“I’ve been teaching in higher ed for over a decade now and every single day of my life someone sends me something to read, shares an idea, helps me find information, or performs some invaluable act of help.”
These are the opening words of an entry posted on Academic Kindness, a page that appeared on micro-blogging platform Tumblr in November last year. It has been set up to gather tales of generosity, benevolence and goodwill within the scholarly community and share them with the world.
The site’s first blog post, dated 6 November 2013, and written by the site’s moderator, Rabia Gregory, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Missouri at Columbia, explains why she decided to set up the page. It tells how she attended a conference in Michigan and, being short of cash at the coffee bar, decided against purchasing a drink.
“A moment later, the senior scholar in line behind me bought me a cappuccino. When I asked for her name so that I could meet her later and repay her…she said ‘you don’t need to pay me back. But promise to pay it forward.’ ”
The author says this unexpected act of kindness is typical of the “unseen culture of kindness in academia” that the blog aims to document.
“I solicit outtakes from peer reviews, emails, marginal comments on seminar papers, and other examples of kindness to publish as a testimony that not all academics are brutish self-centered narcissists who delight in tearing apart the work of others for sport.”
Visitors to the site are invited to submit their own stories of academic kindness.
In one post, dated 26 December, a PhD candidate describes attending a summer programme hosted by “a rising star in my field” and her “academic hotshot” husband.
“Early in the program, she and her hubby happened to be having dinner on the patio of a restaurant when another participant and I walked by,” the blog contributor writes.
“They waved us over, switched tables to make room for us, and then proceeded to spend several hours chatting with us about our work and the reasons we were in this program while they bought us drinks and food.”
Another contributor recalls emailing a senior scholar, when an undergraduate, to ask for resource suggestions. “Not only did he respond quickly with a list of references that would prove invaluable, he also asked to read it when I was done. With much nervousness, I sent him the completed paper at the end of the semester and received incredible feedback from him.”
There are currently more than 20 such stories posted on the site, bringing a much-needed smile to some weary academic faces.
“What a nice find,” tweeted Scott Eacott (@ScottEacott), associate professor of educational leadership at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney. “Good to hear positive stories from the academy.”
“We’re not all (or always) a-holes,” added Emilio Bruna (@BrunaLab), professor of tropical ecology and Latin American studies at the University of Florida.
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