Office Hours: Harrison Graves


Harrison Graves @harrisongraves

English Ph.D. Student at Northwestern University

M.A. in English from University of Delaware

B.A. in English from University of Maryland, College Park


What inspired you to attend grad school?

After taking introductory courses in African American literature with trusted mentors at the University of Maryland College Park, I realized that I was much more engaged in my humanities work as opposed to STEM. At the time, experiencing the tensions firsthand in areas such as Baltimore and on campus in addition to the growing tensions nationally, I felt compelled to further interrogate systems of power through the writings of those that preceded me. The work gave me access to myself and the world around me in ways that previously felt confusing, disorienting, and nebulous. My academic experiences with positive mentors and great energy in the DMV area inspired me to continue the exploration and exchange of ideas within a Black tradition.


Tell me about your proudest grad school moment. Why was it special for you?

I am still early in the process, so getting through my first year of my Ph.D program fully intact. I realized that my tolerance and threshold for new challenges exceeded my expectations.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten while in grad school?

When it comes to successfully building relationships, always remember to avoid taking things personally—especially when you are signing up to be a part of a long professional journey that does not provide a lot of positive reinforcement or consistent affirmation.


If you had to describe your Black grad experience with one song, which one would it be, and why?

Dave East — "Paranoia"

As a Black scholar, I felt that I have constantly questioned my sense of belonging and the point of my work, which caused me to grapple with my mental and emotional health. Particularly, in my initial graduate school experiences, I could not shake the looming feeling of surveillance and pressure to perform a certain identity, all the while feeling intellectually isolated. This experience culminate in a paralysis that affected my work and performance. I became paranoid about the moment of disruption that would undo or undermine all of the work that did to get to where I was. This song allowed me to utilize that energy and looming feeling to fuel my work until I did not need it anymore. It still captured a lot of the early energy though, so I still listen to it to remind me where I was.


What has been your biggest obstacle in grad school? What strategies have you used to try to overcome it?

Early on in my process, I had to navigate hostile entities within the department that actively attempted to undermine my work. Sticking closely to my faculty allies, while keeping a level head allowed me to navigate the situation with relative grace. A good poker face can always help as well...


If you could go back to the first day of grad school, what advice would you give to yourself? Why?

As cliche as it may sound, I would tell myself to trust my own intellectual process and growth. I was so anxious about finding a project that I would be able to hit the ground running with. I realized, in retrospect, that I burdened myself with too much, too early, and that is always a recipe to burn out.


How do you intend to use your degree in the future?

I intend to become a tenured-track professor at a R1 university to conduct academic research and to further mentor the next generation scholars.


What’s something that you would tell someone who is interested in pursuing a similar path?

First, I would avoid passing along any of my own baggage from my own personal journey, but I would candidly express the specific challenges that may come with being a Black scholar — delayed gratification, intellectual isolation, apprehension, and mental and emotional fatigue. All that being said, our work deeply matters to our community—we must find the value and fulfillment in the work in order to endure/ignore the many external pressures that may come our way. Like many other fields, the issues are unavoidable, and ultimately, we have to be ourselves and pursue the path that sustains us.


Feel free to reach out to Harrison:

You can find him on Instagram: @harrisongraves