Sunday 7 March 2021

Chronically Academic anti-Black racism statement

At the time of writing, worldwide protests are taking place against police brutality and anti-Black racial violence in the US. As a community, we at Chronically Academic condemn anti-Black violence and systemic racism. We support and stand in solidarity with our Black network members, colleagues, and students. Our mandate to support academics with chronic conditions and disabilities and to work to dismantle structures of academic ableism is intersectional; we cannot dismantle ableist structures without dismantling racist, sexist and colonial structures of white supremacy in the academy and beyond. We recognize that in academia, in the medical system, and in everyday life, Black disabled academics face a great deal more systemic oppression and direct discrimination due to the intersection of disability and blackness. Therefore they are more likely to face ableism and racism. This might include: being turned down for a job, not being able to access healthcare or disability accommodations, being racially profiled, being told that they do not belong in academia, not being believed when they speak up about being mistreated, being ignored, being silenced, being racially abused, being victimised. We also recognise that this intersectional lens has to acknowledge the oppression faced by Black trans people and Black queer people, who face disproportionately high rates of discrimination and violence.
We recognise that making a statement in itself is not enough, and strive to learn about how we can do better as a community and with this platform. We do not want to place the burden on BIPOC/BAME members of our community to educate us. Instead we encourage everyone in the Chronically academic community to join us in educating ourselves and fighting these inequalities.
We commit to the following actions:
  1. Amplifying the voices of Black disabled students and academics and helping to increase representation.

  2. Providing a platform for Black disabled students and academics (e.g. through our Twitter account, and through Twitter hashtags).

  3. Ensuring that people in the Chronically Academic community are aware that we have a zero-tolerance policy to racism, ableism or discrimination of any kind.

  4. Holding monthly Twitter chats about allyship and sharing resources about how to be an ally.

  5. Looking at whether Chronically Academic needs to make any other changes at an organisational level to become more inclusive and anti-racist.
If you are a non-Black person, as a first step, we urge you to educate yourself on the key issues and how to engage on this topic, including taking note of what not to do. We as a team are committed to doing this self-education and self-reflection as well. Please see below a list of resources as a starting point. We welcome you to get in touch with us to add more to the list. It is OK to be outraged or upset about the injustices, but do not air your outrage or sadness with Black people and ask them to educate you about what you can do, or expect their emotional support. It is understandable that you may feel guilty and uncomfortable about your privilege, but ask yourself how you have benefitted from this privilege, why it makes you uncomfortable, and what you can do going forward to make things better for people without your privilege. Use your privilege to provide platforms for others without it. Do not ask for emotional labour from Black students or colleagues at what is already a traumatic time. Do not share graphic images or videos of violence against Black people, especially without a trigger warning. If you are an academic with seniority, support your Black students by thinking about what you can do practically to make your department actively anti-racist. Lastly, you may feel an urge to write about this movement as an academic, but reconsider: does academia need another non-Black perspective on Black issues? Instead, look at your archive and citations, consider what perspectives are missing and work to fill these spaces. We must all strive to continually do anti-racist work and uphold anti-racist practices, no matter our fields of study or the demographics of our classrooms and departments.
Blog posts, websites, twitter threads and articles:
Racism in academia
Ableism and racism/racism in health and healthcare
Racism throughout history (the legacy of racism)
  • Historic England’s website on racism and resistance in Britain.
  • David Osoluga’s article on the legacy of racism in Britain.
  • Dr Amy Kavanagh’s blog post on the Edward Colston statue in Bristol.
  • Twitter thread on racism in the UK from @ObiomaUgoala.
  • Dr Kimberle Crenshaw’s 1991 article Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity politics and violence against women of color, Stanford law review.
  • Interview with Dr Crenshaw about intersectionality.
Critical race theory:
  • Purdue OWL’s explainer and reading list on Critical race theory.
Resources and guidance on action
Resources on allyship and being a good ally:
Why just showing that you are an ally is not enough:
How can I teach my students about race and racism?
  • How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
  • Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis
  • The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B Du Bois
  • Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
  • Superior: The return of race science by Angela Saini
  • So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo
  • Brit(ish): On race, identity and belonging by Afua Hirsch
  • Ain’t I a woman by bell hooks
  • The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde
  • Why I’m no longer talking to White People about race by Renni Eddo-Lodge
  • Insurgent Empire: Anti-colonial resistance and British Dissent by Priyamvada Gopal
  • The colour of Madness: exploring BAME mental health in the UK by Samara Linton and Rianna Walcott
  • The end of policing by Alex S. Vitale (ebook available for free at the time of writing)
  • Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter Edited by Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton (ebook currently free on verso books)
Useful websites and organisations to follow:
Helpful reading lists shared by people on Twitter:
Twitter hashtags to follow:


