By: Amy R. Barbour
June 17, 2015
... you matter, your work matters.
During the Forum opening, Stephen Lewis, among others, repeatedly said, you matter, your work matters. For sure that falls differentially across bodies, but I experienced a sense of being washed over; crisp water waving over me making the cracked parts supple. I hadn’t even known I was so dried out. In the midst of this, a thought surfaced, I wonder if this is how accumulated privileges materialize in the academy: as a supportive buoying environment that continually drenches (or at least spritzes) some with life-giving and affirming water, while leaving others of us vulnerable to dehydration.
During the Forum person after person looked at me, critically engaged with me, and then almost always responded with genuinely encouraging interest and affirmation of me or my research: you matter, your work matters. By the time closing worship came, the sheer effect of all the positive affect circulating had made me heady. Even before we dispersed, social media was bursting with all the grateful posts and shining images (by the way, the photo booth is a definite win); participants were unequivocally full, grateful, and restored.
Then, subtly and in shades, posts began shifting: comments began reflecting thankfulness and degrees of bracing; the bracing born of understanding that it’s time to start dealing with all those things that make us want to be part of FTE in the first place. Resuscitated bodies were already leaking the living attention that had been poured out for and into us (or, already having it leached out of them). I commented on an image posted Saturday that it’s receding too quickly, already feeling too long ago and a million miles away: it’s only Monday. I’ve come to realize that I’m hung over from being drunk on the lavish generosity of this community and deflated by its withdrawal. This little reflection opens the Acts Pentecost passage to a new meaning for me: maybe they were drunk: not on wine but on the felt presence of the Spirit as the immense circulation of positive affect among them. Given their social locations, perhaps that made them speak unintelligible things: we matter, our community matters.
As I reflect on the Forum and pursue relationships seeded there, I wonder if it’s the affective dimension of the Forum that prevents it from being experienced as a crass networking event and makes it an experience of the Spirit washing over me, re-positioning me, re-arranging me. There’s a dimension I’m trying to point toward here: one that cumulatively enabled some of us (for a few days and nights) to take for granted what we perhaps cannot take for granted anywhere else—that as racial and ethnic minority doctoral students we do matter and our work really does matter. And that matters.