May 15, 2020 | Bringing It #38: Keeping Hold of Purpose in the Pandemic

Dear friends,

As the semester ends but the pandemic doesn’t, the higher-ed conversation is changing. “How do I make this Zoom thing work?” has given way to “Will my institution be able to open for face-to-face learning in the fall?” For many, too, there are harder questions: “How many lay-offs will there be? How can I protect my health and that of my family?” We hope that you and yours--including your colleagues and students--are able to be safe and supported as you grapple with these issues.

We know that BTtoP doesn’t have the burden of solving administrative and classroom emergencies; we admire the energy and creativity with which higher ed has responded this spring. Yet we’re also worried that the need for emergency management makes it harder to retain our hold on the purposes and values needed to guide us through the crisis and in its aftermath.

Everywhere on the Internet, there are hot takes on the question, “How will Covid-19 transform higher education?” With respect, we’d suggest that’s not quite the right question.  How do we aim to change higher ed at a moment when change is inevitable? How do we move beyond reactive responses, bringing our own purposes and values to bear on the crisis? And what should it mean to educate students to be actors in an era of recurrent crises (recessions, the next pandemic, and climate crisis)?

Right now it’s hard to even start to consider such questions. But we’re already noticing some important responses. Our friend Cathy Davidson (CUNY) published a great essay here about the need for trauma-informed pedagogy as we move forward.  Michelle Miller (Northern Arizona) offered this reflection about how pandemic teaching deepened her attention to student needs. And you can hear David’s thoughts about bringing educational purpose to bear on the pandemic as a featured guest on Bryan Alexander’s Future Trends Forum. (Thanks to Bryan and the attendees for a rich conversation.)

It is inspiring to see teachers and students sustaining engaged education in the face of the crisis. Here are two more examples of BTtoP grantees and friends doing just that.

PLACE Spotlight: Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Collective, and Pitzer College
Despite the horrid conditions of precarity and loss we collectively face right now (or perhaps because of them), connecting together across time and space to use art as a tool of expression and advocacy has emerged as a critical and healing intervention. With the support and inspiration of the BTtoP PLACE Collaboratory grant, a (soon-to-be) traveling art exhibit is emerging in Southern California from the collaboration of two grassroots, community-based organizations and Pitzer College. Staff and community members from Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ICIJ) and Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Collective (IEIYC) have joined students and faculty from Pitzer to develop a photovoice project entitled “Immigrants of the Inland Empire.” The project combines the longstanding practice of “policy listening tours” by ICIJ with the community-based listening aim of PLACE.  It began by hosting art-making spaces in a variety of local gatherings, where community members were invited to share what issues they most cared about in regards to immigration, detention, health, and labor. Out of this grew a commitment by a group of ten community members to document their lives through photos and words that would illuminate the experience of being an immigrant in our region. These artists now come together virtually each week to share and reflect on the images, which explore the meanings of home, family, food, imprisonment, liberation, empowerment, and creative imaginings of the world they want. Their photographs and narratives are becoming vital components of the organizing campaigns and advocacy efforts of the community organizations, currently through media storytelling and virtual organizing events and eventually as a traveling art exhibit. These outcomes, along with the creative and community-building path that birthed them, prove, once again, that art+community+resilience=transformation.  

This Year the Tacoma Program Spring Community Fair Will Go VIRTUAL!
The Tacoma Program of The Evergreen State College is one of the most exciting adult-serving programs in the country. Located in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood, its students do terrific project-based work in their communities on the way to completing their bachelor's degree. (To learn more about Evergreen Tacoma, click here.)

This year, of course, the pandemic has forced the Spring Community Fair, where students present their projects, to go digital. The silver lining is that everyone can attend. Here is the announcement from our friends at Evergreen Tacoma:

This year the Tacoma Program’s Spring Community Fair will go VIRTUAL! Students will interactively present their year-long research projects on community issues, including healing childhood trauma, resilience & sustainability, worker organizing during the COVID crisis, and environmental justice. We welcome all to join us May 16th-23rd for these empowering presentations + additional live events, like a film showing, children’s story hour, and memoir reading. Learn more here

With many thanks, 

David, Caitlin, Mercedes, and Kate