About six months after I finished college, I received an email from one of my favorite professors asking us to write letters in support of her to becoming full time. She called herself an Adjunct, which at the time I didn’t understand was a part-time professor. I didn’t even know professors could be part-time, let alone make a living off one. She had a PhD degree from Columbia and was a published poet. She had been going through a lot, such as getting a divorce and had a daughter to take care of. I did my part and wrote a letter as promised. A few months later, it was reported that she committed suicide. I was devastated.
No, she did not get the full-time job, nor did she become what she could have become. Instead, she died leaving behind her legacy, family and students who supported her. While this situation was extreme, not all part-time instructors come to the point of harming themselves due to the despair of being an adjunct but many of them do struggle. When I started in academia as a tutor and later teaching, I found myself also struggling trying to get a full-time job and I had a master’s degree! My story wasn’t very different from my college professor’s. I went through a divorce, had bills, faced foreclosure on my house, almost lost my car, asked my family for simple things like grocery money in order to eat and even got on food stamps at some point. I felt useless because I couldn’t get a full time job in a field I wanted to be in. I gave up my dogs and had to move out of my house because I couldn’t afford anything. I didn’t have healthcare until I went back to graduate school. So if I got sick, a prayer and a miracle was my insurance. I remember praying I didn’t break a bone or anything close to that because I would then be screwed. While I didn’t want to kill myself, I felt unaccomplished, useless and a failure.
When I met my co-producer, Imani Marshall-Stephan, we were both adjuncts. We talked about the struggle and how we were going to make it. She assured me, during a really dark time in my life that I wasn’t going to sink. Then she encouraged me to push through, go to grad school one more time and trust in my journey. My journey a the time was work, work, and more work with little pay.
It didn’t matter that I worked hard and applied everywhere, I wasn’t getting through. I worked online, at different schools and eventually went back to school, racked up more debt. After I finished graduate school for the second time, I got lucky/blessed to have gotten a full-time job as an instructor. My journey to becoming full time was mild compared to others who I’ve known were teaching part-time instructors for years and hoping for a break.
So I created the series not to shame academia, they have their reasons for having this kind of position. I created it to raise awareness of the struggling side of degreed professionals. The underpaid, bottom of the bottom, exhausted and overworked, the published, accomplished, intelligent underdog… meet The Adjuncts.
Creator and Writer,