Good evening, friends,
I probably shouldn’t be writing this while angry and scared. I should wait until I feel calmer, less outraged, less tired, less helpless. Wait until this wave of fear goes out to sea again and before a new one crests. Write then.
When we started the Visionary Futures Collective over a year ago, we did it because we saw school back-to-school plans for the fall of 2020 and we were furious. We organized, collected data, designed projects to bring visibility not just to the bad decisions our universities were making, but to the ways that those decisions were impacting students and staff, and the action those workers were taking to resist.
We wanted to help. I thought we could help. I thought surely this is how organizing begins: with information, with community, with trust.
Remember what happened? The students at the University of North Carolina wrote a viral op-ed about the clusterfuck of higher education, and one by one, universities shut down.
Let’s be clear: when campuses didn’t close, people died.
Spring of 2021, we did it all over again. I thought: let’s take what we’ve learned and turned it into action. We identified particularly vulnerable groups across our institutions, like caregivers, like international students. And again we collected information. We built community. We shared our fears and our hopes.
Like everyone else, by the end of the spring, I thought we were done. I was so excited for the VFC to shift its focus from the crisis of the pandemic to its aftermath. I got vaccinated! I took a vacation, didn’t even bring my computer. When I got back, I thought, we could reorganize for the coming year, and start thinking about the bigger picture.
I had heard about the delta variant before I left town, but didn’t think it would impact me. By the time I returned, it was everywhere. When the VFC met for a general meeting, the writing was on the wall. We started a slack channel to plan for the new semester. How could we stop campuses from reopening? How could we stop them from causing harm? From ending lives?
If I’m being honest, the slack channel has been almost silent, the organizing never happened. Not for us, and maybe not for many of you. I don’t know exactly why, but I have a feeling. I think maybe everyone was too tired, too hopeless, too angry, too scared. I know I was.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It didn’t have to be this way. I don’t know what to do.
We don’t usually write newsletters like this. The point of this newsletter, in general, is to help people in and around academia shift away from feelings of hopelessness and towards solidarity and action.
But this week, I’m at a loss. My social media is completely disorienting. Some people are talking about fine-tuning their syllabi and posting selfies from campus. Some people are talking about death counts and threatening to quit their jobs.
I don’t work at a university, so it’s hard for me to say what I’d be doing now. Where I work, we are fully remote and plan to stay that way for the foreseeable future. I cannot express how much better my life is because my employers have made the decision to prioritize my safety. I think that this is the bare minimum that all of us deserve. I am outraged that it is not something that all of us can have. I do not envy any of you the hard choices you have to make.
I guess all I can offer is solidarity with everyone who is outraged, and exhausted, and scared.
Un abrazo grande
Hannah for the vfc
This week in feelings
Dear Coyote & bones
I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore?
Today we drew three cards to help us understand the context of the situation, where we need to focus, and what outcome we can look towards.
The cards we drew were The Adjunct, The Archivist, and The Job Market. Before we begin, a comment and a word of warning.
The comment: it’s telling that each of these figures represents a vulnerable member of academia: the precarious employees who can’t afford to resist; the academic staff who were the last to leave campus and the first to return; and the grad students whose careers hang in the balance.
The warning: we drew all three cards reversed. Because the world is upside down right now.
The Context: Card XII, The Adjunct Reversed
In traditional tarot, this card is the Hanged Man: it is a card of surrender and of letting go. The fact that the adjunct hangs upside down reminds us of the importance of viewing things from a new perspective.
When this card is reversed, the figure is upright, telling us that even though everything feels wrong, it’s actually the natural outcome of the choices we have made (or the choices that have been made for us).
This card tells us that there is no subtlety to the context of our current situation. To understand what is happening here, we need look no further than the figure of the adjunct, a symbol of our institutions’ decisions to abandon the public good in favor of labor exploitation and profit.
Just like the papers falling off the adjunct’s shelves, we find ourselves unexpectedly upright as everything else tumbles down.
Our Focus: Card II, The Archivist Reversed
The Archivist, traditionally the High Priestess, is a card of intuition and knowledge. Upright, this card calls on us to trust our subconscious and focus inward to find the guidance we seek; reversed, the card warns against taking too much stock in external influences.
For some of you, this card may be a reminder to focus on yourself and what you need to get through the semester. This may especially be the case if you are particularly vulnerable: because your job is precarious, because of your health or your financial situation, because of the people you care for.
For others, this may be a reminder to trust your intuition. What is happening on our campuses is not right. Even if everyone else is doing it.
The Outcome: The Job Market Reversed
In traditional tarot, The Job Market is the Wheel of Fortune, a card that signifies a state of perpetual change during which everything can come around again. From our guide:
This card marks the halfway point on our journey through the Major Arcana, and it indicates that we have every possibility before and behind us. The Job Market can be jarring to those who prefer to plot the future exactly.
Reversed, this card confirms that we’ve encountered a downturn. Honestly, did we need a tarot card to tell us that?
In the context of outcomes, we can understand this card as a warning and as a reminder. One way to read this card reversed is as a call to turn inwards, to step away, to retreat. Maybe this is an each-person-for-themselves card, a future where we are all desperately scrambling to win a lottery in which all of us, ultimately, will lose.
But reversed, this card also implies motion. On the wheel of fortune, what goes down must come up again.
This isn’t the card I wanted to draw. I wanted a card of solidarity, of collective action. But that’s not the message here.
Hang tight, this card says. Our time will come again.