in large isolation from the masses, academic institutions cultivate a double consciousness in their students.

Academia exacerbates this internal conflict for minority students, such as myself, because of its lack of diversity. It would be a mistake to underestimate the impact having professors, or even more students who look like you may have on one’s sense of belonging. As Floya Anthias (2006) points out in “Belonging in a Globalizing and Unequal World: Rethinking Translocations,” although not mutually exclusive “a sense of a collective identity and a feeling of belonging” carries tremendous weight. This sense of a collective identity is more tangible for individuals whose experiences are reflected in the collective. Academia aggravates underlying senses of double consciousness for minority students like myself who, by definition, stand apart from the collective.

Although many minority students may identify with this sense of double consciousness, the experiences it invokes are unique to the individual. For Damla Boga, feelings of doubleness manifest in her identity as a lesbian Turkish student at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Damla’s discombobulated hand gestures mirrored the turbulent nature of her thoughts as she explained:

I don’t want the white academics to have my back because I’m gay, and then the non-white people to have my back because I still believe in God, as if it’s only one line between them. So [I] only belong to one group because I perceive something as religion and I only belong to the modern group because I came out as gay.

Damla is painfully aware of how others perceive her to the point that she is “always looking at [her]self through the eyes of others” (Du Bois 2007: 2). Each group’s grounds for admittance fundamentally conflicts with the other, so acceptance in one group necessitates rejection by another. The fact that Damla presents as a Turkish woman complicates her ability to embrace her queer identity such that the institution projects notions of modernity onto her, undermining her religious beliefs and ties to her community. Damla’s social environment does not allow her to inhabit both components of her identity comfortably. If she desires full integration into academia and the support with which it comes, she must sacrifice one consciousness in favor of the other.

Implicit ultimatums grow complicated when a student identifying with the minority has the capacity to pass as a member of the majority. Such is the plight of Sem De Vries, a twenty-five-year-old white Dutch student in UvA’s Faculty of Social Sciences. Sem’s whiteness may leave readers wondering why I have opted to include his story. My decision to do so was not without hesitation. Since I (as the researcher) was actively pursuing respondents, I was caught off guard when Sem approached me, willing to share his own experiences as a minority in academia. I suppose it was my baffled look that prompted him to cite his low-socioeconomic background, further explaining that people like him are the forgotten minority. Coming from a low socioeconomic background myself, I immediately apologized and thanked him for his generosity. But, I was still unsure of what to make of his proposition.

I had to take some time to reflect on what exactly I wanted this paper to achieve. What were the values and issues upon which I sought to predicate my research? I realized that I did not want to premise this paper on the existence of strict definitions regarding what or who constitutes as the minority in academia; its purpose is not to exclude nor silence the voices of those struggling to make sense of themselves in the context of academic institutions. Rather, I take Anthias’s lead in my attempts to open up “the possibility of more reflexive forms…and avenues to greater dialogue and collaboration between groups organizing around particular kinds of struggles rather than particular kinds of identities” (Anthias 2006: 28). I owed it to Sem to listen; the integrity of both myself and my paper depended on it.

Sem grew up in a poor neighborhood in Amsterdam West. In his childhood home, electricity was a luxury and fighting was routine. It came as no surprise that Sem’s teachers referred him to the lowest level of the Netherlands’s secondary education system. But what was unexpected was Sem’s persistence in climbing the academic ladder. Ten schools and thirteen years later, Sem found himself sitting across from me on the 5th floor of UvA’s Social Science building answering questions about what it meant to be a minority student studying at university. Despite how hard Sem worked to create distance between himself and his childhood home, his experiences growing up inform the man he is today. Like Damla, implicit institutional pressures hinder the coalescence of his multidimensional identity. However, Sem’s appearance affords him the benefit of the doubt. Sem shook his head laughingly as he recounted an instance in which his two worlds nearly collided:

We went to eat something at this snack bar and I was with my friends here from UvA. And two of the guys who worked there, I didn’t know, were guys from my neighborhood… with [whom] I used to do stupid stuff—boys from the hood… I remember I was like oh, what am I going to do? Because you have to act one way with these people and two meters across from me are guys from my old neighborhood who also expect me to be a certain way…It’s sort of like an internal struggle…So like, who are you then?

This uncomfortable encounter is just a single example of the internal conflict with which Sem continues to grapple. Though he managed to maneuver his way out of this particular instance, reconciling a double consciousness requires more than the exchange of well-timed pleasantries. Double consciousness invokes an air of performativity; one must be acutely aware of one’s audience in determining how to carry oneself.

