What to say about this academic year?
This was, for me, the hardest year, and this past spring term the most difficult of the pandemic. In many ways it should have been one of the easiest: I taught in a physical classroom, sharing space with my students—the modality in which I have taught the longest and am most comfortable. For most of the term, Covid numbers on campus and in my county were low, and everyone in my classes was masked. One of my courses was (is) a passion project and it went really well. I got to fully ungrade, which was delightful. And my students were great – facing their own struggles, to be sure, and as tired and stressed as they have ever been. But they showed up and worked hard and they were so good.
But the fact that the elements of an easier term were in place and yet it didn’t materialize points to the thing we know in our bones—that the cumulative effect of the past two-and-a-bit years is enormous. For most of the past term I had the mental acuity of someone trying to walk through molasses. I was floundering before the Supreme Court leak, the mass shootings, the climate catastrophes, or this round of inflation. I stripped away every responsibility I didn’t absolutely have to perform at any given moment, having lost the ability to plan more than an afternoon ahead, and still felt like I was drowning too often. The volume of things that needed my attention often felt beyond me, even if it was something as small as replying to an email. And for the last two weeks of class I was sick, and so caught up in just putting one foot in front of the other that I never considered coming to a halt.
There have been moments of incredible joy scattered throughout this academic year, and I met and talked with and learned from so many people. I think we’ve all become old hands, by now, at stringing those pearls together and appreciating the heck of them precisely because so much else is a grind. But we can’t keep going like this. We can’t keep pushing through as if it’s 2019 but with masks (if we’re lucky). I think of the people who teach year-round, and/or who are contingent, and/or who are drowning in debt, and/or who don’t get to take time off during the summer, and I worry, deeply, for every single one.
I’m working on a project that I dearly hope will come to fruition to pull together some of the people in higher ed who shine so brightly in this foggy moment, all working to think up solutions to these problems. Big solutions – not ‘limit your email hours’ (although that’s important!) but ‘change what working looks like’ solutions. I have no doubt there are many other people engaged in that work, too, who are digging in their heels and saying no with their whole selves and insisting that we do better in ways large and small. We need this – we need that ‘no’ from everyone who has the security to say it, because so many people don’t. And we are going to work ourselves into an even deeper health crisis than we’re in if the whole of higher ed doesn’t figure this out.
I’m not sure how to finish this, except to say ‘I see you’ to everyone else who’s struggled and worried and persisted, and I dearly hope there is some rest for you ahead. Please remember that trauma—and the last two years have been defined by protracted, rolling trauma—is something that shows up in the body and not just the mind. Feed that body every bit of rest you can, whether it’s an hour or a week; find the quiet (or the noise) and the space (large or small), and the action (or the stopping) that you need. If you need an ear, let me know – I’m always so happy to listen.
(And ff you’d like to reflect in community with others who are processing this academic year, consider signing up for my June 15th workshop.)