My career at New London University suggests “this possibility for mutual understanding and agreement” to pervert even “‘the ordinary use of the English language’” (Reisch, 2005) is the transcendental infiltration of admission into the English program.
—J. Peters, “Contesting Admission”
I know nothing about where Dr. H is today. I only know what happened ten years ago, and I still know little about how Dr. H became part of my circle of friends.
I met her in a class called “Voices of Foucault,” a graduate seminar in philosophy, interpretation, and culture that I took through the philosophy department, since I was banned from taking any graduate classes in the English department, “Voices of Foucault” seemed like the perfect class.
It was taught by Dr. Russ, a distinguished professor. The course was a survey of Foucault’s books, lectures, and writings. Although a restriction was placed on my registration file, I decided to register for this class anyway. The very first day of class, I arrived early and saw a woman with a “Think New London” pin on her lapel.
It was spring semester when the class started. I was already hearing voices and was extremely paranoid. When I met Dr. H, she introduced herself to me as a student sitting in on Dr. Russ’s classes. I asked her if she meant she was auditing so she could review coursework before a dissertation defense or to avoid academic probation. I told her I was a non-matriculated graduate student; those words sparked a conversation and set the trajectory for a series of bizarre event the rest of the semester.
The first bizarre occurrence was at the conclusion of this first class with Dr. Russ. Dr. H and I went outside to smoke during the break, and we launched into the real reasons we were in the class. I confessed that I was restricted from taking graduate courses in English, so I took a course with a familiar professor in another department. I told her about the staff and key players from the English department and described my difficult relationships with many of them, including the graduate school director and Dr. Harris. After I dropped a number of names and allegiances, Dr. H confessed that she was vaguely familiar with my story because she was friends with some of the faculty members in the English department.
I was intrigued. I was restricted from even physically coming near the same faculty members Dr. H was friendly with outside the university. Her confession went deeper: she was not even a student. She was a faculty member who had been terminated from the School of Management.
Later that night, I told some friends about meeting Dr. H. They were very familiar with her, and they warned me point-blank to stay away. But I wasn’t listening to anyone at this point—certainly not my friends.
Despite my friends’ warnings, Dr. H’s advice seemed so different from what I had heard previously. I believed that Dr. H was a liaison from the university, and I somehow knew that because she seriously listened to me about to my situation, she must be in my life to help negotiate a peaceful resolution to either the loitering charge or the admission decision.
Dr. H witnessed my descent firsthand. In retrospect, her interventions into the bizarre circumstances of my unraveling life are puzzling.
I found myself spending more and more time with Dr. H. We went out to dinners and the theater, attended events on campus, and participated in local activism projects. When my living situation required me to abruptly move out, I moved in with Dr. H. She had a large Victorian house on the other side of the city. When I commented on how much police activity there was on this side of town, she remarked, “How exciting!”
Although I was calmer in Dr. H’s house than in the previous one, I only slowed down the progression of the psychosis. One night we went to a fine arts movie in a theater downtown. I only had a few dollars left to my name, and I had no plan to obtain funds to continue my accustomed lifestyle. The theater had a tip jar with a sign to tip generously because the money would be raffled to someone who needed special housing or some other sort of assistance. I put my remaining funds in the jar and left my name and email.
I was convinced that the theater had created a special fund to support my dispute with the graduate program. With manic energy, I walked up and down the aisle, bowing and waving to the audience to thank them for helping me.
Another night, Dr. H took me for a walk around the block after I had screamed about how Dr. Harris should be in jail for causing my ongoing issues with the department. Dr. H took me to a closed store. She knew the owner, and we went inside to commiserate. Dr. H spent most of the time crying. I was too disoriented to get a good read of the conversation, but I was sure that she was crying because she was sad about my situation that had no clear resolution.
To this day, I don’t know why she was crying. But the bizarre incidents followed one after another until one night I found myself at a restaurant where Dr. H had a meal voucher. The restaurant hadn’t opened yet; that particular evening they were training the staff. But given that I didn’t have any money, I thought the restaurant was owned by the federal government, the CIA, or the FBI, and they were supplying me with food because I was ineligible for student loans.
Towards the end of the semester when I needed funds to survive without loans, Dr. H connected me with a medical doctor who needed yardwork and cleaning done. At this point I was already under the supervision of a medical doctor, a doctor of strategy, clinical staff, and primary care physicians.
When my friends tried to tell me there was something wrong, I laughed because I was being monitored by professionals who couldn’t find anything wrong with me. They reinforced my belief that the only thing wrong was external: my environment, the people around me, and the unfortunate and bizarre circumstances I kept finding myself in.
In the end, it was Dr. H who encouraged me and coached me to write “Contesting Admission.” It was the epitome of the bad advice that she gave me over that spring semester. She watched me write that paper day and night ad infinitum for an irrational purpose and a reason that was unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, I was already under a spotlight, and the paper did little to organize my thoughts or establish a rational and valid plan for pursuing graduate school. Dr. H was not responsible for my arrest for loitering charge. Writing the paper did play a self-soothing role, allowing me to process events through research, distraction, and artistic expression.
Dr. H was a professor of strategic management. She managed my friendships, my relationship with my family, and all other aspects of my personal life when I was in the hospital and afterwards. My mail, even though I was living somewhat independently, was addressed care of Dr. H. As my psychosis developed and everything unraveled—my relationships, my ability to care for myself, and my behavior—Dr. H was at the forefront.
To this day, I still don’t know how Dr. H became such a major player in my life. She went from a total stranger to my personal manager to a total stranger again. I understand she is residing in a new city now. I wonder how much she has changed, if I really knew anything at all about her, and what she is really like without the cognitive distortions that had me so confused.
This passage was an excerpt from University on Watch: Crisis in the Academy (J. PETERS)