Naming Trauma as Trauma

As part of my research on epistemic injustice, I’ve been thinking about the power of naming: the power of having the linguistic resources to identify, describe, and call out varied experiences, especially experiences of injustice.

Systemic oppression works in a way that denies the ability to name experiences of wrongdoing. When experiences are named, they can be acknowledged and addressed. To me, this is part of the power of the word microaggressions: the word allows for acknowledgement of what too often goes unacknowledged. Similarly, phrases like sexual violence, rape culture, and #metoo do important work in raising awareness, mobilizing response, allowing for healing, and calling attention to what’s typically hidden.

This week Inside Higher Ed published my article on why it’s important to acknowledge and address the trauma of graduate education as part of career conversations:

Screenshot of “The Trauma of Graduate Education,” showing the orange Inside Higher Ed page logo and navigation toolbar at the top followed the title, by-line, and first three paragraphs of the article.

The Trauma of Graduate Education” shares insights from this research on epistemic injustice, relating how graduate writers (participants in my dissertation research from several years ago) described the need for therapy, counseling, and self-help. In interview after interview, I heard writers (many of whom were white women and women of color) describe harms inflicted through graduate school. Moreover, participants’ stories echoed my own experiences with graduate education, which tore down my confidence, contributed to internalized pain, and kicked off a healing process that’s now taking me away from higher education.

In the article, I describe why it’s important to name these experiences as trauma:

“Often conversations with career advisers are similar to those among graduate writers: it is common to share, receive and even exchange stories of trauma while often not naming it as such. An important part of career conversations, therefore, may be recognizing trauma as trauma. There is power in naming experiences: acknowledging and giving language to describe trauma can lead to other actions, such as seeking trauma-informed care or, in Grollman’s words, “rewriting the trauma narrative.” Similarly, it’s important to name microaggressions as microaggressions, epistemic injustice as epistemic injustice and violence as violence. Doing so validates the reality of the experience (essentially saying, yes, this experience really did happen and really is wrong), countering the many invalidations that cumulate into trauma. Further, giving language to experience helps with developing the linguistic resources to understand, process and describe trauma and other injustice.”

My call to name trauma must have struck a chord with readers. On the one hand, I’m experiencing a new round of graduate students (especially white women and folks of color) reaching out and saying, “Yes, me too!” On the other hand, I’m seeing comment after comment (from what I can tell, all by white men) complaining about my “over-sensitivity,” exaggeration, and misuse of the word trauma.

Alongside these various forms of gaslighting (another powerful word for naming injustice) is a familiar rhetorical move of saying that if the experience of graduate education is too traumatic, then folks should just leave. Here again, as in my dissertation research and my own lived experience, I see readers (folks engaged in academia) making the moves that feed into trauma: those of denial, dismissal, and disengagement.

Such interactional moves point to why we need an “unrestrained” definition of trauma. What registers as trauma to one person may not to another, but to deny the experience is to deny the person. Writing off the reality of trauma is linked literally to writing off the people who experience it. Hence, we see the perpetuation of violence—perpetuation of oppression, white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and epistemic injustice—within and beyond higher education.

Though this violence is all-too-familiar, I am encouraged again by the power of speaking and writing UP. I am encouraged that together we can build the linguistic resources to name experiences of injustice, and together we can use the act of naming to mobilize.

Today, tomorrow, and going forward, I’m naming trauma as trauma. And I hope you’ll join me in naming experiences of injustice to acknowledge and address them. We’ll need a lot of creativity and visioning to keep building the words for naming what’s intended not to be named. But build together, we must.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “A Love Letter to Students Surviving Sexual Violence,” “A Barrage of Microaggressions,” and “Speaking Up by Speaking Aloud Embodied Responses.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

Today Healing Looks Like …

I was only a few hours into Monday morning, and I’d already had three friends text me about grief, a conversation about not just anger but full-on flaming rage, and multiple conversations about how the word heartache doesn’t even come close to capturing the intense pain of seeing families separated and incarcerated. One friend wrote that “the horrors of this administration are making me physically ill,” a statement that caused me to stop and think about my own bodily aches and pains, which become more pronounced when taking in collective pain.

