The early years of our career are dehumanizing, aren’t they? We’re under enormous amounts of pressure to survive graduate school and land a job. We have to learn to play the academic game properly in order to be accepted within the system. If we are one of the lucky who get a tenure-line position, we have to be productive enough to keep it. We have to win the rat race, build the CV, maintain our productivity, get promoted, slogging our way through the bottomless to-do list.
Many don’t make it — either because they dropped out or were pushed out of grad school, or burned out of the adjuncting circuit, or were denied tenure. However, those among us who are fortunate enough to have survived this gauntlet, who are privileged enough to have become well-established and well-resourced, and who now find ourselves comfortably ensconced in positions of power have the opportunity to embody a second phase of our career. Of course, we could choose to continue the dehumanizing grind indefinitely, but we could also choose to shift into The Rehumanizing.
In The Rehumanizing, our time and efforts no longer primarily are consumed by finding our footing and climbing the mountain. We now have the comfort, stability, freedom, and luxury to focus on something different. We can choose to take on goals that are broader, deeper, more personal, and more holistic — in other words, more human.
From our privileged vantage point, we can now choose to help those coming up behind us. We can choose contribute to making institutional changes that will create more inclusive environments and humane processes. We can choose to focus on how we’re showing up for our community, on prioritizing constructive engagement with colleagues, and on becoming a force for positivity and healing in the spaces we inhabit. We can choose to become fully present and engaged — not just clocking in clocking out of work, but fully invested, whether at a faculty meeting, working with a committee, or chatting in the hall.
In this phase of our career, there’s also an opportunity to redirect time and resources toward fully showing up for students. Not just for their benefit, but also because doing so transforms our classrooms into fruitful arenas for our own growth and personal development. Engaging with a class over the semester can now be seen an opportunity to practice our own mindfulness, compassion, and presence. Our teaching can now become a mirror that teaches us to what extent we’re fully present — and when or where we are not. As we try to continually help students discover and embody their full selves, we may find that it all is also having a similar effect on us as well.
In The Rehumanizing, the central question we ask ourselves throughout our day no longer needs to be how much more work do I need to get done today in order to survive? It can become something more like how can I help? How can I be of service? How can I share the blessings I have received with others? How can this very job, in this very place, become a delivery vehicle for putting my own unique gifts out into the world? How can this very day become the crucible that furthers my own journey?
To speak more concretely, here are some specific places where established professors might find opportunities for Rehumanizing….
Admin: Become actively involved in making the structural changes we need to create a more humane environment for faculty, staff, and students. Whatever level of power you currently possess, how can you use your position to begin improving the academy, starting today?
Teaching: DEI and accessibility are essential, but these are also the bare minimum. Inform yourself about critical pedagogy, embodied learning, trauma-aware pedagogy, conflict resolution techniques, and other methodologies that can transform your classroom into a space of healing.
Campus service: If you have a choice of which service opportunities to become involved in, focus your energies on healing rifts in your community and empowering those who are or have been on the margins.
Conferences: Spend time mentoring junior colleagues over coffee or lunch. (And, of course, always pay the bill!)
Peer reviewing: Whenever offering formal or informal feedback, always think of your comments in terms of mentorship instead of gatekeeping. Handle your peer reviews in a timely fashion, keeping in mind that rapid publication times help junior scholars with jobs, promotion, and tenure.
Publication invitations: When you design a project yourself, always take care to invite a range of scholars that is diverse in terms of gender, race, seniority, and disciplinary interests. And, when you receive an offer to contribute to a volume or project that you are going to decline, recommend a junior scholar who is a good fit for this project to take your place instead of just ignoring it.
Self-care: Make a point of integrating self-care into your daily routine in order to actively help to manage stress, be aware of your emotions, and to become more present to your life. If you oversee staff, grad students, or other employees, encourage and reward self-care and work-life balance.
Thanks to members of the #HumaneHumanities Facebook group for some ideas on this list. What else would you add?