Author Archives: Julia Benjamin

Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

Guest columnist: Craig

Describe an instance where you were “forced” to choose or represent one identity over another. How did you negotiate this instance? What did you learn from this experience?

As a life-long stutterer, I am often faced with a dilemma every time I speak with someone in both my personal and professional life: Do I align with my identity as a stutterer by speaking with repetitions, prolongations, and blocks, or do I maintain my fluency by speaking in a coherent, smooth, and consistent manner? This quandary is cognitively and emotionally present in all contexts that involve spoken language. Magnifying the difficult decision is the stutterers’ often keen ability to “hide” his dysfluency. Unlike other apparent identities, stuttering is more covert, often hidden under the guise of fluent speech. Thus, during conversations with others, I often ponder three questions: Do I disclose my stutter? Will the other person figure out I stutter? How long can I maintain fluent speech?

Much to my dissatisfaction, I will often conceal my stutter, in order to align with the identity of being a nonstutterer. This “false” identity is accompanied by a lack of disclosure, embarrassment and shame, following a concerted effort to talk in a manner that involves absolutely no repetitions, blocks, or prolongations. I recall one instance in which I chose to hide my stutter from a 14-year old male client. The client asked, “Mr. Craig, do you stutter?” I replied, “Um, no, I don’t. Sometimes I get caught on my words.”

I chose this response to avoid any discussion that may have revealed my true identity as someone who stutters. I quickly changed the subject without hesitation. In essence, the opportunity to be vulnerable with my client by revealing my own imperfections (stuttering) was quickly shut down to avoid my embarrassment and shame.

I learned an important and valuable lesson from this encounter. Being vulnerable with another person implies uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. However, it also provides an opportunity to forge deep bonds of affection toward another. I lost this opportunity with my 14-year old client. As I reflect on this experience, I realize that it is only through my imperfections and fallibility that I can be an effective therapist. This means that I may stutter when I talk with clients. It may take me a few more seconds to utter a sentence. I, like my clients, am not perfect. I mistakenly believed in that moment of response that my ability to maintain fluent speech was connected with my competency as a therapist. I now realize that this was a great misperception—to be an effective therapist means being comfortable with my own vulnerability. This means befriending my stutter with an open heart and genuine curiosity when it emerges in session. By doing so, I subtly invite my clients to also be vulnerable with their pain and suffering. After all, at the end of each session, both therapist and client are human, all too human.

This column is part of a monthly series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS CSOGD: Julia Benjamin or APAGS CARED: James Garcia.

 

 

Martyr MA Picture

Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

Martyr MA PictureGuest columnist: Meredith A. Martyr, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, Class of 2019

What social identities do you currently identify as most central to you? I identify as Pansexual, Feminist, and Cisgender Woman.

Progressing through my PhD coursework, I have become increasingly aware of my various identities and their impact on one another. Appearing as a cisgender woman, I am often assumed to be heterosexual by my classmates, professors, and colleagues. Appearing cisgender carries both a constant awareness of the privilege this provides me, and a continual reminder of the assumption that others make regarding my sexual orientation.

On one particular day, I was sitting in a doctoral seminar class discussing feminism in counseling psychology. Many of my classmates spoke very highly of feminism ideology and the “great progress” that has been made by the second wave feminist movement of the 1960-70’s. Identifying as pansexual and a feminist, I felt that it was pertinent in that moment to bring up the social oppression and silencing that occurred within the lesbian, bisexual, and pansexual communities at the hands of the cisgender second wave feminist movement. My classmates were confused by my critiques of second wave feminist ideology, and at that moment I felt it was important to share my sexual orientation in order to explain the conflicting appreciation and caution I have for the feminist movement. As I opened my mouth to share my pansexual identity, I feared hearing common microaggressions such as, “I never would have thought you would be pansexual,” “You don’t look like you would be into women,” or “I am relying on you to bring the gay perspective to this discussion.” Despite this fear, I experienced the compassion and increased self-awareness that can come from hearing and/or sharing a personal narrative. As I shared my narrative of how uplifting and restricting feminism could be for a pansexual individual, I felt an energy shift in the room from confusion to insight as my historically marginalized perspective was heard and acknowledged. It is my hope that by continuing to share my narratives, others may continue to develop a greater awareness regarding the fluidity of sexuality and gender.

I am appreciative and humbled by the openness, authenticity, and respect that I have received during my graduate education. The foundation that my graduate program has laid down has provided a space of safety and trust. The best advice I can pass on to others who have various intersecting identities would be to investigate the department’s involvement with different social justice movements and their approaches to working with a diverse set of identities. Additionally, I would recommend sharing your narratives only when you are ready or wish to do so. I would not have shared my intersecting identities with my professors and colleagues if I did not feel respected and safe within the academic environment created by my graduate program. As I move forward in my graduate training program, I look forward to expanding my own self-awareness and experiencing new opportunities to engage in meaningful and impactful discussions regarding the complexity of intersecting identities.

This column is part of a monthly series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS CSOGD (Julia Benjamin, jzbenjam@gmail.com) or CARED (James Garcia, jjg0136@gmail.com).

Bianca poindexter

Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

Bianca poindexter

Bianca Poindexter

Guest columnist: Bianca Poindexter, Northeastern University, Class of 2015

What social identities do you currently identify as most central to you? I identify as Black, Queer, Cis-Woman, Able-Bodied, 24, and Christian

If you could go back in time, what advice related to your intersecting identities would you give to your former self upon applying for and entering graduate school? The advice that I would give my former self when applying for graduate schools would have been to think even bigger and go even further out of my comfort zone. I would have also said to search for programs that had more people with intersecting identities, including both the students and the professors; to expand my horizons. I would have explained to that young woman entering graduate school to not be so anxious, intimidated, and not feel so unworthy of where she was; that she deserved to be there, like everybody else, and to not be ashamed of who she is.

Describe an instance where you were “forced” to choose or represent one identity over another. How did you negotiate this instance? What did you learn from this experience? I was put in the position of representing the voice of the LGBTQ population on several occasions in the classroom. I was not “forced,” but I felt that if I did not speak to the reality of some of the issues that the LGBTQ population was facing, then no one would. I felt that many people in my cohort knew very little about that population or had blinders on to those issues. Some were not understanding of the fact that those issues affect not only myself and others in the class, but also a large population of people whose voices are finally being heard, or that such issues could affect people they know who are afraid to come forward. I felt that it was my duty and obligation to make sure they understood that the LGBTQ population has a face and a name. Not everyone but some of them definitely needed to be woken up to what the reality of the situation is.

How have you found support and spaces to talk about your intersecting identities as they relate to graduate school and your quality of life? Coming into this program at Northeastern University, I was already intimidated and felt like there would be no one to express my whole self with. I somehow lucked out to meet another woman in my cohort, Amanda Weber, who I could identify with. She and I built a friendship on like interests and we could discuss our identities, as well as school together and not feel judged. I found others in the program who turned out to be very accepting, as well as my academic advisor, Dr. Tracy Robinson-Wood. It was amazing and relieving to have a group of people to vent my frustrations and my struggles to. These people helped me get through the program and understood where I was coming from on different levels. I have two friends in the program who are Black, several who are women, and one who identifies on the LGBTQ spectrum. It was exactly the group that I needed to make the graduate experience less isolating, as well as my friends and my mother back home in Georgia who had great listening ears.

This column is part of a monthly series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS CSOGD (Julia Benjamin, jzbenjam@gmail.com) or CARED (James Garcia, jjg0136@gmail.com).

Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

A Moment in the Life of a Single Mom Graduate Student

Guest columnist: Teresa Hulsey, B.A., University of North Texas

I look at the clock. It is 2:00 in the morning and I can finally sleep after finishing my report. Suddenly, I wake to the sounds of my three-year-old daughter crying. I look at the clock again; it is 3:00 in the morning. I rush to her bedroom and recognize the telltale signs of a stomach virus. As I gather a change of clothes and carry her to the bathroom my mind begins to rush through all of the work that will have to wait, and all of the people I now need to reschedule with or notify that I will not be attending school. Despite knowing the understanding nature of both faculty and students, I am still frustrated that I cannot be two people at once: the single mom who takes care of her daughter and the graduate student who gets all of her work done on time.

