Here’s a happy thought for the start of a new semester: academic life can be characterized by kindness rather than snarkiness. Thanks to Mark Chancey‘s Facebook post, I read a recent article that highlights a project created by a professor at Mizzou named Rabia Gregory. She has started the Academic Kindness Tumblr — as its subhead proclaims, this blog provides a space to “record unsolicited kindness, unexpected goodwill, and excessive generosity in academia.” As Professor Gregory notes, Academic Kindness seeks to show that “not all academics are brutish self-centered narcissists who delight in tearing apart the work of others for sport.” It also encourages us to respond to the kindness that comes our way by “paying it forward” — being generous to colleagues, staff, and students.
Most of the examples posted so far reflect generosity in the scholarly realm. For example, there are stories of senior scholars taking time to support the work of graduate students they had never met. Here’s one of my favorites:
“While doing my comps, I found myself in need of an obscure, unpublished Ph.D. I was still figuring out ProQuest and I was trying to figure out a way to order it from the university. As I was doing this, I sent a brief email to a very senior scholar whose work deals with the material in this dissertation and asked if he could recommend the best way to find a copy of it. Instead, he sent the entire dissertation to me by mail — in two packages because it took him a while to photocopy the whole thing (I should also note that I live in a different country, so it would not have been cheap to send). A very kind and unexpected gesture!”
One post is even a fan letter to SMU’s Professor Bonnie Wheeler.
I bet, though, that we all also have teaching-related stories of unexpected grace. My teaching life, for example, has been immeasurably enriched by colleagues who shared teaching materials, covered for me when I was ill, provided really helpful critique, or shared a confidence-building compliment when I needed it the most. How about you? Share your stories of academic kindness in the Comments to this post, or on the Academic Kindness Tumblr. And remember to pay it forward.