(Season finale) This was supposed to be a light episode. It’s hot, it’s been a long year of COVID and we all need a break. But it seems as though we’re never given a chance to just be. From the fatal Islamaphobic attacks against a family in London, Ontario to the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at Canada’s residential schools to the anti-Asian shootings in Atlanta to police brutality against the Black community – white supremacy never lets up, does it? How can we keep working as though all is normal when we keep feeling like we’re constantly under attack? In this episode, we talk with Dr. Shaista Patel, Assistant Professor of Critical Muslim Studies at UC San Diego, and Krittika Ghosh, Executive Director of the Asian/Pacific Islander (A/PI) Domestic Violence Resource Project about searching for joy amidst trauma, the importance of celebrating friendship and communites of care, and the generative possiblities of #TrashyProfSummer.
Ethel Tungohan 0:00
Oh my god. Krittika, why are you taking notes? I feel like…this is a casual conversation.
Krittika Ghosh 0:05
No, no. How do you know…
Ethel Tungohan 0:07
Because you showed us your yellow pad.
Krittika Ghosh 0:14
I can’t focus unless I write down things. Like, my brain…I couldn’t remember Winners, okay? Like you want me to be like my joy comes from flowers… [Laughing]
Ethel Tungohan 0:30
I’m Dr. Ethel Tungohan, an assistant professor of politics at York University. This is Academic Aunties.
I wanted this episode to be a light summer episode. It is hot. It has been a long year.
And it has been incredibly stressful. So I just wanted to film an episode where I chilled with my best friends and we talked about fun things. I was thinking, hmm, maybe we talk about what to wear at conferences post-COVID. ie, can you make yoga pants rather than ugly polyester suits the norm for conference wear? How about an episode talking about why indulging in guilty pleasures, like watching The Bachelor or Younger is important if we want to keep going in this line of work.
But then, a few days before we were set to record our podcast, the Islamophobic attack in London, Ontario, that saw a white supremacist man kill a Muslim family out on their daily log happened.
This was just a week after the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 indigenous children at the site of a residential school in British Columbia. And as we were editing this podcast 751 more unmarked graves of Indigenous children were discovered in Saskatchewan. And we know there will be more.
For many of us, these events hit viscerally, painfully. They aren’t just news events that you can read about in the morning, after which you can go about your day. When I heard about the London attacks, I was in the middle of a virtual academic conference. I opted out of the next panel because how the heck can I sit there talking about whatever it is that academics talk about when this white supremacist Islamophobic attack just happened.
As I was processing everything, it hit me. Academia has been so draining to me lately, because it seems as though we’re not given the chance to just breathe and just be.
Academia venerates being quick and reactive. The Islamophobic attack in London happens, the discovery of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children gets disseminated. And then the very next day, new calls for papers, and not by members of these communities, are circulated. They who act quickly and who gets the first publication out of this traumatic event are the ultimate winners, didn’t you know?
Also, the next day after being vicariously traumatized by these tragedies, we open our inboxes and requests flood us to do, sometimes uncompensated, labor, educating the public, mostly white folks, let’s be clear, on Islamophobia, anti-Indigeneity, and settler colonialism, you name it. And though many of us feel obligated to say yes and work through the pain, how might always constantly being reactive, and always trying to do the right thing affect us in the long term?
Ethel Tungohan 3:35
These questions and many more animated my conversation with my best friends, Dr. Shaista Patel and Krittika Ghosh. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Krittika Ghosh 3:45
So, hi everyone. I am Krittika, Krittika Auntie. I’m Ethel’s friend for about almost two decades now. And I work at the Asian Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project, a small, culturally specific, gender based violence agency based in Washington DC. And in my spare time, I just chill and watch Netflix but not in the same manner as it’s known to be.
I am an immigrant, both to the US and when I lived in Canada as an immigrant there. I’m also a queer, queer South Asian woman, a femme and I am so thankful and grateful for having amazing friends like Ethel and Shaista and sharing the space with you both today.
