Some Thoughts on the Middle

By Kim Fulbright, University Ombuds, University of Cincinnati 

Wind tugging at my sleeve
feet sinking into the sand
I stand at the edge where earth touches ocean
where the two overlap
a gentle coming together
at other times and places a violent clash

Gloria Anzaldúa[1]
Borderlands/La Frontera

Jon Lee asked us early this month, “Where’s your middle?” It made me wonder about the relationship between the middle (born of liminality in Jon’s talk) and the margins.

Both spaces seem to cause uncertainty, discomfort, and sometimes pain. Feminist scholars of color have drawn on power and strength from the margins. Sociologist Patricia Hill Collins[2] named it “outsider within;” Gloria Anzaldúa calls it the Borderlands. I hear people in the ombuds world frame our profession in a similar way. I think it’s possible that we (ombuds) continue to challenge our own legitimacy from a place of fearing the margins. If we’re fearful of the inevitable transitions and disorientation in our organization, we lose our power.

Vulnerability amidst chaos is also captured poignantly in metamorphosis—a place of middle or margin I’ve been fascinated with my whole life. Magical organisms that shape-shift so visually to human sight. I spent hours as a child catching tadpoles then watching them grow their tiny legs, lose their tails, and eventually take their first breaths of air through new lungs. I loved finding and feeding hungry caterpillars in anticipation of (re)greeting the butterfly when it emerged from its own goop.

I have always felt in the middle through my life—a middle-dweller as the daughter of divorced parents with two separate families by the time I was 10, a middle-dweller as someone who identifies as queer in Ohio, and a middle-dweller as a student drawn to interdisciplinary programs of study. I even chose a graduate program within a field that is fixated on whether it’s a true discipline or not.

Recently, my most important middle is the one between raising young children and caring deeply for a (perhaps) terminally ill father. Still in my 30s with six aging-adult parents (including in-laws), I assumed I’d be sandwiched at some point; however, I didn’t think it would be so soon. My identities and roles are overlapping and clashing moment to moment as a mother, daughter, partner, ombuds. This constant jolting into different roles in a sometimes violent way has led me to consider my identity in new ways. Even as I write this, my almost 4 year-old wants me to “listen to this song I’m singing!” and my cell phone vibrates with updates about post-chemo “blast cell percentages” from my dad.

Am I the margin…or am I the middle?

As an ombuds I often ask visitors to reflect on Pema Chödrön’s[3] question, “Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?” Anytime we recognize we have a choice in how to use our agency, we’re drawing on strength and power. How will I lean into the discomfort of conflict? How will I show up in the ambiguity that is life?

In conflict work, we know certain experiences are put before us and/or we choose to live an examined life and we are faced with middles and borders all the time. Anzaldúa writes,

“she leaves the familiar and safe homeground to venture into unknown and possibly dangerous territory.

This is her home

this thin edge of


Finding a middle doesn’t necessarily mean being in the margins, but I think it can feel like being in the margins. The transitions from birth to earth and through life into death are certainly worthy examples of transitions and are also up against some kind of border.

As a new ombuds, if I hadn’t figured it out yet, Wayne Blair clearly communicated through his powerful keynote address at the IOA conference in 2017: We must be leaders in our organizations. Choosing to lead from a place of not knowing, of vulnerability, and seeking moments of metamorphosis will serve us within IOA.

We can recognize that maybe the marginalization is what gives us our power, as feminists of color have taught me. Jon reminded me so perfectly that our unique, sometimes unexpected, perspective in the world is viewed through our middle and margins.

[1] Anzaldúa, G. 1999. Borderlands/La Frontera (2nd ed.). San Francisco, Aunt Lute Books.

[2] Collins, P.H. (1986) Learning from the Outsider within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought. Social Problems, Vol. 33, No. 6.

[3] Chödrön, P. (2016). When Things Fall Apart. Boulder, Shambala.

Share this post:

Comments on "Some Thoughts on the Middle"

Comments 0-15 of 6

Ms. Kimberly Renée Jackson Davidson - Thursday, May 23, 2019

Thanks for sharing Kim. I appreciate working in a profession and with colleagues who are able and willing to openly reflect on these substantive life questions.

Kim Fulbright - Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Roy Baroff - Friday, May 03, 2019

Kim - thanks for sharing! And, as I read your statement "Am I the margin . . . or am I the middle?" I immediately thought that you (we) are both. That the margins are only the margins of a middle we inhabit and as we step into the margins, that can also become our middle. Is the middle like many other things dependent on the place of the beholder? Your middle is different from mine. And, what does this say about us as ombuds? Is "our" middle the same? Perhaps there is a "sameness" as we think broadly about our standards yet I think our practices suggest that there are multiple "middles." Thanks again!

Mary Bliss Conger - Thursday, May 02, 2019

That comment was supposed to be a heart, but I guess the first part was cut off. Let me be clear: I love your post, Kim! Thanks for sharing yourself with us here.

Mary Bliss Conger - Thursday, May 02, 2019


Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg - Wednesday, May 01, 2019

thank you Kim, this is so eloquent and I love to hear reactions to Jon's talk. Another term is sandwich - for those caught between caring for children and parents, but that's such a static image. You capture the dynamic, fluid nature of the state, and I like that you use the role of those caring for family members. I agree that there's great power for us as ombuds in this space. our leadership is from influence and knowledge and curiosity and taking risks in acting to share information.

Please login to comment