Last week I talked about the areas of overlap and divergence in the experiences of women in academia. In both the cases of overlap and divergence, some things are trivial and others are much more important. I mean, we could spend weeks talking about different coffee habits, coffee houses, coffee discounts, and other coffee-related differences and similarities across and within institutions. But that’s not particularly helpful (though, to be honest, now I am seriously craving a big cup of coffee). So today I wanted to talk a little about which of these areas are worth exploring further.
[pullquote3 quotes=”true” align=”right” variation=”red”]Instead, academics (students and professionals) feel alone in a sea of people who feel similarly alone.[/pullquote3]
I guess that talking about issues facing women in academia in a rank order scale is not necessarily helpful since it implies pitting issue against issue. It seems ridiculous to argue about whether adequate mental health services/support or creating breastfeeding areas is more valuable. But for me, this is where various backgrounds are so helpful – what may be the biggest issue in my department to my perspective may not be relevant to someone else. By using our backgrounds and perspectives as a framework or context for placing these issues, we get a better understanding both of what the issues actually are and the people who are facing them.
Furthermore, by talking about how our institutions are succeeding and failing, we can look for solutions. The shroud of silence academia likes to wrap itself in can really hinder forward progress – if people keep pretending issues and problems do not exist, then it is impossible to ever address them. Instead, academics (students and professionals) feel alone in a sea of people who feel similarly alone. It is the ultimate in counter-productive.
I’m sorry that lately I have been writing about so many vague, big picture things. I know it can be harder to read and think about – not through any fault of you, dear readers, but in my own inability to properly discuss and specify what I am talking about. It’s just that I’ve been writing this column for over a year now (yeah, wow, I am surprised, too) and I feel that I see the same things over and over again. I see them in real life, I see them in your comments, I see them in other blogs. I feel like there is so little movement forward and I am starting to wonder about how effective or helpful these conversations are.
It’s easy to point to the problems, but then, after they’re pointed to, what next? I expected progress, depth, and development over time, but I feel like I am still pointing. I want there to be a way to really find movement forward, to integrate experiences into discussions of empirical problems, to feel that these conversations move us down a productive path. So what are the biggest issues? And is there anything to do to address them?
Man, this turned into a mildly existential crisis version of the women in academia post. It feels mildly meta to be feeling this way about a post that generally covers issues that make me feel this way.