Ethel Tungohan 4:36
Thank you so much Auntie Krittika, and I think it’s funny…like I love your intro because I remember we first met each other when we were doing our Masters in England. And that’s like one of my most defining moments because I don’t know if you remember this, but it was so awkward. Imagine this, right, like a roomful of like maybe 15 new Master’s students and we all had to do intros. I was third, I think, to do the introduction. Um, and I was like, you know, coming from undergrad didn’t really know that there were different ways to introduce yourself in academia. And so I kind of was just like, “Hi, my name’s Ethel. I love Harry Potter.”
Ethel Tungohan 5:22
Krittika Ghosh 5:23
No, you were so honest. You know, you were probably one of the youngest folks in the program. And you felt like, you know, these are spheres where everybody’s trying to kind of one up themselves, oh, I’ve been doing like, you know, work in these most remote parts of the world. And I’m, like, so good and so great. And you’re just being true to yourself, you know, and that’s what I love about you. And both actually, because you do amazing work we all do. But we are not just defined by that. And even within that we have vulnerabilities that we share with each other. So it’s not just like, Oh, I’m all that and it’s okay to be all that as well. But I think that you have that vulnerability, and you were sharing your true essence of yourself.
Ethel Tungohan 6:02
Awesome. Thank you so much. And also honestly, like, you’re so kind, but when I remember that I’m just like, I felt like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde.
Auntie Shaista, do you want to introduce herself?
Shaista Patel 6:13o did he…he was hot back in:
Krittika Ghosh 7:38
I also just want to say that that was like such a lovely memory to share. And you know, for me, you know, when I think about like, eternal love stories, and I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently, my love stories are with you both and my closest friends, you know, because they have lasted longer than so many relationships in my life.
Ethel Tungohan 7:58
That’s so beautiful. And I can see the slow motion walk. Because for people listening, like Krittika has a very, like elegant stride. Do you know what I mean? Like she just kind of glides, and she’s super fashionable. So we’ve known each other for almost 20 years, which is scary, and I feel old all of a sudden. But I think, I don’t know, I mean, if we can say this, like we’re we’re nearing the point where we can no longer call ourselves like, you know, young professionals, I feel like, I feel like we’re like seasoned…seasoned professionals…
Krittika Ghosh 8:33
Mid career, mid career.
Ethel Tungohan 8:38
So there was a tweet that went viral last night that got everyone really upset. Well, it got me upset, where someone was like, for those of you in your 20s, if you want to get ahead in your career, you need to work nights and weekends. And as someone who is, you know, on the cusp of 40? I’m like, “No…no.” Are there pieces of advice that you would give yourself at the age of 25 from the standpoint of someone a decade, or more later?
Krittika Ghosh 9:08
I did put in a lot of work on nights and nights and weekends in my 20s. And even my 30s, I would say, until I reached a point where I physically can’t do it anymore. Or if I do then I have to take time off during the week. But I think it comes from this whole notion of having to be on the get go constantly. And that is what shows all look at how we’re getting like a amazing person that they are they’re working 80 hour weeks. And that’s like ridiculous. No, nobody should have to do that. You know. And also, there’s this conception of folks who are on partnered or without kids that apparently we have all the time in the world to do this. And which is ridiculous, too, because a lot of labor goes to younger folks for that reason, this assumption of that they have that time. And for those of us who are older and you know, still, you know, I choose to not have a partner or have kids, that labor should not come on to us, you know.
