Yesterday certainly was an exercise in perspective. The two areas of the country where I have the biggest concentration of friends is the Ohio/Indiana/Kentucky tri-state area and Tennessee, both of which were hit with storms. Everyone seems okay, though a friend's relative in Indiana lost her house, and when they last checked in yesterday afternoon were unable to leave its remains (I guess they were in the basement) because the downed power lines were too dangerous.
Add to that a friend who was in the hospital last night after a mild heart attack, and a colleague at school who underwent surgery for a faulty artificial heart valve yesterday (her third open heart surgery). Perspective, perspective, perspective.
I'm actually picking up a section of English 2000 taught by my colleague who had surgery yesterday. I don't know her--I believe she's an instructor--though I think I've chatted with her before a talk before. It's the same class I'm teaching, though her syllabus looks much, much different from mine. There's another teacher who's picking up another section of the class, and she's given me access to her Moodle page, so I can see how she's going to proceed with the class.
It will be interesting to see how this goes. Midterms are due week after next, so I'm picking up this class almost smack dab in the middle of the semester. Though I've complained about the lack of community in my department, it's opportunities such as this which kind of make me put my money where my mouth is--am I willing to pitch in when its needed?
This coming week, there's a meeting scheduled with the intention of "envisioning graduate studies" in my department, which was put together after some heightened awareness of student unhappiness. I'm open about the fact that I was ready to leave my first semester here--only the promise of the course offerings the next semester (sexology, southern lit, and Faulkner) and one class I was taking whose professor was completely engaged and exciting--kept me from reapplying to other schools over Thanksgiving that year. And it wasn't a shock about the difficulty of grad school--at UT, I spent the first month going--shit! Who the hell is Wittgenstein and why has he been mentioned in every class so far? Rather, it's a lack of structured support for incoming students, especially those coming in with an MA. For students with a BA and MFA students, they have structures built in--they have a week of orientation to prepare for TAing a section of a large class, which gives them a built in cohort with which to learn. For incoming MAs, there was nothing--not a welcome from a faculty member, not a here's what you can expect, not even here's where the refrigerator is. There was an EGSA meeting for an hour, with a welcome and things, and a welcome to Baton Rouge booklet with useful information about neighborhoods and for using PAWS and things. And everyone attends the big English department meeting the Friday before school starts.
Still, at UT, there was a week of orientation for everyone, which was overwhelming, but incredibly informative. Several professors participated, and by the end of the week I felt like a part of my cohort and had a sense of who to talk to about what. Here, there's supposed to be a mentoring system in place, but it's a crap shoot whether the mentor a new student is assigned to will actually respond. (You'd better believe I have--my mentee is a priority to me.) Many of us have gravitated to other departments, like WGS and Mass Comm, because (perhaps because they're smaller) they provide the kind of support and community that's lacking in English.
And with March here, it's now less than a month away that the WGS graduate student organization is hosting a screening of the documentary Miss Representation. We had a very productive meeting with the director of the Women's Center this week, who's offered quite a bit of support for the event. So, fingers crossed!