Maikel Boschman, a twenty-two-year-old Surinamese student at the Amsterdam School of International Business, describes the implications such performativity had on his own psyche:

[Two] years ago I really started to ask myself: who am I, actually? Because I had this thing that I was living this fabricated life, it wasn’t really one that I chose for myself, but society sort of gave to me. The standards it set for me I wasn’t really happy with…and I also felt out of touch with my culture and the warmness that comes with that. And where had that gone? And I was thinking what’s happening because I went to university?

The need to constantly perform leaves you with little time to reflect on who you are. You begin to focus entirely on how society sees you, forgetting to take a step back and truly see yourself. And when you finally do, you may in fact confront questions similar to Maikel’s about your identity. I too have asked myself these questions. As an undergraduate, I have not yet been handed the keys to the Ivory Tower. I exist in a liminal world in which I am going in and out of the institution, meaning I am also regularly exiting and reentering my life back home in Chicago. At school, I am one version of myself—a manifestation of one consciousness. At home, I am the reproduction of the other. It is difficult to the find the space, time, and courage to self-reflect. The most intimidating aspect of such introspection is the implications such a truth may have on my sense of integrity.

Integrity and Acquired Belonging

“By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was tempted toward quackery and demagogy; and by the criticism of the other world, toward ideals that made him ashamed of his lowly tasks.” – W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (2007:3)

Integrity, according to Merriam-Webster, is understood to be “the quality or state of being complete or undivided.” The state of a double consciousness is the antithesis of integrity. Double consciousness also challenges integrity’s moral connotations: is presenting yourself differently in various environments dishonest? While such behavior is, to a degree, human nature (I would not act in front of my grandparents as I would in front of my friends) this dilemma is quite stark for minority university students because it brings societal expectations and familial loyalty into conflict. The persistent need “to satisfy two unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten thousand people…and at times has even seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves” (Du Bois 2007: 2). The reality of harboring a double consciousness is such that I may not always be proud of my conduct. Instead, I wrestle with feelings of betrayal to one element of my consciousness as well as the social formation in which it exists.

At the beginning of her time at UvA, Esin Adivar did her best to leave her anxieties behind as she attempted to immerse herself in the “typical” collegiate experience. She shakes her head as she remembers:

[In] the beginning, when everyone is mixing and meeting up and they do that in a setting that often involves a lot of alcohol. And I generally don’t really feel comfortable in these kinds of settings. I feel very excluded because I don’t drink alcohol. So, I tried in the beginning to mix…[but] these environments made me feel really uncomfortable and they were generally not a place where I would go but I just went there because, I don’t know, to feel a part of the group.

Group belonging, especially in an environment as elitist as academia is alluring. It has the capacity to threaten fundamental elements of one’s consciousness. Esin desperately attempted to straddle two consciousnesses, but the draw of inclusion in such an exclusive realm was enough to knock her off balance. In my own experience, leaning too far in one direction, even for a moment, is enough to leave one in an intense state of discomfort. The fact that being allowed into these exclusionary spaces evokes a sense of discomfort as opposed to relief is a testament to the fact that we minority students do not escape the influence of one consciousness by entering another social formation.

Minority students with a strong sense of double consciousness are not able to evade the moral implications of their resulting performativity. Yet, there remains a “longing to attain a self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self” (Du Bois 2007: 2). This longing exists out of a desire to maintain integrity. One of the ways in which one may go about preserving one’s integrity is finding smaller environments within larger social spaces that better complement one’s dynamic experiences. For Lanh Pham, a twenty-one-year-old Dutch Vietnamese student at UvA, this meant transferring faculties:

I really can’t identify with [Economics] and the thing is that the people which are studying Economics— I was like um it should not be a reason for me to put a halt to my study course if the people aren’t that nice, but I also did (laughs) because I really didn’t feel the people…My thoughts didn’t really link up with them. And I couldn’t really share stories because they were different types, just different types.

Similar to how Esin was drawn by the promise of inclusion early mixers held, Lanh was attracted to the sense of long-term social security an economic degree boasted. Like Esin, Lanh failed to shake the feelings of distress that arose when he ceded an element of his consciousness. For Lanh the solution was to move to the Faculty of the Social Sciences. While the Faculty of Social Sciences, too, exists as a microcosm of the institution as whole, it simultaneously offers an air of familiarity. Lanh was able to recognize more of himself in this faculty’s material and people. Though switching faculties did not ameliorate internal tension altogether, it was a step towards mediation. In fact, Damla, Sem and Maikel all started out studying different disciplines before finding their way to one that conciliates their internal struggles. I also find myself pursuing a course of work, Ethnicity, Race, and Migration, that is the closest academic representation of my own experiences. Whereas I used to consider such trends a cliché, I am starting to understand it as a necessity.

