Addressing inequities in our own backyard

I have just returned from an intense qualitative research course session in which I pushed my students to acknowledge and work through the stuff blocking our ability to "dialogue across difference." I am blessed, teaching where I do for the remainder of this academic year, to have a students with a range of ethnic, national, racial, class, gender, ability, linguistic, religious, and sexual identities show up each week for our three-hour seminar. This diversity affords a range of perspectives that, when we are not rolling our eyes at one another or totally clueless about how much time and space we are taking up, allows us to think more critically about our own assumptions and behaviors. Yet, I mostly just feel exhausted. Not energized. The institution in which I work and, perhaps more appropriately my department, do not want to spend time and energy figuring out how we can create meaningful learning opportunities from this diversity. Rather, we seem obsessed with rankings, program requirements, and budgets. These are lean times, and we have to figure out how to survive through them. Yes. But if the goal of a university is also to expand horizons--to think about vantage points we have never considered, to venture into the world of ideas to help us resolve real-world problems, to envision different ways of thinking, being, and feeling that could benefit our communities, societies, and Earth--then I feel like we have seriously gone awry. We have reduced conversations around the water cooler to money, enrollment (which also, baldly, means $), and the continuation of individuals' pet programs. How did I get here, again?

I have admittedly consumed a few beers and could suitably be accused of venting. But I sincerely wish at this late hour that more of us would stand up and say, "NO! We reject the bottom line as an adequate measure of our work. We will not allow our class sizes to exceed a certain number because of how large classes compromise our students' learning and our own ability to have a life beyond work. We will not take on another class, another student, another committee, and/or any other additional work-related responsibility because such an action will undermine our ability to be present to our colleagues and students." Then, a student comes into my office. She begins to cry out of frustration, a very similar frustration--I surmise--to my own. And I realize that all of this "rightsizing" most deeply affects those we are (I am) here to teach, mentor, and advise. Now I'm back to the realm of actual human beings, and all I can say? This sucks.