The Polaroid Project: Session 4

#4: Elizabeth Rogers

By: Madison Hall

Elizabeth Rogers is originally from southern California and majored in political science and African American studies with a minor in sociology, and is currently doing UA’s masters program in women and gender studies. Elizabeth is also a teacher of women’s studies and African American studies. She was incredibly pro-active on Alabama’s campus as a student, but now that she teachers, most of her activism takes place in the classroom.


Q: What inspired you to be a professor in African American Studies?

This is actually a really funny story. So when me and my brother were in middle school, my mom actually changed careers. I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time, but my mom was one of the first black women to graduate from IU’s chemistry department with a degree in the 80’s. She realized that wasn’t her passion, so she went back to school, which was a rough couple of years. Since then, she’s achieved her masters and is working on her doctorate now. She teaches middle schoolers and absolutely adores it.

It took my dad ten years to finish his degree, because of his responsibilities in the military, but now he’s also working on getting higher education to become a teacher for cybersecurity and leadership.

Then when my brother finally went to school, he decided he was going to be a teacher too.

So, obviously, I told myself, there is no way. I am NOT going to be a teacher. But of course, you know, once I started getting into my studies I realized that these books were helping me articulate my life. They made me feel like I wasn’t crazy. It inspired me to do the same for other people. I wanted to find something where I could blend my passion for books with helping people and talking with people, and teaching really is the best platform for that. Teaching is challenging, frustrating, yet one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.

Q: How do you balance being a teacher with your simultaneous duties as a student?

Yeah, how do I balance that, honestly? HA. Well, uh. Hm.

So the first year that I taught was really, really hard.

As a teacher you’re always thinking about what you could have said, you know you’re just constantly questioning yourself. That’s just a lot of emotional energy. I first started teaching during the election and the climate was really tense. Then after the election, I taught women’s studies and that was also really rough. I had five white guys look at me the first day, and walk straight out of the room and drop the class the next day.

It’s not just the politics of what I’m teaching. It’s that these messages are coming from my body, which I’m conscious of and constantly having to navigate through. How am I going to say this? If I say this as a black woman how is it going to be perceived? To some people, I’m automatically seen as discreditable. Some students have never even had a black woman as a teacher before until they get me. It was really hard to find a balance with my school work and dealing with all of that emotional trauma that first year.

So to cope, I’ve learned to just accept that I’m never going to have everything in my life together. It took me a while to find a balance. Now I’ve come to accept that I’m doing the best I can. I’m still a student so I’m still learning how to develop my own pedagogy. To accept that you will be tired all day, every day is the first step. To realize what you’re doing is important and necessary is the final most important step.

Q: How do you counter racist stereotypes through your teaching?

I am not a confrontational person. But I realize that letting absolutely anyone having the floor, specifically racists, dangers the safe space I want my classroom to be. I used to let them talk and I would try to reason with them. Now I care more about protecting my students than trying to reason with people who aren’t willing to listen. I try to use my humor and youthfulness as an advantage when countering racist comments. I use my slang and the kids think that’s the funniest thing.

But to those racists and sexists, listen- I’ll play the game with you if I need to. Honey, I can name drop books, philosophers, and I’ll lend you my resume.

I’ve only had to do that a few times, mainly in women’s studies, but once I do that, it usually shuts those kids down. It depends on situation to situation, but a lot of times in order for me to deal with it, I remind myself why I’m here, who I’m doing this for, and who I’m trying to teach, so that despite these instances, I don’t lose sight of who I am and why my teaching is important.

Q: How do you challenge white feminism?

It really is a tightrope walk. I mean, a lot of white women really do try very hard to understand and to be accepting, despite the backgrounds they come from which taught them to act completely opposite to that. White feminism basically comes down to this- white feminists aren’t aware of issues ALL women face- by this I mean, they don’t see race as being a substantial identity/intersection. Which is completely invalid. What’s interesting to think about is when you ask a woman about her intersectional experience with difficulties she has faced in society, the first thing a white woman will mention is gender inequality. The first thing a woman of color will mention is racial inequality. And I really think that’s says it all.

Just know that as a woman of color, it’s easy to find your “allies,” but it takes a hot minute to find your actual allies.

Q: How can white people be good allies to black women?

The first thing an ally can do is to constantly check their assumptions and their privilege. I think an ally is great when they show up to things and make themselves emotionally and intellectually available.

Allies also need to be aware that it’s okay to make mistakes. But that they need to be comfortable with being called out on those mistakes and moving past that. I think just being open to constantly learning is the most important quality an ally can have.

Q: Have you ever found good representation in the media that highlights the intersection of your experience? What advice do you have for girls who don’t see representation?

I think the closest I can think of is the main character in the TV show Insecure. It’s great to see a black woman my age living her best, messed up life. For the most part, this is the realest thing I’ve seen thus far.

To the girls who can’t find representation, listen- you are beautiful. You are not crazy for thinking that people are reacting to you in a certain way because of your class, gender, race, size or your hair. Mental health especially for young girls is so important. I know that when I was growing up, I thought I was crazy for thinking my experience was different from my white counterpart. But now I know that I was right, and that I’m not alone. You are worthy, no matter what you look like. So be confident, girls! You got this!

Q: What does success mean to you?

Success for me is making decisions throughout the day- letting myself feel control over my body, my choices, my world. You can’t help depression. Success is getting my life back and finding happiness.


Kristen is a contributor for GirlSpring. Her posts focus on GirlSpring updates and current events.

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