Tailoring your studies to complement your lived experience is just one way in which you may allay the guilt induced by questions of integrity. Another is to step out of academia’s presubscribed social contours and imagine new social spaces altogether—new environments that challenge traditional conceptions of belonging. As Anthias points out, “[belonging] in this sense is about both formal and informal experiences of belonging…It is also about the social places constructed by such identification and membership” (2006: 21). In the context of this paper, formal experiences of belonging refer to the systems academia already has in place such as academic departments and advisory systems. They are the generic picture that comes with the frame you purchase in a store. Students, however, have the agency to replace this picture with an image of their own; they have the agency to imagine their own communities within the system.

Esin did just that by co-founding Amsterdam United, a student organization rooted in a diverse platform that seeks to both offer a safe space for minority students and to advocate on their behalf. The degree to which a space is safe is entirely contingent on the extent to which its participants feel comfortable and supported in that environment. The desire to forge a safe space need not invoke self-segregation, rather familiarity. Esin openly talks about how Amsterdam United was crucial to her newfound sense of purpose and belonging, demonstrating the sense of safety she derived from the group:

[I] only really made friends I could identify with after I started talking about diversity and inclusion. So, when I did that, I met other people who felt the same way. So, they’ve often felt excluded, they’ve often felt marginalized in their tutorials, their seminar groups and they’ve felt out of place because of their skin color or their ethnicity, or their sexuality, or whatever other kind of minority group they felt a part of. And it felt really good because I realized I was not the only one dealing with this, because I thought it was me the entire time. I thought I was the weird one who couldn’t fit, and then I realized there was something else going on.

Amsterdam United is a type of imagined community, a concept first coined by Benedict Anderson to analyze nationalism. Though on a scale far smaller than nationalism, Esin played an integral role in constructing a community based on her perception of being part of a particular group. Though particular, not every minority student on campus is a member of Amsterdam United. Furthermore, Amsterdam United’s mission transcends UvA; it is applicable to academia as a whole.  The imagined nature of this group stems from the fact its founding members “will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (1990: 49).

It was Esin’s feelings of destabilization that impelled her to “seek answers to the quandaries of uncertainty, disconnection, alienation and invisibility that we become more obsessed with finding, evening fixing, a social place that we feel at home in, or at least more at home with; where we seek for our imagined roots, for the secure haven of our group” (Anthias 2006: 21). While the “secure haven” Esin sought emerged as a formal group, for others, such social places are not explicitly defined. Many minority students find solace in the groups of friends they have taken care to construct. Lanh laughs as he realizes the main reason he feels at home in academia:

I just feel at home here because when I leave school I also surround myself with people I really like, like all the time… I can imagine like if you don’t really feel that used to your social circles, and it’s not an automatic thing…, I think Amsterdam can turn pretty dark… That’s the kind of city Amsterdam is, because hidden under all this glamour, all of these beautiful buildings is this pretentious spirit, it really is.

Like Lanh, Sem and Maikel also combat Amsterdam’s “pretentious spirit,” by carefully cultivating social circles that offer comradery and support. Lanh’s circle went as far to name their group: No Label Family. Despite not having official websites or followings like Amsterdam United, these circles are imagined communities in their own right. They are born out of needs for stability and belonging.

Imagined communities serve to soothe internal conflicts, however, they do not have the capacity to reconcile double consciousness. These spaces provide an outlet for one consciousness, that which exists in the social formation outside of academia. And even these imagined communities are not impenetrable. Even as a board member of Amsterdam United, Damla must still confront her double consciousness within this constructed community. She described how there are many organizations like Amsterdam United that fail to recognize certain nuance:

I’m like yeah, I want to support you in this but I’m not sure if I should go to your event because I know how you think about other oppressions. So, sometimes student organizations, they’re super nice in talking about oppressed groups [but they] forget the other intersectional oppressed groups. And that’s the internal struggle. Like I’m on the board of Amsterdam United, should I go there and support it? Or should I not go and not support it? But what is my explanation then? What is my nuance then? I’m still finding that one out.