Also I think there’s this notion of having to constantly be on the grind. You know, that’s the word, the grind. You know, I think that that’s ridiculous. We have to recognize boundaries. And sometimes I’m guilty of that sometimes myself of expecting others to put in as much time as I do, or put myself putting so much time into things. But then after telling myself, you know, there’s only so much I’m capable of doing, and I can’t do any more, and it’s okay. But when I was younger, I would probably like, kind of like, tell myself, Oh, my god, I didn’t do this or that. And I’m like, you know, I have my to do list of 10. I’ve done three. And that’s good enough, because I did those well.Shaista Patel:
You know, I will say this, that at 25 I did not know how to be okay with myself in my body. Just where my life was headed. And, you know, I think this question is also about, for those of us, for example, who are first generation, I think, I think this was more difficult for, you know, for me, as somebody who does not come with that sort of, you know, that sort of backing. And first gen in university, I was at UBC, doing my masters at 25. I was coming from a degree in computer science, I did not know where I was headed. So I think there was always this thing that I have so much to catch up on, right? Whether it was in terms of readings theorists whose names I couldn’t pronounce at that time, or just just seeing, you know, younger people younger than me talk so confidently. But you know, now I know that I came in with so many stories, and so many knowledges. And you know that I should have been okay. And I think these are things that you learn along the way, right? Like you have to have, I had to have a distance of 10, 15 years from being 25 to then realize that I, I could have slowed down and that I was okay.Ethel Tungohan:
And I think that’s something we could listen to as well, right? To calm down. It’ll be okay. Because I think one thing that’s hard in our professional worlds is, you can never satisfy the beast. So it sounds as though we’re all really burnt out. We’re all recognising the importance of boundaries. Are you happy with your work? Where do we find joy in our work?All:
[Laughter] SilenceShaista Patel:
I just took a deep sigh, we actually wrapped up our quarter because we are on a quarter system in California. Well, at least at UCSD. And so we basically teach for 21 weeks beginning January. So we just wrapped up the quarter. I’m exhausted. You know, Ethel, when you asked to talk about joy, honestly, I took out my notebook. And I was like, I’m going to write down some points so that I don’t forget, right, like in a sense that it doesn’t come naturally, because we are so exhausted and so burnt out. And just have so many power struggles, ongoing struggles, whether it’s in the department, it’s in the university, it’s with our colleagues outside. This is…I really want us to spend some time thinking about, you know, joy versus happiness.Ethel Tungohan:
Well, I don’t actually know the difference. What is joy? And what is happiness?Shaista Patel:
You know, so I’ll give an example right now is this…in San Diego at our mosque there is this old woman who you know, just the way she’s dressed like impeccably dressed all the time at the mosque where I often get into an Uber and check my shoes to make sure they are the same color. And even if they’re different, I’m like, they’re both black. It’s fine. Okay. But anyway, so you’re actually just, I think it takes that, you know, that sort of like, investment in oneself, I think that comes from some sense of like, you know, you are precious and and you need to show that effort. So I really appreciate her but she’s always happy. She’s so old. You know, she, she walks with a walker. And I just look at her and, you know, and she really loves me. And she sings me songs, because, you know, she speaks this other language and can speak Hindi a little bit. So she, she thinks that she needs to sing songs to me at the mosque. And, you know, but my brother came to visit us and visit me and I, you know, I introduced him to her and like she sang a song for him to write, but both my brother and my mom came and before when we were driving back, we were just like, you know, this woman has so much joy in her heart. You know, I’m sure she has struggles in her life, like she’s in her 80s or maybe early 90s. But she just has it and I think joy is such a blessing. So I think joy is something in your heart. Happiness, you know, can shift based on your conditions, but I think it’s just such a blessing that I’m trying to find.Ethel Tungohan:
Yeah, no, I really like that because it’s about…it’s less about the transient. When you’re happy…I’m happy when I get like a mango cake. Right? I’m happy when I watch a really good show on Netflix. But joy I think is something that comes just from being contented. But the funny thing is, you know, in asking that question, I think I was thinking about, is there joy in our work?Krittika Ghosh:
