A Professor’s Action Plan for the Trumpocalypse
In the wake of the 2016 election, the core values I hold as an individual and that I believe are emblematic of the academic professions (e.g., multicultural inclusion, critical inquiry, and pursuit of truth) have come under direct attack. I believe that this situation necessitates a coherent and strategic response from any of us who are in a position to speak out. Below is my own personal action plan for the post-election era. I have arranged these ideas, compiled with the goal of maximizing my impact within the limitations of my power, from the personal to the community to the national level:
A. MICRO-LEVEL ACTIONS
- SELF-EDUCATION. At the personal and individual level, I plan to educate myself about the deep historical roots as well as the more recent factors that have led to the rise of right wing populism in the US and around the world. I plan to reach out to colleagues in history, political science, economics, sociology, and other fields, to ask for help identifying readings and resources. Although this critical inquiry does not necessarily relate directly to my own academic field, I plan to make time for this and to integrate it into my weekly schedule.
- INTERROGATING PRIVILEGE. I plan to continue to understand, reflect on, and critically interrogate my own privilege as a white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied male. I need to identify and work to break down my own inherent biases. Where I can, I should leverage my privilege in order to intervene on behalf of those who do not share it. I plan to keep reading, attending workshops at conferences and on campus, and learning from colleagues in who are engaged in this field of study. While these conversations may sometimes be uncomfortable, I need to remain open, engaged, and moving forward in this area.
- RESPONSIBLE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA. Part of my surprise about the results of this election was no doubt due to my being comfortably ensconced in a heavily left-leaning social media bubble. I plan to break out by reading more widely and seeking out a more diverse circle of contacts. Responsible use of social media also means recognizing its limitations. I need to know when to set down the computer and engage in the real world.
- SELF-CARE. I’ve noticed that this crisis has weighed more heavily on me than I would have anticipated. Stress, anxiety, and depression are not productive for critical inquiry. I am also finding myself in a very judgmental space right now. I need to be able to cultivate empathy in order to understand other people — especially when I strongly disagree with them. For all of these reasons, I need to continue to tap into my spiritual community, and to engage in activities for physical and mental wellbeing. Although it feels like copping out, knowing when to step away to care for myself will make me a stronger advocate in the long tun.
B. MESO-LEVEL ACTIONS
- CAMPUS ORGANIZATIONS & EVENTS. In addition to my own private life and personal space, I also know I can be an agent for diversity, equity, and inclusion within the communities of which I am a part. On campus, I have the opportunity to engage with these issues through committees and faculty senate. I can also continue to be involved in mentoring for student clubs, organizing or attending multicultural celebrations, and participating in other opportunities that bring me into regular contact with our diverse student body. I can also organize reading groups, small discussion groups, or public lectures on related issues, both on campus and locally where I live.
- PUBLIC STATEMENTS. I can draft a declaration opposing hate and bigotry, and propose this to my campus administrators and my faculty senate. I can also work to introduce a similar statement as legislation in the townships where live and where my workplace is located, as well as in organizations with which I have a connection. (Note that I must engage in this activity as a private citizen and not as a representative of the college where I work, cognizant of my employer’s policies regarding engagement in politics or media.)
- PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS. I was pleasantly surprised with the proactive stance on dealing with post-election climate taken by several of the professional associations I am affiliated with. Where such efforts are being made, I can support them, and I can utilize the resources and community that such associations provide in order to expand my circle, connect with people who have expertise I need to tap into, and keep myself informed. Where such efforts are not already being made, I can advocate for these issues to be taken up by writing letters to association officers.
- BECOMING A BETTER ALLY. I need to challenge myself to learn more about being a trustworthy ally for my most vulnerable friends, colleagues, students, and community members. I need to continue to read up on this, to reach out to colleagues who are more knowledgable than me, and to engage with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on my campus. I can also prioritize mentoring underrepresented faculty, staff, and students on campus, through my professional associations, at conferences, and in other professional settings.
- PEDAGOGICAL DEVELOPMENT. As my courses do not focus on the modern period, I do not often have the opportunity to directly engage in classroom discussions related to contemporary politics. When I do, I need to focus on the analytical tools my discipline brings to the discussion, taking pains not to present an unbalanced account or to state my own opinions as fact. I also need to remain cognizant that students have varying viewpoints and backgrounds, and not abuse my position of power at the front of the classroom. I need to continue to develop inclusive pedagogical methods that actively bring all students into the conversation. An openness to all perspectives is especially important since I want my classroom to be a safe space for dialogue and growth — both for students and myself. I need to seek out knowledgable colleagues who can help me to develop pedagogical methods that ensure I am doing this well and responsibly.
C. MACRO-LEVEL ACTIONS
- ENGAGE IN POLITICS. It’s in this arena where I feel the most helpless, but I am recommitting to supporting organizations that promote higher education, multicultural inclusion, civil liberties, and investigative journalism, as well as public academic and cultural institutions. I need to stay involved at the local, state, and national level, and not let myself get complacent in the interim between elections. My support cannot be limited to social media posts, online petitions, and private conversations; I need to contribute materially to the causes I believe in. I am unlikely to be able to support all of these causes financially, but I should do so where I can and seek out other means of supporting where I cannot.
- PRIORITIZE PUBLIC SCHOLARSHIP. Finally, as a professor, scholar, and author who cares about critical inquiry, multiculturalism, and the future of higher education, I need to reach more diverse audiences, across disciplines, both inside the academy and beyond. In this “post-truth” and anti-intellectual climate, the burden is on me to demonstrate why what I do is relevant and important. With this goal in mind, I can write up my methods and findings in accessible ways in blogs, websites, popular magazines, and other outlets with further reach than scholarly journals. I can contribute to the circulation of academic humanities and social science research more widely, which in the long run may lead to deeper public understanding of critical thinking, the role of education, and the importance of the academic professions for civic life in the US.