It is with great excitement and gratitude that I write my first editor’s letter as the new editor-in-chief of Academic Matters. The process of putting the magazine together for the first time has been invigorating, particularly because it came with so many other changes in my life that animated the issue theme of community so clearly. A few months ago, I started in my role at OCUFA, moved countries, and set up a new apartment in Toronto.
My new colleagues have been patient and kind as I learn the ropes, pitching in to support endeavors like this publication. My friends and family cooked for me and helped paint my new apartment. I joined a ‘buy nothing’ group for my neighbourhood. These moments of connection have made it clear to me just how important our communities are, and the varied forms those communities can take.
Our ideas about community have been dramatically altered during the last three years. At universities in particular, deep questions emerged about the scope, shape, and role of the campus community: can a university fulfill its academic mission wholly online? What is gained—and lost—from in-person interactions among faculty, students, and staff? How can a researcher go into the field online? What opportunities present themselves to expand our communities virtually?
As it turned out, universities were and remain sites of enormous experimentation, adaptation, and resilience during the depths of the pandemic and in this new, uncertain phase of adjustment. For some, engaging online has been challenging and detrimental, while for others virtual teaching and learning has led to innovation and a welcome change in perspective. It is clear from preliminary research and anecdotal evidence that many of the negative aspects of these changes, such as increased workload and home care, have disproportionately affected women and people from equity-seeking groups.
The articles in this issue of Academic Matters explore the many facets of community creation, enhancement, and research that have been called into stark relief over the past few years. In each one, an author expands on the idea of community to imagine what might come next based on what we’ve learned.
During the pandemic, Marylynn Steckley developed innovations to move her international experiential learning courses online and conduct community-based research in Haiti virtually. Those experiences led her to think more deeply about more inclusive, equitable, and climate justice-based ways forward for student experiences and research abroad in a field that privileges on-the-ground engagement.
Amanda Clarke, Howard Ramos, and Julia M. Wright explore the challenges and excitement of community engagement for scholars who share their work with the public. Building on their recent research, the authors recommend ways for institutions and the government—and scholars themselves—to help scholars stay safe online in a mistrustful and often hostile environment.
In a piece adapted from her podcast Academic Aunties, Ethel Tungohan speaks to Genevieve Fuji Johnson and Harshita Yalamarty about how to create community outside of work, from surfing groups to Dungeons and Dragons games. They discuss the value of these activities as scholars and as people, offering tips for academic workers who want to break out of their bubble to learn something new.
For David Heap, returning to in-person campus life helped re-establish bonds between faculty members. These connections were vital to the mobilization efforts of his faculty association as they bargained for a new employment contract with the university and ramped up for possible strike action in Fall 2022.
Finally, the recipient of the 2020-2021 OCUFA Mark Rosenfeld Fellowship in Higher Education Journalism, Meral Jamal, takes us inside Carlton University’s journalism school—the oldest in the country—during a time of reckoning around race, diversity, and representation. Meral’s article asks: two years after the sea change of June 2020, can an established institution write a new chapter?
I thank each author for contributing their words and time to Academic Matters. Their sharp inquiries into the very concept of community—and the research and activism that go along with it—will help us shape the world we want to inhabit going forward, on campus and off.
I’m grateful to past editor Ben Lewis for providing me with excellent resources on which to model this incarnation of Academic Matters. I look forward to working with more authors to ask insightful questions about the big issues that we face in the postsecondary education sector. All articles in this issue are available on our website: www.academicmatters.ca.