Adjunct Mockingjay is continuing her work for the resistance. If you missed Part 1 yesterday, read it here. As she told us in Part 1, “Rebellion should never be polite.”
She’s been doing her best to shift the odds. Let’s keep helping her. Add your thoughts below and then share & tweet this piece.
An Adjunct Catching Fire
by Adjunct Mockingjay
I’m one of the Katnisses of the world: I stand up for myself & defend others, but then go PTSD in a closet.
A rockstar scholar stole the research of someone she called stupid.
Just let that sink in for a moment—not because it’s especially heinous, but, in case this, or something similar, has ever happened to you. In academia, know that usually if someone doesn’t like you, if someone abuses you emotionally or verbally, it’s not about you. It’s about their insecurity.
And it should be reported.
As a survivor of abuse, I don’t always have the impulse to tell others. I tend to internalize the abuse I experience because I start thinking I must have deserved it.
The more I thought about the intellectual theft, the longer we stayed in class every week, the more she systematically humiliated every student who wasn’t a “favorite,” I started getting angry. But I wasn’t necessarily getting angry for the reasons I just listed because I didn’t know it was okay to be angry—no one would say a word against Rockstar, not even when we were outside class, so, being a new grad student, I couldn’t put into words what I was angry about, per se.
I became suicidal that semester. Rockstar triggered all of the insecurities about being worthless I was trying to suppress from childhood. I had worked so hard to prove my father wrong, that it was nearly the end of me when someone I respected zeroed in on that vulnerability and tried to blow me to pieces.
The only thing that kept me from going through with it was that, for the first time, I realized that I was angry. But I didn’t understand where the anger should be directed. As my husband and I sat and talked on the kitchen floor, I realized I wasn’t angry with myself.
I was angry at Rockstar.
Getting angry was the only way I had of not going through with killing myself that semester. So I started complaining to fellow students in my creative writing class before class would start, but no one told me to report Rockstar—reporting her was not even something that was on my (our?) radar! That is so embarrassing to admit, but reporting was a huge blind spot for me precisely because I was indoctrinated to accept abuse.
Never accept abuse.
I should’ve reported Rockstar. I just didn’t know where to go. In retrospect, I should have written a formal complaint to the chair of the department, used the same letter for the Dean of Students, and I would have forwarded it to Rockstar so she could know that I was reporting her abusive behavior. If I were the same person at 25 as I am at 33, I would have brought it up during class–even if it meant no one joined me in confronting how she was treating us, but just so they would know that someone was calling her on it and they weren’t alone.
Other things that happened in that class:
- Rockstar held the final class at her house,
- which meant the PowerPoint presentation I spent weeks making was useless (and I give really good presentations—no reading off slides nonsense) because
- the Other Student and I had to give our presentations in Rockstar’s cramped living room, and
- a large portion of the class was noticeably tipsy because the schedule transpired thusly: Other Student’s presentation, then dinner with wine, then me, so
- it was 9:30pm when I gave my presentation, and
- a large portion of the class was tipsy, so
- there was basically no discussion of my presentation.
The way the assignments were supposed to run was: you give your presentation, the following week you submit a 5-page paper on your topic, revised from class discussion, Rockstar provides feedback, you use these 5 pages for the basis of your final 25 page essay.
Since Other Student and I were giving our presentations on the last day of class, our 25-page papers due 5 days later, I made sure I handed my 5 pages over to Rockstar at her house.
During dinner I asked Other Student what she had planned to do, and Other Student informed me that Rockstar told her to turn in her 5 pages weeks ago so Rockstar could give her feedback ahead of time. Rockstar never made a similar arrangement with me.
After my presentation, I gave my 5 pages to Rockstar and she said she would email me comments. She emailed me the following two sentences on the day the 25 page paper was due:
The only thing I wanted to say about the five pages, which were well written and on the right track, is to push yourself a bit to think about the issues raised in the relevant readings. But over all, I thought you were off to a good start.
She gave me a B- for the class, which is the grad school equivalent of failing because anything lower than a B doesn’t count toward your course credits.
In the Amazon preview of Rockstar’s book, the one where she told me she was stealing my ideas to my face, I see a friend’s classroom contributions plagiarized as well.
So it wasn’t just me.
I should have reported her. Silence is not the ally I need. And rebellion should never be polite.
The following semester, I am happy to report, I got myself into therapy and it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I am convinced it’s why I’m still alive. If you come from a similar family culture where the phrase, “You need therapy!” turns the option into a pejorative, try to fight against your programming and get the help you need. And if you are ever abused, or witness the abuse of others, report it—even if you have to do it anonymously to feel safe. You and your classmates deserve to feel safe, and to survive and thrive.
That same semester, for the first two weeks of classes, I bounced around trying to find a critical class where I felt safe. Being on the creative track, as opposed to the critical track in my department, compounded my issues of being a fraud from that heinous fall semester—but I found a gender studies class taught by a wonderful professor who changed the way I thought, opened the door for what my dissertation would be about, and showed me the kind of professor I wanted to be.
Near the end of the spring, my professor mentioned in passing that she had a conversation with Rockstar about me. She didn’t go into the details of that conversation, only that it was surprising. When I checked my grades, I noticed Rockstar had changed my grade from a B- to a B.