By Professor Cat Hope
Welcome to the 34th edition of NiTRO where we examine a range of UK and US experiences and perspectives on the year of tertiary education that was 2020. As we in Australia begin to step out, gradually getting closer to normal social interactions once more, our colleagues elsewhere are still dealing with lockdowns and ongoing disruptions. However, our “normality” is bounded, as we sit in our national isolation, and wait for the time when international travel can resume. This isolation will shape our academic and research work in a unique way that is yet to be understood.
Social justice issues came to the fore in of 2020 – alongside, as a result of and in response to the pandemic. The increase of reliance on digital tools bought socio-economic details to light in a way that was unprecedented before. Not all academic staff were comfortable in the systems that had suddenly burst onto the forefront of their experience. Not everyone had access to great broadband, signal or even computers. Livelihoods were discussed in virtual meetings as redundancies swept through the sector, and many of us began to wonder what a career outside academia may look like. As the Black Lives Matter movement swept worldwide, 2020 gave us an opportunity to do things differently.
This focus on social issues provided an opportunity to consider the value of our academic offerings, and from us as individual and creative academics. Abigail Gilmore sums it up when she notes that “our duty of care is to present a curriculum that provides the skills and critical tools to challenge, to move beyond the rhetoric to build back better, open up debates and make change happen.” This change can be far reaching, from new ways to engage people in art making across great distances, to reworking ways of doing. The arts provide an opportunity to interrogate social issues and engage diverse cultural groups in their understanding, and the challenges of 2020 highlighted the value of these perspectives.
Out of the frightening start to 2020, optimism and ingenuity have endured. I would like to sincerely thank all the contributors to this edition for sharing their experiences with us. These are still turbulent times for our sector, and we hope that these NiTRO editions contribute to discussions and insights that bring our community of creative academics together, to be stronger.