I was thinking about Dean Dad’s post about location and Just Visiting’s piece on the lack of “intellect” in the South. These two posts, to me, are related. There is such thing as “fit” and for a lot of people, for a variety of reasons, the South isn’t it. Then again, neither is rural upstate New York, the vast expanses of rural Pennsylvania (aka Pennsytucky) separating Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, interior California, Idaho, Montana, etc, etc, etc. Fly-over country, as we call it, seems to me to be just as underrepresented in the list of geniuses, as well as possible poor landing spots for academic couples, or academics-who-are-coupled-off.
I’ve written before about my own position as a trailing spouse and how limiting my geographical isolation has been economically, professionally, and personally. We were one of those couples who agree that we would go anywhere and “make it work.” We also decided that we weren’t going to live apart. This is proving to be way more difficult than we initially anticipated.
And admittedly, we are in a pretty good situation: it’s a good place to raise our kids, the cost of living in reasonable, there is lots of fresh air, we both have jobs at the same institution. We are, for all intents and purposes, living the academic dream. Except.
I’m the unhappy partner, and I’ve chronicled enough of that here, and if this is news to you, I invite you to leaf through my archives. One of the problems that we face are the promises not kept by our institution, and I know I am not alone. Many faculty (who have since left) were promised things for their partners that never materialized once the contract was signed (which we were always pressured to do, lest the budget-line disappear). And each year, I meet another partner who was promised help getting a position or securing admission to a graduate program who can’t find anyone who remembers making those promises once they arrive. For me, it has nothing to do, exactly, with living in the South, and everything to do with living in a geographically isolated, economically depressed area with an institution that is indifferent to the situation.
Except, it also has everything to do with living in the South. If the comments on the aforementioned post are any indication, the prejudice against the South is alive and well, and I can’t help but feel that it is working against me as I look for a job elsewhere. It’s not just where I am working geographically, but the type of institution I work at. Would it have been better to work at a regional, rural state institution in the Mid-West? Or Northeast? How do I convince people to look past where I live and see what I can do? The combination of prejudice against geography, but also towards public, teaching-centered institutions is difficult to overcome. If talent really doesn’t move to the South, then I must not be very talented, right?
Geography matters. I just wish it didn’t matter so much.