On April 3rd, I was on my way to class, when I received a phone call from my husband. It was the last day of the winter semester, and my students had organized a potluck to celebrate. My husband has battled Crohn’s Disease for the better part of ten years, and had decided to stay home that day because his symptoms were severe. Over the course of those ten years, we’ve been through several flares (as they are called), and knew what to do. So my husband calling me right before class time was quite out of character. And for good reason: he called to tell me that he needed to go to the hospital. After a brief discussion (he wanted me to go to class, I told him he was being ridiculous), I popped into class to explain what was going on, and then ran to catch the bus. That was one of the longest commutes my entire life, both literally and figuratively. I arrived at the hospital to find my husband curled up on the benches in the Emergency Room. While I didn’t know it at the time, we had just entered a two-month-long hell-scape that involved multiple emergency room visits, two major surgeries, and a lot of waiting. I’m happy to report that my husband is now doing fine, but the entire ordeal has highlighted the invisible costs of precarious academia, particularly those costs that arise from academic relocation.
The past year has seen increasing discussion about academic relocation, addressing issues like the financial cost, the emotional impact of frequent moves, and the impact of moving on families. I have been particularly touched by Environmental History Now’s ongoing series, “Problems of Place,” which has featured work by numerous academics reflecting on the importance of place from a personal and historical perspective. For many years, my sense of self was intimately tied to my sense of place. In many respects, I had an unusual upbringing. I lived in the same house from the ages of two to twenty-two. My lived experiences were firmly grounded in my childhood landscapes. Even now, I can close my eyes and see myself standing on the walkway of the tiny waterfall at my favourite park (pictured above). But, as Jessica DeWitt eloquently noted, early career academics are constantly told not to put down roots. We are expected to be ready and willing to move anywhere at any time in pursuit of work, temporary or permanent. This is particularly the case for single academics without children, who are supposedly “unattached.”
But, as DeWitt noted, “no one is unattached. To call someone “unattached” is to negate their humanity.” Though we are forced to move far away from our biological families, we create new ones, chosen ones. Graduate school takes time. We forge strong connections to our cohorts, we find romantic and non-romantic partners, and we put down roots. When I think about my time in Victoria, I remember the long walks that I took with my husband in our neighbourhood and the coffee shop where my knitting group would meet every Friday night. And much like roots, these families and communities are very much tied to physical places, and when we move, they wither. Continue reading