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On Defining Yourself

About a week ago, I received a grade in a class that was lower than I was expecting. My immediate reaction was to resist. Prior to receiving this grade. I had been notified that I was placed on a special status for internship, which was that of a student “needing support”. I felt like the grade and the internship clearance status were a direct attack on me as a growing professional and as a student. So I resisted. I involved the dean of students and fought the grade and the status. I emailed the professor and explained why I felt the grade was not a just grade- I had gotten As on all of the previous assignments and didn’t feel that two assignments should bring down my grade in such a way. I got the feedback from my professor that I did not follow the rubric on the final paper and that my test grade had also done damage. Still, I felt like this was a personal attack. I knew that I was not on the best of terms with the internship coordinator and I felt that my professor was allowing that situation to affect the way that she was grading my work. 

Today I met with the dean of students and my professor. I went in feeling defeated. I knew what the outcome would be. I felt that my identity as a woman of color was also going to prevent my professor from being willing to change my grade. We started talking and I was defensive. I didn’t see the point of having the meeting. Rather than the dean being my advocate, it felt like he was more so there to back the professor. I felt more and more defeated as the meeting went on and it showed.
Here’s the thing, as a person of color I am constantly on the defensive. I live in a world with systems in place that are relentlessly at work against me. Imagine being in battle all of the time. Soon enough, the lightest touch feels like an attack. That is how I would describe this meeting. I was so ready to go to war that I left no room for openness or healing. The dean pointed this out to me. I wasn’t open. I felt like I was in battle. How could I possibly be open?!

Add to all of this the fact that I live with a mental illness. I feel like I am continuously battling not only the doubts of other people, but my own doubts as well. During undergrad, my illness was at the height of its’ destruction. I had to take a semester off in order to focus on getting well. That is how sick I was. There were multiple visits to the hospital. All of that effected my grades tremendously. Yes, I graduated. However, I always felt like a fraud. My GPA was so low by the time I finished that I did not even feel deserving of receiving a degree. 
When I started graduate school, I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to maintain my grades. I’ve been successful up until I received the all defining B+ for this class. Yes, it was a B, not a F. I could never explain to you the value that I place on getting great grades after nearly not graduating from undergrad. Beyond this, factor in my race and it becomes the most important thing in the world. I feel like I can walk into an interview and be a woman of color and be dismissed as soon as the interviewer looks at me (it has happened multiple times), but if I have my grades and my experience, there is evidence that I can do whatever job it is. Any doubt is pushed to the side when a person has that kind of proof that they are worthy. My grades were my proof. Until they weren’t anymore. 

So, back to the meeting. I grew more and more defensive by the minute. I could tell that my attitude was having an effect on my professor as her demeanor grew a bit frustrated. Then she told a story about a student to whom she gave a B. This student had never been given a B ever before and was “mad as hell” as my professor put it. Then my professor explained that she would have only been doing a disservice by granting the student a grade she didn’t deserve and that by giving her the B, she hoped to relieve some of the pressure that comes from the idea that one must be a straight A student. Because at the end of the day, she said, THAT is not what defines you. She looked me in the eye and said “you are so much more”. And she was right. Yes, when the world looks at me, many will only see the black girl with the mental illness. But the reality of it is, to those people that’s all I will ever be- regardless of what my grades look like. But the truth is, that I am not now nor have I ever been defined by a letter on a piece of paper. The fact that I have placed so much value on it is a mistake of mine. 

So, I’m getting a B+ in the class and because this class is linked to another, I will get a B+ in that class as well. Because I am not perfect and I did not follow the rubric on the final paper. Yep, I’ll admit it. I made a huge mistake on that paper. 

This is all so illustrative of the pressure that women of color feel to be perfect. We feel like there is no room to fuck up. No room to make mistakes. No room to get a B+. Because then we’ll be classified as just another black girl. I’m sure the pressure is there for women who are not of color as well. The need to compete in a male based workforce is always present. If this is you, take a lesson from me, please. Know, deeply, that you do not have to be perfect. The people who are meant for you, the job that is meant for you is already yours. Not giving the mistakeless presentation or getting the perfect grade does not make you who you are. It is your heart, your spirit of caring, your love that defines you. You can be the woman who is so critical of herself or you can be the kind that gives herself room to F up from time to time. I guarantee you, those who love you will love you no matter what.
I’m absolutely positive that I sound like a huge brat complaining about my grade (first world problems much?). But this is my life and I hope that by me being open and honest about my experiences, we can all grow from them. 

Please comment your thoughts and don’t forget to subscribe! Also, please join us on Facebook at I hope this helps!

As always with love,
Alli B
Sonny B
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Alli B is the voice behind She is a self-defined weird (queer) black woman who is a survivor of mental illness and childhood sexual trauma. She is a lover of people and a lover of God. Alli’s mission in life is to empower and inspire those who have gone through or who are going through any type of darkness. Her loves are her family, books, writing, movies, and football (Go Broncos!). The boring stuff: Alli received her Bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies at Colorado State University in 2013. She is now working on her Master’s degree in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology and is expected to graduate in May of 2018. Alli's goal is to work with underserved populations of women and children through private practice. Her life goals include: running a successful blog, publishing her books, and becoming a successful therapist.

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