I woke up this morning, approached my bathroom sink, and gazed into the mirror. It is apparent to me the dark circles reflect the shadows in the night, having taught class the night before and arriving home a little past 10:30 pm. I can see my white hairs flaring out of formation, one, no, wait, two more than I saw the previous morning. I think, “I only had one when I graduated with a PhD.” Having just submitted my tenure packet for promotion, a deep inhale and exhale, I can hear the advertisement play in my head “Ch-ch-ch-chia—Chia Pet—The Gift that Grows!” My hair has grown white in a span of a few years. A rewrite creeps into my mind Ca-ca-DEMIA—The Gift that Rewards Grind Culture. I touch my face, inspecting the frown lines between my eyebrows. A result of my forehead muscles squeezing inward when I think and write. This is 35. I am aging faster in academia.
I return to my eyes, a mirror into my soul. I breathe in and exhale. I say, “I am beautiful and kind. I love myself, my body, and my mind.” I repeat this for a total of 10 times. My daily affirmation of self-love. A ritual I adopted during COVID-19 to remind me that I am more than just my job and the work I produce. Today, this affirmation sits heavy on my heart. Over the past few weeks, we suddenly and unexpectedly lost two Black female college presidents. Dr. Orinthia T. Montague, President of Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee, and JoAnne E. Epps, the acting president of Temple University in Philadelphia. May they Rest In Power. Their deaths have garnered much attention for passing away while on the job, followed by words of “embodying hard work,” “total commitment,” “outspoken,” and “numerous roles in serving.” All phrases are symptoms of grind culture with the ultimate disease resulting in death.
It is no secret that women scholars of color die earlier in academia and are less likely to be in leadership positions in upper administration in higher education institutions.
The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities reports that 72% of college presidents in the U.S. identify as white, and 67% identify as male. Unfortunately, higher education leaders remain primarily white and male, sustaining power and privilege in these systems. Yet, I do not care to spend my time writing this blog to regurgitate what many of us already know, experience, and live through in academia. Instead, I would like to humanize how best to honor death and grief in a moment in which Dr. Orinthia T. Montague and President JoAnne E. Epps have left this physical world not for the level of productivity they achieved, but for the love they breathed into their families, communities, and lives work.
bell hooks, Black feminist and scholar, writes about Loving Into Life and Death, states: “Death is among us. To see it always and only as a negative subject is to lose sit of its power to enhance every moment… Love invites us to grieve for the dead as ritual of mourning and as a celebration. As we speak our hearts in mourning, we share our intimate knowledge of the dead, of who they were and how they lived. We honor their presence by naming the legacies they leave us. We need not contain grief when we use it as a means to intensify our love for the dead and dying, for those who remain alive.”
I wholeheartedly agree with hooks. We should speak love into death, otherwise we fear it and that is no way to live. However, we do need to be mindful of our pathways to death might be entrenched with working too much and not resting.
I want to point out that often we might say “I will rest when I am dead.” Tricia Hersey, author of Rest is Resistance, reminds us academia is the headquarters for grind culture. Phrases like this validate and maintain white supremacist notions of productivity. To counter this, Hersey states, “The systems have manipulated and socialized us so that we stay exhausted…to understand and mediate on this truth may place us all in a space of grieve. We must grieve. Rest supports our grieving by allowing space, and with space, we can begin healing from the trainman of grind culture. Grieving is a sacred act and one of the ways we can begin to reconnect with our bodies, as we craft a rest practice.”
How do we create a rest practice so that our bodymindspirits reconnect, and we refuse grind culture in academia? For me, I start every day by speaking my self-affirmation of love into existence. It is a reminder that I am alive and one day I will die, but today is not the day. Today I REST. Today I do what I love which has nothing to do with academia. I will love myself so much into death for I am living. Have you told yourself, “I love you,” today?
Dr. Nichole Margarita Garcia is an assistant professor of Higher Education at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. You can follow her on X @DrNicholeGarcia or Linkedin @ Nichole Margarita Garcia, PhD