crowd at a concert

We have tents and grand speeches, branded masks and slogans, rehearsals and schematics and all of the plans that accompany major performative events. And to be honest, that’s exactly what college, university, and academic library reopenings feel like to me: A Performance.

We’re reopening because of political pressure and financial need, not because it’s suddenly safer to do so. We can’t talk about closing after reopening; in fact we pretend it’s not even an option. We only talk about cutting services, socially distancing, limiting crowds in the library, and cleaning and sanitation. We suspend disbelief so that we can say it will all be as safe as possible because this is the story we are telling; this is the performance we are giving. We see some universities cancelling these performances, but most of us are persisting.

I, like many of you, am not great at this performance. I can’t “Yes, and…” these plans as I sit safely working from home for the next few months. I am not putting myself at risk but my colleagues are going to be doing that everyday. It’s a dangerous performance set on a foundation of hopes, best laid plans, willful ignoring/ignorance, and government incompetence. I don’t know how long it will run–2 weeks? 2 months? a whole semester?–but it’s not a show I thought we would ever be performing. It feels like living in a McSweeney’s essay or an article from The Onion.

I am grateful to have a job / part to play in this performance. I am grateful to have health insurance and meaningful work I can do from home. I am grateful for my paycheck. But do I love this performance? No.

2 thoughts on “Performance”

  1. Our library was set to re-open this month but thankfully it was pushed back. While we were discussing the changes to be made and policies to be put in place I asked, “What if a librarian tests positive?” and my boss replied, “When that happens we will deal with it.” Trying to be lighthearted, I said “Well, it’s an if, right?” and she said, “No, I really think it’s a when.”

  2. This puts into words the feelings I’ve been having lately! I have a colleague at another institution who said they feel complicit in what their university is doing, bringing students back on campus at their own risk. But what option does an employee have? In my view, faculty and staff are being put in the same impossible position as students, and it’s a shame. It feels like such an avoidable disaster waiting to happen.

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