Academia Won’t Change By Itself

Written by Manya Singh 
My first year of college was my first experience with using disability accommodations.
I didn't tell anyone I used these accommodations.
Luckily, the classes I shared with friends tended to be big lecture classes, and if anyone mentioned not seeing me in the lecture room, I'd make an excuse about wearing black, or sitting in the back... and then I'd change the subject. I was so embarrassed.
My university had a policy that you had to submit accommodation letters to faculty in person, and my anxiety would bubble just under the surface as I arrived at office hours, quickly shoved the letter towards the professor, and attempted a smile before leaving without making eye contact. I knew that these professors got these letters each year, and they had already received the electronic version of mine from the coordinator, and still, the experience of having to identify myself in that moment was awful.
And then, out of nowhere, I started falling asleep.
I can remember the first time very clearly. I was in an advanced math class, as I'd qualified to skip regular algebra, and I was the youngest in that class. The teacher was great, and a legend among the students. I had always done well, especially in math, but I really wanted to impress this teacher with my attentiveness and work ethic.
But one day, I woke up to someone shaking my shoulder, and as I jerked back into reality, I caught the disapproving glance my teacher sent my way. My peers around me tried to hide their chuckles, and the student behind me told me my teacher asked her to shake me awake. I was humiliated and shocked, and I'm sure I left without giving the teacher an explanation... because I didn't have one.
For the next seven years, I would try a million things: increasing/decreasing sleep, giving up coffee, different protein powders, yoga, CrossFit, various vitamin regimes, and lots and lots of medical testing. I probably got tested for anemia, thyroid problems and diabetes every three to five months. Nothing ever worked and testing was always negative. I fell asleep almost every day, in almost every class. I was so embarrassed, especially in college. I knew that professors were thinking that I had stayed up too late partying or cramming or watching TV, when really, I had been in bed by 10:30. I sat in the back of the classroom and rarely participated, because I felt terrible.
I felt like I was inhabiting the body of someone else, a body that would not cooperate with me.
At 19, I was tested for sleep apnea, and I started treatment for that. It had been ruled out initially because I tested negative as a kid. The sleep apnea treatment helped a little, but I still fell asleep in classes. For two years, I waited for my "sleep debt" to end, but it never did. There were some other big changes in my life around this time, including having committed to coming to graduate school. I was tired of being tired, of feeling like less than a whole person, always embarrassed and anxious and hating myself. I started treatment for more severe, clinical sleep disorders.
And it worked. It's not perfect, and the effectiveness of my treatment depends on me committing to my routine, and to maintaining my health more rigorously than the average able-bodied person. My body isn't like most people's bodies, and that's frustrating, but I'm grateful that I've found effective treatment, and I'm okay with this being my reality for the rest of my life.
(It takes an average of seven years to diagnose sleep disorders, since the symptoms overlap, and tend to be ignored or dismissed. is a good place to start if this resonates.)
The experience of my disability contributed to me feeling embarrassed and ashamed of it, but the reality is that there are many disabled people and students, with all kinds of disabilities, who feel the same way. For large segments of society, disability is bad, and we are meant to be embarrassed for being bad. Disability is not bad, but this notion being false, does not lessen the impact.
In academia, this is best represented by the statement: "Well, nobody needed accommodations when I went to school." Impostor syndrome impacts everyone, but it is different for disabled students because it interacts with, and is intensified by, the history and continuation of ableism in academia.
In college, I was co-president of the disability club on campus, and I helped a lot of students navigate accommodations. I would often get a message like, "[Insert example of not complying with official accommodation letters here], is that legal?"
I feel disgusted that there is a need to talk to students about how to negotiate accommodations, as if they are being held hostage, when they've already jumped through administrative hoops to get official accommodations. Each time I've had to do that in my own life, I have felt smaller, and I hate watching others feel that way too.
You feel like you don't belong,
like academia would be happy if you just gave up and left,
like "accommodations didn't exist back in my day" because disabled people have never
and will never be welcome in academia.
An administrator once told me that academia would improve in the next ten to fifteen years, as the people within it filtered in and out. I remember thinking: Is all we can do wait? Did we say the same thing ten years ago?
Have we always been waiting for academia to change on its own, rather than actively trying to change it?
When do we accept that hasn’t worked?
About the Author

