I get a lot of questions about my teaching practice, my pastoral attitudes, and the relationship between my research that connects many aspects of identity with improving Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in British universities. I think about how to do my different works better a lot but, in that, I’ve never reached a short or simple answer.
I balance lived experience with inspiration from others, research, training and other learning while also making many and ongoing mistakes. In fact, I am concerned about edifying any one person’s process without the context of community, friendship, and assimilated knowledge. For example, I went to a workshop about a book, which is no longer happening, and someone gave an improvised introduction to the philosophy of imagination and how we can connect it to Black liberation. I am not philosophical and didn’t hold onto the details of their words, but I was transported in the moment and I learned a lot about energy and intention in teaching. And in my own way, about imagination and liberation. I know who that person was, and I always signpost their influence on how I approach topics in my teaching, but they aren’t tangibly acknowledged in the work that I do on a day-to-day basis.
I hold the conversations with friends, colleagues, and students as part of this process. I fail more than I succeed but I learn because I ask for feedback and I work very hard to reflect on the critiques I receive. Could I do something differently or in a more helpful way? Have I misjudged a conversation? Was I being lazy? Sometimes, I will feel that my authenticity or intention doesn’t work for someone and move on. At other times, I will have messed up. I catch myself losing focus and operating in unhelpful, unhealthy and toxic ways as the norms in university environments can feel safer and also, what is expected. Example: I often assume knowledge of certain phenomena in popular culture. So, I have a note on my desk that says: “Not everyone has seen The Lion King”. I don’t always remember but I also sit with the feeling when it happens to me and I feel lost rather than included. If you have never felt that distance from learning, it’s hard to locate creative empathy in whatever work you do.
For me, the hardest but most necessary part of aiming to be a good teacher, a respectful researcher, a good colleague, a helpful supervisor etc. is knowing that those things are largely conditional on the perspective whoever I am in dialogue with. Is my work, my energy, my intention having the impact I hope it will? If not, the only person responsible for that is me. And if you are thinking that this position reads as insecurity then you are misunderstanding the measurement of intentionality with likeability. I admit that I have not shaken the want to be liked but this is neither intrinsic nor essential to doing my work intentionally. I am regularly described as “confrontational” and “challenging”. Ignoring the codes ascribed with those expressions, I know that this is because I prefer direct questions and direct answers and that I am also unimpressed by non-answers. The thing about academia is that non-answers seem to come easily. We all hedge. We all present things with angles. We all consider how we cover our backs, especially when we have come from or are in precarious situations. There can be a safety in not answering when a question is asked. But often, that’s where the greatest harm lies. I have done it because it felt like the right choice at the time, but it has almost never been the best choice. The downside is that it risks more and costs more to be open and committed in a public way.
I describe myself as a bit too much. I am intense, emotional, loud, clumsy, enthusiastic, and eager to do my best work. It can be exhausting for me as well as to other people. But that is my essence, and I am fine with it. In order to argue about safe working environments or paying students for their time or changing the curriculum, I need to be all of those things because they make me present and attentive. However, they also make my mistakes more prominent and, sometimes, harder to undo. I don’t know what my approach to my work is other than that is should be liberatory, accessible, fun, and (often) useful to people around me. That is not the mode of my institution or my profession but it’s where I sit and most days, I try and move a little bit closer to it.