I read the news last night with tears rolling down my cheeks, and repeated the act this morning. Civil Unrest was not on my bingo card for 2020. Maybe it should have been. I was betting on the murder hornets. Regardless, here we are.
Somehow, my responsibility is to put that aside and go to work. Work I do, now, from my knitting studio in my attic, because a global pandemic has shuttered my campus. Because more than 100,000 Americans have been killed by this virus. Regardless of the fact that my heart is with protesters demanding basic human rights, regardless of my fury that we have militarized our police without holding them accountable the way we do the actual military, regardless of my fury that a request to “please stop killing black people” led to police arresting black reporters and using tear gas and projectiles on citizens, regardless of my joy that 1,000 of my neighbors marched and demonstrated last night with the support and assistance of our local police… my feelings aren’t relevant. I have a job to do.
Two weeks ago I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders as I tried to pivot my team toward our new post-COVID reality. Scenario planning for fall 2020 classes felt huge, and impossible, and so momentous. The lives of thousands of students and hundreds of faculty colleagues would be impacted by my institution’s choices, and my voice in those discussions could matter, so I needed to use it well. My therapist urged me to cease the absolute thinking; my voice could have an influence, but the weight of the world was not, in fact, on me. I am one voice among many, and the decisions do not end with me. At the time, I thought she was both right and unrealistic about my emotional engagement in the work and its outcomes.
Today, I just want us to make a call, publicize it, and move on. Because white supremacists are setting our national agenda. Because we are this close to national martial law. Because Congress is doing nothing to stop Executive overreach. Because the very students I’ve been advocating for – our students of color, our students struggling to escape poverty, our students who see college as a way to escape a community that doesn’t support their values, our students looking for a second chance in the world – they’re the people this crisis most affects. I’m going to keep sitting here in my attic, white, middle-class, rural, employed. Safe. So it’s not about me. It’s about them, and their very lives. How we adapt higher education to the post-COVID world seems less of a crisis, right now.
What moved me from reading and weeping this morning – the thing that got me into the shower and through a cup of coffee and to my desk – is that a post-2020 world is going to need higher education. The same tools that we were dedicated to delivering to our graduates in 2019 – critical thinking skills, strong communication abilities, the capability of contextualizing facts and constructing mental frameworks that lean on many disciplines, empathy for multiple worldviews and experiences, and good, solid, discipline-based knowledge – those are the tools we will need in 2021. An educated citizenry, Thomas Jefferson believed, was critical to the freedom of our nation. Now, he was also a slave-owning aristocrat, and odds are good that he meant “wealthy white male citizens”, so do what you will with that, but the underlying sentiment remains true: to make choices in our own best interests, and the best interests of our nation and society, we need knowledge. We need skills. We need access. We need education. So I’ll plan for the fall, and do it with all I have to offer.
And then I’m calling my senators and asking where the hell they are on the issues ripping our cities apart, and what they’re going to do to support those who are on the front lines trying to fix it.