I think that’s a hard question. I think that, okay, so for me, when you think of happiness and joy, I can think of moments, right. But I want to be so that it’s like, continuous, you know, that it shouldn’t just be like, you know, in my one month here is the three times that I felt like really joyous or happy because of this and this, right? How can we sustain that, you know, in ourselves, because otherwise, that’s why we’re all getting burnt out is because it’s like, they’re fleeting moments where we experience it, or otherwise, how can we continue doing what we do? But how is it that we can find it in our daily lives instead of like, just like once in a blue moon, you know?Shaista Patel:
You know, there’s a question that I want to pose to the readers. Sorry, to the listeners, there’s a question I want to pose to the listeners. Can joy be practiced, you know, is joy a practice. And I remember from my job talk, for this job at UCSD, I talked about, you know, some of my ancestors, I talked about Dalit Muslims, I talked about violence, you know, my work is about a lot of violence, right? And figuring out ways of writing about it, so that you know, it one, the violence becomes legible without, you know, without continuing the humiliation of my ancestors, for example. So it’s, you know, it’s really it’s difficult job. And after my job talk, I remember, I think it was a graduate student who asked me, How do you find joy in your work? And my answer at that point, this is like a few years ago, maybe three years ago, my answer at that point was well, I mean look at what the people whose lives I’m talking about went through, right. So I, I said, I have to find joy out of this sense of complicity, out of this sense of privilege. But I’m no longer satisfied with that answer. Because it’s, you know, my ancestors did not go through what they went through for for over two millennia, so that I can be sad.Ethel Tungohan:
I think what you said Shasta resonated deeply with me when you think about, you know what you said, your ancestors didn’t suffer this much for you not to feel joy, right? I think that resonates deeply with me as well. So can joy be practice? It’s hard, right? Because I feel that the world keeps encroaching in our sacred spaces, right? I want joy to be part of my daily practice. But you can’t negate the structural. You can’t negate as we saw last week, the Islamophobic, for gods sake, right? You can’t negate white supremacy, because it keeps coming into our lives, no matter the boundaries that we try to form. So how, how do you go on? It’s been a hard week, I freaking wanted to have a podcast talking about the new Bachelorette. Right? I wanted to talk about like, reality TV, and you know, #HotProfSummer, right? Like, but then the world doesn’t let us take a break.Krittika Ghosh:
I also find that labor often comes to us, right comes to BIPOC folks to constantly have to say, Why are you saying..you know, this whole notion of like, this is not the US, this is not Canada, you know, especially Canada because it has that, you know, idea of like diversity, inclusion, all welcoming, encompassing, and all of that. And all of the things that are happening right now seem to be made as an anomaly. And we know that it’s not, you know, so but that explanation of the history of what’s happening and blah, blah, all that comes to folks of, you know, who are, you know, often most marginalized background who are being impacted by this violence, you know, so that’s just, that’s another way of being totally exhausted, you know, so, and that’s how I felt, you know, after the Atlanta attacks here, because then it became all like, Oh, my God, like, you know, Asian women are being, you know, attacked and being abused. But that’s like, the whole history of it. It’s like, been there for hundreds of years since the beginning of this country, you know, and every time I speak, I speak about that, and it’s like, I should just record it and play it, you know, it’s, but it’s like, you know, it’s like it’s not going into people’s heads at all. I don’t know. But I’m just saying that that’s another thing that just exhausts me.Ethel Tungohan:
Absolutely. And can we circle back to what I think Auntie Shaista and I were talking about offline. So you had mentioned that things happen in the world, then all of a sudden these people in academia come up with a call for papers, right? Like the next day. What is it about our field that lead to vultures circling around tragedy? Do you know the answer? Because I’m just like, dude, like, really?Krittika Ghosh:
