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Monday, May 11, 2020

May 11, 2020: Spring 2020 Tributes: Lisa Gim and my English Studies Department

[This would be the last week of classes, if the Spring 2020 semester had gone as scheduled. To say that it didn’t is just to scratch the surface of this chaotic, crazy, challenging spring, though. So for my usual semester recaps, this time I’ll focus on brief tributes to those folks who helped us make it through this incredibly tough time, leading up to a weekend post of my own reflections on teaching in this new world.]
On the leader who helped one of my favorite communities chart this unprecedented course.
Of course the community most affected by what unfolded with the Spring 2020 semester has been our students, and my FSU students—in my classes, as my advisees, and overall—have been my central focus throughout these chaotic weeks, and their resilience and commitment a source of constant inspiration. The second most-affected academic community would have to be adjunct and contingent faculty, and I’ve done what I can to advocate for that community as well (and will try to continue to do so as the ripples of this moment spread out for months and likely years to come). As a tenured faculty member, I’m part of the least affected such community—doesn’t mean I haven’t been affected, of course (or that all the effects in every other part of my life haven’t likewise affected my work), but I want to be clear about that privilege at the start of this post and series.
With that said, one of the academic communities that have been more subtly affected has to be departments. I don’t mean in terms of our work, although that work has indeed been largely put on hold and thus an entire year (from hiring requests to curriculum planning to departmental publications to celebratory occasions like our high school writing contest) mostly lost. No, I’m thinking here about the community itself—academic life can at times feel individual and isolating, but the best departmental communities (and FSU English Studies is the best I’ve been around) offer a communal counterpoint to those tendencies. Not getting to see or be around my English Studies colleagues for months thus was and remains an underappreciated effect of, and significant loss from, this damned virus.
But that experience would have been infinitely worse were it not for our department chair, my colleague and friend Lisa Gim. Lisa’s been our chair for many years, and has helped us navigate and respond to and move forward successfully in the face of numerous challenges and issues. But it’s fair to say that nothing has been as seismic as this crisis, and that no chair could have expected to have to deal with what Lisa has over these last few months. Yet she’s not only done so calmly and thoughtfully and impressively—she has helped our departmental model the best of community in moments like this. That’s also a reflection of all my colleagues for sure; but if, as this year has so amply demonstrated, bad leadership trickles down to us all, good leadership in contrast brings us all to a higher level and better place. We’re very lucky to have Lisa at our helm, now more than ever.
Next tribute tomorrow,
PS. Reflections or tributes of your own on Spring 2020?

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