It was not in Raj Lyubov’s nature to think. Character and training disposed him not to interfere in other mens’s business. His job was to find out what they did, and his inclination was to let them go on doing it. He preferred to be enlightened, rather than to enlighten; to seek facts rather than the Truth. But even the most unmissionary soul, unless he pretend he has no emotions, is sometimes faced with a choice between commission and omission. “What are they doing?” abruptly becomes, “What are we doing?” and then, “What must I do?”
— The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin (2010, p. 124)
When I started reading the selections for this week the above quote from one of Ursula Le Guin’s books came to mind and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s went into my hand. In higher education, in our graduate school careers, in the courses we teach, and with the students we work with the question remains: what are we doing?
What are we doing when students from historically marginalized populations continuously take the third shift of educating their peers, and us, about what it is like to be at an institution that was never meant for them?
What are we doing when we make students jump through hoops of paperwork for “accommodations” that may not actually fit their needs out of fear that someone, somewhere would abuse our generosity if we simply took students at their word?
What are we doing when our peers and colleagues say they suffer in ways we could never understand, that they’re tired, that they have to be on their “best behavior” to avoid validating stereotypes and that they feel tokenized when the only time their voices matter is if they are needed for a photo-op for the upcoming recruitment brochure or for a video highlighting the diversity at a given institution?
What are we doing in these situations? Sometimes this
When I read this weeks readings I felt/feel: angry+sad+irritated+ tired…
I feel like I need to go grab another three pints of Ben and Jerry’s even though I know I’m probably at least partially lactose intolerant and that I should be a vegan.
I feel all these things and this is what is missing from most of the classes I’m in and from a number of the conversations I have with folks outside of my friend circle: emotion and affect.
Palmer’s essay was about this notion and long before Palmer people such Audre Lorde pointed to the uses of emotion and affect, in Lorde’s case The Uses of Anger. In fact, most of his essay read like the work of numerous liberation scholars including liberation theologians and those historically invested in black liberation. While what I say next is in keeping with what Palmer says, it’s from the space of the liberation scholars who did the labor before us all and are no longer around to see their labor bloom into a new movement and conversation.
Contrary to the commonly espoused belief, emotions can serve in a clarificatory capacity for some people at least some of the time. Which people? Well, probably the folks who historically have had robust reasons to be irritated with the current state of affairs and higher education.
How does this semi-diatribe relate to being a “new professional” and connecting the dots? It’s an invitation to reflect on the final question: What must we do?
How do we make space for emotion and affect to be in our classrooms where our students can be their full, authentic selves even in the midst of deep and sometimes uncomfortable conversations?
How do we relate to those who question the system when historically and systematically we are given disincentives and incentives to the contrary to censure, ostracize, and disassociate from the “revolutionaries”?
How can we be our authentic selves while we are here?
How can we do these things? By being revolutionaries which is what Palmer is gesturing at even if they never use the word and say they aren’t calling for an uprising.
What would that look like? I don’t know, but I suspect that the answer relies on building capacity and a network of colleagues who can share the labor, work together, and change a system to be in the service of those it is charged to serve-to place the system into the obediential service of students and faculty/staff alike.
What might it require? Being for and with one another even in battles that are not our own;
Being for and with our students in the project and labor of inviting them to be critical of themselves, the programs they are in, the lessons they learn, and of the institutions they attend.
I also suspect that it will require that we recognize why certain folks are able to set aside their emotions, their identities, in the work that they do and how requiring the historically dispossessed to do the same instantiates both a cruelty and an additional labor that, not surprisingly, can take a toll on their ability to flourish.
Ultimately, it certainly requires solidarity (tapputu in Akkadian which is why I picked it as my blogging name), emotion, labor, and hope–but what these look like are things we will have to figure out in the process of relating to one another and figuring out our revolution. While Palmer seems to think that it might not be an uprising, I think it has to be. Maybe there won’t be the “standard” revolutionary things—torches and pitchforks, marches, protests, boycotts, or a general strike— and maybe thinking that a revolution requires those things is obscuring the most basic sort of revolution: a revolution of ourselves and our friendships.
“You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or, it is nowhere.”
— The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (1974, p.301)