Throughout this series of interactions, I began noticing what I was doing to attend to my emotional and physical needs. And I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I’m doing now, when the world is making me (us?) “physically ill.”

So, what does healing look like today?

  1. Reaching out to friends and holding space when friends reach out to me toward intuitive and intentional community care.
  2. Practicing self-care through taking a daily Epsom salt bath and using bath time to plan my day, listen to podcasts, and ask what my body wants today.
  3. Drinking wellness tonic and vegetable broth for full-body support.
  4. Not looking away (because the refusal to see or willingness to forget promotes ignorance, as in ignore-ance) but instead witnessing the dehumanization, injustice, and horrors of white supremacy, patriarchy, colonialism, oppression—and naming this violence as violence.
  5. Doing some small actions like making donations and signing petitions and reading, posting, re-tweeting, and otherwise sharing news and ways to take action. AND thinking long-term about shoring up my commitments and sustaining my energy for the long haul toward justice.
  6. Learning more about and beginning to practice intuitive eating toward healing my relationship with sugar and valuing food as nourishment.
  7. Writing while sitting with Castor oil and a hot water bottle (what I call a “warm belly pack”) to settle my stomach—literally, to address inflamed nerves and the sensation of feeling “physically ill.”

What underlies these actions is the importance of recognizing and honoring embodied knowledge, or what our bodies tell us. In this case, there’s real shit going down that makes us literally feel shitty. Once acknowledging the shittiness, we can support our GI systems (our guts) through baths, broths, and belly packs. Self-care for our emotional and physical selves allows us to keep showing up in interpersonal, online, and public spaces—to keep speaking out, to keep acting for justice.

Like my earlier post “Today Resistance Looks Like …,” I hope this view into healing communicates a both/and approach to everyday living for justice. Investing in healing helps with countering resistance fatigue. It also reminds us that actions associated with self-care and community care have an everyday (daily) role in our lives, as do activism, resistance, and re-envisioning.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice,” “My Journey with Back Pain,” and “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach.” Please also consider liking this blog on FB and following the blog via email. Thanks!

On Choosing a Writer’s Life

I’m writing.
Daily.

On scraps of paper and printed pages.
In email boxes and google docs.
On business cards and birthday notes.
In calendar entries and comments, too.

I’m writing.
Daily.

For a co-authored article.
For a friend’s affirmation.
For a series of pieces.
For an apartment to be.

I’m writing.
Daily.

In a bustling café.
On a park bench.
In a quiet room.
On a hotel floor.

I’m writing.
Daily.

Some is due now.
Some is due later.
Some is not due.
Some is long overdue.

I’m writing.
Daily.

And longing to write more.
Regretting when not writing much.
Pondering writing while watching TV and waking at night.
Wondering what it means to choose a writer’s life.

I wake and choose again, because …

I’m writing.
Daily.

Image from an outdoor café. In the foreground are a vegan tea latte and laptop open to the writing website 750words.com. In the background appear metal chairs and tables inside a metal fence. Beyond the café are cars, trees, and row houses.

I share these reflections with gratitude that I’m choosing again and again to see myself as a writer and to invest in writing as everyday activity (even when I’m hard on myself for not writing more). Truly, writing lifts my spirits, calms me down, and bolsters me through the toughest days. May I remember to write when I need grounding and when I need the courage to stand TALL for justice.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. To more posts like this one, you might try  “7 Lessons from My First Year Blogging” or “Practicing Yoga Through Writing.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

In the Midst of Big Changes

Big changes have been rumbling through my life, and I’m finally ready to announce them.

After seven years at Marquette University (in Milwaukee, Wisconsin), I’ve been promoted with tenure, and I’ve also made the big decision to leave academia to pursue public writing and community education. I’m hoping to combine writing, teaching, and even Reiki and hiking. I’m now in the midst of planning a move back to Washington, D.C.—moving closer to family and to the Appalachian Mountains, which feels like coming home.

I’ve recently written about these changes in the article “Making Career Moves by Saying No.”

