For Katja Lindskog, this has been a year of firsts.
No matter how many years of experience a faculty member has, one can never be prepared to handle a global pandemic, let alone adapt an academic program for a nationwide quarantine. This was Lindskog’s first year serving as the director of undergraduate studies for the Directed Studies program.
“It’s not a year like any other year, as far as I can recall,” she said.
The DUS position, which she described as “way more than a full-time position at the best of times,” gave her a host of new responsibilities, including planning supplementary educational events for students and providing everyday support for students and faculty. In March, she was confronted with the “all-consuming” task of transitioning D.S. online. More than ever, Lindskog has become aware of the importance of human interaction in education.
“In some ways, humanities classes seem that they are superficially well-translated into an online form,” she said. “But in reality, there are significant elements that are missing.”
Lindskog’s husband, assistant professor of English Joseph North, serves as the coordinator of the literature strand of Directed Studies. The pair are often needed in the same meetings, which poses an additional challenge while homeschooling their 7-year-old son.
Because their son’s school has no live meetings, Lindskog and North have essentially become his first-grade teachers. They’re “almost good enough” for the job, she said.
Lindskog said her responsibilities to students are now “constantly at war” with her family commitments. Yet, she is aware that homeschooling is viable for her and her husband in a way that it may not be for other parents, such as essential workers or hospital employees. Coordinating D.S. online and helping her son attend remote classes, Lindskog has been reflecting on the role schools play in the fabric of a society.
“It makes it obvious to me that school is so much more than the assignments,” she said. “That’s the least of our worries.”
Her son is adjusting shockingly well to the new reality. He has online playdates with his friends and argues with them just as he would in person, although he now threatens to end the Zoom meeting when he’s upset rather than walk away. He’s in a distinctly privileged position, Lindskog notes, with two available parents and the ability to enjoy nature in the parks of East Rock.
Lindskog’s son is still at an age where he accepts the world around him without much worry. Lindskog, on the other hand, is not. She is concerned about Trump’s recent decision to halt green cards, the fate of the Directed Studies program and the situation of non-tenure-track faculty, to name a few.
“It’s not realistic to run Yale without instructional faculty,” she said. “That really concerns me, that this is going to be a kind of moment where there will be recourse to measures that are catastrophic in the long term. I’m thinking back to the financial crisis in 2008, after which a lot of universities were restructured.”
Lindskog referred to the University-wide hiring freeze through June 2021, which raises urgent questions about whether instructional faculty whose employment contracts expire by the end of the year will continue to teach at Yale. Lecturers, lectors and other non-tenure-track faculty comprise nearly 30 percent of the faculty population. Lindskog is part of that contingency, and she knows she is not immune to their fears.
Additionally, she hopes that her colleagues in D.S. continue to imagine new possibilities for what a humanities education can be, even if the program is held in a less traditional way next year.
“I hope it won’t make people want to retreat into fear of change, because the changes in the outside world are so big and scary,” she said.
Even online, Lindskog said that discussions with her students “feed her soul.” She taught her favorite novel, George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” over Zoom right after spring break. The book took on new meaning under the circumstances, reminding Lindskog of the power of literature.
“I found a lot of students’ conversations very moving,” she said, “because the novel seems to be about how we forge social connections in unconventional ways. Particularly in those early days after spring break, students were often quite openly bereft and struggling. Those were really scary times for a lot of people.”
To preserve her own emotional and physical well-being, Lindskog has adopted new routines during quarantine, making a conscious effort to exercise and go to sleep early. Often, though, she’s still awake working after her son goes to sleep. She isn’t quite at a loss for things to do.
“I haven’t exactly taken up knitting or something,” she laughed. “Although I’m sure it would be good for my mental health to do that.”
Ella Goldblum | firstname.lastname@example.org
This story is part of a larger series profiling Yale and New Haven community members during the COVID-19 pandemic. To read more, click here.