Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A new day and a new commitment

I went to sleep last night knowing that the world would be here when I woke up. I knew our nation would have chosen a new leader while I slept. It happened: I woke up and a new leader was chosen. The leader chosen wasn't the candidate I picked with my one vote, but in 72 days, Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as the leader of the United States of America. Michael Pence, current Governor of the State of Indiana will be his vice-President.

I was stunned and only half surprised this morning, based on the returns I was seeing last night. I don't know why so many people chose inexperience over experience. I know some of the things that have been said, but I really, truly don't understand the triggers that have already begun to divide my families and my friends. I plan to spend at least the next year coming to terms with this.

How will I learn? How will I seek to understand? How will I hear the responses and take them under advisement? How will I get past the urge to deny what I don't want to know? I must ask the question. If you know me, you know that this is my life's motto. I learned it as an undergraduate student from an extremely wise graduate student named Karen, with whom I've since lost contact, but Karen changed my life. I moved from feeling I had to be right and know all the answers to finally getting that I didn't know what anyone's response to a situation would be unless I asked. 

As my husband and I talked through the election results, and the possible outcomes that may emerge, I realized that having the conversation with others who assert their opinions will be key in moving this work in which I live back to one with a civic mindedness and modicum of civility. I committed this morning to asking the question whenever someone in the next year drops a statement that is intended to halt conversation or is less than founded in its evidence. It's what our fact-checkers attempted to do throughout this election campaign season, but were unable to communicate within and across party lines. No one is listening to one another.

My day was filled with meetings and commitments today at work. After a lovely breakfast from my husband, I drove to the city in which I work, filled the car's tank with gas (should I keep this up regularly just in case there is some sort of emergency?), dropped by the coffee shop for daily caffeine (should I be spending that money on fancy coffee when I have a coffee machine at home?), continued to the parking lot nearest my first and last meetings of the day. As I grabbed my backpack, purse and buttoned up my coat, I felt odd. I began thinking of all my friends and co-workers who I knew would be unsettled today. I thought about the guest speaker our leadership team was invited to hear today--she was away from her own family, her wife and daughter on this momentous day. And I thought about the email exchange I had with my committee colleague when I asked who would introduce the speaker. She responded no differently than usual, but before I could send my response to her, she wrote again to apologize for being crabby. She wasn't in the context of the message to me, but it told me how poorly she was feeling overall.

As I began meeting with colleagues who were gathering for the talk, it was clear they were exhausted, had been through the wringer. Most had stayed up for the results or couldn't sleep when they tried. This is the level of anxiety they experienced. I have never witnessed this in my lifetime and hope that I never do with respect to a national election again. My supervisor had been alternating between disbelief, anger and tears since learning of the results. The commitment I made was driving my message to others: It is okay. We need to keep the conversation going and challenge those who gloat, who boast, who drop the one-liners per the leader they had chosen for our great nation. My first validation came from a HuffPost I read this morning while in the coffee shop parking lot. I'm afraid it wasn't much use for others knowing that I had already shifted so quickly after a good night's sleep. But I have made up my mind it's what I can do.

I got a quick temperature check when Chris began her talk. It wasn't what she'd planned. It was going to keep touching on the matters at hand. It was, in retrospect raw, direct and everything I needed to hear. Chris spoke to the need she and her Task Force on the Future of Libraries had addressed in their report: We need to meet our constituencies in their context, whether local, national or global. Whether in our academic libraries or in our municipalities. Yes! This resonated. Someone I have grown to respect in my profession was speaking to me and about the way we need to handle the world in which we live.

During the conversation in the first talk, I was ready to ask questions and ready to seek understanding. My colleagues were also eager to talk. By the time I was able to enter into the conversation, I didn't ask the question I thought I would, but rather talked around it and asked about getting time and attention with our students and helping them with their information and digital literacy needs when the have no disposable time in their schedules. Chris suggested that we in the library continue to seek to provide the safe haven for students, to listen to them, and to understand their context. Her successes at her place of work have been showcased through engaging people with simple questions or open discussion topics. I believe we can do the same.

As the talks wrapped up, I said good-bye to Chris and she went to lunch with colleagues while I began my walk to the Library to take care of business and work the "Ask Us" desk for an hour. As I left the conference center I could hear student voices coming from across campus. I remembered seeing some information about a student protest that was cleared through proper channels, but I thought it had been the week before. As I continued toward the library, the voices grew more clear and stronger. These students were protesting outside of the large academic classroom buildings. I could hear variations on a litany: "We stand for..." followed by any of the following and more: the undocumented, LGBTQ rights, black rights, Latino rights,  and it went on. Many chants followed on cycle as a cantor raised her voice in leadership: Build bridges not walls!, Love Trumps Hate!, Notre Dame Against Hate!, Together! United! We'll never be divided!

As I approached their circle of protest and support for others, I saw some of my colleagues who had been at the meeting watching from outside the circle. This was the students' moment, and they were watching in support. Hugs were exchanged. I stood in solidarity. Watching. As I watched, I watched the faces and texted a dear friend who is out of the country with her husband on vacation. They were saddened to the extreme by the results. He is a documented worker in our country. He is unsettled. I did my best to reassure them of the beauty that was going on before my eyes. I did not share the thrown verbal dissension from some students. They are in the right to share their thoughts. I was saddened that they would not, could not or did not engage in a critical conversation, something that is part of the core curriculum at our university.

As I stood longer, I was joined by a postdoctoral fellow I know. She was as emotional as I was, and like me I could tell it had been coming in waves. As we stood and talked, we discussed the beauty of tenure status and being able to join in comfortably with the students. We talked about where the rest of the faculty were at this moment the students were raising voices. We worried about safety and security needs, and committed to standing with the students until they moved on. They did move on. It was literally a moving protest, and remained peaceful from what I can tell.

I chose not to take photos for the sake of the students' privacy, even though their fellow students were indeed taking pictures and video of the event. I am proud of the faculty who were joined in the circle with these students exercising their rights. I did overhear two students on the sidelines. They did not disparage, but they watched. Then one asked a question of another, "How can we be at the same Catholic university but have such different viewpoints?" I wanted to reach out and help by asking for more information. I wanted to hear what the division really was between him and the group in protest. I didn't. It wasn't the right moment despite my stated commitment. I later considered writing a letter to the editor of the student newspaper and posing the question there. I do believe that the library can lead the conversation, if we choose. I may continue that thread with our University Librarian tomorrow as I continue to process today's events.

As for me, the last 26 hours has been a whirlwind. I entered into this new place that I'm in through my church small group meeting last night. At this meeting we discussed the topic of the Holy Trinity, and how the trinity is a representation of community as well. So, what can I do to understand and engage with my community? How can I see opportunity to be a support within my community? And really, what community do I mean when I ask these questions? To get there, I think I have been given a great opportunity: to seek understanding of my community through seeking to understand those things that join us together and those that attempt to divide us.

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