Screenshot of the opening to “Making Career Moves by Saying No” published in Inside Higher Ed’s Carpe Careers advice column.

Appearing in this week’s Inside Higher Ed, this article considers how saying no has the potential to open new opportunities, creating yeses not even articulated:

“At its core, saying no is actually saying yes to something else. Sometimes it’s saying no to let what needs to fall away, fall away. Sometimes it’s saying no to imagine something different or to build toward something new. Sometimes it’s saying not yet or not in this way. Simply put: yes and no are related. Both can block, and both can build. Both are powerful for making career moves.” Click to read more.

In addition to this article, I gave an interview for my department’s newsletter, sharing some of what I’ll be working on as I venture into public writing and community education.

Screenshot of the Marquette English Department Newsletter showing the first few paragraphs of the article titled “Dr. Beth Godbee’s New Venture.”

Here’s an excerpt from the interview, reflecting on my process of blogging, which has given me the courage to make these career moves:

Tell us about your blog. What made you start writing it?

I started the blog in fall 2016, though I’d been thinking about it for a couple of years before that. I kept noticing recurring patterns—the same sort of questions and conversations coming up again and again. I thought that rather than have these conversations only within tight-knit groups, I’d like to make them public—to share beyond what friends in my social network might see in a Facebook post, for instance.

What do you hope people take away from it?

A lot of blogging advice encourages writers to speak to niche audiences, and I’m breaking that advice big-time by trying to speak widely to readers interested in social, racial, and environmental justice. I’m still learning about what works—and doesn’t—but I hope that readers take away a sense that everything in our lives from food to classroom conversation, from prayer practice to transportation is related to systems of (in)justice (and histories of colonization, exploitation, and dehumanization), which demand our attention. To strive toward justice, we need to be more in touch with our full selves: embodied, emotional, messy, fully human selves.

Have you used your success with academic publishing to inform your writing process when you write for the public?

Academic publishing has taught me a lot about writing, storytelling, and translating research for different audiences. As a researcher, I’m especially grateful for my academic training in ethnography, conversation analysis, and other research methods, which allow me draw keen insights from everyday interactions and patterns of living. As a blogger, I share these insights, as I work against anti-intellectualism and instead bridge academic and public writing. Hopefully, I’ll continue to bridge in ways that not only build community action, but also feed back into higher education, which still feels like home.

*          *          *          *          *

Big changes come with a lot uncertainty and a lot of excitement. These changes feel like rumbling potential. May I stay grounded through the rumbles, and may I walk with purpose: learning to tread new paths and to listen to my “strong YES.”

In the coming months, look for expansions to this blog, Heart-Head-Hands.com, which focuses on feeling, thinking, and doing (everyday living) for justice. Let me know if you’re interested in workshops, e-courses, retreats, consulting, or coaching. And many thanks for support in the midst of big changes.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. To learn more about these changes, check out “Going Public as an Educator,” “Listening for/to the ‘Strong YES,’” and “7 Lessons from My First Year Blogging.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

A Love Letter to Students Surviving Sexual Violence

As we near the end of spring semester, students in both my “Contemplative Writing” and “Writing for Social Justice” courses are pulling together projects to make interventions in some way. Several students are addressing rape culture, and one student is compiling a book of letters by and for survivors of sexual violence. She hopes that others at our university will read the letters, write additional ones, and add threaded response—facilitating healing through storytelling and solidarity-building.

I agreed to write a letter for her book, and I share that letter here with the hope that it speaks to others engaged with similar healing, storytelling, and solidarity-building work:

Dear Reader,

Every semester I’ve taught, students have shared with me stories of sexual violence and survival.

Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve experienced everyday enactments of rape culture.

Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve seen sexual violence create new wounds and rip open old ones.

Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve raged at limited and lacking response.

Every semester I’ve taught, I’ve been encouraged by incredible resilience and creative healing.

These words are too few and do too little, but with a commitment to justice, I say to readers and to your friends-colleagues-peers who have experienced sexual violence:

I hear you. I see you. I believe you.

I hurt with you. I learn alongside you. I speak and write UP for you. I advocate for change. I call violence violence. I build critical imagination to envision more equitable ways of being.

