Gray Matters the Blog: Merging Academia and Multimedia Spaces

by Sharmeen Jariullah and Rikki Willingham

We established Gray Matters the Blog out of an impetus to bridge academia and activism, especially through the perspectives of women of color, and have constructed it to include a blog, website, podcast, and social media profiles on Instagram and Pinterest. After we met through the Multicultural Women’s and Gender Studies graduate program at Texas Woman’s University and connected over shared experiences and similar outlooks, we recognized the need for a platform that links abstract academic theory and current sociopolitical events that largely impact disenfranchised communities. “Gray matter” is a term that commonly stands for brain matter but also refers to the spaces “in between” that reject binary and linear notions and embrace nonhegemonic systems and perspectives. The blog and podcast function as a bridge between academia and activism by providing tangible resources, centering disenfranchised voices, and making complex theories accessible to a wide audience. In these capacities, Gray Matters the Blog enacts feminist pedagogical perspectives in and outside conventional academic spaces.

The Personal Is Political

As scholars and activists, we are inspired by feminist and womanist collectives that acknowledge the importance of learning from our own and others’ personal experiences when responding to and analyzing the systemic oppression of disenfranchised communities, especially those whose lives and experiences are largely omitted from the hegemonic narratives pervasive within the academic ivory tower. In a 1975 speech, the Berkeley-Oakland Women’s Union (a group of socialist feminists) validates this form of knowing and producing knowledge, stating that “‘The personal is political’ is a crucial perspective because it legitimizes people’s experiences by acknowledging that what people already feel to be important is important” (96). We have taken inspiration from this perspective, as well as from the Combahee River Collective, made up of Black feminists advocating for collective revolutionary vision, and applied it to the topics we cover on the podcast, which includes many discussions outside of mainstream discourse. We feel it is imperative to not only include but also highlight certain topics based on the legitimacy outlined by the aforementioned groups. The inclusion of personal experiences and perspectives are tools in dismantling hegemonic structures and are as valid as dominant patriarchal epistemologies. Gray Matters the Blog reflects this ethic in the dialogue we have with the audience and our guests on the podcast and also through the subjects we highlight on the website and social media.

Bridging Activism & Academia

As academics study social movements and perspectives there continues to be a disconnect between academia and activism. Transfeminist activist and scholar Carol Riddell discusses the detrimental effects of making academia less accessible to marginalized communities, specifically in relation to the transgender community. They note that when scholars focus narrowly on ideas, they forget the individual’s humanity, as people are far more complex than the limited dimensionality of a concept or analytical framework. Riddell claims, “it does not treat us as human beings at all, merely as the tools of a theory” (155). Within academia, one must continuously engage in discourse that recognizes the lived experiences of the communities we research and theorize about. This engagement not only involves connecting with marginalized communities but also centering their voices as a part of academic scholarship.

Moreover, theory is not developed only in academia, as Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa note: “A theory in the flesh means one where the physical realities of our lives—our skin color, the land or concrete we grew up on, our sexual longings—all fuse to create a politic born out of necessity” (23). In this sense, feminism and womanism can maintain a connection between scholars and activists, valuing the experiences of women of color, many of whom have been active in their communities. As our global culture increasingly relies on social media, news media, digital media, etc. for information and educational tools, academia will need to adapt to such complex learning systems. And as future generations continue to engage with new internet platforms, including but also going beyond podcasts and social media, a theory in the flesh promotes accessibility and aids scholars in developing a relationship with those outside academia, potentially bringing a wider range of social justice theories to a larger audience.

Centering Disenfranchised Voices

Gray Matters the Blog uses autohistoria-teoría to create space for discussion beyond the conventional academic spheres and advocate for inclusion within academia. This concept, elaborated by Gloria Anzaldúa, involves “an incorporation of the spirit in academic work” (Bhattacharya 2020, 198) and, in doing so, highlights the value of perspectives and narratives that are marginalized in traditional academic structures as well as in social and political systems more broadly. Anzaldúa further explains that “Conectando experiencias personales con realidades sociales results in autohistoria, and theorizing about this activity results in autohistoria-teoría. It’s a way of inventing and making knowledge, meaning, and identity through self-inscriptions” (2015, 6). Autohistoria-teoría seeks to connect theory to the personal and not separate the soul, spirit, and theoretical practices of knowledge from each other. Who you are and the theory you embody are just as important.

