My friends over at Hook & Eye posted today about dreaming communities of care in the academy. What a wonderful thought. I love it. And I have to say that I have experienced the generosity that they speak of here more often than I have not in my academic life. I try to pay it forward as much as I can, but I am also someone who is imperfectly generous and who can have difficulty setting boundaries on such things at times. I imagine most of us struggle with this.
The idea of setting up communities of care in our everyday lives is really compelling, though. For myself, I am trying to do a couple of things that I hope help others (I already know these things help me). I have tried recently to ask for feedback from people who I think can help me grow the most professionally. Usually, this means people who are senior to me and who can teach me about writing, presenting, applying for grants, etc. Academic friends are great supporters, but they are often not the best readers or advisers for your professional material because they are founding members of your mutual appreciation society. I try to offer that same level of feedback to people who ask me for it. If I have to say no to a professional request, I try and do it quickly and honestly. If I am busy, I try to be open about my level of availability.
I also try to remember my friends’ and colleagues’ “stuff” as much as I can in our interactions. Has someone recently had a death affect them? Have they gotten a rejection that they are embarrassed or sad about? Are they going through a breakup? These things shape our professional patterns as much as they do our personal lives.
At Hook & Eye, they wonder how we might build communities of care at the structural level, in the classroom/department/faculty. I think that often it comes down to the very simple things that allow us all to do our jobs with dignity. Let’s try and remember that people have social, economic, and health concerns that often take precedent over their jobs, for one thing. I don’t think academics are always very good at this.
I have one example of a social economy that has a pretty good community of care established around it: new parenthood. Now, I can get into the gendered dimensions and socio-economic privilege of certain kinds of parenthood here, but I will reserve this for another post. What I’m thinking of now are the number of people who made us food, sent us things that we needed, and came over to help after my partner and I had our baby. I had never seen anything like it, truthfully, and it was overwhelming and amazing.
Why can’t we do this more for other important life events (good and bad)? Dissertating? New jobs? Book rejections?