Open Access Thesis
I may have started college too early. My fifteen-year-old homeschooled mind could not have predicted the identity shift that higher education would demand of me. I did not expect academia to be filled with people who shared my background and beliefs, but I was, in many ways, unprepared for the way my Christianity would be challenged in the classroom and in my professors’ offices. After seven years of education within the structures of academia, I certainly have not lost my faith, but the way I think about, talk about, and practice it has tangibly changed. The questions I ask of God and the letters I write to Him now are vastly different from the ones my fifteen-year-old soul mustered.
Thus, “Hi God.” “Hi God” is a performative examination of the ways in which education changes and challenges faith and identity. Through metaphor, comedy, and brutal honesty, Grace—a Christian graduate student—questions how she should practice her religious identity within the world of higher education. Grace begins by writing a series of letters to God before writing to professors, other students, and the faceless entity of “academia.” Throughout the show, these letters highlight the ways in which identity, education, and impostor syndrome are intertwined in the environment of graduate school. Finally, the performer invites audiences to reflect on their own complicated relationships with knowledge, faith, and identity by writing their own letters.
That’s the short version—although, when dealing with feelings and experiences like this, everything is the short version.
I wrote “Hi God” as a response to the assumptions, both spoken and unspoken, that my professors, my fellow students, and myself have embodied in the classroom— assumptions that I have itched to address since I first encountered them as a high school student. I also wrote the script as a way to process my own frustrations, faults, and failures as a Christian and a scholar. Performance has a unique capacity to unite individuals through self-reflection, an experience I have craved since entering graduate school, and it also offers the much-needed opportunity to enact public confession and humility.
I intended “Hi God” to convey several distinct messages to different groups of audience members, including professors, students, and community members. The script calls professors to think before speaking on topics of faith and identity, both in and out of the classroom, and to examine implicit assumptions and biases in the academic system. The show invites other graduate students—and undergraduate students as well—to believe that they are not alone, and that they can belong and find acceptance within the system of higher education. Finally, the script speaks to community members (those not directly tied to the university education system) on the topic of belonging, providing the hope that impostor syndrome, though universal and far-reaching, is remediable.
To convey these intertwined messages, I chose to write an autoethnographic performance script. This method, full of flexibility and potential, meshes social advocacy and personal storytelling (Spry). I understand autoethnography as a creative way of making an argument, an emotionally powerful way to offer proof of my claims by narrating my experiences and those of others. Rather than asserting my claims about the higher education system in strictly academic language, I prefer to embody these ideas in a piece “that unfolds softly, one that circles around, slides between, swallows whole” the insecurities, the joys, the failures, and the triumphs of my graduate school experience (Pelias xi).
Year of Submission
Master of Arts
Department of Communication Studies
Danielle Dick McGeough, Chair, Thesis Committee
1 PDF file (38 pages)
©2020 Grace Elisabeth Mertz
Mertz, Grace Elisabeth, "Hi God: An autoethnography of loneliness in graduate school" (2020). Dissertations and Theses @ UNI. 1011.
Available for download on Wednesday, October 21, 2020