Damla’s identity as a gay academic and a Turkish woman come into conflict within the imagined community that generally pacifies this tension. In her reflection, Damla narrows in on a notion critical to those in the state of double consciousness: intersectionality. Intersectionality is a sociological theory first coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. It is not common knowledge, rather, it is a concept one typically only encounters in academic institutions. Damla invokes intersectionality as she wrestles with her double consciousness, which is ironic given that the institution both gave rise to and provided her with tools necessary to grapple with her double consciousness.

Tools of the Institution

“Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings, of the dark pupils of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work.” – W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (2007:4)

Although I had a basic sense of distinct elements of my subject-self prior to enrolling at my university: first-generation, woman, person of color, low socioeconomic background, I was unable to consolidate these aspects of my subject-self. Upon confronting my double consciousness at university, I fell short of apprehending myself as a complex contingent. My education provided me with the skills to think critically about the intersectional qualities of my own experiences as informed by the social formation (Mesfin 2016: 1). One tool that was exceptionally integral to my conscious is language. Although I may have been able to sense the strain these systems of oppressions imposed, my lack of language inhibited me from articulating and truly understanding their effects. And so, I, along with my minority peers face a paradox: it is “proficiency in the dominant language” that is of “crucial importance” (Driessen & Merry 2014: 227). In other words, it is precisely the acquisition of the dominant culture’s language that is most fundamental to the self-empowerment of minority students.

Minority students are not ignorant to this fact. Damla explicitly discussed the point at which she became aware of the implicit value of her education:

[The] moment I stepped in the Social Sciences and the activist group, I had like tools to deconstruct my ideas and to decolonize the curriculum I was reading for so many years… I just felt more aware of the world and actually found a new language to express what you are actually seeing all the time or feeling all the time and I think the tool is the second language you speak and use as a research and as a student…

Institutional tools empowered Damla to the extent that she could use this high level of discourse as a vantage point to both understand her own positionality and to speak out against the dominant ideology upon which this discourse is founded. However, the tools academia offers are not solely rooted in discourse.  As Philomena Essed argues, “[academia] is traditionally seen as a site of ‘civilization’ where higher notions of truth and knowledge are produced. Its representatives jealously guard the knowledge against ‘outsiders’ and ‘intruders’” (1999: 214). Academic institutions also offer its students social capital, a commodity the elite protect “against outsiders and intruders.” Despite harboring a double consciousness, minority students find themselves on the inside with access to the social capital the education system has traditionally used in the “reproduction of the structure of power relationships and symbolic relationships between classes” (Lamont & Lareau 1988: 155).

The presence of minority students in academia disrupts this reproduction, and the effects of this subversion are felt today. Esin points out how her generation is the first that is becoming a part of academia and the first to “start talking out loud…about these things and standing up for their rights.” She too laughs as she recalls her capacity to think through these structural problems at the beginning of her academic career:

Honestly, in the beginning, I really had no (laughs)—I didn’t really know much about micro-aggressions or racism or the structural inequalities. I mean, I wasn’t really interested in these kinds of topics at all. So I just started with I have these feelings I don’t really know what to do with. And then I started reading and talking to other people and that is how my knowledge about the whole system grew which then also empowered me to go further with organizing.

Esin did not simply accept the theories she learned in class as mere fact, rather, she internalized them and applied them to her own life, using them as a source around which to organize both her thoughts and groups of people around specific issues. Lanh similarly echoed this sentiment, explaining how:

If you want to be like active in a community, you have to first gain the knowledge so you know what the advantages and disadvantages are of your choices.

My interviewees did not stop grappling with their double conscious after they acquired their own sense of belonging or after they received the tools necessarily to understand and articulate their own positionality. Instead, my respondents used these educational tools— “the master’s tools” (Lorde 1984: 90)—to begin dismantling the exclusionary nature of the master’s house. I am careful not to say the master’s house in reference to academia because this “house” belongs as much to minority students as it does to the quintessential academic elite. In fact, minorities and academic elites are no longer mutually exclusive. By using the tools academia provides in order to mitigate the disparity between the elite and the masses (from which most minority students come) minority students work to reconcile their double consciousness.

