From Academe to Activism: We Gon’ Be Alright


Guest blogger Tiffany Kraft tells who she is through the following post:

It’s eight years and three months since I sat for my viva voce exam to defend my thesis (in the United Kingdom the doctoral manuscript is called a thesis not a dissertation), George Moore: Innovation and Decadence in the Victorian Fin de Siècle, at the University of Nottingham. Although I’d spent six years preparing for it, the night before I was nervous and not entirely confident I’d be leaving the UK with a doctorate or not. No matter what the result, I had a one-way train ticket back to London for an early morning flight to the United States the following day whether I passed, failed, or was asked to rewrite. The best outcome would be to pass with minor revisions. So I spent the night with a friend and we drank, ate, and loved deeply.

The morning of, I met with two internal examiners from my university and one external examiner, Roger Luckhurst-—a professor of modern literature at Birkbeck College in the University of London. My advisors, Professors Josephine Guy and John McRae, sent me into the room with loving words. Jo said: “You’ve earned this, but there are no guarantees. Be humble, receptive, and appreciative of the advice given no matter what the final decision may be.” John said: “The time for fornicating about is over; get in there.” They also said the viva would last one to two hours, and anything less than one hour is not a good sign, “But do not worry, Tiffany.”

I’ll spare you the details of the viva. I was excused after twenty minutes so they could decide my fate. I knocked on Jo’s door and she said, “Already?” Then we waited in the hall on a hard bench for eight minutes; it felt like an eternity and I was clammy. I went back in and Professor Luckhurst delivered the decision: “You’ve passed with minor revisions. We question why you hadn’t mentioned Henry James as a fellow precursor to English Decadence?” Oh. My. God. I had James in and then took him out in one of my final revisions. I explained my reasoning for doing so, and promised to put him back in. I was given three months to revise and resubmit. I revised and resubmitted that day. It was literally a cut and paste.

I said my thank yous and goodbyes, and rushed to the train station. My friend was there waiting for me. We couldn’t part, so I bought him a round trip ticket from Nottingham to St. Pancras and we spent our last night together in Bloomsbury, celebrating and crying. The truth is, the path to get my PhD was just as blessed as it was cursed, but when the black cab came to take me to London Heathrow Airport, I wanted more than anything to stay in the UK.

In bittersweet tears, I returned home from a prestigious English university to adjunct at multiple schools in the USA, eight schools in three states on the mainland and one in Hawai’i. To make a decent living, a self-supporting adjunct has to teach at least six courses per term or semester to make ends meet. Take in mind, six courses is the average yearly course load for many full-time, tenure-track, and tenured faculty (FTTT) with teaching duties. So an FTTT faculty member who teaches for 14 years may reasonably teach 84 courses. Altogether, I’ve taught approximately 252 courses for a fraction of the pay, no benefits for the most part, and zero job security. With this, I know a lot about labor efficiency, poverty wages, and structural economic violence. What’s more, this is not too unusual for career adjuncts to do; it’s entirely unsustainable, though. Fed up—I quit, and now work as an organizer with Faculty Forward Network.

Through higher-ed and community activism/organizing I have found a home in family. The people I call brothers and sisters fight for human dignity; they tirelessly and selflessly put the critical needs of others and community first and protest racism, poverty, and social injustice daily. We are often in the streets with few resources to fund intentional meetings, rallies, and non-violent direct actions.

In Portland, Oregon, where I am an activist with Don’t Shoot Portland, we are led by the fierce and compassionate Teressa Raiford, and I am in awe of her knowledge and ability to lead and educate. She faced a trial this past spring, as readers may know. She stood up to police lies and brutality and won. The day she was unanimously acquitted by a jury of her peers she beat the police and the smug District Attorneys the city sent to prosecute her. She schooled them on the stand. Teressa is the heart and promise of peace and justice in Portland, and I respect her leadership and vision for Don’t Shoot Portland and our entire community.  

The peaceful organizers and protestors who work for our communities need support, too: physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial. They are our greatest human resources in the struggle for justice and dignity. I urge everyone to get involved in an organization and be an active body and mind in the movement (accomplice). Words matter. Actions matter. Black Lives Matter. There are several ways to participate in our present day Civil Rights movement; it just takes a little research and effort to find the organizations and organizers. The doors are open and we need people to show up for justice.

In saying Black Lives Matter loud and proud I am never suggesting that all lives don’t matter. The fact is, we do not live in a post-racial society and we are not colorblind. That assumption is faulty and absurd; people need to stop saying it and get educated on the history of slavery, oppression, racism, and hate in our nation: in our families.

I don’t relate or engage with racist acquaintances, enemies, or family members, anymore. It was a decision I made recently that has been a long time coming. People have a choice to love or hate, and the passive-aggressive denials, implicit bias, or dumb assertions of the white moderates who choose hate (and silence, which is complicity) offend me, but they don’t intimidate, oppress, or hush me.

I’m using my world-class education and white privilege strategically to dismantle patriarchy, economic violence, racism, and white supremacy in our schools and communities. English Decadents George Moore and Oscar Wilde (Henry and William James, too) taught me a lot about others. My education is hardly wasted and I don’t consider myself a failed academic; quite the opposite: I am weaponized with knowledge and love. I’m fighting for justice and against two-faced law and order and austerity policies that gut the core mission of higher education, which is to educate for freedom, as bell hooks reminds us.

The internal and external examiners passed the right person on July 8, 2008. The gatekeepers let me through, and I am humble and appreciative. I’m also done fornicating about. Though I am not a university professor, which was always plan ‘’A,” it feels good to be on the frontlines fighting for higher education and linking arms with community organizers who are making the world less brutal, for all. “Free From Want! Free From Fear!” We gon’ …

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