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By the time this post is published, #WhatIAmLearningInQuarantine may no longer be trending on Twitter. But users’ web sentiments about their inability to socially distance themselves from their refrigerators, their squeamish reactions at sidewalks still crowded with pedestrians, their unexpected love of canned baked beans and their newfound attachments to new toilet paper rolls are pretty reflective during these times.
However, it’s #AcademicTwitter that always emerges as a chief appraiser within our profession, serving as a barometer of the state of higher education at any given moment; it’s that hashtag that registers the pulse of disparate facets of academia and the diverse voices within it, a coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding. So far, during this unprecedented time, it has steadily chronicled our reactions to a radically changed landscape as revealed within the posts of our presumed peers and colleagues, near and far.
As we have shuttered our physical interactions and moved all of our teaching, advising and administrative exchanges online, these hashtags and other social media venues seem to capture what we may not wish to say out loud in more formal settings: we are scared, and we are frightened of the uncertainty.
One Twitter user, an ABD, said she didn’t understand how academics are still “writing, reading, and working right now. I spend all day in a ball of anxiety. Nothing matters anymore. The world is literally on fire. People are dead. How do you manage to give one f--- about journal reviews?”
I imagine there would be some nervous laughter among many of us at that response before launching into our own reactions at having to “keep calm and carry on.” Other common social media reactions among us generate any of the “I’m fine” (while everything’s on fire) GIFs.
These days, to muster the ability and fortitude to forge ahead with our work, many of us are compartmentalizing this crisis and stowing our feelings away until something reminds us they’re there. Mental health professionals urge us to temper our consumption of news and social media, to make tending to our physical and mental health a priority, and to nurture connections to those who can maintain much-needed support. Gradhackers have previously offered tips on wellness, compartmentalization and stress management to help us emotionally cope and persevere while attempting to function in academia when it becomes emotionally difficult.
A recent snapshot of the ABD’s post mentioned above had more than 20,000 likes, some 1,300 shares and more than 2,000 retweets. Posters shared that academics’ drive to persevere was a coping mechanism; others revealed that, despite impending dissertations, journal articles, research books and other writing projects, they, too, couldn’t focus. Another expressed disbelief that instructors were “expected to continue working and producing research in this time.”
Still, others questioned the ABD’s assertion that the world was “on fire” in a way that it wasn’t before, expressing that global unease and distress have always been present, but in different manifestations. One respondent questioned why the poster would assume their “productivity wasn’t ALWAYS a coping mechanism for my anxiety and general neuroticism.”
A recent skim through posts on #AcademicTwitter revealed that amid these uncertain times, we are lowering our pedagogical expectations and deadlines for the rest of the semester; we are imploring our colleagues to allow ways for students to relieve their own anxieties by allowing them to ask questions and pose comments anonymously; we are urging instructors to check in on vulnerable and stressed graduate students via phone or email; and while using the videoconferencing app Zoom, we’re struggling to maintain similar class attendance rates as before the spread of COVID-19.
But despite widespread anxiety across the academy, we’re also sharing moments of levity among educators, such as creating dramatic online course trailers, teaching with our pets' assistance and sharing our homes with humor and honesty.
As we, in the academic community, continue to move forward in uncharted territory in these uncertain times, the internet and social media can reveal what we don’t often disclose in public.
How are you coping as an academic researcher during this time? Do you have any experiences to share? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Deidra Faye Jackson earned her Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Mississippi in Oxford. She is the interim director of the UM Tupelo Campus Writing Center and teaches in the departments of writing and rhetoric and higher education. You can find her on Twitter at @DeidraJackson11.
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash.