April 29, 2020

What's that I Feel? Role Strain!

author photoBy Jennell Paris

Professor of Anthropology, Messiah College

Most of the time I feel fairly comfortable in the roles that correspond with my social statuses. I know what to do, as a daughter, or a church member, or a U.S. citizen.

As a professor these days, I'm feeling something unpleasant. I can't find the right word for it: overwhelmed, verklempt, disoriented, stumped? Whatever it is, it's not good. The word I'm after is not a mental health term like depression or anxiety. It's sociological: role strain, when the expectations or duties of a role become overwhelming or confused.

Being a professor is one of my primary statuses, and with it, comes a social role. I show up to class, prepared. I spend time in my office. I care for students. I walk around campus and greet people by name. If I can't do those things, then am I still a professor?

"Shifting online" is a technique, and thank goodness we have it. But we don't simply swap one way of being for another. Touching elbows isn't equivalent to a hug. Zoom isn't an equivalent for sharing a meal together. We're grasping for approximations, and often doing fairly well, but the approximation just isn't the real deal. For my classes, I wonder why we're sticking to the course schedule and assignments; why study anthropology at all, when real-world crises are so urgent, and real-time news so demanding of our minute-to-minute attention? It's an important question, and I don't already know the answer. What should you learn, and why? To what should you devote your time and attention during this crisis?

Teachers and students are linked, interlocking statuses in the social institution of education. If the teacher role is strained, so is the student role. And the cafeteria aide, the school counselor, the groundskeepers, and everyone else whose livelihood and vocation depend on fulfilling our roles within a shared institution that, ultimately, serves society and promotes human well being.

Who am I, as a professor, and what should I be doing during this time? Who are you, as a student, and what should you be doing? Our fates are linked, and we can walk forward in this together. I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to be professing, so I'll do some of that in this blog. I'm fairly sure you should be studying, so hopefully you'll share some of what you notice, read, investigate, and reflect upon.

I need to blog, as a way to assert my professor self, offer connection to your student selves, and express myself, profess some things, as this bizarre semester unfolds.

Please join me, with three cheers:

To reduced role strain!

To social solidarity!

To humanity's amazing cultural capacity for adaptation!

Comments

What about in day-to-day life where you are an actor in the real world? Think of any role that a person could ...

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