I have put off writing this post until the absolute last minute because I still don’t know how to talk about the election, and yet I can’t seem to talk about anything else. What does it mean for my queer marriage? What does it mean for my undocumented students? What does it mean for my community college where we live and die by Pell Grants? I have been selfish- thinking mainly of myself and making contingency plans from the banal (get personal documents in order) to the ridiculous (preserve all the vegetables so we can eat underground after a nuclear apocalypse). It is only in the past week that I have started to think collectively, and remembered that community, allies, and coalitions are the best place to start.
In academia, we are horrible at collective action. The structure of our disciplines creates silos, and our research can lend itself too readily to isolation and over-inflated egos. We start to believe we only need our impressive intellects to thrive in the world. As contingent faculty have taken on more labor to free the select few who have access to tenure, we have wrapped ourselves in the comforting lie of meritocracy. “It should be this way,” we tell ourselves, “the system is working.” At best we think, “I don’t have time to deal with these massive structural problems in my field.* I am trying to write my book.”
We have forgotten how to work together for systemic change. Humanists in particular write about social justice movements. We don’t often participate in them. In fact, the folks I have seen in the greatest state of panic are my tenured colleagues and mentors. I think it has been a long time since they confronted this level of vulnerability. I think of Slavoj Žižek delighted with himself as he publicly endorsed Donald Trump for his disruptive potential. It felt so familiar. The white, leftist professors I knew in my graduate program have made similar flippant remarks. Privilege is a powerful enabler of delusion.
This week I started doing small things. I began reinforcing my emotional support network, which overlaps with the network of activists and organizers in my local community. I took time to call my friends, near and far. I worked with a few other professors and the student equity program to organize an event for vulnerable students to come and talk about their reactions to the election. We created a poster campaign with messages of inclusion and acceptance to paper the hallways of our campus. These are tiny steps. The next ones will be crucial. I hope we can unlearn that academic privilege that asks us to be individuals with great minds, and relearn how communities strike back against injustice in all its forms.