Later, after contacting necessary people, no one implied that I am irresponsible or using my daughter as an excuse. Actually, everyone expressed concern, sent well wishes to my daughter, and relayed desires for me to get back to them later. Times like these contributed to me allowing myself the space to discover what life looks like for me as a mother and a graduate student. The best student I can be looks differently now that I have my daughter, and the best mom I can be has changed now that I am a student. I have spent this first year of graduate school learning and redefining what being the best me in these important life roles means.

Ultimately, my daughter reminds me that graduate school is not my life. I also discovered that the world will not end if I cannot attend school, am late to a meeting, or turn in late work. I have been able to witness how resilient my daughter is and that the quality of our time together can be more meaningful than the quantity. I have experienced the outpouring of love and support from close family and friends who contribute to my daughter’s development.

Advice from my mentor and program director significantly helped me this past year. These pieces of advice were to first, accept help and second, when completing work think “done, not perfect.” I still struggle with both of these, but am willing to appreciate that I am human. If I could go back,  I would tell myself to appreciate the struggles. The struggle represents being blessed to be a mother while able to pursue my passions. So, in that moment while my thoughts rushed about school as I carried my daughter to the bathroom, I then became aware of whom I was carrying. I realized that my daughter needed me in this moment, and all else could wait. The best me, even with the demands of school, refocused on her. This 3:00 AM moment filled with an assortment of stomach virus symptoms warranted appreciation. This was a moment I could never get back.

This column is part of a series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS CSOGD (Julia Benjamin, jzbenjam@gmail.com) or CARED (James Garcia, jjg0136@gmail.com)

Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

Finding a Cultural Identity: An Intersectional Autobiography

Guest columnist: Christian Chan, George Washington University

Writing about my own personal lived experiences is a meaningful action to extract, understand, and interpret the complex experiences of culture across my journey as a graduate student. I entered a professional journey as a graduate student in a Master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and, later, a doctoral program in Counseling with a keen interest for developing more culturally competent interventions. What I realized most is the limitations of my own worldview, as I see through my own lived experiences and navigate my interpretation of privilege and oppression.

While I knew that multiculturalism and social justice were emphases of my journey and what I hope to contribute as an emerging scholar, leader, and educator, this interest evolved more than I had ever visualized at the beginning. I began my goal of starting a doctoral program with interests in multicultural counseling and supervision; ethnic identity development and socialization; intergenerational conflict; and acculturative stress. While those constructs still capture my interests and my view of multiculturalism, it was my own personal growth that grasped a largely missing component in the counseling profession’s research and practice. For far too long, I noted throughout my graduate training that there were still missing gaps in research and practice despite the major advances and emphasis to meet the needs of diverse populations.

My passion for intersectionality grew because I could no longer just view our treatment of clients within the limitations of cultural identities as distinct silos. What is the experience of a disabled lesbian Asian American cisgender woman? The intersections of these identities continue to grow in this discussion, but they are absolutely necessary if we are to grow as helping professions and enhance our paradigm of research. My own personal lived experiences rung through the curriculum. As a second-generation bisexual Asian American male of Filipino, Chinese, and Malaysian heritage, I also realized the intersections of my other identities as an able-bodied Catholic cisgender male who grew up in a middle-class family as the child of two immigrants. I sought for more questions and answers that moved beyond how privilege, oppression, and mental health are impacted by one identity.

Through these intersections, a pivotal moment in my doctoral program taught me so much about the negotiations of my own privilege and oppression. My initial driving force to enact multiculturalism and social justice into training, curriculum, and research was my own oppressed identities as an ethnic and sexual minority. However, my colleague confronted me about my perspectives of career development and social class. I stated that individuals could utilize their experiences from each position to hopefully move to another position. My assumption, however, is that not every individual has this choice, as they encounter several barriers in career development. I certainly have choices in my life due to my own social class, which prompted a negotiation of my own privileges. As I reflect upon those moments, I recognize that I must negotiate my privileges as lifelong learning with each step of my professional journey.

This column is part of a monthly series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and is sponsored by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact the chair of APAGS CSOGD (Julia Benjamin, jzbenjam@gmail.com) or CARED (James Garcia, jjg0136@gmail.com).