Gray Matters the Blog incorporates spirit and centers disenfranchised perspectives with several podcast episodes in our “Herstory” and “Spiritual Activism” series, the “Creative Space” and “Theory Exploration” pages on the website, and inclusive dialogue (conversations that include marginalized communities) across multiple platforms (social media, website, and podcast). For example, the “Creative Space” page features various creative works from us—the Gray Matters the Blog cohosts—and the community. Part of our aim is to dismantle binaries and hierarchies, so this page works as a counterpart to the “Theory Exploration” page, which we discuss below. The creative pieces themselves are often in dialogue with aspects of the creators’ identities, an element experienced by those who visit the web page and which offers another mode of showing how the personal is political. This page also centers the individual and collective stories of marginalized communities, performing autohistoria-teoría, in the way each activist, artist, and creative tells their story and connects their work and life journey to the collective. This process is also inclusive to the viewer, as they are able to comment and engage with works.

Making Complex Theory Accessible

Gray Matters the Blog offers users multiple options to connect with and understand complex theories through the podcast and website. The blog connects to and supports the dialogue from the podcast and provides material to continue the conversation. In terms of accessibility, Gray Matters the Blog aims to support all forms of accessibility to participate in the dismantling of ableism, racism, sexism, and heteronormativity, among others. The “Resources” page is especially valuable for explaining foundational themes and terminology. There is also a “Theory Exploration” page, which expands the ideas referenced in the podcast and allows people to offer their own interpretations of and reflections on theory and social movements and on any topic that connects in a significant way with the Gray Matters ethos, whether or not we’ve discussed it. Therefore, this page further manifests our commitment to centering ideas and experiences from people of all backgrounds and using blogging and podcasting as valuable forms of knowledge production.

We use theory in Gray Matters the Blog also to dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools. For Audre Lorde, the master’s house refers to academia’s hegemonic and binary narratives and suggests that using these ideas and practices won’t effectively challenge the inequities and exclusions they enable (2007 [1984], 112). While it would give too much credit to the master to claim all theory as their tool, the master’s house has certainly attempted to co-opt theory production. AnaLouise Keating makes an important point that as women of color partake in so-called high theory production, they are participating in dismantling the master’s house (2002, 12), which cautions against simplistic assumptions about who does and does not use and create theory. Following Keating, Gray Matters the Blog embraces theory to make it more accessible and inclusive and utilizes feminist rhetoric and praxis to dismantle the master’s house. It benefits both academics and activists to realize that theory cannot be restrained by or restricted to the ivory tower; rather it is formed and exists in all spaces. And we felt it is necessary to provide theory in an accessible manner to those outside of academia and formal scholarship.

Tangible Resources

Utilizing platforms such as a podcast and blog, Gray Matters the Blog aims to create more inclusive spaces by providing community education and resources so that others can engage in what is deemed “academic” dialogue. Accessibility is a part of providing tangible resources, and Gray Matters the Blog aims to be accessible on all fronts. We include alternate text for images on the website and social media pages and attempt to provide multiple pathways for people to learn about the topics discussed in podcast episodes and theory web pages. First, the podcast is available on most podcast platforms (including but not limited to: Anchor, Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Podcasts) as well as the website, and we aim to post transcripts of the podcast conversations. We have also created a “Resources” page that links to the sources referenced in podcast episodes so that paywalls don’t prevent people from learning more about these topics. Because all the content we create is free, we are providing the type of open-access materials that many educators and institutions increasingly look to as resources for students.

We are working on expanding our resources to include more transcriptions as well as workshops and training seminars in areas such as cultural competency and diversity and inclusion that will educate groups and individuals and help them create more equitable workplaces and social experiences. Through conversations about social justice theory, individuals can develop a more critical lens when consuming media and begin to tear down the walls built up around the academic knowledge production process. However, as we develop and expand Gray Matters the Blog we also encounter material challenges that can slow progress toward our goals. As one example, we currently have transcribed only a few podcast episodes from season one, and we are pursuing further financial support to complete additional transcriptions.

Pedagogical Perspectives

Gray Matters the Blog participates in and promotes an evidence-based pedagogythrough the emphasis on dialogue rooted in scholarship. “Evidence based design is a process for applying research findings about the physical environment to improving the design” (Fisher 2016, 8). Our platform as an educational tool is set to facilitate cyclical learning in which we not only study theory but also expand it by connecting to our lived experience and inviting the audience to engage as well. With this process of research and learning in mind, several podcast episodes were inspired by this community learning model.

