I've had a close eye on the California wildfires for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, my dear friend from college lives in Petaluma. They are just south of the mandatory evacuation zones. Her little boy's birthday is today. She had the flu over the weekend. Life, right? And she's also worried about their house burning down. Life in 2019 in California.
I've been checking this map, probably too often:
Is this the new normal?
As I always do, because higher education is my work, but it's also in my blood, I am thinking about the college students who might be impacted by the fires: those who attend traditional, land-based classes in California, and those who might be online students, taking courses at an institution thousands of miles away.
It's really hard to concentrate on anything when you're worried about your basic safety. It's hard to focus when home doesn't feel like a safe place.
Which got me thinking about our students whose homes don't feel like a safe place for reasons other than these fires. Whether they tell me or not (some do, some don't), I know that many of my students live in a state of constant stress because of racism, domestic violence, homelessness, and hunger.
A colleague of mine (Hi, Andrew), recently connected me with Cia Verschelden's book, Bandwidth Recovery. Have you read it? It talks about the cognitive impact of trauma and toxic stress due to racism, sexism, transphobia, and the like. I'm thinking about this book today, and wondering about students who were already in precarious situations before the fires.
I hope that professors and other higher education staff are taking care of themselves and each other. Period. I also hope they're doing that caring work so that they can better care for our students. I hope that educators are working with students on deadlines, and being a source of support rather than a source of stress.
I am thinking a lot about our disabled students living in California.
There's so much here that it feels hard to wrap one's head around it. There's the horrifying realization that the impacts of global warming that we've been warned about for years have arrived. We're in it now. There's the personal impact, worrying about friends and loved ones. There's simple humanity, empathizing with people just because we're sad and scared for our fellow humans. Of course, there's also the grief of watching the natural environment suffer and die, and worry about animal life.
When things feel that big and impossible, I try to focus on something small, like writing this post, texting my friend, donating to a cause, or recommitting to my purpose of making higher education a more humane place to live, study, teach, and work. It's not enough, but it's something, and probably better than staring at a fire map wondering how the hell we got here.
I write about higher education.