Today’s post comes from Sociology Professor Georgiann Davis. Generally, our writers choose their own topics, but I urged Georgiann to consider writing about mentorship, since her own mentor, Prof. Barbara Risman, will speak on campus later this month, and because Georgiann is an incredible mentor herself: when I walk by her office in Peck Hall, Georgiann is usually in an earnest conversation with one of her students or colleagues, and it seems her door is literally and figuratively always open. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Georgiann’s post today is itself an act of mentorship: in sharing her own stories, she reminds us that we are never committed to a single identity and she demonstrates how the faith and support of someone we admire can challenge us to take the risks necessary for our own growth.
I left school when I was twelve years old—that is I dropped out. This may come as a surprise to many who know me today as Dr. Georgiann Davis. I kept this piece of my ongoing story secret for a long time because I was ashamed by it. Dropping out of school isn’t exactly something to celebrate. Society doesn’t look fondly on “delinquent” dropouts (never mind the fact that I was fairly popular with my peers and teachers and had great grades). Very few people in the U.S. drop out of school. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009, only 3.1% of students in grades 10-12 drop out without completing high school. While I could write an autobiography about why I left middle school that I (biasedly!) think would be interesting to read, I’d rather share how the incredible feminist mentorship I received over the years helped me become Dr. Georgiann Davis.
After I earned my general education development (GED) certificate in October of 1998, I enrolled in my local community college. My goal was to get a two-year degree in radiography and work as an x-ray technologist. I was working in my local hospital’s film room. As you might imagine, I interacted with a lot of physicians, none of whom knew about my limited formal educational background. One doctor asked me why I wasn’t in school; I’m not sure why it felt safe to be honest with her but it did (I usually would lie and tell folks I was home-schooled because I hated school). Fighting back tears, I shared everything with this radiologist. I will never forget her insight: “Your past informs your future; it doesn’t dictate it.” She encouraged me to get my GED, so I registered for the test and somewhat shockingly passed without much preparation. I’m not sure if the radiologist would self-identify as a feminist, but she certainly did mentor me in a feminist fashion.
My aspirations of being an x-ray technologist didn’t last for long. Before I was allowed to begin my community college’s x-ray program, I needed to take several general education courses. Because of my educational history, I was placed into remedial math (I now teach social statistics at the college level, go figure!) and remedial writing (I am currently writing my first book, go figure!). I also signed up for survey of health careers, introduction to elementary education, and introduction to sociology. I was scared. Aside from taking the GED test, I hadn’t stepped foot in an educational setting since the seventh grade and there I was a college student. Admittedly, my first semester was quite challenging. I was struggling. Things did get a bit easier when I decided the first week of classes to withdraw from the health careers course. Let’s just say I realized that working in a hospital’s film room with patient records was different than working directly with sick or injured people. I won’t go into details, but I will say that I quickly learned I have a very sensitive stomach.
I was, on the other hand, in love with my sociology class. I was being introduced to sociology by a self-identified feminist sociologist in an environment composed primarily of nontraditional students. I realized that my life was not unique in that setting as many classmates had similar stories. I was hooked. It was then that I decided I wanted to become a feminist sociologist to pursue social justice, and to be able to introduce the sociological imagination to others in the way it had been introduced to me.