Stolen Joy

CW: racism

I chaired a doctoral defense today, of a doctoral candidate who embodies Black excellence, did his study on Black student experiences in Linked Learning pathways, worked tirelessly & was the first in his cohort to defend. It should have been a day of unmitigated celebration and joy. This candidate was well-loved by the department, his cohort, his family and friends.  He was excited to share his work with his family, community and the college. 

However, about 30 minutes into the defense, we were Zoom bombed by someone who wrote a racial slur on the candidate’s presentation, then proceeded to screen share from porn sites before I removed him from the defense.

On this day, which should have been nothing but celebration, but was already complicated by being a virtual defense, my student and everyone in the room (which was 75% POC, w/ 2 WOC on the committee) had to experience this trauma. And it was incredibly traumatic.  Although it probably was less than a minute between the writing of the slur and the ejection of the perpetrator from the room, it’s like a screenshot of that moment is seared in my memory.

The candidate resumed the defense, finished with grace and professionalism. The committee acknowledged both what had happened and how, in spite of it, the candidate had risen above and contributed such important work to us all with grace and poise. We celebrated his success and introduced him as Dr. for the first time.  There was joy in the Zoom room.

Immediately after, I jumped on an urgent Zoom call to debrief the incident and protect our future doctoral students. During that meeting, 30 minutes after the defense, my student texted me that he just wanted to get revisions done so he could be done, in light of what had happened during the defense. Instead of celebrating tonight, he is hyper-focused on that interruption. We are all thinking about it.

Viscerally, I was shaking for an hour after the incident. I am now numb & angry, asking myself what I could have done to prevent the situation & knowing that what happened today is part of larger structural racism, hatred, cyberbullying, etc. But knowing these things intellectually doesn’t give this candidate back his defense. There is no going back to the moments before the interruption. Upholding and affirming him in the aftermath doesn’t take this trauma away. It doesn’t give him this moment back. And I’m so angry.

He doesn’t even get to walk the stage because COVID-19 has taken away that moment from him too, at least this spring (which is, of course the right thing, but doesn’t make things easier), so this is the culminating moment on his journey for now.  This.

For someone who lives a life grounded in humanizing pedagogies, who works tirelessly so that the work of scholars, students and teachers of color can be recognized, highlighted and affirmed, this is devastating.  As a woman of color, a chair, an ally, this is devastating.

I know we will move forward, that he will move forward, that I will move forward and continue to fight against the racism and ignorance behind this act, but it’s just so exhausting.  I am so tired.  It is such a tiring time.

And I just wanted him to have this moment of joyous celebration that he worked so ridiculously hard for.

6 thoughts on “Stolen Joy

  1. That is horrifying. How in the world did some random person get on your Zoom session?? I would have been so shaken and freaked out. Sending love and prayers to everyone who had to experience such hatred.

  2. I am so sorry. For both of you. Tragic, but as an academic and chair of a diversity task force at my own university, this highlights the importance of this work. These stories and experiences have to be told. God bless him for working to be a better educator.

  3. Ughh! I am speechless. I read this out loud to my hubby and we are just disgusted. Regardless of how the Zoom bomber got in, why? Just why? Racism is a cancer that seeks to kill joy and peace. But for this candidate, I say, “You are an overcomer. You are this country’s, this world’s, future. Be courageous and walk forward.” 💪🏼 And I say congratulations!

  4. Zoom has to improve the security of their product. This is uncalled for and wrong on every level. Hacking someone’s service is gutless and should be treated as a cyber and hate crime.

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