Friends, it has been a few months since I’ve posted in this community. I’m amazed at how much our world has changed since then. Here in the northern hemisphere, spring came and went. It felt like a tide of turmoil rolled in, leaving debris all along the shore and now we are trying to clean it up while keeping our eyes on the sea for more dangerous waves that are coming.
The issues we now face began before March, but for many of us, that was when the COVID-19 pandemic began to alter our patterns of daily existence. In-person instruction at my university and most schools was suspended and spring semester courses shifted online. In March and April, we quarantined, self-isolated, and sheltered in place. While a gradual re-opening of businesses and services has occurred in the months since then, I don’t know anyone who has resumed daily life as it was before. The virus continues to spread and the death toll rises.
The month of March brought us other tragedies, too. Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13, and although the Say Her Name movement and Black Lives Matter movement are not new, these, too, gained more attention in the past few months. I have to admit that I have been ambivalent about the growing acceptance of Black Lives Matter. I’m encouraged by the number of individuals and groups who are finally addressing their racist histories and practices. I’m hopeful that so many people seem ready to listen and do something about the disregard for black life that is evident not only in police shootings, but also in law, education, labor, religion, and numerous other oppressive contexts.
And yet I worry about how enduring or transformative these recent shifts will be. I’m concerned that violence against black women and non-gender conforming people doesn’t seem to garner the media attention or outrage it should. I’m saddened that so many objections about Black Lives Matter come back to conservative concerns about abortion, the family, and liberal or Marxist ideologies. All this has me wondering what’s really changed.
As I typically do at this time of year, I am turning my attention to the classes that I will teach in the fall. What a strange historical moment to return to the classroom! I’m planning to return to campus to teach in-person courses in Christian ethics and feminist theology. I have taught these classes before, but so much is new. When I teach the classes this year, I will address the pandemic, the anti-racist agenda many people have adopted, and the 2020 US presidential election.
Obviously, there will be changes to my teaching style this fall, too, as I adapt to a socially-distanced classroom and the challenges of lecturing and guiding discussion through face coverings. The external changes to campus life are fairly clear: new teaching modalities, new cleaning and hygiene practices, new schedules, and new policies about attendance, meetings, and student conduct. But I wonder: What inner changes have my students, colleagues, and I experienced since we left campus in March?
An existential sense of fear seems so much more present to those of us who previously took our good health for granted. We are afraid to touch surfaces and afraid to touch each other. Our social gatherings put us at risk. Every cough, dry throat, sneeze, or headache that would have been attributed to common, minor ailments is now potentially a harbinger of a deadly disease. Some of my students may have contracted coronavirus and recovered, but they will continue to worry long-term effects of coronavirus. Others are likely dealing with grief and loss. I imagine that when my ethics class addresses death, dying, and end-of-life decision making, the topics will have a poignancy and relevance previously unknown to most of my young adult students.
How has the new wave of interest in Black Lives Matter changed my students? Will they be more open to learning about the real disparities and inequities that exist? Will they be more committed to pursuing justice or will they be wary of it all? In trying times like this, religion can help us navigate uncertainties and challenges. If it is not practiced with a sense of justice and compassion, though, religion can easily stoke the fires of divisiveness. And so I take my task as an educator, a scholar, and a person of faith quite seriously. In my feminist theology course, we’ll explore issues of gender, feminism, and theology from an intersectional approach, using Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide by Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Susan M. Shaw as our guide.
As the book’s description explains, “Intersectionality is a tool for analysis, developed primarily by black feminists, to examine the causes and consequences of converging social identities (gender, race, class, sexual identity, age, ability, nation, religion) within interlocking systems of power and privilege (sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, nativism) and to foster engaged, activist work toward social justice. Applied to theology, intersectionality demands attention to the Christian thinker’s own identities and location within systems of power and the value of deep consideration of complementary, competing, and even conflicting points of view that arise from the experiences and understandings of diverse people.”
This course will ask all of us in the class to interrogate our own norms and assumptions of how the world works and to deeply consider the experiences and views of those who are different from us. Can I reasonably hope that this semester, we are ready to be more empathetic and compassionate? Or will these months have sharpened our senses of self-interest and hardened our sensitivities to others’ need?
While I do not know how prepared my students are to dive into the difficult topics this semester offers, I know I have been preparing myself, renewing my heart and soul with conviction and purpose. Although I haven’t been active in this community for a few months, I’ve continued to pursue a path of healing with like-minded feminists and women of color. I have felt your support and grace. I’ve been resting, working through grief, strengthening my physical body, unrooting some sexist and racist narratives that I’ve internalized, writing, and reconnecting with my creative abilities. In the coming months, I’ll unpack some of that work and the insights it yielded.
What has changed for you?
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter or academia.edu.
Categories: Academics, Activism, Books, Death and Dying, Education, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Ethics, Feminist Theology, Grief, intersectionality, Loss, Politics, Sexism, Social Justice, Theology, Women's Voices