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  • Naiki Kaffezakis

Why Grad Pride?

Living in marginalized communities, the constant justification of our own existence is par for the course. In the queer community, for example, we have to constantly prove why we should be able to be “out”, have access to marriage, and even, pee in safety. With the benevolence of institutions and the extravagantly privileged being rarer than gold at times, trying to organize within these communities for mutual advocacy and support can require even greater hurdles to jumped. From the framework of an outsider, it can seem reasonable to ask why there even needs to be a specific organization for queer graduate students. There is already the LGBTQIA Resource Center and Pride Alliance for your gay needs. There is the Office of Graduate Studies and department led graduate programming for your student needs. What does Grad Pride uniquely offer that can justify the physical and social resources it takes up? Why Grad Pride?


Setting aside discussions on whether we should have to justify our existence or on the weaponization of scarce benevolence to instil dependency, it is worth answering the question both as a means to educate on the state of LGBTQIA graduate students and to encourage others in our community to join our group. Before going forward, it is important to acknowledge that compared to our homeless trans siblings of color that call Atlanta home, we have been granted enormous privilege to be graduate students at Georgia Tech. However, that does not change the fact that queer graduate students are some of the most disadvantaged workers in the field of academia with the challenges of being a graduate student compounding with those of being a queer person.


Mental Health


Graduate student and queer mental health deserve a rather detailed discussion that will be saved for a future post. However, a study on the growing mental health crisis amongst graduate students found that graduate students are 6 times more likely to experience depression than the general population . Additionally, LGBTQIA people as a whole are only about twice as likely to experience depression compared to the rest of the average . So statistically, about 60% of our queer graduate students have or will face depression, triggered by struggling with the high demands of graduate school and societal homophobia. Having lived the same experiences, we are able to craft programming that addresses the complex and urgent mental health needs of queer graduate students.


Isolation

Graduate students live dual lives as both students and employees which can greatly complicate any attempts to a balanced life. Through the stipulations of our grants, fellowships, and assistantships, we are often expected to work full time but are not typically considered employees; we can be paid stipends that translate to well below minimum wage while receiving no benefits or employee resources. In the meantime, we are often still expected to maintain a 3.3 or above in coursework to be able to take qualifying exams and maintain our stipends, without any of the institutional aide. Add on the very normal expectation that graduate students remain in their labs from dawn to dusk, then it is hard to find time for any sort of life. The consuming nature of graduate work and the relegation to the limited environment of a laboratory lead to societal isolation.

Unfortunately, queer graduate students cannot take solace in their working relations with department colleagues since isolation is also one of the major concerns for queer folks in academia. In a survey of queer physicists, the respondents reported increased feeling of isolation and perceived and actual exclusion were key findings . This derives largely from the way in which the culture of academia pressures queer researchers to set aside their identities. For the sake of a mythologized objectivity, which is actually an adherence to the viewpoint of the dominant group, white cishetero-patriarchy, queer people are asked to set aside their needs, and concerns in order to be accepted as authorities in the field. Building community amongst queer graduate students is both an enormously difficult task and an extremely necessary one in promoting retention of those students. Grad Pride’s role in reaching out to those students and holding space for the community is absolutely essential.


Job Prospects

Graduate student and queer mental health deserve a rather detailed discussion that will be saved for a future post. However, a study on the growing mental health crisis amongst graduate students found that graduate students are 6 times more likely to experience depression than the general population . Additionally, LGBTQIA people as a whole are only about twice as likely to experience depression compared to the rest of the average . So statistically, about 60% of our queer graduate students have or will face depression, triggered by struggling with the high demands of graduate school and societal homophobia. Having lived the same experiences, we are able to craft programming that addresses the complex and urgent mental health needs of queer graduate students.It is no secret that permanent jobs in academia are becoming more scarce, with landing a position at a university only slightly more obtainable for young scientists as landing a professional sports contract is for amateur athletes . Even within the private sector, advanced degrees are no longer the guarantee for work that they once were. For LGBTQIA people, where job protections only exist in 22 states and where it is harder to develop the same network of corporate contacts, guaranteed work is even harder to come by. Understanding these difficulties, Grad Pride has set up mentorship infrastructure and professional development opportunities that help students overcome the difficulty of finding a job while facing systemic discrimination.

In conclusion, as it is for any intersectional identity, the compounding needs of LGBTQIA graduate students as employees, students and queer individuals are far too great to be addressed by organizations solely focused on the graduate or the queer experiences alone. That is why we founded Grad Pride, to fill that important gap in the experiences of LGBTQIA graduate students at Georgia Tech.

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