Straight Outta College: Proving Your Worth as a Young Woman Artist Without a Degree

by Lora Mathis

“fear of being tied down,” Lora Mathis

I have not been in college for two months and already I feel that any sense of possibility I had is disappearing. Browsing Craigslist for jobs, I see College Degree Required on every listing. One part of me stays motivated; I remind myself  that for creative opportunities, the quality of my work matters more than a degree. But there is a worry in me that sounds so much like my mother. 

Lora, what will you do in the fall? How are you going to feed yourself? Where will you live?

What about school?

When I was in eighth grade,I made an impressive list of universities to work on attending. Boston University. Yale. NYU. A family friend caught me clicking through a school’s website once and said, Well now, that’s ambitious. 

Ambitious was me at 14. Having just moved to Quebec, I started preparing to attend high school, telling my mother that I would have to homeschool myself in subjects that my small, rural school did not offer in order to get into a “good school.”

As of now, I have completed two years of general education courses at a community college in Southern California. Aside from a math course, I have all of the requirements to transfer to a four-year university. My plans have been to study English, with an emphasis in Creative Writing. However, as I fulfilled my transfer requirements in other subjects, I began to toy with the idea of studying Photography or Sociology. Having to complete courses in several different fields just to transfer works well for some students as it piques your interest in other fields and gives you the idea that opportunity is everywhere. This makes sense. But I can’t stop thinking What Am I Doing With My Life.

It feels like I have to graduate university in order to prove my worth. As if otherwise, everything I say and create remains undeveloped and therefore, illegitimate. Although, this might just be what it feels like to be a young creative woman. The degree does not matter. The work only half matters. I still have to prove I deserve to be listened to. Always.

The single creative writing course I took in college made me question if I really wanted to be taught how to write. I devoted four hours a week to workshopping other’s pieces as well as my own. Honestly, I wrote some strong poems when I was taking that class. But I also had to take criticism from folks who wanted to be anywhere but in class. Looking back, the best part of that course was that I met two of my closest friends there, who have since been editing my writing and offering suggestions when I need them.

Of course, that’s just one class. An entire program would offer more, I’m sure.

Poetry, to me, is a private act in which I shed a layer of myself and relive everything I’ve ever felt. I write poetry because I cannot carry all of these thoughts inside of me. They need room to breathe. The thought of entering into an academic poetry program scares and excites me. In my head, I weigh the pros and cons. The pros would be building a writing community and learning from my peers. I want that. I want to be pushed in my work and given criticism that allows me to grow. I want the work I create to be taken seriously, and getting a degree is a stamp of professionalism. But the cons are that I do not want to grow as an artist inorganically.I don’t want to write simply because I want to get a good grade. I don’t want to change my voice to suit my professor’s preferences.  

At times, school feels like a chore. There have been many times when I have questioned if I was going to school for myself or someone else.

Right now, I have as much education as my mother. She got pregnant and dropped out of school to take care of her children–namely, me. She calls me almost everyday to ask about school. If you don’t go to school, she says on the phone, I’ll die.

I try to tell her that I am not dropping out, I just need to have concrete reasons for going. I am not sure what I want to study. I want to move around before I commit to a two or three-year program. I understand what a privilege it is to be able to go to school, but I need to make sure I will be in it for reasons other than making my mom happy. I deserve to be happy too.

There’s also the concept of money. Higher education in America is unattainably expensive for a lot of us and even though my family is helping me out, my throat goes dry when I think about how much it will cost. Why is college seen as a social requirement if most people cannot afford it? My friends who went straight to four-year universities after high school are going into serious debt to get their Bachelor’s Degree. They try justify it, talking about their college experience, the teams they’re on and the events that their school throws. All I can think about is, money money money.

I’m not in school right now because I have no idea what I am doing with my life. This is about as much as I’ve figured out: I want to create. I want to foster a strong community around me. I want to present social inequalities through art. I want to learn about the world around me. I want to grow as a person and artist.

The time I have spent in college helped me do all of this. The classes I took pushed me creatively and presented me with new information. I learned how to work in the darkroom and use a large format camera. I learned about love and the social attitudes of sex. I learned that 95% of the ocean remained unexplored. Two years since I enrolled, I feel sharper and more developed. But a part of me wonders if this growth would have occurred whether or not I was in school. I want to keep exploring.

