The Academic Hokey Pokey

My journey to launching Liberate Your Research began more than 20 years ago when I was a graduate student in cultural anthropology. I learned quickly that academia was not immune from the culture of individualist capitalist competition and racial and class violence.

I was recruited by a program seeking to “diversify” its graduate students, only to find myself marginalized in a sea of near total whiteness. White professors with the greatest status were imparting colonialist-racist research practices to their graduate students, however benign or unwitting. Institutionalized efforts to silence the critiques of social justice scholars — like policing our syllabi — taught me that academic freedom was more of a slogan than a reality.

In this setting, I internalized forms of race and gender oppression that led me to believe I could not think or write, that I was an imposter, and that I did not belong.

The “no-accountability” culture of academia also led me to believe it was all or nothing — that if I did not devote my entire life to the university, I would fail. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and felt horrible about my research and writing abilities.

To survive and thrive, I developed a strategy I call “the Academic Hokey Pokey.” By keeping one foot out of academia, I co-create my ideas out of embedded relationships with people, communities, and social movements outside of the university. This gives me joy and life while shielding me from the full blows of the academic industrial complex.

By creating solutions to oppression with the very people targeted by that oppression, I gain connection vs. isolation. Rather than sabotaging my career, keeping “one foot out the door” has saved my life.

Here are five lessons I have learned about the Academic Hokey Pokey:

(1) Where you live matters. In graduate school, I moved from a university town to the urban area where I grew up. My research and writing grew and glowed along with my accountability to the social movements I am committed to.

(2) Contribute to community organizations. I co-direct research projects with activists who have no academic affiliation while participating in their organizations. We co-create ideas together with the aim of furthering social movement goals.

(3) Use your gifts. I co-author with non-academics. By sharing our gifts with each other, we are stronger together, and better at what we do for that.

(4) Be accountable. I try to create healthy relationships with the communities impacted by my research by practicing community accountability in order to render the violence of the university unacceptable and hopefully, non-existent.

(5) Do not allow the university to solely determine the value of your ideas. There are alternatives. I spend my free time developing workshops to help people liberate their research and writing from constraining and oppressive systems.

In 2020, I launched Liberate Your Research to help researchers like myself overcome similar struggles in order to achieve writing prosperity and to live out our full destinies on this planet.

What can you do right now to liberate your research?

(1) Educate yourself on the academic industrial complex and alternative research methodologies such as participatory action research or community accountability. Here are my suggestions.

(2) Develop time management skills so that you can find the time and energy for the things and people you love and care about. Here are my suggestions.

(3) Practice Mindfulness to foster the kind of mental clarity needed for shielding yourself from anxiety and overwhelm and balancing academic toxicity and life outside. Here are my suggestions.

(4) Love yourself in order to be able to share your love and social justice work relationally. Here are my suggestions.

(5) Contact me to learn more about how my workshops can help you survive and thrive: [email protected]

Nadine Naber

Nadine Naber is professor of gender and women’s studies and global Asian studies, and interim director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author and/or co-editor of five books, including Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism (NYU Press, 2012) and Color of Violence (Duke University Press, 2016). She is a TEDx speaker, board member of the Arab American Action Network, co-founder of Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity, founder of Liberate Your Research, founder of the Arab American Cultural Center, and co-founder of the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program (University of Michigan). Nadine is a Public Voices fellow, columnist for the Chicago Reporter, recipient of the American Studies Association Carl Bode-Norman Holmes Pearson Lifetime Achievement Prize and the YWCA's Y-Women's Leadership Award.