Today was my last day of classes and finally it feels like spring in Wisconsin. While I do have exams and papers to grade, my teaching is over. The end of the semester is always a little sad but mostly I’m too exhausted to feel anything but relief. Every semester is draining, but this winter/spring has been particularly, well, weird for many of us in Wisconsin.
It all started with the Superbowl. The Green Bay Packers’ unexpected Superbowl victory threw this small, tightly-knit community into a frenzy. Former Wisconsin residents flew back so that they could watch the game on TV in Green Bay. Public schools were cancelled the day the Packers flew home, so that children could attend the victory rally. Strangers stopped each other on the street to share their joy. Five days later Governor Walker proposed a draconian budget repair bill that would severely cut benefits, strip existing unions of their power, and would deny UW faculty, home health care workers, and others the right to form a union at all. On my campus, faculty walked down the hallway, “Can you believe this?” we asked each other, stunned. “He ruined our Superbowl victory,” many commented.
The same day that Governor Walker released his punitive proposal, I received a call from a search committee inviting me for an interview. As an administrator, it seemed I was quite marketable. In the following months I attended rallies in Madison, gave interviews to national radio stations, joined an organizing committee to get a union on our campus — all while flying to interviews at (private) colleges.
All of this felt pretty surreal. Through all of the changes in mood and circumstance, I taught my classes: three large courses, three times a week. And they grounded me. Some days I taught despite feeling disheartened by an increasingly insane legislature; some days I went in full of red-hot anger and taught with aggressive intensity. Other days, feeling sure I would be leaving the state, my teaching was tinged with sadness that my brilliant, first-generation college students were not getting the same gorgeous facilities and small classes as students at the schools where I interviewed. Some days teaching these engaged, hard-working students was the only thing that distracted me from the debt that was mounting, my husband's sadness over his teenage daughter’s estrangement, and a close friend's unspeakable loss.
Today I listened to my students discuss scholarly articles about Ishiguro’s perplexing novel, Never Let Me Go and I felt like I was having a conversation with 28 intelligent, mature friends. And today I decided to stay in Wisconsin: April blizzards, Republican governor, green and gold jerseys, and all.