When my mother calls me tomorrow morning to ask what I’m doing and if I will be in school, I will say the same thing I have been saying for the last two months. Mom. I’m not sure. You always say that you are not a complete person until you are in school and that I need to get a degree to be taken seriously, but you don’t recognize my goals. I want to grow as a creative person and be recognized for what I make, and right now, school seems like it’s just taking up a lot of my time. I’ve been in school for sixteen years and want to try something else for a little bit. Let’s call it a hiatus.  

She will say, I think you’re making a mistake.

So I’ll sit myself down and take a deep breath. I’ll tell myself:

Hey, if you’re not in school, it’s okay. You’re not any less of a person. You’re not inferior in intelligence. Your skills are not useless. It is not the degree that matters for creative opportunities. It’s the quality of the work. Put yourself out there. Build a community with creatives around you or online. Collaborate with other creatives. Try new mediums. Create work which scares you. Get involved in shows. Submit your work to magazines and contests. Know that a large number of people are in college because they have the financial means to do so and because they do not know what they’d do otherwise. It’s not stupid to try something other than what is presented to you.

It’s brave.

Lora Mathis is a poet and photographer from San Diego. Author of the poetry collections “bigger bolder less pathetic” and “i forgive everyone,” she also co-runs the zine press ink/paper press. Her photography and poetry has been feature in The Fem Lit Mag, Words Dance, and Vagabond City Lit. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works for Where Are You Press. Where Are You Press will be publishing her latest book,The Women Widowed to Themselves, in Summer 2015. 

I feel I have normalised homosexuality for them. I’m not the lesbian teacher: I’m a teacher who happens to be a lesbian. And nobody cares. Or, at least, it seems that way. But if you dig a little deeper, you find a whole raft of students and adults who do care: the bi-curious girl in year 8; the year 11 boy who has just come out; the transgender student in year 10; the cleaner whose daughter has just moved in with her girlfriend. All these people are made to feel safer and more accepted because I am out and I am safe and I am accepted. Without a doubt, having an out teacher in a school is invaluable when discussing diversity and tackling homophobia.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that of all the gay teachers I know, I am the only one who is out in the classroom. The sad reality is that not every gay teacher feels able to be out with their colleagues, let alone their students, and asking them to come out for the good of future generations is a big ask. It is asking the most vulnerable of our workforce to put themselves in the firing line.

So what’s the solution? Surely, if things are going to continue to improve, staff need to bite the bullet? Well, yes. But what we also need is for heterosexual members of staff to shout the loudest. We need them to display Stonewall posters, openly refer to gay friends and relatives, remove the stigma of discussing sexuality – because they recognise that, despite the legalisation on gay adoption and gay marriage, facing your sexuality can be hard – for staff as well as students.

Some personal books that I recommend on the sometimes underrated aspects of racism, (black male or general male) psychology, history, politics & war. All literature that I believe should give a well rounded intro into the importance of said subjects concerning the matters of everyday modern civilization. Hopefully proving to you how they all intertwine with one another, compliment each other & expose long guarded secrets. leaving absolutely no doubt that a thorough understanding of the civil sciences are a crucial element to the preservation & future triumphs of a people. Because I for one am I’m sick of seeing how incomplete, naive & uninformed many of our revolutionary minded people are in this battle of oppression. Excelling in some areas but totally dropping or missing the ball altogether in others.

Examples: we may be able to understand & dissect racism but not understand politics, we might understand racism & politics but not have a clue regarding the science of warfare, we might also have a good understanding of our own people but be completely ignorant to the mindset of our enemies (a common one) & so & so forth…..resulting in repeated failures.

Now there’s plenty of other literature that I can suggest checking out, you don’t have to stick with what I recommend here as there really is no shortage of info out there, but just to give a general idea of the things we should consider opening our minds too if were really serious about heightening our conscious & waking all the way the hell up!

