Preface to University on Watch: Crisis in the Academy (J PETERS)
University on Watch was written over a period of ten years, from 2008 to 2018, after my crisis at New London University. Through blogging, I was able to rewrite and develop a more nuanced interpretation of my experience, and the story took on deeper meaning.
I am a rhetoric scholar and a person living with schizophrenia. I am also a prosumer, a term coined by Alvin Toffler in 1980 to describe someone who consumes and produces a product. My own identity aside, narratives, memoirs, and stories that aim to reclaim a writer’s lost authorial voice are in demand. These personal stories offer catharsis—upon reflection, after writing this novella, I am still not sure how to feel about my path to healing through writing, except to say I am privileged that I had the opportunity to retell my story in a genuine and authentic way. Many writers—either because they are too deep in their illness or are unable to write about it—don’t have the same opportunity.
My story is shocking. My story is also very frank. I hold nothing back. This memoir, University on Watch, is a vivid account of my struggle with the onset of a mental health disorder while I was in college. It offers a new examination of how anosognosia—a sick person’s unawareness that they are sick—impacts young adults in college. Without the help and support I received to recognize and understand the nature of my illness, this book might never have been written.
During the crisis, I wrote a paper called “Contesting Admission.” It was intended to alter events at the university in 2008 at their very root, where words and power intersect in the English language. In order for the reader to truly understand the altered realities and my perception at the time of the crisis that unfolded at New London University, I will quote unedited and original passages from “Contesting Admission.”
“Contesting Admission” was written in the style of Michel Foucault. I cite incidents backed up with primary documents (e.g., court orders, lists from the New London English department, and publications in the community that followed the story). I wrote the paper in an attempt to make sense of the world around me as it became more and more distorted and irrational.
My symptoms progressed over a six-month period after I was denied admission, largely during the spring semester of 2008. “Contesting Admission” ultimately achieved its intent. Initially I set out to identify a specific concern in the English department. In the process, a different concern was eventually identified—the status of my mental health, which ultimately led to my hospital admission.
In the paper, I talk about madness, and I make observations of my everyday life in the city of Liberty. The fact that my behavior was being observed by the department and, as stated in an email from the dean of students, “assessed for safety to continue as a student” is ironic, considering my mental status. I talk about hygiene, which clearly at that time was also an issue noted by the dean. However, from my perspective, the issue was how hygiene was used to hinder me rather than recognizing the deficit in my self-care—a clinically significant issue.
When the sections “Empire” and “The Second American Revolution” were written, a friend was writing a newspaper article about my arrest for loitering. While it seemed obvious that this arrest was intended to be a part of my own political revolution to draw attention to the “illness in the humanities” at New London University, the illness was actually my own. The section in which I summarized my work, “Diagnosing Technologies of Crystallization,” shows that I was definitely diagnosable.
It was while writing “Contesting Admission” that I discovered the word “meta-power.” I thought it was a new word, but it was also when the voices were speaking to me and became truly disturbing. Yet I was too far from reality to realize anything. What happened next was my hospitalization, when my illness would be diagnosed by a team of clinicians at Liberty General Hospital. This paper was written during the onset of illness until I was hospitalized.
I showed this paper to very few people at the time. But the people I did share it with had very little to say about its meaning and intent. The paper was intended to overturn the denial of admission, something I made clear to those I discussed the paper with. Again I received little feedback. While writing can be therapeutic, it depends on the author’s intent and belief about its purpose, i.e., what the writing is setting out to achieve. In the end, “Contesting Admission” highlighted what happens when a person presses forward without hope of salvation.
Meta-power is a word that I use often during the paper. It signifies the power of language and those who wield that power (such as Dr. H and the English department chair), making decisions that change the world, from globalization down to the day-to-day operations of academic departments. Over the course of my last days in the community, I wrote day and night, trying to identify the power that interrupted my path to graduate school in English and uncover the mysteries embedded within language.