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Executive Director's Report - June 30, 2022

This month has made it hard to talk about hope.

In the past six weeks we have seen children gunned while going to school in Texas, a white supremacist murder 10 black people in Buffalo while he live-streamed it, supreme court justices majority overturn Roe v. Wade and rescind access to abortion as a human right, the uncovering of hundreds more unmarked graves at residential schools, an uptick of violence against Muslims during Ramadan, the assassination of Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh as she reported on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and countless atrocities that come across our news feeds daily.

The horror is writ large against the backdrop of hatred – taking the forms of anti-black racism, islamophobia, colonization, sexual and gendered violence, transphobia.

As a Shakespearean by both training and disposition, I feel ill-equipped to navigate the world, much less help students, colleagues, and friends handle the immensity of unprocessed grief, unfettered rage, and deep despair.

But the Maple League – and the countless communities of practice, committees, and conversation partners, helps us find hope in communion with one another.

Together we howl into the abyss. We find space to honor hopelessness without rushing from grieving into healing.

We can ask, without the need for an immediate response,

“Why is this so hard?”

“Why does this hurt so much?”

“Why am I so tired?”

Unprocessed grief, unfettered rage, un-locatable despair are not the antitheses of hope.

They are part of a hope circuit.

To deny our deep discomfort is to succumb to toxic positivity, which effaces conflict and doesn’t create room for disagreement or discontent. Unchecked, toxic positivity threatens to break us apart because it denies the fact of our transformation.

The communities and conversations we have within the consortium help us find ways to be broken open.

Even as we scream into the abyss, we often might find something we don’t expect: HOPE

In the hundreds of conversations I have had with Maple League colleagues, some of the most productive encounters were animated by unprocessed grief, rage, and despair.

And yet, these thought partners worked through the discomfort because the thing that kept them up at night was also the thing that got them out of bed in the morning.

Author Iona Sharma, building on the work of prison abolitionist Miriame Kaba, exclaims, “hope and community are a goddamn discipline.”

This notion of hope as a discipline – as a verb, anchored in practice – is reflected in the conversations we have had within the Maple League over the past few months as we engage in strategic visioning: a recurring theme has been the value of interconnected communities of practice; almost all interviewees frame hope in the relational work that fosters collaboration and critical reflection. Maple League conversation partners talk about community being crucial for the well-being of individuals and institutions.

Taking a page from bell hook's All About Love (1999) she wrote “rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.”

The Maple League has been a beacon in dark times for so many, and continues to build meaningful spaces for people to engage – and together to tackle some of our most pressing wicked problems.

In Shakespeare’s Guide to Hope, Life, and Learning, my co-authors and I expand on hope in the context of the university classroom:

“Learning is embodied hope.

It happens in time.

It happens in bodies.

Each act of learning is unique and can never be reproduced on a factory line.

It cannot be abstracted from the bodies and the lives of learners who embody it, any more than a verb can function grammatically without an agent.

Hope is a verb.”

Hope is a verb, and the Maple League is an agent of hope.

~ Dr. Jessica Riddell, Executive Director, Maple League of Universities

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