Brief Thoughts On Academic Isolation and Imagined Community

I am in a happy place. I never thought my happy place would be Gainesville, Florida, but alas it is. I have finished the day’s activities for frank(scholar), and I am able to decompress and think through what I have learned and done today.

I learned a lot. I did a lot. I tweeted a lot. And I realized a lot.

The biggest revelation: Being an academic in isolation sucks. (Sucks is a very technical and academic term. I know.)

Isolation is not a term I used lightly. The academic isolation in my department is a solitary, cloistered experience of being the sole person who studies and researches in my academic area. If you are within a journalism program, being a PR scholar makes you an easy target for ridicule, disgust, and animosity. The same holds true in the island of misfit toys and misaligned programs that I consider my department. I am not being overly dramatic. I know what my colleagues have said about PR, what they believe my students are, and what they perceive as content in the PR courses. What I do is not looked upon as something worthwhile; it is considered the dastardly must-have that those pesky undergraduates flock to. Puff Daddy said it best: It’s all about the Benjamins, baby. At my university, it’s all about the credit hours, baby, and the PR major churns out a lot of bodies and brings in a nice chunk of change. [See this blog post for more insight.]

My isolation isn’t like your isolation. Being the only student of color, of certain orientations, etc. can also be the cause of isolation. Finding your community physically can be hard because there is no one else who is doing what you do, looks like you, carries the same weights/burdens/joys of being that avowed identity. The beauty of social media allows us to find our imagined communities. For me, Twitter has been an academic lifeline that allows me to connect and interact with scholars of color and my #prprofs. Because I am privileged as a tenured professor (and before that, a tenure-track professor), I can attend conferences in relative comfort, and in those places I can meet up with scholars who get what I do, do what I do, and just know the experiences I have.

Today was one of those days. I reconnected with people. I met new people. I found a new tribe. At least for today, I don’t feel isolated. I felt like I was a part of something great, grand, moving, and inspiring. One of the most important things that occurred today was meeting in person scholars who I have met or collaborated with virtually and meeting students who are excited about public interest communication. Being in a room with 30 scholars in a TED Talk like experience was a riveting and exciting experience in an otherwise dull research existence that I have. As someone who is isolated by discipline and scholarship in my home department, it is pleasant to be in the company of people who do similar work, are passionate about the same concepts, and desire to make and activate social change.