NASSR 2018 Debrief: Confessions of an M.A. Student

By Claire Wilcox

I begin this post with that awkward, full disclosure: I am an M.A. student. I have not applied for Ph.D. programs. This year’s conference was my first, and likely only, NASSR. You ask: why bother reading further? My answer is this: standing with one foot out the door is a great vantage point.

There is a different valence to each of the conference’s micro-interactions when you already plan on not attending the next one. Each smile shared across the room lingers and each snuff from a senior scholar stings a little deeper. Each eleventh-hour edit feels all the more frantic, and I can’t begin to explain the exhaustion that set in following my post-presentation Ben & Jerry’s.

But more on the conference. I had a supervisor kind enough to digitally introduce me to some wonderful scholars beforehand, which meant that I crossed NASSR’s threshold with folks inside who could already pick me out from a crowd and introduce themselves. This was crucial to my confidence-building over the course of the weekend. Through conversations with other members of Grad Caucus, I have found this to be a thru-line: most junior scholars’ self-worth at conferences depends on already having (or very quickly establishing) a network of allies who recognize you.

There was a vitality present at this year’s conference that I have never quite experienced before. It was a marathon race-day buzz, complete with bacon doughnuts and coffee flowing faster than the Providence River. Picture a high-ceilinged hall full of jet-lagged scholars…That sheer amount of barely tempered eccentricity.

This conference is one of the few times the Bigger Six Romantix circle had congregated in person. Consider, too, how long the movement was anticipated in the hearts and minds of many scholars. How incredibly new and life-sustaingly tangible it might be to walk into a room knowing that the scholars here love your dedication to Romantic Brownness, Blackness, queerness, Indiginousness, and Otherness. To know that decolonization right here, right now, is not a metaphor. To hear your fellow panelists actually #citeblackwomen as part of their presentation. To watch a moderator wait that extra half-second for those who are not accustomed to speaking first to formulate their questions. To feel yourself being heard, being seen, and being appreciated by new friends at the social events—even after you tell them you may not be coming back.

Such is the advantage of scanning the room with one foot out the door. If you strip away the pressure of publications and fellowships and book contracts, if you scrub off the glimmering enamel of recognition they afford, what is left?
In the words of Moonrise Kingdom’s Sam Shakusky, “Who’s to say?”

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