Managing Emotional Space in Academia

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Though this could certainly appear to be a philosophical question, I am personally more concerned about it in regards to emotional intelligence and interpersonal relationships. How do I advocate for myself or express frustration towards cultural norms that ignore my existence while still recognizing the relative ubiquity of cis-centrism? I usually feel too guilty to voice my frustration when a person of more intimate status makes an invalidating mistake that I would have likely moved on from had it been a bystander acting more egregiously. My proverbial bicycle wheels spin in place and I’m left in a passive posture.

In order to grapple with this tension, I usually communicate in either artistic and academic spheres. Somehow I believe I can represent my thoughts and ideas without them necessarily being directly associated if I were to simply state “blank is my opinion.” Yet, this sort of ventriloquizing can at times feel like a roundabout and counterproductive means of discourse. The term “ace” refers to a person who identifies within the, admittedly large, spectrum of asexuality, whereas allosexuality with refer to the opposite. The phrase ace-alienation refers to the often isolating feeling that comes around discussions of allocentric sexuality. This is a feeling I have become all too accustomed to, where even though there may be few egregious slurs directed at asexuality, sex and sexual relationships are regularly described as the central type of transformative experience. Though no-one necessarily intends harm, I still am constantly reminded of the onerous concept of asexuality as not real and a “mental health disorder.” Given these societal norms, I am worried about the denial of my existence. And even if my identity is respected, I don’t want to be pigeonholed into a spokesperson role.

I’m often left talking on behalf, but certainly not in place, of other, potentially parallel, concerns from groups in which I am not a direct concern. This often runs the risk of misrepresenting or taking up unnecessary amounts of space. For example, though it’s often good to unpack what people say, having an extensive discussion about a micro-aggression while both parties are present can be a spotlighting and alienating experience. But no one speaking to a micro aggression, can cause a feeling of betrayal. It becomes something like a state of flux, where it’s difficult to really know the best course of action–a state of unproductive retroactive passivity.

Suffice it to say, balancing appropriate self-awareness and assertion often remains a daunting task, but it shouldn’t become a shield for apathy or self-silencing. Making space and taking space are not mutually exclusive or in a zero sum game. The way I go about sharing my experiences and thoughts can build confidence in others to do the same, and vice-versa.

The concern I posed at the beginning may have been a tad disingenuous. Long term emotional well-being has less to do with holding individuals culpable or not in my own insular circle, and more to do with constructing positive space built upon a mix of healthy supportive behavior and honest criticism (which, again, are not actually mutually exclusive).

For the sake of not just moving goal posts, I’d like to offer some suggestions. Though it is often difficult to know the precise inner workings of college systems, and the consequences of any specific action, voicing frustration to administrative forces is almost always preferable to silence. Similarly, when receiving criticism along lines of our own privilege, we ought not get overly defensive and expect eloquent explanations. Though college is an academic space, parsing emotions and intellectual coherence tends to preference the ideas of people who have less emotional energy tied up in cultural pressures.

 

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