Office Hours: Ravynn Stringfield
Ravynn Stringfield @RavynnKaMia
American Studies Ph.D. Student at College of William & Mary
What inspired you to attend grad school?
For me, it was a ‘who:’ my scholarship mentor, Andra Gillespie, knew I was going to grad school well before I accepted it myself. I would tell her my after graduation plans, and she would completely ignore me, instead explaining how much someone as intellectually curious as me would love pursuing advanced degrees. After several sessions, it finally stuck. Andra made me realize I had too many questions to leave school yet and because that I loved teaching, learning and writing, no career would be suit me better than one in the Academy.
Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?
Presenting at my first academic conference! I was one semester in, not even finished with my Masters, but I had just finished writing a paper on Black Panther, the comic character, and I wanted to talk to everyone about it. One of my favorite (and most intellectually demanding) professors from my undergraduate days was in the audience at my talk, recording the whole thing and taking pictures like a proud mom. Afterwards, she told me that my paper had been “awesome,” one of the highest pieces of praise anyone could get out of her. I’d never been so proud.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten while in grad school?
Take a break sometimes. You do have time to go see that movie, get your nails done, or take a nap. You’ll feel so much better after.
If you had to describe your Black Grad experience with one song, which one would it be, and why?
The hymn, “We’ve Come This Far by Faith” because LORD KNOWS I have only come this far by faith and God has not failed me yet.
What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?
Taking care of myself has been the hardest thing for me. I’m a type A, perfectionist by nature so it’s really hard for me to put down what I’m working on and do even basic things like grab dinner because I’ll tell myself I’ll do it after I’m finished. It’s super unhealthy, so what I do instead is try to plan out my day to include those self-care moments: I’ve conditioned myself to eat at the same time every day, for example. I won’t work at 7 because I know it’s dinner time. I try my best not to be hard on myself if I’m tired and need to rest: guilt-free resting is something I’m trying my best to work on these days.
What has this experience (pursuing a graduate degree) taught you about yourself?
Mostly that I’m more resilient than I could have ever imagined. I’ve learned that difficult though this may be, if I can do this, I can do anything.
If you could go back to the first day of grad school, what advice would you give to yourself? Why?
I would tell myself to stop looking down at the bricks while I walked to class. They all look the same; hold your head up and walk like you belong here. I would tell myself that because the first step to making a place for yourself somewhere is believing in yourself and believing that you deserve to take up just as much space as anyone else. You earned it.
How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?
Being a Black woman at a school who had a roughly 250 year history before the first Black students were allowed to enroll is incredibly difficult sometimes. I’m so aware that my school owned slaves for a longer time than it did not. I’m aware that just 50 years ago, I wouldn’t have been allowed to be here. It makes me want to do justice to those who made it possible for me to be where I am and also proud that I’ve defied odds. But as a first-generation doctoral student, I find myself tripped up by the Academy, particularly the language of it. It’s frustrating to no end but I remind myself that this language is only one construction of knowledge and that I can be innovative in how I articulate myself.
How do you intend to use your degree in the future?
I’m going to be a Professor English and/or American Studies. Hopefully tenure track. My goal is to produce the best research I can and be a credit to my field, but I already feel an intense obligation to be the best teacher I can be, and am looking forward to getting into the classroom. The classroom is where some of the most important work is being done. You get to help young people learn, you get to help them think critically for themselves, you get to motivate them to be the best version of themselves possible. I look forward to meeting all my future students; I know we’re going to have a good time together.
What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?
Know that it’s difficult. It can be isolating at times. You have to really want it and know where you want to go with it because it makes those rough days easier to bare. Get yourself a bomb support system, even if they aren’t at your school. My best support system is my friend in law school and the other who’s still in undergrad, both at my alma mater, but I don’t know where I would be without them. And most importantly, never let anyone tell you what you can’t do. If they do, let it motivate you to prove them wrong.
Feel free to reach out to Ravynn: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow on Twitter: @RavynnKaMia