When I began my tenure as the Editor-in-Chief of the Advocate, a faculty member advised me to balance my time wisely. He emphasized that I should not allow the labor at the newspaper to swallow up my scholarly ambitions. He provided this counsel after observing patterns in which the strength of many student leaders becomes their weakness. These student leaders stood at the forefront of activist movements that have reformed the Graduate Center in ways that benefited newly admitted students. Yet many of these leaders have been unable to balance their activist work with their scholarly commitments. This leaves them open to criticisms such as, “You are not doing the scholarly work you signed up for. Your lack of progress validates misassumptions that campus activism and scholarship are incompatible.”
Since the conversation with the faculty member, I never forgot why I arrived at the Graduate Center. I arrived after the admissions committee saw my application and decided to invest in me because I convinced them that my sponsored scholarship would benefit marginalized people of color, immigrant populations, and groups disabled by sex and sexuality. I had to always try and remember that I am here to write a dissertation, to graduate, to continue my life as a scholar. Frequently contemplating on these reasons, I theorize that my greatest gift as a student leader to marginalized communities is to graduate. Deeply weighing these concerns against the demands of continuing as the Editor-in-Chief, I offered my letter of resignation to the DSC leadership. While I learned a lot in this position, I have to know when to say, “Enough is enough! Time to close this chapter before this chapter closes my ambitions!”
The Challenges at the Advocate
I know that our community reads and loves our paper. Hence I think you would like to know about the stress that goes into producing the paper so that you may be a bit more tolerant when we make errors in the publication. Did you know that we have only three staff members? Do you know of any other college that has only three persons running the main student publication that puts out a 32-48-page issue three times a semester? Consider that these persons are expected to brand and market the paper beyond the Graduate Center community. These three persons, in the imagination of many members of our community, are expected to do the very same thing the NY Times does with its publication: Edit the publication to perfection. Keep analytical tabs on its readership trends. Design and display pages using high industry standards. Do more with less money.
Of course the Advocate is understaffed and underfunded. The budget was even radically cut recently. If writers are not paid well, there will be fewer good writings to publish. Nevertheless, we had to always find a way to continuously seek excellent contributors, edit their submissions through several time-consuming editing processes, repeatedly correspond with writers who fail to account for our suggested edits, market the work by foot and announcements, attend college events to stay abreast of what is going on so we can write about it, read extensively in order to remain updated, run a website, fight amongst ourselves to arrive at consensus, attend meetings each semester with the Advisory Committee, liaise with other departments such as the library’s administration to ensure the publication is archived correctly on academic databases, satisfy the administrative reporting demands of the DSC, and all the while, be successful doctoral students with stress-free lives.
What was Accomplished During my Tenure as Editor-in-Chief?
Notwithstanding the above concerns, many members of the DSC have been supportive and appreciative of the paper’s progress and each semester’s goals. Indeed, I have had some tensions with the new DSC leadership, mostly regarding funding. What I can say, however, is that the leadership has never told me what political or administrative positions I must advocate for in the paper. And though I have disagreed with some of the positions they took on several issues, we have maintained a professional and respectful relationship that always resolved issues. In a nutshell, it was easy to work with the DSC leadership. So I trust that they will hire a new Editor-in-Chief who will be bold enough to question and challenge them rather than rubber-stamp their decisions.
As I see it, the Advocate should not be the DSC’s mouthpiece. If the DSC has something to say in the Advocate, they are constitutionally allowed a number of pages per issue to say it. The Advocate should fearlessly represent student concerns — both PhD students and the neglected Master’s student population. At the same time, I do not think it will benefit students if the Advocate maintains a perpetually hostile tone towards the DSC leadership. That open division would only play into the hands of the administration. Thus, the new Editor-in-Chief must be blunt, bold, competent, and willing to battle not just the administration, but challenge the DSC leadership on issues of principle, objectivity, and ethics — and particularly in moments when the DSC leadership is making decisions without consulting student groups and organizations that will be most affected.
The overall support from the DSC at large has helped the paper claim certain successes. We have a technologically smarter online product that has resulted in more visits to the website due to the brightness of the design, the additional navigable options available, and the ease with which the site now interacts with the social media technologies of the day. We also created a more aesthetically pleasing product in terms of layout stylistics and logo branding. And we developed a QR code that can be found on the first and last page of the physical paper. Furthermore, we have observed the faster rate at which the GC readership has been picking up the publication from the stocking locations in the lobby, in some departments, and at the entrance of each floor.
And we have energetically led with activists who have encouraged the administration to move away from the “defer-defer-defer — talk-talk-talk” strategy and actually do something about the diversity epidemic at this “all-white male institution.” We maintained a strong presence in the student community by attending every DSC meeting, where we held DSC leaders accountable with our questions and commentaries at the risk of being misunderstood as overly combative. Again — that is to say, under my leadership, I held the view that the paper does not exist to rubber-stamp the DSC, which funds the Advocate, but to support the DSC’s work by ensuring that students are represented ethically and objectively. Among our other accomplishments, the paper represented a wider genre of writing styles like letters from members of our community, features of art works and reviews, photo essays. Furthermore, we have paid particular attention to incorporate diverse images based on gender, race, and geography. We also developed new designs to present DSC news in ways that captured wider student attention. And while the paper remained firmly rooted in the social and political landscape of the Graduate Center, it actively expanded the ambit of its content to include marginalized stories from not just the US but also South Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.
My Advice to the
Student Community and
As we labor, we need to always remember to take care of ourselves. Engaging revolutionary self-care is critical. We do a disserve to ourselves if we are running around doing student service yet we fail to take the time to eat healthy, to slow down and catch a good breath, to exercise in order to look and stay physically, emotionally, and mentally well. Importantly, too, I would argue that one of the greatest things we could do as student workers is to complete our master’s thesis or our doctoral dissertation while keeping balance in our lives.
Let us Graduate!
We need to know when a phase of our life is complete and make the moves to begin the next. Otherwise, we could be problematically colonizing space, polluting space, and denying space to others who need to occupy our residences to serve the community, to heal, and to grow. I doubt anyone will disagree with me here, and so it still surprises me that I rarely hear members of our community having this kind of a conversation. Everything seems so politics-centered! In fact, sometimes I talk about overall wellness with some colleagues and I get the sense that such a conversation is tolerated but not welcomed. In essence, my observation is that a large part of academic culture is concerned with the question of how to give visibility to marginalized politics, communities, and knowledge without equal attention to how we can discover knowledge about ourselves in order to maintain the wellness needed to serve others.
Let us continue to serve,
but we will
take care of our thoughts,