Monday, September 16, 2013

Dreaming Communities of Care in the Academy

Recently, I've had the opportunity to think about what it means to be a member of a supportive community. The beloved cafe in my new home town has experienced a misunderstanding with the town council over patio space. The short term result has been for the cafe owners to take a vacation and recharge. It isn't just that we are missing the excellent espresso and St. Viateur bagels. It is that we are missing the people we get to see on a daily basis. That's the thing about a small town: if you're feeling lonely or needing a wee break you know you can head down to the cafe and have a chat with folks. In the meantime, I've witnessed a community of care rally to try and rectify the situation for everyone. The aim, it seems to me as a newcomer, is simply to make our town better for the whole community.

What does this have to do with academia?

It is fall, and as jobs are posted, the MLA job list opens, and grant application deadlines seem to be running straight towards us rather than looming in the distance I've found myself wondering once again what a community of care in the academy might look like.

Sure, these communities of care happen on a micro-level: reading groups, friends, small trans-university networks. I can think of many times when these communities pop up on a smaller scale. For example, having someone offer to show you his successful grant application as you write yours, having a mentor offer advice about where to send those revisions, talking with friends and letting of anxious steam, having a colleague offer you letterhead so you can continue to apply for jobs, having an institution offer you adjunct status to allow you to apply for grants: these are all small-scale instances of care within the academic community.

But what might it look like to create large-scale communities of care in the academy? What kinds of specific structural changes could happen at the classroom/ departmental/ faculty levels? What kinds of changes might happen if we -- and by "we" I mean those of us working in the academy in full- part- and precarious-time positions -- simply to make things better for the whole community?

2 comments:

  1. I love this post. I wish I had an answer, especially today as my department is being very uncaring and inconsiderate towards its members in various ways. I honestly don't know what to do, but there are many, many days when I wish I could say out loud Wil Wheaton's mantra (which has become a bit of a meme), "Don't be a dick!". Alas, since I can't say it to those who are, all I can do is resolve to be better to those who come after me when the opportunity arises now and to resolve especially to fight the inconsiderate and unfair practices I see now once I have the protection of tenure. Not that everyone can, and so it comes back to trying to be conscious about everyday acts of small kindness as much as possible.

    On a totally unrelated note, they have St-Viateur bagels in Sackville?! So jealous! :-)

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  2. Oh, Pantagruelle. I don't have the answer either (hence "day-dreaming") but yes, as a wise wise person regularly reminds me it is a better thing to try and be strong and positive. Y'get more bees with honey than vinegar, right? But I do wonder what it might take to not only be nice, but to be resolved in collective action--the collective action of being a strong community... Where would we even begin to address this in a practical way? (And sure, who is "we"?)

    Yes: can you believe it?! St-Viateur bagels! And really really really good espresso. Come visit! Maybe you should propose a paper to the Discourse and Dynamics: Canadian Women as Public Intellectual conference happening next fall.

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