From top left to bottom right:

  1. 1. Black Skin White Masks - Frantz Fanon
  2. 2. King Warrior Magician Lover: Rediscovering The Archetypes Of the Mature Masculine - Robert Moore
  3. Autobiography Of Malcolm X: As told to Alex Hailey 
  4. The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli
  5. War And Peace And War: The Rise And Fall of Empires - Peter Turchin
  6. The Destruction Of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a race From 4500 B.C. To 2000 A.D.
  7. The Isis Papers Keys To The Colors - Dr. Frances Cress Welsing
  8. The Art Of War - Niccolo Machiavelli
  9. My Life And Ethiopia’s Progress: Autobiography of Emperor Halie Selassie I, King of Kings, Conquering Lion Of Judah, Volume 1
  10. Selected Speeches And Writings Of Marcus Garvey
  11. The Cultural Unity Of Black Africa: The domains of matriarchy & Patriarchy in Classical Antiquity - Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop

“I feel like a queen,” says Brazilian woman teaching in Finland, the No.1 country in the world in education

Note from BW of Brazil: Another interesting category that we like to feature here from time to time is the success and experiences of black Brazilian women in other countries. We’ve already seen a former maid’s “nightmare to American Dream” in the US, a music career that took off in Italy, another former maid create a social enterprise in England, another woman finding race easier to deal with in Germany, and yetanother who saw another perspective of herself while living in Canada. Today, we bring another story of a black Brazilian woman who has found success on the other side of the world, this time in Finland!

Full story here: “I feel like a queen,” says Brazilian woman teaching in Finland, the No.1 country in the world in education

Help me please

Please help me people of Tumblr. I know I will be asking for a lot but I really need your help. I need to raise about $3000 to attend college. If I am unable to raise this money I will be unable to attend college.
My family have been living under very tight constraints. My father had to move to Chicago in order to take of myself, my siblings, and my mother. I have not seen my father is about 1.5 years now. I understand that it may seem very minuscule but I really do need your help.
My brother and I have both gotten jobs in order to help support and any help will be appreciated. I know I’m asking for a lot but please take a look at my gofundme page the link is this:
Please Tumblr, help me attend college. Help me become a doctor and disprove the stereotypes of Muslim women. Help me show the world that being a hijabi isn’t a form of oppression but freedom.
Thank you!
If you donated please let me know! I want to send you handwritten letter!

This was me when I graduated high school, on my way off to college. I was so ready and eager but college is a lot different than I ever expected.
Almost no one in my family has finished college. My parents haven’t, my sister hasnt. I wanted to be the first in our household to graduate and earn a STEM degree.
Coming from a low income family, I can’t make ends meets for my college tuition. I’m working a minimum wage job and I’m receiving financial aid, but it’s not enough to cover all of my college expenses. I’m struggling. I’m stressed. My anxiety is through the roof. All because I can’t pay for what I need to pay for.
I need help. I don’t want to be another young woman who can’t pursue her dreams and completely forgoes education and a career in chemistry because I am poor.
It’s so important that there are women in these fields. So, please, don’t let a horrible higher education system keep another young woman from her passion.

VidCon 2015!

Here are the official events I’m participating in for VidCon this year – Click on through to read more details on the panels. I am hugely honored to be included in discussions with so many prolific, creative, and progressive content gurus. Joe Hanson is moderating The Brain Scoop Q&A this year and I’m thrilled! (There will still be time for your Q’s at the end.)

Please note: ¾ of my engagements are on the Creator track - this was a new concept for everyone this year and I wasn’t sure how inclusive/exclusive the results would be, but I do hope I see as many attendees as possible. If it turns out too many can’t make it to the community panel (and, if it’s anything like last year, Making the Internet Smarter fills up a 1,000-person room), we’ll figure something out or schedule an unofficial meetup. 

Will I see you there!?

Sneak peak at the art we have for EDUCATION FOR WOMEN! If you want to submit art to our gallery to raise money for suffering women, please email

The following are the charities we are going to be donating to:



TRANS WOMEN & INTERSEX PEOPLE IN INDIA (for victims of hate crimes, for women transitioning, for women in need of emotional support and therapy):

FREE THE NIPPLE/BREAST CANCER (covering patients’ treatment costs, therapy, etc.):