By Nichole Guillory (WellAcademic Guest Blogger) - Mothering in Color
I did not realize what an exhausting and stressful academic year I’ve had until I attended a wellness retreat last month with 23 other faculty women of color from my university. It was an entire day of culturally responsive mindfulness activities designed to help us take a pause on our lives, reflect on what is important beyond our work, and learn strategies for calming our minds and taking care of our bodies.
We gave up our phones and spent eight luxurious hours on ourselves and with each other, in conversation and in silence, in stillness and in movement. The day was simultaneously intense and playful, calming and rejuvenating. In all of my years in academe, I have never had an experience like the retreat.
I was honored to be attending a retreat in memory of the brilliant Kathryn Epps, a Black woman leader at our university, and to be in the company of so many badass faculty women of color, to go through one activity together where we laughed so hard we cried and to go through another where we held painful experiences for each other.
I could tell that our laboring—visible, invisible, and too often unpaid—in various departments across the university had taken its toll mentally, physically, and spiritually on many of us. The retreat was an opportunity to fill our depleted tanks. For me in particular, it was a clarion call to center my energy on what I have identified as most important, which includes time with family and friends and work that aligns with my commitment to justice pedagogy.
At the end of the retreat, our lead facilitator and organizer Roxanne Donovan asked us to thank someone who was instrumental in our healing that day. At the time, I did not convey everything I wanted to, so I’m taking an opportunity now to publicly thank my retreat sisters for sharing in an experience that brought me back to center.
Below are my top ten take-aways from the day. I share them as one way to pay forward what I have learned.
1. Many faculty women of color are so busy care-giving in the academy for our colleagues and students and in our personal lives for our families, whether we have biological children or not, that we do not take time to care for ourselves. We deserve to put ourselves first.
2. Self-care is a form of resistance against the regular dehumanization we often experience in the academy. My self-care regimen includes pedicure therapy, last minute lunches, or cheap bowling Tuesdays with my closest friends.
3. Bearing witness to each other’s pain is another form of resistance against oppression. Sometimes we hold this pain in sadness and sometimes in rage. Both can be productive because naming injustice is a necessary first step in the fight to end it.
4. Not being ourselves in the academy is exhausting. Performing superwoman strength all the time is also costly. That energy is better spent on ourselves and our families.
5. Silence every now and then may be necessary for self-preservation. But silence all the time is dangerous. Speaking up is sometimes our only form of resistance against oppressive structures, and speaking up today might pave the way for change later.
6. You are not alone. When oppressive forces take direct aim at us as individuals, it is best that we fight back in solidarity with allies we trust. While defending myself against an attack this year, I learned that I have a solid number of ride-or-die friends, and I could not be more grateful for their support.
7. It’s past time that universities actually commit resources for faculty wellness that go beyond the usual limited term physical fitness challenges and instead prioritize the retention of faculty women of color, a claim many universities include in their strategic plans but do not resource accordingly.
8. A gratitude mindset, where we practice reframing our day to consider what went right and what we’re grateful for, can set a foundation for improving our relationships and increasing our happiness. It did for me (and those who know me know that I was very skeptical of the possibilities of a “gratitude journal”).
9. We must never forget to pay it forward because our newest sister colleagues deserve our help and we owe our foremothers a great debt.
10. We deserve joy in our academic spaces. In all our spaces. Go find what brings you joy and do more of that by any means necessary. Period. The end.
Shout out to Roxanne for her leadership and facilitation; to Kami Anderson and Michele DiPietro, our movement teachers; and to everyone who participated in the Kathryn Epps Faculty Wellness Retreat.
We all deserve a sister circle who loves and cares for us unconditionally, who tells us hard truths even though we don’t want to hear them, and who holds us accountable to what we say we’re going to do. I am humbled by the many women who have paved the way for me to be here—biological and non-biological foremothers—and who continue to build with me a path toward joy. For me, that path will include more attention to my overall well-being and fostering connections with other faculty women of color.
To that end, I’ve already planned my next women of color faculty retreat. This one is through WellAcademic and, not coincidentally, also organized and led by Roxanne. It is October 5-7, 2018, at the Elohee Retreat Center in the foothills of the Georgia mountains. Just like this past retreat, Roxanne will create an intimate sisterly environment where I and the other faculty women of color retreaters can practice strategies that decrease our stress and boost our joy and productivity. There’s yoga, sister circles, and even individualized coaching by accomplished scholar Joycelyn Moody. I can’t wait!
Nichole Guillory, PhD, is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Kennesaw State University. She publishes on the experiences of women of color in the academy. She is mom to Nicholas, the love of her life. We couldn't be happier that she has agreed to pen a new series for WellAcademic, Mothering in Color.