Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Even if your inbox is still full

A friend once commented, attempting to calm me down mid new-grad-student freak-out, that the goal of life isn't to die with your inbox empty. Regardless of our jobs or roles, it's so easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of data, tasks, family obligations, work, social commitments, and general to-dos of life. This is week two of my life as a Ph.D. student, and I've lost count of how many times I have felt completely smothered by the goals I am setting for myself over the next four years. I have so much I want to say, so much I want to learn. I want to publish on sexual violence, I want to contribute to policy conversations and debates on rape in the context of war, I want to help innovate sustainable solutions to gender-based many things to which I hope to be able to make a valid contribution, and I have found myself growing panicked at the thought that there just are not enough hours, not enough brain cells, not enough energy.

And then, in the midst of the din, I get an email from a department chair that one of my fellow students, Franki Rutherford, passed away last night from pancreatic cancer. My brain falls silent, the chorus of self-doubt and overwhelm hushes to a dull hum in the background of my consciousness.

Last fall, Franki and I were in a feminist research methods class together, and I constantly found myself challenged by her comments. She was a spitfire of a woman; headstrong, determined, opinionated, and an absolutely unstoppable advocate for equality. She was researching women faculty and leadership appointments at our university, and was completely fired up over the disparities in access and opportunities available for women within the upper echelons of university administration. She shared openly her discouragement that so much gender disparity still exists, despite the vast improvements from when she first entered the work force three decades ago. I could identify with her frustration. She rallied other students to get pissed too, the type of righteous indignation that can move mountains.

I have to admit though, I often felt overcome, almost resigned, when hearing from Franki how far away American women still are from equality. We have it pretty great- relatively speaking to our female counterparts around the globe in war torn and/or economically developing countries- but if we still are fighting an uphill battle for simple pay equity and the right to not get solicited for bedtime fun at work, how can we possibly turn the tide against the gender-based violence that engulfs so many of us? It made me tired just thinking about the journey ahead, but it made Franki pissed off in a more productive manner; she was ready to lead the charge, rally the troops, and storm the castle.

When I learned of her death this morning, I was overcome remembering how vibrant and committed she was when I saw her this spring. Still fired up about her research, ready to take down the Man, eager to usher in a new dawn for women. And here I am today, reading an email that the charge she led will have to go on without her. I think of all the dreams and hopes she was pouring into the struggle she cared so much about, how she didn't shrink in the face of the insurmountable odds stacked against women around the world, and I am inspired.

The goal is not to get it all done before the lights go off. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to say our piece as best we can while the spotlight shines upon us, and hope that those who hear us will carry on the tune once we exit the stage.

Prayers to the Rutherford family, much love to you all at this moment. Franki, you will be missed.


  1. That is a beautiful post, Beth. I will send the link to Jessi, Franki's daughter.

  2. Thank you for this, and I love this photo. Tina Hanlon (one of Franki's admirers at Ferrum College).

  3. Beth,

    Thank you for such a wonderfully written piece on my mother's passion for equality. You're words are helpful during this difficult time.

    thank you again,

    jessi (Franki's daughter)

  4. Thank you, Beth, for your thoughts on Franki.

    -- Tracy

  5. Beth,

    I'm not sure how many times now I have read this piece, but every time it brings back the wonderful memories I have of Franki. I was her housemate this past year as she studied with you and I heard your name and those of your classmates often as she recalled countless moments of inspiring conversation from that research class. Thank you so much for this article as I will always keep it as a tribute to that wonderful year of graduate school I spent with Franki. This is simply a beautiful piece and I will be forever grateful.

    Thank you,

  6. Thank you for the kind words, all. I am glad my memories of Franki are a comfort. My thoughts are with you, Jessi.

  7. Hey Beth,

    Do you mind if I quote you during my speech at the memorial service this Saturday? You've perfectly articulated my mother's passion for equality as well as her passion in the classroom.

    I truly appreciate it.

    - jessi

  8. Hi Jessi,

    Absolutely, I would be honored. Please feel free to use whatever you find helpful. I will not be able to join you tomorrow, but please know I am there in spirit.

    All my best to you tomorrow.