Bringing It #96: The End of the Term
For many of us, December is an annual time of running on fumes: a race to finish class assignments, submit grades, trouble-shoot campus emergencies, and stagger to the end of the semester. Part of why campuses have holiday parties is to honor that work and to mark an end to it—to remember that there’s more to academic life than late-semester exhaustion. (It’s also why people put up Christmas decorations and kindle Kwanzaa and Hanukah candles: to remind us that there’s still light at the shortest days of the year.)
This year, however, the December exhaustion has also been deepened by a longer, more cumulative toll: Covid, fiscal stress, enrollment cliffs, the campus mental health crisis, the daily experiences of racism and material need. Small wonder there are so many reports about faculty and staff turnover and wrenching stories of personal burnout.
The exhaustion and demoralization—the harms of the turmoil we’re living through—are real and often devastating. And so it may be sustaining to remind ourselves that they aren’t the whole story either. Readers of Bringing It know that we try to lift examples of positive change in the face of the current crises, to shine a light on the persistence of creativity, solidarity, and care across higher ed. Recent issues of this letter have featured exciting new models of transdisciplinary learning; campus programs that strengthen students’ electoral engagement and democratic participation; colleges that holistically support the needs and aspirations of adult, working students; departments that infuse community partnerships and experiential learning across their curricula; national efforts to universalize civic and democratic learning in the college experience. We’re also learning about an array of other exemplars and innovators: colleges that bring attention to student academic success with a commitment to student belonging and well-being; programs that holistically support the academic and career aspirations of low-income and BIPOC students; institutions that center the voice and agency of students themselves in the design of academic programs. In coming months, we plan to showcase these stories in Bringing It, in a new season of our podcast, and on other platforms.
Such stories aren’t enough by themselves. They don’t negate the conditions of crisis that make burnout and exhaustion so prevalent. They certainly don’t negate the need for self-care, rest, and renewal. But perhaps they shine their own light on the possibilities of a way forward.
Please take time to rest and have a wonderful holiday break. The work of teaching and learning, and the work of change, can wait. We’ll see you in the new year.
With thanks for all you do,
David, Paul, Todd, Tammy, and Gianna