I write as a professor who carries with me story upon story of sexual violence that I’ve been called to witness. I carry my own #metoo stories alongside those of family, friends, colleagues, and students. I’m learning how to hold these stories as gifted memories rather than weight holding me down, and I’m learning to leverage these stories toward collective healing, truth-telling, reckoning, and liberation. These stories matter, and so do we.

With fierce love keeping hope alive,

A Feminist Educator

Blogging is often always a process of countering perfectionism and sharing words that feel not-ready, not-right, and not-refined. Writing this letter, however, twisted me in knots, as there are never ready, right, or refined words to speak into the violence I know many students are experiencing and even perpetuating.

So, I share this letter with Reiki, love, and mantras:

May these words do some good.
May what’s still unsaid be heard and healed.
May this offering reach those who desire/need it.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Me Too: Standing Against Sexual Violence,” “Revealing the Cultural Patterns of Rape Culture,” and “What Is Justice?” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Revisiting Fear Through Walker’s Essay “Everything Is a Human Being”

Book cover for Alice Walker’s Living by the Word: Selected Essays 1973-1987.This spring I’m reading Alice Walker’s Living by the Word slowly, mindfully, as part of my “Contemplative Writing” course. I appreciate this book of essays for many reasons, including its title, which makes an argument that we live by the words we put into the world. As a writer committed to everyday living for justice, I am taken with this idea of “living by the word.”

I am taken, too, with Walker’s reflections on her many relations, including with her father and daughter, readers and publishers, ancestors and elders, horses and snakes. Across her essays, Walker shows the interconnectedness of all beings, tracing lineages of trauma and healing as well as fear and (in)justice.

Recently, the essay “Everything Is a Human Being” stood out to me. As a keynote address Walker gave at the University of California, Davis, in 1983 for MLK Day, this piece weaves together reflections on fear and humans’ destructive impact on the earth and each other. I found myself lingering over words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and pages …

In class, several students read aloud from the following passage, one I’d earmarked, as it spoke to my recent blog post on interrogating fear (fear of spiders and people alike).

Screenshot of blog post “Do Vegans Kill Spiders? Recognizing Fears and Others’ Right to Exist”

Here’s a bit of Walker’s reflections on fear, which resulted in a neighbor killing a small garden snake:

“Everything I was taught about snakes—that they are dangerous, frightful, sinister—went into the murder of this snake person, who was only, after all, trying to remain in his or her home, perhaps the only home he or she had ever known. Even my ladylike ‘nervousness’ in its presence was learned behavior. I knew at once that killing the snake was not the first act that should have occurred in my new garden, and I grieved that I had apparently learned nothing, as a human being, since the days of Adam and Eve.

“Even on a practical level, killing this small, no doubt bewildered and disoriented creature made poor sense, because throughout the summer snakes just like it regularly visited the garden (and deer, by the way, ate all the tomatoes), so that it appeared to me that the little snake I killed was always with me. Occasionally a very large mama or papa snake wandered into the cabin yard, as if to let me know its child has been murdered, and it knew who was responsible for it.

“These garden snakes, said my neighbors, are harmless; they eat mice and other pests that invade the garden. In this respect, they are even helpful to humans. And yet, I am still afraid of them, because that is how I was taught to be. Deep in the psyche of most of us there is this fear—and long ago, I do not doubt, in the psyche of ancient peoples, there is a similar fear of trees. And of course a fear of other human beings, for that is where all fear of natural things leads us: to fear ourselves, fear of each other, and fear even of the spirit of the Universe, because out of fear we often greet its outrageousness with murder.” (Walker, Living by the Word, p. 143)

Walker’s words not only touch my heart but also remind me of the deep work I have to do with confronting, befriending, and watching for fear. I notice, for example, that fear of snakes is close-at-hand when hiking. I’m fascinated by and try to learn all I can about snakes, yet I still have much to do to quiet the learned/internalized fear that drives me to keep watch along trails.