I think it makes people feel better about themselves. So they’re saying we’re doing something in some way, not the people who are being asked to speak, but like who are, for example, in the nonprofit sector, sometimes you can get like, you’d be like, oh, we’re funding anti-Asian violence related work, but really not thinking about the sustainability or anything about that and, you know, or it’s about, like, Hey, come on a panel and speak, you know, that for me, you know, or can you write an oped and, you know, but this notion of like, Look, we’re trying to help you highlight what’s happening in your community, but without really looking at it from the systemic angle of things.Shaista Patel:remember this March or April:Ethel Tungohan:
I think when the organizing work is coming from people within the community. I’m more okay with it. Right? Like, it’s like, okay, like, you need to mobilize you need to have the vigil you need to, you need to talk about this. Fantastic, right? It’s, it’s a way to show community care. But I do side eye people who aren’t part of the community who see this as an opportunity to have a call for papers to have another publication and a part of me is like, Can you let us breathe? So the people who send you the emails, it’s like, okay, but like, it just happened, right? Can’t you just give her space? To just process and just be. And yeah, that’s…it’s just hard and that’s…and how do you say no, and how do you say no graciously or do you say no graciously or do you just like not respond?Shaista Patel:
I just want to say this right? And this is a question that we don’t really need to engage with, but I just want to leave it you know, just just just to say it and then and then we can move on is this thing that you know, instead of seeing this what is happening is an apocalypse, which many you know, I’ve heard especially white folks call it an apocalypse. And but but you know, sort of seeing it as apocalypse Can we see it as a transformation of some kind? And does that, you know, is that is that sort of a pedagogy of practicing joy? Right That’s a question I am really thinking too because I mean, we have always right like our heterogeneous we’ve always lifed with with violence. We’ve lived with genocides, we’ve lived with murders, we’ve lived with refugeehood, we’ve lived with colonial borders, despite them right and we’ve still managed to make babies, have lots of sex, be happy. And it’s important, right that that, that this is not an apocalypse.Ethel Tungohan:
Auntie Shasta, speaking about kind of carving out spaces of respite, and fun and joy amidst all of these exhausting demands on our time, you told me that you recently paid 179 US dollars to learn Turkish with Rosetta Stone, why? Why are you learning Turkish? I mean, that’s really cool. But just out of curiosity, like is this for a project?Shaista Patel:
[Laughing] Sorry, I need to stop laughing before I can respond to that. I think my hormones make me do a lot of work. And the best work that I do is credited to my hormones, which might be you know, which are waning and going all wonky because of my age and I think this might be my last, you know, pre menopausal, menopausal crush. And I’m absolutely in love with this Turkish soap star who, I hope is not super young, or…but whatever. You know, I cannot pronounce his name. But it’s not important because I objectify him. Right? [Laughter] So for me, I think his first name is Halil…you I don’t know how to say it though. Anyway, so I, you know, I’m really frustrated because there are like, 200 episodes of that show. And only 130 has been translated. And I even gave money to the site, you know, because they were like, if you give us money, we can continue this work. I you know, I donated like, $50…Ethel Tungohan:
What? Are you serious? That’s a lot of money!Shaista Patel:
Anyways, this was six months ago, and they still weren’t translating anything. And so anyways, and so then I decided I’m going to pay Rosetta Stone $179. It’s, it’s not a bad deal, because it’s unlimited languages for a lifetime. And I decided I’m gonna take matters into my own hands and learn Turkish.Ethel Tungohan:
Honestly, the pictures that you’ve sent, I’m just like, okay, okay, he’s not 25 right? Like he’s older? ‘Cause it would it would be creepy….Shaista Patel:
No, no, he’s 35.Ethel Tungohan:
Okay, good. I’m like, you don’t want to be you, know like, you know, baby cougars? You know what I mean? Like being like, not that…okay, like…we do not judge. But like, anyway, whatever. I can’t judge you anyway, ’cause I love Prince Harry. So I mean, I still do. I do.Shaista Patel:
Oh my god, can I also say, Ethel [laughter]…yeah, I was just thinking of you because like in my, in my you know, as soon as I turn on my YouTube page, like there’s this video, I don’t know why it comes up, I swear. But there’s this video…oh because like, you know, they spy on Facebook, and we talk about Prince Harry a lot on Facebook. But there’s this video of this toddler stealing popcorn from Prince Harry and that keeps coming up and I keep meaning to send it to you because I’m like Ethel needs to watch this.Ethel Tungohan:
Okay, then, you need to send it and I need to watch it. And I’m so excited. I’m like breathless right now. Really? Does he react really cutely ? Is he like, no.Shaista Patel:
