community · empowerment · learning · mental health · teaching

A Community of Care

The end of term brings about inevitable musings on the cyclical nature of the academic life. What else is procrastination from marking good for? I would like to think more about what the end of term brings as a way of understanding why everyone I talk to–myself included (why, yes, I do talk to myself, don’t you?)–seems to be exhausted. Things clicked last night when I was talking to students, and the answer comes back, once again, to emotional labour, and the duty we have to care for one another in order to have a community. The reverse is also true: we cannot have a community without care. At the end of the fall term, I contextualized that care as the need to pay attention to students’ mental health. Today, I’m looking at care in the context of post-secondary education in Alberta. If you’re tired of hearing about the budget cuts higher education in Alberta is facing, you might as well click away right not, but you’ll also miss an example of community care that creative people have organized in response.

Katherine Binhammer and Diane Chisholm, professors in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, organized a teach-in in response to the Alberta Government’s Draft Letter of Expectation for UAlberta. More specifically, they have rounded up a panel of faculty from the department to showcase why humanities research, critical thinking, and creativity are not only relevant, but indeed crucial to our life (and I’m not shy of universalizing this point). Alongside Katherine and Diane, Julie Rak, Michael O’Driscoll, Mark Simpson, Cecily Devereux, Eddy Kent, Jaimie Baron, and Nat Hurley took turns using different literary studies methodologies to pinpoint the problems with the language, the rhetoric, and the very real implications of this draft letter. And they did in front of a full HC L-1, which is the largest lecture hall in the Humanities Centre.

It was a moment of pride, of solidarity, of empowerment. Most of all, it was a moment of building a community of care; a moment of jolting us out of our neoliberal-enforced solitary labour, especially at this busy point in the term; a moment of doing our jobs. It was also a brilliant demystification of the “ivory tower” argument that props up so much political rhetoric about the irrelevance of the humanities.  To use the poshest of buzz-words, it was knowledge mobilization at its best.

Why do I link it to care? Because, the most frequent argument used to belittle humanities research–and, it has to be said, which we use ourselves–is that “it’s not going to cure cancer.” No, humanities research is not visibly health care. But it is care! And it even is *health* care. It’s the best form of health care because it’s the preventive kind. This teach-in says we know what ails us as a community, and here is the answer: more human care, more mental health care through solidarity, more coming together. So, join us as we take care of our community!*

Watch the CBC Edmonton coverage of the Teach-In, but whatever you do, don’t read the comments.

*Come march with us from the UAlberta quad to the Alberta Legislature on Wednesday, 10 April, at 4 pm.