The Love Language of The Ivory Tower

The last day on campus at Brooklyn College was March 14th 2020, more than a decade ago now.

I remember walking out of the Bedford Avenue gate, only glancing back to look at the provisional existence of it all. The magnitude of what was about to come had not occurred to me or any of us walking out of those gates that day. None of us were wearing masks, all us walking within that 6 feet that would eventually pry us apart both physically and mentally. No goodbyes or formalities were made, no acknowledgment of what a shut down would actually mean. I didn’t prepare, none of us did. We walked out of those gates into a fog of uncertainty that was still tethered to a reality of dependency and routine. I never thought what it would be like to do research without the sanctity of a physical library space. I never considered what it would feel like to not be able to walk into my professors office, see their faces, fill their space with ideas and curiosity. It never occurred to any of us that this would be the last time we would have physical access to our education.

I also remember the first time the language of self-help was used to lull us while we stood in the trenches, the flood waters beginning to only lap at our feet.

“We want to make sure everyone is prioritizing their mental health through this”, I think they said. Something like that. Something about self-love, well-being, and mental health.

“This is a hard time for everyone and we want you to know we understand…” read the Chancellor emails that filled my inbox about once a month.

A month that was filled with anxieties and apprehensions. The loss of a job, of an income that was to feed my physical body enough to curate some well being in my mind. The loss of friendships, connections to a space where I had finally found purpose and acceptance. The cuts to the last remaining ligatures to an already decaying mentality that only just balanced a 40 hour work week with a full time school schedule.

“Remember to take time for yourself”, they kept coming.

“We know what a difficult time this may be for many of you…” the emails, my god the emails.

How does one “self-love” themselves when you live behind a hospital that piled bodies in the back of a moving van. And you watched. You watched them try to cover the openings with tarps and sheets. You watched at night when the tarps flapped under the wind and you saw the bodies of your community Tetris’d into the black void of a U-haul van.

How do you “make time for yourself” when you are going through a breakup with an emotional abuser who you are now permanently locked into a space with? When he is violent when you are not compliant and the confinement has exacerbated his attempts to break you down completely.

What kind of compassion says “we understand” and then raises your tuition? When it lays off your mentors and connections to the one thing you found happiness in. And when you cannot pay, they will call and email you incessantly, using language to scare you into choosing to pay them instead of buying food because otherwise you will lose everything you had worked so, so hard for. “If you don’t pay soon, we will unenroll you from your classes…” the email from Jessica R. read.

And what does it say about those who can’t self-love ourselves out of this “new reality”? Does it make you less strong, less able, less resilient that you are not able to self-love yourself out of institutionalized cruelty? Or, does it make you more human, more connected and empathetic to see this pandemic not as a new reality, but an old wound that had been festering just underneath the veil of positivity. And what does this education teach me except to look under the surface, to think deeply… beyond the text, to say the quiet part loudly.

“The institutions cannot love you” the brilliant Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom would say right before the schools closed down across the country.

The ivory tower of academia asks you to look critically at the world yet never reflect that objective analysis back onto itself. What will change if we simply “survive” through this? What will we really learn?

One thought on “The Love Language of The Ivory Tower

  1. Sharifa Thompson

    Your post made me think of this tweet in which someone wrote, “we made it through this week” and someone else responded, “but at what cost”. I feel like a lot of us are just surviving. Just surviving- not even living- and it makes me sad to even think about how rapidly things are changing. I feel a sense of nostalgia just thinking about being able to take the elevator up to the third floor to study alone in the library. I miss walking down the halls of Boylan Hall. I miss it all! But I sometimes relegate issues that I don’t want deal with at the moment to being a “future me” problem and I think any inquiries into the lessons to be learned from all that is going on is a “future us” problem. If all that we can do right now is simply survive, I think that’s more than just alright.

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