It is mid-August. Never mind that summer seems to have arrived in Halifax (ie. we have had three days of sun in a row), I’ve got my head firmly–if reluctantly– turned towards September. As Heather wrote in our inaugural post, September is something of a fetish for us here at Hook and Eye. Sure, the work shifts into crazy-busy gear, but you must admit there is something thrilling that comes with those first early weeks of fall. Is it hope? (This year I’ll finish my book! This year there will be more jobs to apply for!) Is it possibility? (What will my students be like? Will they be excited? Recalcitrant?) Is it blind optimism? (See parenthetical statement number one) For me, that je ne sais quoi of September in the Academy it is always twinged with anxiety, but I find myself wondering: what are the students feeling?
When I first arrived on a university campus it was 1997 and I was in America. I had done my high school degree in a small town in North Carolina where my parents and I had moved five years previous. I was paying in-state tuition, which at the time was roughly $4,500 (plus books, room and board, and miscellaneous expenses). The price has gone up.
Sure, I’d been saving money in my bank account since I was a wee lass. Indeed, I have a very fond memory of my dad taking me to the bank to deposit the innards of my piggy bank (mostly pennies and nickles) which I had dutifully rolled into those paper tubes. I worked every summer, I worked throughout university, and I was very lucky in that my parents were able–and willing–to help me. Nonetheless, money was–and is–a huge source of stress.
My major, however, wasn’t. I was optimistic about my major (English), excited about my minor (Creative Writing) and absolutely certain that I would get a job when I graduated. My certitude didn’t come from a sense of entitlement so much as what my cousin and I refer to as our Protestant work ethic. Hard work wins out, at least that’s what I’d been taught.
But as I sit here watching the slow trickle of students return to the city I wonder: what are they anxious about? How have their anxieties remained the same as mine, and how have they become profoundly different? Do they feel disenfranchised? Do they worry that the world has no place for them in it when they finish their degree (that is, if they can even afford to begin)? Are they as apathetic as some media outlets would have us believe?
I know some answers to some of these questions because I have the very good fortune of knowing some of my students quite well. I want to get to know them better. I am trying to make space in my classroom and on my syllabus for the discussion of their issues through the literature we read together. I wonder how else I might productively address their anxieties…without taking on or creating more of my own?
*An especial thanks to TMacD, RM, and my other Internet pals for this post.