Monday, November 6, 2023

Hoop Skirts

Last night I had a dream that while I sat in a committee meeting, an airplane flew into the building next door. I could see the tail of the plane from the giant window as well as a second smaller plane coming up behind it to do the same. For the record, the building in my dream isn’t next door and in fact there are no giant buildings adjacent to the law school. I woke up thinking two things: 1. I attend way too many meetings, and 2. the scariness of the world is triggering some 9/11 memories for me. These are fraught times.

I am Jewish, possibly the only female Jewish faculty member at my law school and certainly one of very few if there are any others. I have family and friends in Israel. I have friends and students who have family in Gaza. I am of two hearts in this and since I am trained as a lawyer, I will try to explain it in an analogy.

I think my big feelings about the initial attack and response attacks is analogous to wearing a giant hoop skirt of emotion. It hinders my movement and makes it hard to get around things and other people who are wearing their own crinolines of thoughts. It also makes it easier to bump into and step on others as well. And that means that I am also oversensing things that bump into or step on mine. I spend a lot of intellectual capital on parsing out what is and what is not antisemitism-in other words, has someone actually stepped on my skirt or just bumped into it inadvertently? Similarly, I don’t want my apparel to hinder students, or make them uncomfortable in class, or in the halls, or really anywhere in our school. I see their silhouettes in my office, on line, and in class.

I finally took some action to trim my attire. I called in the best expert I could find: our University Chaplain[1]. Our Chaplain is neither Jewish nor Muslim, but like the character Mother Ginger in the Nutcracker,[2] she has room under her giant skirt for all of us and offered me some good talking points for hard conversations. Most of all, she reminded me that it is very easy to take offense to postings on line, but very difficult to not see the humanity in everyone when in person. I need to trim myself back to my personhood and not my membership in any particular group. I think I may still have a bit of a train drifting behind me, but it is much more manageable.

It is hard to be academically successful while wearing the hoop skirt. It is distracting at best, and a hinderance at worst. Academic Support should be a safe place for students to be welcomed for who they are and not what they are perceived as. Last Thursday I met with one of my students who is anxious about their family in Gaza. I’d love to say we laughed, we cried, we hugged, but we didn’t. We hung up our protective attire for more than a few minutes and talked about law school after acknowledging that the awkwardness we felt wasn’t going to stop us from doing the work that needed to be done. I told them that I was concerned for my family, I was concerned for their family, but most importantly, I was concerned for them. What else is there?

(Liz Stillman)


[1] I am not a particularly religious person, but I felt alone, and I thought she would be a neutral and kind person to chat with-and she was indeed that.

[2] Yes, I may have taken the hoop skirt too far, but here is a cite:

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