Recalibrating for the Present Moment

Published on April 02, 2020


EJ students at Rutgers University-Newark are working on the following assignment. We hope it will be helpful to other educators who might be thinking through their own EJ-related assignments during this crisis. As the students develop their projects we will post updates featuring their work.

Our Planet Crisis - Spring 2020
Assignment #10: Recalibrating for the Present Moment

By Tuesday 3/31

  • Post the central question that you’ll explore with your working group and your collective and individual research plans.
  • Each group should come to class on Thursday ready to share for 5 minutes about their project.

Our hope is to come back together for the rest of the semester as a group who are recognizing the unprecedented circumstances of this moment and centering it in our collective efforts. We don’t expect you to leave your feelings and experiences at the door, instead we want to hold space for pain, fear, anxiety, trauma, and anything else that comes up for you. We ask only that you trust us with your honest feedback and please ask for whatever you need. We’re here to support you.

Below is the rough structure of an assignment that builds off of your working group dynamics and all the effort you put in prior to Spring Break. However, we are aware that each day feels like it packs in a year's worth of news and many of us are or will be directly impacted by the pandemic. We have said from the beginning of the class that we seek to unlearn the traditional hierarchical ways that academia teaches us to value ourselves--homework, grades, careers, etc.--and never has there been a more pressing moment to discard these approaches and instead center holistic care and healing as sustainable ways to move forward. If you ever start to feel overwhelmed or panicked about our class remember that your well-being is the most important thing and we can easily adjust to support you where you’re at.

  1. Formulating Generative Questions

As you saw in our email yesterday evening our thought is for each group to develop a shared generative question linked to our class and the ongoing pandemic that you would all be interested in learning more about. This question needs to be focused enough so that it’s manageable and then each person in the group can begin researching in coordination. For examples of these questions some of the ones you came up with on Tuesday:

What's eco-fascism?

How this moment of emergency might also be time to reconsider the uses and misuses of "animals" and all living things?

How is deforestation linked to human health issues?

What do reports about global shutdowns and the air and waters suddenly getting better mean?

How do we sort out what's true and not true?

Is it better for Grandma to stay in Peru or to join us in NJ?

And some of your insights:

  • "we have to connect things right now"
  • "there's no hiding of disparities anymore"
  • our smartphones are a constant source of anxiety,
  • the simple things in life like breathing and drinking water, or
  • what we've otherwise taken for granted like noticing major differences in how seriously Covid-19 is being grappled with when crossing borders. 
  • the need for more concrete sources to cite when speaking to friends and family, and
  • a package of materials that can be offered to "those others who will listen to me," etc.

One you’ve agreed upon this question as a group, each group member can pursue different threads based on your own backgrounds, experiences, communities, current situations, and expertises. Any one of the questions above can be formulated as the group question with different answers depending on your respective subject positions and angles of insight. We’re not looking for a single answer but to see each group member represent their own knowledges.

For next Tuesday, your group should decide on the specific generative question that you want to focus on and outline the angle and a clear research plan that each group member is planning to approach their work with. In class next Thursday each group will have 5 minutes to share their project. This is  intensive work that is both relevant to what we're living through but also taking you outside of themselves and wanting them to have a flow experience in pursuing these questions from one lead to another and gaining a sense of traction and pleasure.

  1. Creating a Collaborative Recipe

As we discussed in class, the teaching team has come up with the framing of a “collaborative cookbook” for addressing the intersections of the COVID-19 pandemic with a range of justice-based issues in ways that are accessible to our families, friends, and communities. Each working group’s generative question will be a “recipe” for discovery and each group member will explore the question by “cooking” the recipe in their own unique way. At the end of the semester we’ll have a cookbook with ten different recipes cooked 4-6 different ways providing dozens of tools for others to pick up, use, add-on to, and share.

We like the cookbook metaphor over the more traditional toolkit because we want to emphasize the ways your specific subject-positions will lead to totally different outcomes of addressing the same question. Cooking is a wonderful blend of hard science, precision, creativity, and improvisation, and that’s what we hope you’ll bring to your work. We highly encourage you to gather all kinds of materials both traditional and nontraditional. Talk to people you know, find unusual media, draw on your creative instincts, and bring together a range of materials in new kinds of combinations.

We hope that by the end of the semester you’ll have gathered your questions, conversation leads, media, resources, and research and made it into something accessible to the people in your lives. At the core of this project is how to have healthier and more holistic conversations with the people in your life about the ongoing pandemic and the myriad issues it brings into stark relief.

Attached is a “cookbook” project example created by Tugba as part of her graduate work. Take a look at this incredible example as you begin imagining the direction of your project.

In the last week of class each group will present the work you have collectively created, discuss and show the ways you approached it, and offer any answers and resources you’ve found. For extra credit we would love you to help us edit, design, and produce a final online version of the cookbook!

  1. Resources

Rebecca Solnit interview, “Falling Together,” On Being podcast, May 26 2016.

Farhad Manjoo, “How the world’s richest country ran out of a 75 cent face mask.” Opinion Columnist, NY Times, March 25, 2020. Prep for supply chain discussion with Kevin Lyons.