Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to think about what it means to be a member of a supportive community. The beloved cafe in my new home town has experienced a misunderstanding with the town council over patio space. The short term result has been for the cafe owners to take a vacation and recharge. It isn’t just that we are missing the excellent espresso and St. Viateur bagels. It is that we are missing the people we get to see on a daily basis. That’s the thing about a small town: if you’re feeling lonely or needing a wee break you know you can head down to the cafe and have a chat with folks. In the meantime, I’ve witnessed a community of care rally to try and rectify the situation for everyone. The aim, it seems to me as a newcomer, is simply to make our town better for the whole community.
What does this have to do with academia?
It is fall, and as jobs are posted, the MLA job list opens, and grant application deadlines seem to be running straight towards us rather than looming in the distance I’ve found myself wondering once again what a community of care in the academy might look like.
Sure, these communities of care happen on a micro-level: reading groups, friends, small trans-university networks. I can think of many times when these communities pop up on a smaller scale. For example, having someone offer to show you his successful grant application as you write yours, having a mentor offer advice about where to send those revisions, talking with friends and letting of anxious steam, having a colleague offer you letterhead so you can continue to apply for jobs, having an institution offer you adjunct status to allow you to apply for grants: these are all small-scale instances of care within the academic community.
But what might it look like to create large-scale communities of care in the academy? What kinds of specific structural changes could happen at the classroom/ departmental/ faculty levels? What kinds of changes might happen if we — and by “we” I mean those of us working in the academy in full- part- and precarious-time positions — simply to make things better for the whole community?