Me vs The Institution
She woke up outraged, so she ran. What was she running from or for? To forget, to rid herself of the anxiety, pressure, and frustration. Her goal wasn’t to take care of herself that morning; each step was a step closer to escape from the constant feeling of confinement, duress, and neglect. The freest parts of her soul felt suffocated and neglected; care wasn’t anywhere to be found. bell hooks was front of mind. She spoke to her, reminding her, “Abuse and neglect are, by definition, the opposites of nurturance and care.” Two miles passed, still hoping that for a moment she would find rest or release. Rest did arrive, yet brief. It was the first sense of pause that she had felt in a long time. She took a full breath, watched the dogs play, saw strong yoga poses being performed, and explored a daydream. She wanted this pause to carry with her everywhere she went. There was a point in time where she hoped she would find it through her work but that wasn’t true. As time went on, she collected and cataloged these pauses. She needed them. These pauses are how she protected herself from a world that quantified her, that valued her output more than her well-being, that demoted her livelihood, her health, her love, her rest, and her connections. These pauses, some created and others forced onto her by a cosmic force, were a form of resistance manifesting. A moment to stop and breathe. Stop and laugh. Stop and cry. Stop and be.
Every day I grapple with choosing between my livelihood and the institution. As a student, I have spent so much of my time molding to and producing for institutions. There are times where I feel so consumed by this process that other parts of me, which are meant to inspire and fuel me, are dimmed. I find myself revisiting the same question time and time again. Who am I producing this for? Prior to being in academia, I used to have a clear answer to this. It was my community. But the longer I am moving through this structure, the answer has blurred. I know I want to produce for my community but right now, I am really only producing for the institution and other scholars. If I don’t show that I can produce, I am not deemed valuable in the institution and the field, jeopardizing future aspirations I may have. And as we are told to take time and rest, how can we do that when we work part-time, teach, produce research, care for family, etc. So many demands, it’s nearly impossible to rest. For me, the feeling of being undervalued, underfunded, and exploited for my labor is all part of being in this structure. There is no care in this. That brings me to outrage.
I am shapeshifting myself to fit a mold. The words I use in my papers, the language and tone I use in discussions, the approaches pursued aren’t who I am. The outrage I feel stems from all of those little shifts I have to make navigating through this space. As I thought about our theme, “what is care for you in higher education?”, I feel uneasy exposing my thoughts. My answer is simply, I do not find care within the institution and I don’t know if I ever will. Care in its purest form for me, I find outside of the institution. All of the times where I experience care are in the pauses: when I am out with friends, when I get an unexpected phone call from my mother, when I walking to get my coffee in the morning, when I see random acts of kindness, when I daydream, when a film moves me to tears. These are where for just a moment I forget the stress and labor waiting for me.
This writing stands not to be a post on how I am engaging in self-care. It is meant to acknowledge the underlying outrage that fuels me to choose myself over the institution each day. It is a post to recognize institutions, whether they are our workspaces or academic spaces, as actively preventing us from engaging in radical self-care and as agents in our oppression. It is also a call to fund us more so we can afford to thrive and not just survive. I am choosing to acknowledge these feelings because I still have hope that we can reconstruct these spaces in ways that center our humanity and care. The institutions we move through should be rebuilt to protect us instead of profiting off of and exploiting us. Parts of ourselves should not be neglected. And for others who are outraged, when you are confronted with the dilemma of who do you choose: yourself or the institution, please choose yourself. Indulge in the pauses. Collect your pauses.