The importance of integrated intellectualism

Opinion by Mina Shah
Oct. 31, 2016, 12:05 a.m.

As we head into Week 6 of the quarter, many of us are entering the most difficult parts of our classes (excepting, of course, the intensity of finals week). For me, this also means that each of my various commitments become increasingly siloed and compartmentalized. I try to keep them non-intersecting and non-overlapping, because this means that each has its own pure space. I don’t think about the fact that the Center for African Studies is going to be moved twice within the next few years as I work with my preschool students, nor do I think about marketing Haas Cardinal Quarter fellowships as I am sitting in my anthropology class.

While there are some really nice things about having that kind of “silo-ization,” it can also be pretty destructive. This is why, for the sake of self-care and producing better work, I’m committing to be better at integrating my intellectual, professional and personal lives and, if you’re serious about doing more and better work, you should too.

It is deeply important to connect all of the pieces of one’s lived experience, from the professional to the personal, in order to maximize productive output overall. A deeper integration of all of your sectors of work allows for the conceptualization of everything you work on as multiple facets of the same problem, as opposed to multiple different problems. This way, the work in each area can build off of one another. If the sectors are segregated, we would need to start from square zero in terms of building productivity in each of those sectors. The ability to use each part of one’s life to inform the other parts enables us to get much farther overall and generate better informed work. This is because whatever the specific issue is, it is being worked on from different angles. Additionally, time cut down from code-switching between sectors or disciplines allows for more efficiency.

For all my Marxists out there for whom the idea of productive output is not a persuasive rationalization for an integrated learning space, I hear you. But an integrated learning space does more than just increase efficiency and output. It can also help to give us a greater sense of purpose as we work on a particular issue, instead of multiple. Additionally, there may be mental health benefits from a deeper integration of intellectual, professional and personal lives. If we can streamline our focus to one integrated project, it is less likely that we will get overwhelmed by the immense number of things to which we must attend.

But how, you might ask, can we do this? What are some ways that we can prevent this silo-ization from happening? For me, one of the most effective ways to make sure that my intellectual and personal lives remain integrated is to spend time in spaces that not only facilitate such an integration, but in fact demand it. One such space for me is the Center for African Studies (CAS), because it serves as both an intellectual hub of study and a community center, and in doing so, keeps those two projects inextricably intertwined.

At CAS, it would be unimaginable to have a separation between the work that we do in the classroom and the conversations that we have about ourselves. It is the very connection between intellectualism and a deep personal investment that makes CAS so magical, with such immense healing power. The culture of intellectualism pushes CAS’s students to become better, more rigorous thinkers, and the pairing of this with aspects of community reminds us of the corporeality of our studies, that what we are doing impacts real people with physical bodies just like and yet completely different from ourselves. CAS engages us in contextualization and sets high standards, making us fundamentally better scholars and people and giving us something to latch onto when particular work gets hard or we feel discouraged with our progress. The training we get at CAS helps to give a sense of purpose that makes the work we do more sustainable; the community support lifts us up when we lose sight of the possibilities of our many projects.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Stanford is a hard place to be as a human generally, and midterms plus looming finals don’t make it any easier to be in this space that was not made for many of us who currently occupy it. So there’s no reason for us to make it any more difficult than it has to be. Consolidate and care for yourself. Come by CAS or find another intellectual/community center that does the same kind of work for you. Go boldly into the second half of the quarter, centered and able to do work and stay sane.



Contact Mina Shah at minashah ‘at’

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