I’ve noticed a troubling trend. Well, a troubling trend in my own behavior, not so much a troubling trend as a whole. See, the longer I stay in academia, the more I forget how different things are here compared with the experiences of the general public.
I’m not claiming some sort of academic exceptionalism – other fields will see similar skews in their averages compared with the general public. But academia, like those other fields, is different in its own way. Faculty skews male. Scientists in particular skew heavily towards atheism. Everyone is dragging around multiple degrees. Faculty are, on average, whiter and better off economically. And while I believe that applying critical analysis and thought to the structures of academia using information based in the rest of the world is appropriate and should be encouraged, I definitely can’t say the opposite.
What I mean is that thoughts and insights about issues and movements like feminism and anti-racism that from the general culture should be brought into and applied to academia, but insights from academic culture cannot be applied to the general culture in the same way. Academia is not somehow magically immune from the issues of sexism, for example, no matter how “enlightened” some people claim this place to be: the things we see in “the real world” are the same things we see locked up in this ivory tower.
But now, I’ve spent enough time here that sometimes, I catch myself thinking about academic culture as general. I start to think that the way issues can be addressed here can be applied outside of academia as a rule. That’s absolutely not true. Yes, there may be cases of broad applicability – I do not mean to deny that. But overall, what serves as a rebellion or as an act of defiance in this particular subculture does not necessarily serve the same purpose outside of these walls.
I’m not sure how to end with this. The boundaries between academic culture and general culture are real, but pervious. Acknowledging the limitations of our experiences, their lack of universality, is crucial. And I’m not sure why it’s sometimes so difficult to do so.