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In the Moment: PWR Across the Country in 2020-2021

Celestial event

One of the pleasures of the Zoom life these past 14 months has been the ability to connect with friends, students, and colleagues across the globe. At the same time as our activities have felt newly limited, our ability to collaborate and communicate across distances has been enhanced. While most of the PWR team has spent the year Zooming in from their Bay Area homes, some members of our community were able to participate in opportunities and obligations much further afield: taking up--or never leaving--residence across the country. In some ways, these far-flung PWR experiences reflect the disconnection and digitization of all our experiences this year, no matter where we were. 

Our community members’ reasons for choosing to be far from campus were varied. For incoming PWR Lecturer Brittany Hull, the pandemic meant postponing her plans to move from her home in Pennsylvania to the Bay Area in Summer 2020 to begin teaching at Stanford. Brittany explained, “initially I chose not to move because of ‘ was not safe. I definitely wasn't gonna make the move during that time, you know, at the peak… Black and brown people continue to be disproportionately impacted by the virus….that was not a chance that I was willing to take.” Meanwhile, Hume director Zandra Jordan travelled from California to Georgia in fall of 2020 to participate in the presidential election, and also found herself staying put when returning to California didn’t feel safe. As Zandra says, “there was a runoff and the surge occurred and it just didn’t make sense to return to the Bay. It felt very unsafe, so I ended up staying. So it wasn’t my plan, but I ended up being in Georgia for 5 months.”

For PWR lecturer Kevin Moore, moving from his San Francisco home to San Diego offered the opportunity to be closer to his partner’s family who live just over the border, in Mexico, as well as to professional opportunities. Kevin related that “our location has made it possible for Erika, who is a multimedia producer for the SF Chronicle, to pursue an extended documentary project for the paper on the labor situation that has transpired along the border because of the pandemic. I've been helping out with the project when I can and discussing it in class.” Finally, PWR Lecturer Holly Fulton was able to alleviate high housing costs and be closer to family by moving back to Arizona.

There were similarities across folks’ experiences away from the Bay this past year. Brittany, Zandra, Holly, and Kevin were all closer to loved ones, allowing them to visit with or care for elders or younger relatives, and in some cases, also to mourn. Also held in common was the ability to share their dispersal with students. For Holly, describing her surroundings was a way to connect with students as Zoom class kicked off each week, while Kevin was excited to share the progress of his partner’s documentary with his students. Kevin appreciated the opportunity to educate students more about the US medical industry’s dependence on Mexican factories and labor, including the women workers who are the subject of his partner’s project. These conversations with students reflect the physical dispersal we all experienced in our digital classrooms this year--even if we were still close to Stanford, the majority of our students weren’t, and perhaps we can all identify with the conversations about place, home, and community these far-flung instructors describe. 

Despite their extra distance, these PWR members have each found ways to stay connected to campus. For Kevin, it’s his role as the co-chair of the Newsletter and Communication Committee that has helped him stay in touch with his colleagues. For Zandra, the Hume Center has allowed her to remain in community with students and colleagues. But she adds, “While I’m appreciative for the technology that allows us to continue to do what we do, I do think there’s something lost in remote learning that we can’t fully recreate in the same ways. So I look forward to reconnecting with our colleagues and to seeing students in person and the ways that conversation develops differently in an in-person group.” For Brittany, despite joining Stanford from afar, she says she has “connected with quite a few people. There’s different groups that I’ve been introduced to that have monthly Zoom connections.” Hull adds, “I’ve definitely made some dope acquaintances, and even connecting with people through our PWR meetings has been a joy.”  

For this article’s authors Nissa and Tessa, these conversations with our colleagues reflect trends we all experienced this year, as we stayed away from campus and connected with our students living all over the world. There was a blurring of personal and work domains, as our homes were transformed (sometimes reluctantly) into workspaces, and our loved ones became our new office-mates. This year saw opportunities for intimacy with a select few --shoutout “pods”--but also created distance and longing for those who were farther away. And it was a difficult year, too, with workplace struggles, political upheaval, and loss. But what we all have in common was our shared dedication to the health of our communities and our students. Of coming back together, Zandra concluded with wise and insistent words: “We’ll have to figure out that piece, of being a community that gathers again. We can’t stop living. We do have to find our way forward.”

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