I am still planning on writing a post about Sgt. Arnold Loosemore, VC, but while I wait to hear from someone who has done far more research into his life than I have yet done about a query, I am also helping organise the ‘Who Cares?’ conference to be held in the School of History at the University of Leeds on 27th and 28th March, 2017. In particular, I have been approaching people to ask if they will talk about their personal experiences of providing care as academics.
So far, everyone I have asked to contribute has responded positively, not to say enthusiastically, providing evidence that there is an appetite for having these discussions within the academic community. This has been a huge personal relief to me as I have been finding it surprisingly uncomfortable to make these approaches in the first place. While my head has been telling me that these are conversations we need to have, and have in public forums, not privately behind closed doors, my gut has been questioning whether these really are conversations people want to have and are comfortable having. Are these subjects too personal? Should we be combining our work and family lives in this way? Do we risk one colonizing the other in unhelpful ways if we start to blur whatever boundaries we may have established as individuals to maintain our sanity?
I am hoping that all these questions will be explored in March. But even if they are not discussed directly, then at least the very fact that I feel such discomfort has reaffirmed for me the importance of starting and continuing these discussions as part of our professional lives. The more openly we can talk about our family responsiblities and how they combine with our professional commitments, the burdens they place on us and the support we get from our colleagues and communities, the easier it will come to have such discussions and to establish good practice for all concerned. If the end result is a free-flowing discussion where everyone feels heard, then it will have been worth every gut-tightening moment of anxiety that organizing this event is causing.
In the meantime, I am hugely grateful for the generous enthusiasm of colleagues who have agreed to contribute. It will, I believe, be worth all our effort.