Stop Giving Your Power Away

Academic oppression is breaking us.

Nearly every social justice-based scholar I know goes through it—especially junior BIPOC scholars.

Despite our expertise, many of us question the very worth of our scholarship within the university.

The university’s competitive, capitalist structures lead us to believe that we are never enough.

Writing under the scrutiny of evaluations, gatekeeping, and promotions, we become consumed by anxious thoughts about what our imagined audience will think about our writing. 

We become trapped in a battle between what we want to put out into the world and our extra-critical interpretation of what others will think about our scholarship.

Wouldn’t it be liberating to write in a space of greater harmony with yourself? 

I find harmony by writing for myself…first before writing for others. 

Here’s how I do it. 


I write out my research topic (i.e. decolonial climate justice; Arab feminist anti-imperialism; representations of indigenous resistance, etc.).


I write what I stand for in relation to my topic. I start with prompts like:

“I stand for…. ” or “I believe…”

For example,:

“If we really want to end climate injustice, we really need to do X, Y, and Z” 


“If we really want to understand climate injustice, we really need to address it using X approach.”


I write more and more until I arrive at what I call an “I Believe” statement about my research. 

I answer questions like:

What do I hope will come out of my project?

How do I think this issue can be resolved or analyzed?

When I first tried this in relation to my research on prisons and militarism, I wrote new sentences everyday. My friend and I shared ours with each other for several weeks until each of us landed upon an “I Believe” statement of our own. Here is mine:

“I believe that if we really want more and more people to be free, we need to address the prison and military industrial complexes relationally and coalitionally.”

By writing for myself first, in conversation with a trusted friend, I affirmed what mattered to me without getting caught up in whether someone else had said this before, whether my idea was worthy, or how my ideas would be received. 

Writing for myself first allows me to:

  • be guided by the well of resources I already have within me 
  • take my individual/collective power back
  • mold and sculpt my ideas on my own terms
  • get up to speed with what I already know
  • strengthen my relationship with myself so that I can be better equipped to write for others.

Once I integrated this activity into my Liberate Your Research workshops, I learned that indeed, many of us will continue to struggle to clarify what we want to contribute to this world. Yet there is power in collectively noticing, claiming, and defending the radical possibilities of our inner power, our scholarship, and the university.

To do so, we need to stop giving our power away and intentionally reground ourselves towards what we believe, what we stand for, and why we do what we do.


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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *