Just three days before Thanksgiving, when my mother, 65, suddenly committed suicide in the United States to a major cause of death, the experience felt brutally unusual. With its rapid and unexpected onset, sudden cardiac arrest can plunge a surviving loved one into a fog of disbelief and despair, as Joan Didion beautifully captures in her 2005 mourning commentary. Years of magical thought.
I introduced myself to a new reality in the need to make a quick decision like leaving my mother in the Irish earthly kingdom, one of my first tasks was to decide how to proceed with the remaining weeks of the semester. I immediately thought throughout the year about my students who lost their parents at a much younger age than me; I can hardly remember a semester where I had no students who were gripped by grief in any form.
Samira Rajabi, a scholar of trauma and grief media studies at the University of Colorado, points out how the epidemic has left so many people with deep feelings of vague grief. Countless of us fight invisibly invincible losses that are hard to identify and name after a tiring two years. Of course, students, instructors, and staff are not immune to this development, which adds to the more precise and explanatory damage such as the death of a loved one. As I have said many times in the last few months, I feel like I am overloaded with grief.
I have always been in touch with the sympathy and flexibility of my students, especially since March 2020, but I wonder: how helpful and sympathetic was I really during their dark times? How should the institutions best help the bereaved students, as well as the instructors and staff members, especially in this time of crisis? For instructors, especially for contingent faculty, where does personal responsibility in this capacity begin and end – both in support of grieving students, but also in managing one’s own grief?
It is vital to underscore that social identities and identities related to race, gender, class, aptitude, sexual orientation and their intersections deem deeply the experience of grief and the possibility of one’s grief to be understood or supported within the framework of higher education. In the days following my mother’s death, I had to consider what was fair to my students while navigating the relative advantages of my own social position and position at the university.
Grief is normal, not confusion
Grief and loss are fixtures of human existence, but their consequences are seldom built into American institutions. Among the relentless fall of the epidemic, the recent one Business Insider The headline declared, “America’s lack of mourning holidays is creating a mourning crisis.” In the article, Marguerite Ward noted that “the average HR policy allows for one to five days of mourning; The most popular policy is three days. “Tenure-track junior faculty like me get enough flexibility and support.
For example, my chair worked generously with me to complete the last three weeks of the fall semester asynchronously. The road map for pivoting in asynchronous learning was charted with the introduction of COVID-19, and my students were already accustomed to sudden changes in instructional methods. Despite the leisure time being off, the academic calendar makes it quite difficult if the initial instruction usually occurs at 32 weeks of life. My mom died three days before Thanksgiving which provided a kind of cushion with a scheduled break. Sadly, with immediate and painful consequences, I confessed to myself that he had died at a “convenient” time during the semester.
However, in the months that followed, I still struggled with cognitive deficits consistent with grief, including brain fog and mismanagement. Like many educators, my job forces me to live more than 500 miles away from my family. This created an ongoing challenge, as my mother served as the primary caregiver for my father and brother. The grief and grief experiences are as complex and unique as those involved, yet the larger social forces dramatically inform the level of systematic support allocated to the bereaved. Ever since my mother died, it has been strange to admit that I still need support and accommodation at work, even though it is completely normal.
Psychotherapist and grief advocate Megan Devine has rightly pushed back against the influential tendency to pathologize grief, especially in the service of making it understandable in the workplace. (As an aside, his work remains invaluable to me.) A recent one TweetDivine pinpoints that “the short answer to why we’ve even got a pathology-based view of grief supported by the medical industry is capitalism. Depression. “
Interacting with my students and colleagues is an understatement that feels like a sensitive powder cage. When I pass a colleague in the hallway and they sincerely ask how I am, I hide my true emotional state. The pressure to behave as if everything is OK is unbearable yet it feels inevitable. I often misrepresent my students’ deadlines, because I regularly confuse my three different courses. I struggle to remember the names of the students থেকে recognizing the students I have seen on campus since the first semester seems like a futile exercise. I echo many of Nancy Lynn Westfield’s observations from her direct account of what it is like to teach in grief. Sadly that is so common, what can we do to support those who endure one of the most challenging aspects of life?
Falling into sorrow
Since March 2020, neoliberal discourse, including higher education, has expanded, forcing workers to draw boundaries between their professional and personal lives. Many HR departments and high-level administrators have encouraged academic workers to implement boundaries and practice self-care while at the same time expecting more mental and emotional labor from their employees in crisis situations.
In their 2021 book, Outside of the office: Bigger problems and bigger promises to work from home, Charlie Warzell and Anne Helen Petersen have criticized the rhetoric of demarcating individual boundaries in the face of epidemic overwork and people’s tendency to equate employment status with personal identity. Wargel and Petersen stressed that organizations must set up guards to protect workers from exploitation. As the author explains, “Boundaries are personal. But Gardel is Structural“ (Main emphasis). I argue that when it comes to grief and mourning, we absolutely need Gardel. The thorny and more complex question remains: what can be the railroads of misery in higher education?
A framework that I found helpful, and one that originated from Warzel and Petersen Spotlight, David M. Perry, a senior academic adviser in the history department at the University of Minnesota. Perry suggested that organizations adopt a “universal design for work-life balance” approach. Vergel and Petersen formulate Perry’s idea of a universal design for the holiday at work, “policies that give specific time to the holiday, no questions asked – it is for something that others consider honest and necessary, such as taking a newborn home or treating an emergency.” Or not. You just need to … for something else. ” In short, for this approach to work, employers must believe that employees are requesting leave or stay in the workplace in good faith.
Perry refers to the hesitation to codify a standard of eligibility when vacation is required. Since grief needs are highly personal and personal, administrators must be willing to work with trainers in a spirit of trust and understanding কোনও there is no one-size-fits-all solution, especially when it comes to grief. It also requires a team-based mentality, where workloads must be allocated fairly within the expectations of reciprocity within an academic unit. Building a flexible department culture where this system can work is not easy or straightforward, but as Perry explained, it is necessary for sustainability, especially as a whimsical burnout of higher education.
I can prove that my department chair allowed me to teach classes asynchronously at the end of the last semester. For an unselected junior faculty like me, adjusting service expectations temporarily and advising on loads can also make a huge difference. In terms of teaching, I know that my chair trusts me while it still serves the purpose of learning the course while interacting with the adaptive expectations of my students.
Instead, I extend this level of understanding and flexibility to students because their needs change, especially if they are directly affected by illness or death. I abolished the punitive attendance policy, allowed students to complete optional assignments (there are always multiple ways to evaluate a learning outcome), implemented liberal time extensions, and relied on accounts of their experience. In short, I work with them, as my chair did with me, under the notion that they are expressing their needs in simple faith.
I also model openness and vulnerability with students in the process of my grief. Earlier this semester, I informed all my new students about my mother’s death and mentioned how my grief could be expressed in the classroom in terms of organizational and memory problems. I also shared that it helps me talk about my mom – encouraging them to ask me any questions about her, our relationship and my family and how I continue to rent. In short, I normalize the discussion of grief and name its effects. I can only hope that my attitude makes students feel a little less alone in a culture that is seemingly impenetrable to sorrow.