We use an “edutainment” approach, which educates the site’s visitors in a way that is entertaining and provokes interest for continued engagement, further enabling a conversation between the work of activists and academic theory and scholarship. Scholar Linda Jarvin notes that “edutainment seems to work well to. . . bring about social change” (35, 2015), a characteristic we center in our work. We also invite guests on podcast episodes to contribute their expertise to the discussion and fulfill our goal of centering marginalized voices and experiences and democratizing knowledge production via platforms such as social media, which provides accessible content while staying rooted in our values and rectifying misinformation. The “Un-Book Club”—another Gray Matters resource—is one example of how we use “edutainment” within an evidence-based pedagogy. As academics and bookworms who enjoy reading, we refer to a lot of books. However, because traditional book clubs have often excluded BIPOC communities we purposefully chose to call it an “Un-Book Club.” Aligning with our aims of inclusivity, we hope it will be a space for all to contribute without the fear of inadequacy and will invite those outside of academia to engage with academic texts, which are often inaccessible based on paywalls and availability (think: peer-reviewed journals), while also supporting as many open-access pedagogical methods possible.


Gray Matters the Blog disrupts the traditionally exclusionary practices of the ivory tower and within the field of gender studies with its multidimensional approach that interconnects the work of activists, activism, and theory. By dismantling hierarchical academic conventions and binary logics, the podcast platform engages with the practice of the feminist act of public scholarship. Gray Matters the Blog contributes to the work of activists and theorists who seek to dismantle the binaries of academic conventions, shows the range and diversity of valuable knowledges and, in particular, includes marginalized communities in theory production and praxis. We seek to bring light to the importance of recognizing and respecting intellect, the personal, and the creative in prompting individual and systemic change. We firmly believe that change starts within the individual and that knowledge is key to opening the paths to progress. Eliminating the gatekeeping of knowledge is essential to empowering society to rethink, relearn, and rediscover individually and collectively; herewith, there is a greater chance for social change.

Works Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria E. 2015. Light in the Dark = Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, edited by AnaLouise Keating. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Keating, AnaLouise. 2002. “Charting Pathways, Marking Thresholds… A Warning, An Introduction.” In this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation, edited byGloria E. Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating, 6-20. New York: Routledge.

Bhattacharya, Kakali. 2020. “Autohistoria-teoría: Merging Self, Culture, Community, Spirit, and Theory.” Journal of Autoethnography 1, no. 2 (Spring): 198-202.

Berkeley-Oakland Women’s Union. 1975. “Speech at the National Conference on Socialist Feminism.” Socialist Revolution 26 (October-December): 93-100.

Combahee River Collective. 1978. “A Black Feminist Statement.” In Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Revolution, edited by Zillah Eisenstein, 362–72. New York: Monthly Review.

Jarvin, Linda. 2015. "Edutainment, Games, and the Future of Education in a Digital World." New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development 147 (Spring): 33-40.

Lorde, Audre. 2007 (1984). Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa. 1981. “Theory in the Flesh.” In This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, 22-23. Latham, NY: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press.

Riddell, Carol. 2006. “Divided Sisterhood: A Critical Review of Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire. In The Transgender Studies Reader, edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle, 144-58. New York: Routledge.

Fisher, Kenn. 2016. The Translational Design of Schools: An Evidence-Based Approach to Aligning Pedagogy and Learning Environments. Leiden, Netherlands: BRILL.

Sharmeen Jariullah graduated with her MA in Multicultural Women’s and Gender Studies from Texas Woman’s University in December 2020. Her work and research interests are interdisciplinary with a focus on media representations of Muslims and women from the MENASA regions and diasporas, transnational feminisms, and grassroots community efforts working towards accessible mental health care and the reduction of mental health stigma. Sharmeen (with Rikki Willingham) presented the multimedia digital humanities project Gray Matters the Blog at the 52nd annual Northeast Modern Language Association conference and presented “An Intersectional Examination of Representations of Muslim Women in Television Series” at the 104th annual Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference. In addition to working on her blog and podcast, Sharmeen runs her own makeup artist services focused on decolonizing beauty standards and training brands to create inclusive and equitable beauty products and marketing.

Rikki Willingham
I am a PhD student in multicultural women and gender studies (MWGS). I received my master's in 2019 from the MWGS Department and my BA from UNT in integrative studies. I’ve spent many of my professional years working in social media marketing. After years of working, I felt called back to academia. My true passion is teaching.

My research focus revolves around the media, specifically focusing on African American women's representation in the media and how this impacts the stereotypes and schemas that African American women face in society today. This included teaching others about the importance of media literacy. I also have a passion for bridging academia and activism. This inspired me to cohost a podcast/blog. This project has really taught me so much about myself and developed my pedagogical views.

In my “free time” I enjoy bingeing shows on Netflix and working on my podcast. I also like to practice yoga and learn about astrological birth charts.

“Evolution of thought and mind allows us to truly find our passions and purpose.”