There is no academic space that plucks us from obscurity and makes us something. I myself am a product of God’s grace, mercy, and a vibrant and loving community. The past few weeks have been a precious reminder of what I will always be, regardless of where I am professionally. I am still overwhelmed by the support from former students, family, friends, and colleagues old and new in starting an exciting new journey. Like all those before, this was a milestone and moment that was transformed through the power of community.
I also can attest to how detrimental it is when community is not present and proximal in nuanced ways. The academy itself can be its most violent when it alienates us and leaves us in precarious interpersonal conditions. Through being distant from community we are not only isolated, but poorly insulated from harm and those that routinely perpetuate it. It has been in both times of trial and triumph I realized that the professoriate itself must be a community project.
Planning for and prioritizing community
In understanding the professoriate as a community project, we must plan and prioritize community. Planning means not relying on academic spaces to cultivate and maintain community, but rather, seeing ourselves as the conduits. This requires playing a proactive role in observing the values, perspectives, and actions of others and then deciding who we intentionally want to build and sustain deeper connections with. In doing this, there is also no conflating of where one works with one’s community.
Establishing proximity to community
Whether we are physically near or far, being in proximity to community means we are finding ways to maintain closeness to the best of our ability. Many academics often have to live in places that may jeopardize being geographically nearby spaces and people they value. Maintaining communication through Facetime, phone calls, text, social media and a host of other avenues have been useful in working against the separation I often experience in being physically distant. I have also worked to redefine where it is best for me to live when an opportunity arose to move. In my recent relocation, I was able to be intentional about living in closer proximity to my church/faith community as well as spaces where I could serve. Reconsidering my living location has reinforced that I was created for more than labor and that every aspect of my life is elevated when I stay in community.
As a new and undoubtedly concerning school year begins, what I don’t want to offer is a trite and ill-timed manifesto about actualizing productivity in the midst of chaos and grief. I also realize how difficult it can be to not let academia rob us of commitments and connections to spaces and individuals we cherish and sustain us. My message is brief but direct. Center community. Love on those you consider family and beyond. Remain steadfast about what matters.
Dr. Constance Iloh is an associate professor at Azusa Pacific University. You can follow her on Twitter @constanceiloh