Notes on the New Year, or, What the Cross Award Means to Me

The AACU invited me to be a guest blogger for their annual conference in San Francisco.  Here’s my inaugural post:

Notes on the New Year, or, What the Cross Award Means to Me

By: Edmond Chang

I am deeply honored to be selected as one of the 2011 K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award recipients.  I am humbled to be counted among such esteemed and talented peers, past and present, who represent a wide range of disciplines and institutions. It is a heartful and hopeful feeling to be recognized for not only what we have accomplished but what promise we hold for the future.

The start of the New Year has always been for me a time of reflection, of recounting, and of prospection.  And the start of this year has been particularly conflicted, both amazing and sobering.  I am entering my last year, ostensibly, of my dissertation and looking ahead to going “on the market” this coming autumn.  I am watching friends and peers of my cohort going through that process right now, freshly returned from the Modern Language Association’s annual conference in Los Angeles.  And I am witnessing a country, a culture, deeply embattled over minds, bodies, resources, even history itself—a struggle that continues to cut deeply into the very domains I have dedicated myself to keeping vital and inviting.  I think about years to come, about the now-average multiyear job search for PhD English grads, about the political and economic climate I will enter, and I can genuinely say that I look forward to the challenge.  After all, these challenges are the very things that the arts and humanities, liberal education, and teachers and activists hope to transform and overcome.

Therefore, at the start of AAC&U’s Annual Meeting, whose theme highlights for me these same tensions, I offer some new year’s resolutions.  First, let us demand more curiosity as a necessary component of critical thinking, which, alas, has become more buzzword than actual practice.  Curiosity antidotes a great many darknesses, distrusts, and distances all too common to our world by making us want to explore, want to inquire, and want to invite.  Second, let us create more coalitions and collaborations but importantly recognizing and attending to the asymmetries of power, resources, and labor that different groups and different people bring to the table.  And let us realize that coalitions and collaborations are built on practices of cooperation, compromise, and emergence and not appropriation, consensus, or perpetuity.  Finally, let us replace community with conviviality.  As I wrote in my statement for the Cross Award, I have come to realize that you can have a community without connection, without joy.  In some sense, an academic department is often a community out of necessity, proximity, mere survival.  To come together, to work together, and to support one another can be fraught.  In a deep sense, competition for funding, for attention, for some perceived sense of status can make it hard to be happy for one another.  I think that to develop a sense of compassion, of respect, of conviviality is important for graduate school and for life in general.  Like curiosity, it battles isolation, stress, and the dog-eat-dog mentality.

Thank you to AAC&U, to the Cross Award selection committee, and to my peers, friends, and family for making this opportunity a delightful reality. And thank you for allowing me this space to say a little something and to give a little something back. I am happy for the work that we do, the things we share, and the years to come.

I look forward to meeting new colleagues and exploring these ideas during the Annual Meeting. Cheers!

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