The Benefits of Taking a GAship Outside of the English Department

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Advice / Lehigh Culture & Community / Literature & Social Justice

Co-written by Sarah Heidebrink-Bruno and Jimmy Hamill

People

Sarah Heidebrink-Bruno, Ph.D. Candidate, 2 years in the Center for Gender Equity

For me, one of the best parts of teaching before and after I had a GA position at the Center for Gender Equity was the fact that my experiences in the classroom and in a student center symbiotically benefited one another. For instance, being a teacher taught me how to manage my time, respond thoughtfully to students’ questions and concerns, and turn even adverse circumstances into a teachable moment–all skills that served me well during my two-year tenure at the CGE.

I valued the opportunity to work with students in a different educational space, where my role was more focused on guidance and support, rather than being seen as the sole authority figure. Rather than crafting a syllabus, facilitating discussions, and evaluating students’ work, I offered feedback on best research practices, social media outreach, and facilitation techniques to student staff members who organized campus programming and events. Because my work with students was less hierarchical than a typical classroom, I believe that I got to know them (and in turn, they got to know me) much better.

Although I had spent the better part of my educational career researching and writing about WGSS, working in the CGE allowed me to see feminist theory and praxis in action in a way that better informed my understanding of gender studies–which has further benefited my dissertation project now. Ultimately, my GA position taught me that I could find happiness and fulfillment in a career beyond the coveted tenure track position, hopefully working with students in a Student Affairs office or center.

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Jimmy Hamill, Ph.D. Student, 1 semester in the Pride Center

I’m only four weeks into my position as the Pride Center GA, but I must say I can already see so many personal and professional benefits emerging. First and foremost, the relationships and community I have developed through this position have been invaluable. I’m trusted by my director and associate director to redesign curricula for our student staff, represent the Pride Center at public events, and develop new programming. My staff trusts me to bring my expertise into this work, and I’m so grateful to be taken seriously. It’s also incredible to have a different relationship with students. Instead of being the authority figure in charge of a student’s grade, I’m now an advisor, mentor, and confidant to students, which allows for deeper conversations and relationships to form.

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On top of this, I see my work at the Pride Center as putting into practice the theories I’ve studied for a long time. In much of the programming I’ve worked on so far, I’ve used my knowledge of intersectional theories to help create more equitable and representative programming. This has ranged from conversations around Native American queer populations to highlighting Tarana Burke’s creation of the #metoo movement to discussing the ways that the Prison Industrial Complex disproportionately affects queer populations. I am now seeing the material stakes of making sure that a multitude of voices and perspectives be represented within our programming.

Ultimately, I recommend taking a GA position outside of our department because it takes us out of our comfort zones. It’s an opportunity to network, gain new skills, and to see how the theoretical work we do looks in concrete praxis. The GAship at the Pride Center is pushing me to consider the gaps and blind spots within my own scholarship and to reconsider how my intellectual work can become more equitable and inclusive. Also, having this new job allows me to consider other possibilities and career paths beyond the traditional academic route, and it’s thrilling to see new possibilities open before me.

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