These are the resounding words with which my pensioned educator parents, my dad, in particular, have raised my siblings and me. These words are held near to my heart, as they have encompassed the guiding light which has illuminated the processes of my academic journey. I grew up in the rural community of Sterkspruit, situated in former Transkei, which is significantly remote and previously disadvantaged. I later moved to the town of Potchefstroom and the cities of Bloemfontein and Pretoria to pursue my higher education. I am a PhD candidate at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and am currently based in Nashville, TN, USA as a Fulbright Visiting student researcher at Vanderbilt University. My research area is diversity and gender in organisations, specifically the professional identity work of black women concerning their hair. My research stems from my curiosity about how race, gender and social class are constituted with and against each other and how these constructions operate in discourses, societies, institutions and individual lives past and present.
Furthermore, my research explores postcolonial discourse and the intersection of gender, race and social class within local and transnational contexts, all of which are deeply motivated by my experiences of negotiating my identity in each environment I enter. In 2017 I was awarded the North West University (NWU) Commercia Top student award by my alma mater, NWU, and in 2018 I was the B.Com Honours Human Resource Management Top Student. I am a multifaceted individual with a history in track and field, running nationally, and I have past and present involvement in choral music. Currently, my hobbies entail regular pottery classes and afrobeat dancing. As a young researcher, blogging about an array of themes around the postgraduate journey in South Africa means I get to grow through the guided mentorship provided by the editorial team. Furthermore, I get to stretch and enhance my ability to think more critically about pressing issues on diversity, gender and social class in and outside organisations.
My name is Ijeoma (Ij for short), and I am a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Stellenbosch University under the South African Research Chair (SARCHi) in Gender Politics through the NRF scholarship. To have reached this point in my research journey required a lot of chopping and changing, but the golden thread remained the same – that I needed to write about what tugged at my inner core to answer questions that guided my being. As a young undergrad, I was drawn to International Relations because I was inquisitive about the world around me and the systems that governed the people who decided on them. My favourite subjects were history, social anthropology and metascience, as the questions of why within narratives and histories have always intrigued me. Throughout my journey in academia, I have been involved in extracurricular activities that mirrored it – I was President of the Stellenbosch Political Science Students Association (SPOSSA) in my final year while also being a media spokesperson for the Open Stellenbosch movement in 2015. Those activist spaces and experiences completely deconstructed what I saw as academia and the knowledge production created within institutions. It gave me the confidence to write on issues around me, and my education in activist spaces further shaped my writing as an Honours student.
My Honours dissertation looked at Rape Culture through the lens of South African feminism. However, after receiving the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship in 2017 and seeking broader experiences, I applied to the University of Cape Town (UCT) for a coursework MA in International Relations. During that programme, my interest in African politics deepened as I sought to research the experiences of West African migrants living in South Africa. Researching primarily on transnationalism theory, I was also exposed to other thinking within African feminisms, gender studies, and broader political science methodologies. Doing so gave me an educational experience that grounded me within International Relations, but with the capacity to think and write in an interdisciplinary manner. However, it was in 2021 that my freelance writing and blogging experience solidified. I started writing for a Stellenbosch zine called Say When, where I published my first freelance article on The Politics of Thotdom and Heauxism. This piece, to me, signified stepping outside the rigour of academic writing as I started familiarising myself with writing beyond the structure of introduction, body, conclusion and reference list. From there, I became more confident with trusting my voice and have been able to weave analysis with anecdotal writing, using the best of both worlds to share my viewpoints, thoughts and opinions on a range of topics with different styles of writing (series reviews, personal essays, prose, and more). For example, my first single-author journal article, published this year in AGENDA, was a poem I wrote on my experiences as a black woman in Stellenbosch. The idea that my creative output was acknowledged as a body of intellectual work encapsulates everything I believe:
The personal is political, and the political is personal.
Bringing the ivory tower of institutions to a level that is accessible and understandable to others is something I am passionate about. My current PhD research is looking at unpacking slay queenism as a concept and using it as a lens to research black femme subjectivities in the South African cosmopolitan context. The overarching research areas involve understanding gender equality in South Africa and postfeminist iterations within a post-apartheid framework.
My long-term plan is to occupy an intersecting space as a researcher, consultant, freelance writer and creative. Oscillating between these versions of myself as a writer, thinker, and creator is what sparks joy for me as a creative intellectual. Each path feeds into the other and informs how I like to stay in conversation with myself, my community, and the world around me. Being a blogger for SAYAS is a unique opportunity to highlight areas of academia I am passionate about (black feminist theory, gender studies) and would bring these topics to wider audiences whilst also destigmatising and educating broader populations about the ins and outs of being a foreign black woman researcher in South Africa.
Also, if you’re interested in following my academic journey or what I’m up to in my PhD journey, let’s stay in the conversation! I’d love to hear the topics you’re curious about and what you’d like to know about postgraduate studies.