I’ve been lucky to step back into in-person speaking and conferences in recent weeks, the busyness of November buoyed by the joy of seeing old friends, meeting new people, and exploring unfamiliar cities. I’m between talks now, and am writing this from a warmly lit research desk at NYPL’s Schwarzman Library—the one my kids call the Lions Library. It’s a beautiful place to work; quiet, calm, almost reverent.
And yet: it feels off-kilter to be here today. My mind is anything but calm as the multiple crises of higher ed swirl in my peripheral vision.
This morning, like so many, I awoke to the news of gun violence at the University of Virginia. The too-familiar horror that has wracked so many campuses, yet again. I was supposed to be there this past weekend as part of their celebration of 30 years of Digital Humanities at UVA. In the end I spoke virtually, but really it doesn’t matter where I was. People were there. People I care about as well as people I don’t know. People interacting with the university in countless ways, who deserve to feel safe as they live and learn and work. This is a crisis—one that goes far beyond higher education, but that too often unfolds on university campuses.
Tomorrow, I’m supposed to fly out to the west coast, where an entirely different kind of higher ed crisis is unfolding. Graduate student workers in the University of California system—some 48,000 of them—are poised for a massive labor strike. Their work keeps the university system afloat, and yet—like so many others in higher ed—their wages aren’t enough to allow them to afford housing, childcare, health care. The workshop I am prepared to give frames career pathways in a context of labor advocacy, so it goes without saying that I am in complete solidarity with UC student workers. We all know by now that teaching and working conditions are also student learning conditions. The crisis is not the strike; the crisis is everything that has made the strike necessary.
And so, here I sit in this calm, peaceful library, wondering if my friends are ok, wondering whether I’ll be on a plane tomorrow, wondering what possible impact I can have in a system that is so deeply broken. When I say anything good in higher ed must be that which can grow from ruined terrain, this is what I mean.
Still, I will keep working. I hope you will too. New growth is possible; flourishing is possible.