Academics live our lives searching out angles by which to critique and to challenge the status quo. So, perhaps it’s inevitable that instead of building communities of mutual care, we are constantly reenforcing habits of judgment, both of each other and of ourselves. Abusive relationships with mentors, toxic power dynamics in departments, and chronic anxiety such as imposter syndrome run rampant everywhere I look in our community. I wonder if the post-truth politics and anti-intellectual climate of the moment—when we’re taking more heat and are under more scrutiny than ever from outside the academy—might inspire us to find ways to actively support each other from the inside?
Of course, we still should be critical of one another’s scholarship, in the sense that we all want to keep pushing our collective thinking and understanding forward. But do we need to be so competitive on a person level? So angry or dismissive of each other in our rhetoric? Do we need to keep feeding the pride, entitlement, and abuses of power?
I think it’s a false dichotomy that more kindness means less rigor. My guess is that empowered, healthy scholars who were mentoring and supporting each other as a collective would likely be much more rigorous than a collection of competitive individualists who are at each others’ throats.
To build a more humane humanities in practice, I am starting by reconsidered the primary purpose of some of my scholarly activities, seeing them as opportunities to make compassionate interventions. I invite you to think about these as well:
- What would it look like if my participation in conferences/social events were centered around building networks of solidarity and support for those coming behind me?
- What would it look like if my campus service contributions were centered around healing rifts in my community and empowering those with fewer opportunities?
- What would it look like if my teaching and practice of critical thinking were centered around building up society’s capacity for personal growth and empathy?
- What would it look like if my editing/peer reviewing activities were centered around mentoring colleagues?
What are some other examples you can think of to reframe or reinvigorate our academic practice, and infuse it with more compassion? Let’s brainstorm together and build a better, more humane academic culture.