Office Hours: Jayson Maurice Porter
Jayson Maurice Porter @roguechieftan
Latin American History Ph.D. Student at Northwestern University
M.A. in Latin American History from University of Oklahoma
B.A. in History and Philosophy Double Major and Environmental Studies Minor at Millsaps College
What inspired you to attend grad school?
Coming from a small liberal arts school for undergraduate, I knew that I wanted to work on environmental issues in Black and Latinx communities, but I was not confident that I knew enough about the subjects of which I was most passionate. I spent a lot of time as an undergraduate and between college and graduate school working for non-profits that left me feeling unsatisfied at best, and like “part of the problem” at worst. Before going back into that sector, I wanted to have a firmer grasp of past events and best practices.
Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?
I was sitting in Café Salvador in Santa María del Ribera in the heart of Mexico City. It was about 7:15 on January 30th, 2016, and, for whatever reason I had managed to stop checking my email every 30 seconds to walk to my daily coffee spot and order a lechero. I had only been in Mexico City a few weeks since deciding to leave my PhD program at the University of Oklahoma. I had just left that previous December with a Masters and little else. I was a metropolis on borrowed money and lofty dream that I would get into another school that could afford to pay me to live, and, dare I say, even research. But leaving Oklahoma was risky; I was broke, uncertain about my future, and really tired of both of those realities. So, there I was in Café Salvador with a lechero and desperate need to check my email. Naturally, I checked it again, and there it was—an email from Northwestern University. After an initial fear of opening the email, I did, and nothing’s been the same. Not only did I get into the school where the academic study of Afromexicanos began, but also I’d finally be able to pay my bills.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten while in grad school?
You don’t need new sources to contribute to the field of history. Your perspective matters, and what you have to say about old sources and old opinions could push the field further than anything.
If you had to describe your Black grad experience with one song, which one would it be, and why?
“Escriban mas canciones” by Jarabe de Palo, because this song begins with a man asking why women write so few songs, to which a woman responds with a powerful baritone voice through beautiful and historically relevant prose. The song speaks to me personally because women of color, and their stories, have supported me dearly throughout graduate school. This song also highlights the idea that when we, people of color, get a chance to write our songs, we do so with greatness and significance.
His verse begins in Spanish:
I always wanted to know
what was inside a woman,
that are hidden in them,
in her head, in her heart
that when they sing a song
they know how to do it
better than anyone else...
Her verse begins in Spanish:
Because we have,
and our memories,
countless secrets that I do not know
if you can understand it...
What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?
Having little to no money for food, much less research and or fun. In order to get “free” food and coffee, I baked bagels from 1:00 am to 7:00 am at the coffee place that I frequented most, while my roommate worked at grocery store where we then received discounts. It’s a hustle, y’all.
I’ve also had to deal with two difficult advisors. The first was too protective and the second is (currently) too distant. I’d be happy to talk to you about my trials and errors with both of them, but it’s that’ll be a long conversation.
What has this experience (pursuing a graduate degree) taught you about yourself?
I learned that I could read a lot and even like it. I never liked reading in school; from elementary school to college, I managed to get by reading only what I wanted to read. I’ve always only loved to learn; reading for reading’s sake wasn’t necessary for that. I did not grow up reading fiction; if I read for fun, it was about animals, their environments, or black history. Growing up, I eschewed the idea of law school, because I thought that I’d never be able to read 10 hours a day for three years, but, look at me, I have done just that and thrived. Writing, however, is a whole other story :)
If you could go back to the first day of grad school, what advice would you give to yourself? Why?
Start a Zotero account, and take notes there. As my own personal archive of over 3,000 searchable primary and secondary sources, my Zotero library has been my greatest resource in graduate school. I only wish that I had started it year one instead of year two.
How do you think your identities have informed your graduate experience?
I study Mexico, because as I black person, I feel strongly that genuine, reciprocal, and healthful Black and Brown relations can become a major foundation of various political futures in the US South. After living for six years in the Southwest (Tucson, AZ) before moving to the US South, I was struck by large Latinx communities in Atlanta, Charlotte, New Orleans, Memphis, and even Jackson, Mississippi, where I lived. In short, I study Mexico because I am black, and, if I have faith in anything, I have faith in all people of color taking more control of their narratives and spaces and doing so together.
How do you intend to use your degree in the future?
I plan to return to US South to first work in the community-relations side of academia, before jumping back into the world or participatory art, urban gardening, and community organizing. I’d love to start working at a HBCU, where I could teach Latin American, Environmental, and Intellectual history, and help run the school’s Community-Engaged-Learning centers, like I did in Jackson, Mississippi.
What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?
You do not need a PhD to take this path, but if you think that the process will be meaningful and will ultimately help you do better social work, than consider graduate studies, stop, and consider doing them again. Repeat this every day, especially if you actually do decide to go to graduate school. If you do start graduate school, you can always stop, and it won’t be an abject failure.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me. If I cannot answer your questions, I might know someone who can. In any case, I’d be happy to hear about your goals!
Feel free to reach out to Jayson: email@example.com
Follow on Instagram: @roguechieftan