The Sacrifice of the Lambdas
How so many of us are like slaughtered lambs, killed for sport in and out of higher education
Most people I’ve met and known over the past 30 years have no clue as to what it is to teach high school, college, master’s and doctoral students. None. They think we who are serious educators just wing it and lecture to death, with no preparation at all. They have no inkling of what it takes to research topics, write articles for different audiences, to work on a book-length manuscript, or to publish one. Nor do they understand the job market — any job market, not just in higher education — or the psychological and emotional burden of holding students’ trust, or the constancy of systemic elitism, racism, sexism, in these elite white and elite Black spaces.
I know my mom and dad never have. “You might as well have another high school diploma,” my mom said of my 10-year pursuit of my bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD, on the week of my doctoral graduation at Carnegie Mellon University. It was the day after she had finished her associate’s, a ten-year trek on her part.
My dad during one drunken stupor accused me of lying about having earned my master’s in barely two semesters. “Anybody coulda gone somewhere and made up a fake one,” he said in 1992 during my summer visit to New York, when I showed him my actual degree from the University of Pittsburgh. A few weeks later, after talking with his two white bosses, the Levi brothers, my now hungover dad admitted, “they say you can get a master’s in a year.” I said in response, “Really? I had no idea!”
But that’s only the beginning of the sacrifices people like me with advanced degrees and training make in earning these degrees and pursuing careers related to them. I know people whose first jobs were in weird and not-quite-ideal places. University of Maine at Machias. Austin College in North Texas. North Dakota State University. Washington State University. University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Sam Houston State University. University of Mary Washington. Northern Illinois. Illinois State.
Now, before anyone says, “Why, these seem like good places to work,” my response is, “Sure, if you are white!” Yes, I said it. If you are Black, Brown, Indigenous, man, woman, or transgender, most…