Similarly, fear of myself and other humans is never far away. Such fear leads to literal and figurative murder—from police and state-sanctioned violence to dehumanization and discounting others. It erupts in microaggressions and denial of anger and grief. It leads to destruction of the earth, disproportionally impacting people of color. It’s also why we all (and white folks especially) need to strengthen emotional literacies for racial justice.

Fear blocks the ability to see beauty, the potential for human connection, and the work of striving for justice. Fear tears down instead of building up.

In Walker’s words: “[W]e should be allowed to destroy only what we ourselves can re-create. We cannot re-create this world. We cannot re-create ‘wilderness.’ We cannot even, truly, re-create ourselves. Only our behavior can we re-create, or create anew” (p. 151).

With humility, I commit again to revisiting destructive fear and re-creating behaviors aligned with justice. To do so, I see the value of “living by the word”: words of relationality, connectedness, and kinship. Kinship with spiders and humans, snakes and structural change. Kinship linking why I’m vegan with why I’m committed to social and racial justice. Kinship toward blocking destruction and creating anew.

View of the book’s inside binding coming loose and pages falling away.
Speaking of destruction and re-creation, here’s my well-loved book on its way to physical destruction, but ingested as nourishment and fuel for ongoing action.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For related posts, check out “Do Vegans Kill Spiders? Recognizing Fears and Others’ Right to Exist,” Refueling with Feminists of Color,” and the series of posts on why I’m vegan. Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!

Triangulating the Heart, Head, and Hands for Justice

This spring I’m teaching a new course titled “Contemplative Writing.” I’ve visualized the course design through triangulation, or three intersecting points that rely on the others for fuller understanding. Like a compass, triangulation helps with navigating complicated terrain. It shows locations (or ideas) in relation to each other, highlighting multiplicity. In the case of “Contemplative Writing,” triangulation brings together three semester-long focuses, audiences, and goals:

  • 3 intersecting focuses = writing, justice, and contemplation/mindfulness
  • 3 audiences (or spheres of interaction) = self, others, and institutions
  • 3 goals = rhetorical flexibility, self-awareness, and courage in writing/speaking

To cover this complicated terrain, the students and I are journaling and doing regular (almost-daily) contemplative practices, while also pursuing “Projects That Matter” (research and activist writing). To keep me writing and practicing alongside the students, I’ve been doing some form of contemplative journaling, meditation, or movement daily.

Some days, I’ve been responding to the writing prompt that gives this blog its name, checking in with my heart, head, and hands:

  • Heart: What am I feeling?
  • Head: What am I thinking?
  • Hands: What am I going to do?

Through these check-ins, I have been triangulating intellectual, emotional, and embodied knowledges.

Recently, I discovered a yoga-asana (movement) video that essentially asks the same questions through a 25-minute “Head & Heart Reset”:

This Yoga with Adrienne video has resonated with me because I want to build physical strength to carry a hiking backpack, and it includes several strength-building poses. While I typically prefer gentle and super slow asana, this flowing practice seems to be opening the energetic pathways connecting my heart, head, and hands (as well as my gut, tear ducts, and held-within knowing).

The practice opens with wrapping arms around the shoulders, giving myself a hug, as I’m striving to do daily. It ends with deep breathing to carry energetic connectedness off the mat and into all communication.

While in the past I’ve practiced yoga through writing, now I’m channeling writing through yoga. I’m reminded of the importance of nurturing my body and its wisdom in order to create and share wisdom through writing.

Such realizations are also showing me that triangulation is much more than a navigation tool, research method, or course design. Triangulation is why I understand writing as connected with embodiment and everyday living. It’s why I associate yoga and other contemplative, spiritual practices with the work of countering injustice and investing in more equitable relations. And it’s why I strive to connect the heart, head, and hands.

Said differently, triangulation helps me not only navigate complicated terrain but also remember that no guiding principle stands alone. May I continue to learn and make meaning in multiple ways. May I continue to open to what emerges through varied contemplative practices. May I continue to weave triangulated webs of striving (with an attitude of try-try again) to live a life for justice.


This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “Gentle Yoga for Releasing Burdens,” “40 Days of Yoga Nidra,” and “Practicing Yoga Through Writing.” Please also consider following the blog via email. Thanks!