I mean, this is a person who grew up on stealing money from us, so he wasn’t very happy with the toddler stealing popcorn. I don’t know. Yeah, he could have been nicer.Ethel Tungohan:
He said enlightened prince! I mean, he is going to bring down the monarchy. Right? Like this is an anti-colonial Prince, who is probably reading Said. [Laughter] This is my hormones talking. Has Prince Harry has ever read Said? I don’t know. I like to think he is.Shaista Patel:
Well, I think he calls Said, “said”.Krittika Ghosh:
Or Megan is like giving him the abbreviated version. You know what I’m sure she has read Said.Shaista Patel:
I probably do not think she she has but anyways but that’s that’s going to get into a whole other…Krittika Ghosh:
I have the crush on Megan and Ethal has the crush on Harry so i mean I think that she’s amazing.Ethel Tungohan:
Why do you like her? Is it her style?Shaista Patel:
You two are such perfect stalkers. No, I just want to I just want to say that I want to popularize you know what you said? I thought it was hot, hot, hot summer prof. I just want to popularize this idea of trashy profs. That’s who I am. And I’m so okay with that at my age that I’m just trashy and superficial, and, yeah…Ethel Tungohan:
But like you’re not…like, yeah, no, you’re okay. Hashtag trashy super official prof, but you’re not like I mean, you’re not superficial. You are one of the most profound thinkers and writers that I know. But like, let’s stop with the posturing. Okay, this is what I hate about our respective worlds. It’s like you…I mean, sometimes I’m just like, dude, like, just admit that you don’t listen to like, you know, classical music. Just admit that you like reality TV. It’s fine, right? No one’s gonna think ill of you, right like, stop. I just think people would just be better off if they stopped posturing. And so #TrashyProfSummer. We’re going to make that trend. We’re going to make that happen. I love it. But thank you both so much, Auntie Krittikia. Auntie Shaista. This has been a fun conversation. It’s been a pleasure.
In hindsight, it was actually great that we had Auntie Shaista and Auntie Krittkia, my best friends in the whole wide world for this podcast conversation. It was good for us to check in. I know our emotions were feeling really raw that day. We also managed amid our anxieties to discuss joy. And for me, even though it has been a hard year, having a community of care surround me, bear witness with me and laugh with me has kept me going. So this podcast episode is as much about giving academic auntie advice, as it is about celebrating the joy of friendship.
And that’s Academic Aunties for this season. Yes, in the spirit of #TrashyProfSummer, which for me is about reclaiming joy, we are taking a summer break. Let’s use the summer to pivot and remember what it feels like to prioritize ourselves. Let’s normalize setting an away message for our work emails to get away from the constant demands on our time. For me, my plan is to read summer novels, go swimming and go on adventures with my family. In Toronto, where I am, things are slowly reopening. So I also want to use this summer to connect with friends I haven’t seen in more than a year. Workwise, I am also using the time to remember what it is that I like about my work, and saying no to projects and other commitments that no longer work for me. For an immigrant kid, deliberately stepping back from the hustle feels strange. But it’s important for me to do this.
But before we go, I want to thank all of you for listening and for all the kind words you’ve sent us. The amazing reviews you’ve been leaving on Apple Podcasts and spreading the word to those who could use some auntie wisdom. Many of you have talked to me about how this podcast has helped you feel less alone in academia. And that’s really the best compliment I could ever get. So thank you for sticking with me for these first four episodes of this labor of love. I’ve had a really, really hard year. But for me, this podcast was cathartic and knowing how much it resonated with all of you made me, well, happy and I was really touched. While we’re on break, make sure that you follow or subscribe to the podcast wherever you’re listening. We might drop a bonus episode or two for quick advice-giving segments called Ask an Academic Auntie since a few of you have messaged for advice. We’ll see. And while you’re there, make sure to rate and review the podcast if you haven’t already. If you want to get in touch with us and read show notes and transcripts for this and other episodes, visit academicaunties.com and follow us on Twitter at @AcademicAuntie. As I said we love hearing from you. Today’s episode of Academic Aunties was hosted by me Dr. Ethel Tungohan and produced by myself and Wayne Chu. Tune in next fall for new episodes of this podcast. Until then, take care, be kind to yourself, and don’t be an asshole.