Voices of Academia
Back in February, I was invited to write for the brilliant resource that is Voices of Academia.
Their aims are as follows:
To normalise conversations about mental health and mental illness in academia, and highlight that many people experience mental health concerns, from early career researchers to more senior academic staff.
To provide a voice for academics to share their experiences and encourage cultural change based on these experiences.
To amplify marginalised voices and support practical changes in higher education to create a culture of inclusivity and equity.
To promote wellness, exploring different strategies that work for an improved experience within academia.
To create a sense of community through story-telling, vulnerability, and connection.
I love their work.
They really are trying to change workplace culture. Their vision of academia is one not based on a toxic culture of overwork and competition but one in which we all take responsibility for making it more hospitable, more kind, and more diverse.
The piece I was invited to write was about my experience of addiction and recovery as it pertains to the workplace.
It was hard to write. It's such a personal and painful story, and I was struggling with a debilitating anxiety flare-up at the time of writing. (I get them periodically). But I greatly appreciated the opportunity.
Writing the piece required me to remember what it was like, trying to keep working at the height of my raging addiction 18 years ago, with all the hiding and denial. I had to consider how it was that I managed (entirely thanks to others) to build a recovery while working in a sector that, despite its many privileges, is immensely challenging. Academia is built, partially at least, on criticism, competition and insecurity, and it can end up being a rapacious sink-hole for one's whole identity. It's not easy to establish and build a recovery in that kind of environment.
Writing the piece also made me reflect, conversely, on what extraordinarily positive communities universities can be, at their best. I've seen some significant cultural changes during the course of my career. There's much greater awareness of intersectional disadvantage than there used to be, and there are people across universities, not only academics, truly committed to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) work, intent on collaboratively changing things for the better. I saw this first hand in my own University as it moved towards the signing of the Recovery Friendly University Pledge. Unfortunately, this commitment to the more difficult EDI work is at odds with that of a government, who've recently secured the suspension of the EDI Advisory Group of the UKRI, the major national academic funding body owing to the alleged extremist views of two members relating to the war in the Middle East. Rather than referring those individuals to the police, the government asked for the suspension of the whole Advisory Group, a group whose remit covers all aspects of EDI in research funding.
The current climate makes the work of Voices of Academia all the more vital. They are worth subscribing to, and signposting to academic colleagues and postgraduate students. You might also consider a signal boost if you're on social media.
VoA schedule their posts several months in advance. Between writing and publication I had a heart attack and was forced to retire. We decided to leave the piece as it was written, as its argument stands even though I'm no longer in post. Here it is: https://voicesofacademia.com/2023/10/27/addiction-and-the-university-by-wendy-dossett/