Reconciliation as Activism

“[A] new vision began gradually to replace the dream of political power, –a powerful movement, the rise of another ideal to guide the unguided, another pillar of fire by night after a clouded day. It was the ideal of “book-learning”; the curiosity, born of compulsory ignorance, to know and test the power of the cabalistic letters of the white man, the longing to know.” W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (2007:4)

For many minority students, resolving their double consciousness manifests in social and/or political activism. Academic institutions, the very environments that exacerbated internal strife, pushed students to understand that “identities cannot be thought of as cloaks to put on at will or to discard when they no longer fit or please…they are empowered by their very relationality within intersubjective contexts” (Anthias 2006: 20). I cannot go through life performing various forms of my consciousness. The moment an individual has the tools to deconstruct the system which evokes performativity is the moment at which an individual internalizes their positionality. This was the moment at which I acknowledged that the two folds of my double consciousness mutually inform one another and are interpolated by the relationship between the distinct social formations that originally evoke the double consciousness.

Growing impassioned, Damla reflects on the nuance that underlies the convergence of her double consciousness:

[It’s] our origin, true, but I still think we are fighting for them and maybe they will say yeah, fuck you elitists, you don’t know what you are talking about because you are not street-wise, you are book smart…I still believe the fact that we are fighting, also for them, because these are our roots and I don’t think anyone is willing to give up roots or trying to give up anything what you came for.

Damla is unwilling to give up her “roots” and “what she came for,” specifically her post-secondary education. And by fighting for herself and “for them,” Damla is able to mitigate the tension that exists between her roots and her education. Her double consciousness coalesces in the liminal space she has forged: one of activism and social movements. Though my respondents each offered unique experiences and insights into the role of minority students in academia and although they did not all identify as activists, they all shared a similar desire to positively impact their communities and the world. Esin intends to use her platform as a woman, Muslim, and academic to change academia from the inside. Maikel’s preferred mode of activism takes the form of public policy while Lanh’s is more intricate:

Some friends of mine are DJ-ing and some are dancers and stuff like that. And what we want to do is give kids DJ lessons and dance lessons and maybe like singing lessons and in return they have a like a pass and…they can clean up the community or help kids with homework. When you do that, you… go to us with the pass and you can exchange that for…like DJ lessons or whatever…[That] would be perfect. It’s just about showing people that it can work. You know, that’s the only thing you need.

Lanh seeks to impart his knowledge directly on the youth, knowledge they can then use to better the community. In this way, Lanh strives to create his own institution which exists as a microcosm of academia; youth come to acquire a certain degree of knowledge which then translates into bettering the community. A sense of responsibility accompanies the lessons Lanh and his friends offer, similar to how students acquire a large amount of responsibility with the education they receive in academia. Sem has similar aspirations of starting his own organization:

I want to start this small non-profit organization that just helps people, troubled youth achieve their dream…in whatever way they want. They can just come up to me, and I want to be very informal about it…and they just tell me like, I dream of doing this and I do whatever I can to connect them with the right people. Be like an older brother, you know? An older brother who has… been in the same position, so I kind of know both ends of the spectrum now so I kind of want to bring it closer together.

In order to pursue this route of activism, Sem relies on the connections he has made in academia and the social capital he has accumulated. The gap to which Sem refers parallels the disparity between his double consciousness. And his ambition to “bring both ends of the spectrum closer together” stems from his desire to reconcile his double consciousness. The realization of these goals, though important, are not necessary for reconciliation. Rather, devoting oneself to such an objective indicates that the subject has discovered a way to resolve the internal discord academia provokes within its minority students.


“Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,–darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another.” W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” (2007:4)

Pursuing this research project was initially a source of anxiety. Though I enjoy learning about others’ experiences, I was frightened by the possible implications such narratives would have on my own consciousness. I was afraid of realizing feelings and issues I have suppressed because when someone articulates thoughts that have only ever existed in your head, they become more real in a way. But I figured if I went in with an agenda or an idea of what I wanted or expected to find, I would not be caught off guard. I quickly came to understand that you should not embark on a project determined to uncover specific findings. Despite the narrative arc applied to this paper, the research involved does not intend to create a structure in which the experiences of all minority students should be expected to fit.

I cannot begin to assume that all minority students feel a sense of double consciousness nor that activism is the solution for all those that do. I am merely suggesting that the former is common to the experiences of minority students in academia and that the latter is just one of the ways in which reconciliation manifests. To assume that my experiences and those of my five respondents adequately represents all minority students is to undermine minority students’ diverse lived experiences as well as those of my research participants. Such a mindset is especially detrimental to research like this which seeks to do precisely the opposite. This paper is, instead, premised on “strong reflexivity” in the hopes of sharing the “discursive consciousness” of its participants (Gorashi 2016: 3), nodding towards our agency. It is not a “burden of representation,” but a source of empowerment, which unsurprisingly and necessarily invokes within itself tools of the institution.

(Written for Youth Cultures in a Transnational Context)


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