I understand how it can go both ways in academia. You can have colleagues who are really part of your family. And you have colleagues you are, um, not.
Whichever way it happens, academic colleagues are completely unlike colleagues in other organizations. Academia is the last career in which you can be guaranteed lifetime employment. What this means is that we work with the same people for 30 to 40 years.
That’s a long time.
And while it is of course likely that there will be ebbs and flows in relationships and interpersonal dynamics, there are times where I don’t think there is anything like the relationships you form with the people you work with at a university.
Like this week.
This week was the trial for the murderer of our dear colleague Jeannine Skinner. She was murdered last September 1, 2017. It was hellish because Jeannine is/was extraordinary. I know that can be cliche, but at her funeral last September I found out that I was not the only person who saw her sunshine-beaming-from-her-face smile and thought “I’m going to be your friend. I will try not to freak you out by immediately pouncing into your life. But YOU! Friend! With me!!”
She was on a trajectory to be an outstanding researcher. I reviewed her first year faculty research proposal as part of my university service duties. It was equivalent to some of our best full professors who have been writing the proposals for 20 years.
She was driven to help under-served, minority, and low income seniors keep their health and their cognitions. The city of Charlotte lost out on her contributions.
But we, as her colleagues and friends, lost out on what we thought was going to be at least a 30-year friendship.
This week, my work colleagues and I gathered over two days to support her family and her memory as her murderer pleaded guilty. I’m telling you right now, I cannot imagine feeling closer to anyone else that I work with. We cried together. We hugged each other as we saw someone losing it. We laughed when one of our own was legitimately threatened to be thrown out of court for asking if someone else needed a tissue. They take VERY SERIOUSLY the no talking rule in court.
We spent time hugging, visiting, and praying with Jeannine’s family. ((Who are, all three, exceptional human beings))
Academia is just not like other places. I don’t know how other co-workers handle a tragedy in their midst. But I so love all of my colleagues right now. I can’t imagine people say that about the other places that they work.
But that’s how I am feeling about my colleagues and my department after how we all held each other up this week.
I do wish I would stop crying for a couple of three minutes. But I think that will stop eventually. I’m hoping this closeness stays around a while longer.