Portrait picture of
Manya facing the camera
and smiling.
Manya Singh is a doctoral student in botany studying how drought impacts plant-soil feedback in invasive grasses. She has been active in student advocacy, with a focus on disabled students, since 2017. Follow her at

Sunday 16 February 2020

An Unreliable Mind: Being OCD in the Academy

Written by Clare Griffin 
I am writing the first draft of this on a flight home, feeling emotional after a crappy connection. Is it a good idea to start writing this now? Is it a good idea to write it at all? To publish it, where anyone could read it? What do I hope to achieve by this? How much will it hurt me to publish it? How much good could it possibly do? For me, or for anyone else? Do I mean everything I am saying? And will anyone believe it?
This, and a thousand other worries come to me on bad days, when the OCD I was diagnosed with a few years ago takes over. At some points in my life, all I had were bad days. Now, I have a lot of good days, and still some bad days, and the bad is manageably bad.
After much treatment, and much help, life is easier. Easier is not the same as easy. But some days, easier is everything.
My OCD rewrites the world for me. It pushes me into false certainties where only uncertainties lie. If a friend doesn’t reply to me, they must certainly hate me; yet I can only be uncertain as to the motivations of others. My mind can be unreliable, yet my work, my career, my life, rely on my mind and on my judgement. How can an unreliable mind be an academic mind? If I can’t always trust my judgement, how can anyone else?
My OCD gets me praise. If I have scrutinised every detail of a piece of work or of an event, my OCD will still have me check again, and again, and again, and again. I am early for deadlines, always there for meetings and the most reliable collaborator – until I’m not. Until the compulsion that drives me to check, and recheck, and check again, pushes my brain too far, and I have to lie in the dark to try to make it stop. How can I feel well in an Academy where other people look at pain and see productivity, see the shadow on the wall cast by a pathology and declare it a work ethic? How can I function here? How can I function anywhere?
And yet I know for certain - with actual certainty, not the false kind the OCD sends - that people with mental health and neurological problems are valuable, intelligent people. I know for certain that academics with these conditions make major contributions. I know for certain that those people who have been open about their conditions, and their problems, have helped me. Cartoonists, writers, presenters, literary studies scholars, and historians have all made important and beautiful works out of their pain. If I can unquestioningly accept the value of the intellectual work of other people - other creators and academics with problems like mine - can I accept the value of my own mind? Can I believe that other people will?
Why did I decide to write this? Is it to free myself from the prison of shame that keeping medical conditions private can create? Is it to find sympathy? To aggrandise myself or pity myself, or hurt myself? To martyr myself? Will I cause myself too much pain with the vain and self-important idea that I will help others by writing this? Will people react negatively to this? Or will they not even notice it? Have I disclosed enough to help people? Or have I exposed myself by sharing far too much? The reality I must live with is - I just don’t know.
About the Author

Clare Griffin is a historian of early modern science
Portrait photo of Clare who is 
dressed smartly and facing the camera 
in front of a plain background.
and assistant professor at Nazarbayev University, Republic of Kazakhstan. Her work focuses on global exchanges, practical knowledge, and translation, especially as this relates to the early modern Russian Empire.