The Citizen Scholar…

Engaging politically in the university community and trying to make a difference beyond the constraints of tenure.

I recently read Foley and Valenzuela’s book (ref below), and it invigorated me in the middle of my dissertation writing. It felt so validating! Reading this in conjunction with Faye Harrison’s Critical Ethnography made me reflect even more on what it means for me to engage in critical anthropological research, while also avoid being trapped in the academic machinery of alienation from real life problems. So how do I balance such an effort, when I am such a service inclined individual? I want to focus on me, but I also want to acknowledge that my path has not been an individual one; I’m here because others balanced scholarship and advocacy within those racially marked lines and helped me get here, and I want to give back.

Faye Harrison said it best:

“Whether we like it or not, race is an enduring principle of classification and organization within academe, relegating some people to outsides within. Putting colored people in their place through racially marked circumscription, often layered with meetings related to gender and class, may be subtle, but it is, nonetheless, real. In order to negotiate,resist, and adjust to its most humiliating and hurtful forms, racially marked intellectuals often find themselves deploying energy that might otherwise be invested in furthering their scholarship”

There is a lot to be said from folks like us, but meanwhile the rest are not disturbed…the rest; the white folk, and the other  minorities who are not underrepresented in higher education.

They are working, their scholarship does not get interrupted. When I advocated towards certain things that affected all of us anthropology students, the rest were working without being perturbed by that advocacy, but also benefitting from it. While I spent my time complaining about the state of things, as well as trying to collaborate as to how these issues could be addressed with the help of a few allies, the rest were working. The thread seems to be that:

  • They keep working while they were called out on sexual harassment in their department (Link) and still be invited to deliver a keynote speech at a major conference.
  • They keep working even when there are studies that show that male privilege does not foster welcoming environments to women in academia: Link
  • They keep working even when studies show that Faculty were shown to have racial and gender biases in mentoring: Link

They are working, while I am exhausted and mentally drained. They are working, while I am struggling for security and a sense of belonging in an environment that doesn’t fully understand (or welcome) a post-colonial anthropologist (my department is pretty White yo!).

But then again, activism and advocacy won’t get me employed in academia. As Faye Harrison mentioned, we academics of color (especially those of underrepresented groups) spend time giving back to the community; because some of us feel an inherent sense of duty. We spend so much of our time and energy trying to be engaged scholars. Very few allies know how draining this is. And the rest don’t know at all, don’t care, and frankly, probably won’t be affected by it. Our White colleagues are spending the same time writing, receiving grants at higher rates, researching, getting tenure, etc.

There is no true answer to any of what I just wrote, but I nonetheless wanted to put this out here. Just in case there is another Citizen Scholar in training like me, and is looking for community.

I want to finish with a Maya Angelou quote that helped me find peace with all of this while I brainstormed about the issues of engaged anthropologists/scholars.

“We understand that these prejudices, these walls have been built over centuries, and we must not be disheartened that we can’t knock them down in three months or four years,” she said. “We must understand we need some heavy artillery.” Leaning in closer she said, “So we mustn’t run out of steam. Sometimes young women think ‘Dammnnn, I’ve been doing this nine years and I don’t think anything has budged.’ But keep plugging away. Nothing succeeds like success. Get a little success and then just get a little more.”

But be kind to yourself, she reminded me. At this point, it was more like a grandmother talking, trying to relay important knowledge.

Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘run like hell and all of fire,’” she said. “You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me and I’m here because I’ve been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I’m paying for someone else who has yet to come.”



  • Foley, Douglas and Valenzuela, Angela (2005) Critical Ethnography: The Politics of Collaboration. Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. 3rd edition. Eds. Norman K. Denzin & Yvonna S. Lincoln. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2005: 217-234
  • Harrison, Faye (2008) Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in the Global Age. University of Illinois Press.
  • Dawn, Reiss (2014) Why Maya Angelou Disliked Modesty. The Atlantic.
  • Schuman, Rebeca (2014) Hands Off Your Grad Students! Slate.

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