January 2017

It’s shocking to me how emotionally charged and sensitive my daily life is. For instance, increasingly someone’s personality or behaviors or (lack of) biases associates them to a political party.  No joke: yesterday when I did not give someone money outside the L, they called me a Trump supporter (because clearly those go hand in hand).

I’m also realizing how much academia sounds like a war zone. We have safe spaces, (micro)aggressions, allies, trigger warnings and most recently sanctuaries. I’d compare this time to the 1960s, but the music then was way better.

Completely over-generalizing, there are two camps of soldiers with whom I interact:

  1. Nurturers/optimists/friends. These are people who advocate:
    *Hand holding scholars and leading them through the crazy and intense maze that is academia. This could include hosting a class on introductory college life, or simply having one-on-one meetings with (select groups of) students.
    *The need for designated safe spaces and safe space training. Campuses, along with the rest of the world, are filled with hate and students frequently feel discriminated against. They need to know who their allies are on the faculty.
    *Professors taking attendance and sending warnings to every student every term regarding their academic status. Students need to know someone out there is watching them who cares. Studies have shown their brains won’t be fully developed until they are 25. They need gentle reminders and prods.
    *Trying to understand the personal backgrounds of students. They have experienced and are experiencing struggles privileged academians never could fathom. These students are afraid to take the initiative because they are embarrassed or simply don’t know that professors care; it is the onus of the professor therefore to take the initiative.
  2. Non-nurturists/pessimists/enemies. These are people who:
    *Don’t necessarily have a sink-or-swim mentality, but who believe that students should not be given a guidebook on how academia works because they honestly think it’s not that complicated.
    *Feel that on the faculty front all college spaces are automatically safe in the “safe space” sense.  But that people still should be challenged to defend their beliefs and experience arguments in order to be prepared for the unsafest place: the real world.
    *Feel taking attendance and instigating communication with a struggling student are actions one would need to take with a minor in high-school and not with a legal adult in college.
    *Feel unqualified to speak (and do not speak) to students about matters outside their course material/structure until or unless the student instigates–in which case, the professor refers the student to someone else more qualified to help.

I think quite honestly both armies are losing the war.

Lurking behind all of these forces is the idea of blaming other people for our problems. We blame our parents for our emotional baggage. We blame our high schools or neighborhoods for our struggles in college. We blame our teachers for our poor performances on tests. We blame Trump for our unsuccessful begging attempts. And I’ve noticed recently that I have been guilty of this. I blame my parents for forcing me into an undergraduate school which I blame for me going to a less-respected (at the time, probably not now) state school where I then blamed my adviser for not helping me get a job like all the advisers of all my friends which forced me into a non-research postdoc which I blamed for not helping me stand out from all of the people with research postdocs.

But at some point, I (at least) have to take personal responsibility. If I wanted to go to another school then I could have shelled out money and/or simply studied more and done better on the subject exam I was taking. I could have chosen a different adviser, or at least added one with the reputation of getting students the jobs of their dreams. I could have altered my choice in career path to accommodate my background and postdocs instead of beating myself up for getting so many rejections for positions I was never qualified to hold.

Still this is all a bitter pill to swallow. So here’s the soundtrack to get me through it. For once, it’s not alphabetical by artist. This is a true TTENG “playlist”. And I don’t want to hear about all the rules I broke about opening/ending with a particular type of song, or the number of covers (or the #7 to #8 connection). Make your own playlist if you want to counter.

  1. A Better Son/Daughter, Rilo Kiley
  2. Grandma’s Hands, Meg Mac
  3. Skinny Love, Birdy
  4. I Know It’s Over, the Smiths
  5. Where is My Mind?, Pixies
  6. Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd
  7. Closer, Nine Inch Nails
  8. Hurt, Johnny Cash
  9. No Surprises, Radiohead
  10. The Blower’s Daughter, Damien Rice
  11. Cathedrals, Jump Little Children
  12. Rock N’ Roll Suicide, Seu Jorge
  13. Hallelujah, k.d. lang
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