Higher Education (HE) Otherwise is a network of practitioners, researchers, and activists who are involved in imagining and practicing higher education, otherwise. As Ashon Crawley notes, “To begin with the otherwise…is to presume that whatever we have is not all that is possible.” HE Otherwise begins with the presumption that there are possibilities for higher education beyond the colonial horizons of hope that are offered by racial capitalism, settler nation-states, universal knowledge, human exceptionalism, and possessive individualism. Yet, HE Otherwise also begins with the presumption that from within our deeply colonized institutions, frames of reference, and unconscious patterns of desire, these other possibilities are largely unimaginable. Thus, we cannot know in advance what these possibilities might look, feel, smell, and taste like, but we can develop a deeper understanding of the uncertainties, complexities, contradictions, and difficulties that are involved in creating space for them to emerge and thrive. In this way, the “otherwise” is not a destination, but a direction; not a fixed or universal checklist, but an ongoing series of emergent, adaptive, contextually-relevant movements that are oriented by a sense of responsibility ‘before will’.
The work of network is inspired by de-/post-colonial, Indigenous, and abolitionist critiques and practices that identify the ongoing colonial underside of the shiny promises offered by modern institutions of higher education, including the promises of civilizational progress, universal knowledge, social mobility, and unrestricted autonomy. This work also amplifies modes of knowing, being, and relating that have generally been ignored, suppressed by, or at best, tokenistically included in existing institutions. While these genealogies of critique are crucial for interrupting enduring colonial patterns, they cannot offer a roadmap for higher education futures that exceed what is currently imaginable for most. Indeed, to seek within these critiques a prescriptive alternative would be to reproduce the same presumed entitlements that they challenge, including entitlements to feel hope, security, and certainty about the future.
Thus, rather than frame these critiques as the basis for an alternative model of higher education, they can be understood as offering generative challenges to the limits of many common responses to contemporary crises in higher education (including neoconservative, neoliberal, liberal and critical responses). These critiques also serve as invitations: to develop more nuanced, self-implicated analyses about the root causes of current crises; to open our social and ecological imagination to different forms of knowing, being, and relating; and to deepen our responsibilities towards other people, other-than-human beings, and the planet itself. Together, these critiques remind us that there are possibilities for higher education otherwise, but that the path from here to there will require us to interrupt enduring intellectual, affective, relational, political, ecological, and economic injustices that are reproduced by both institutions and individuals – including by those of us who are committed to transformative change.
The deep challenges to justice that characterize the contemporary moment might make alternative higher education futures appear more distant than ever. However, we might also consider this as a dubious opportunity. Growing disillusionment with our current, colonial system might lead to greater interest in new or regenerated possibilities for higher education, but it can also lead to feelings of betrayal or resentment about unfulfilled promises that can in turn lead to violence (against oneself, and/or [often marginalized] others), or feelings of being unmoored and unable to act after one’s foundations have been significantly unsettled. If we want a fighting chance of creating radically other worlds than the one we have inherited, then we will need this proliferating disillusionment to ultimately lead to a disinvestment from old dreams and promises. The following are some practices and intentions that might support movement toward the direction of higher education otherwise:
- Developing the capacity to face complexity, uncertainty, paradoxes, and contradictions without becoming irritated, overwhelmed, or anxious;
- Cultivating the stamina to stay with the messy, difficult, non-linear work of transformation in the long-haul, and to keep learning;
- Creating the conditions to engage in difficult conversations and interrupt harmful colonial patterns while maintaining the integrity of relationships;
- Staying with the discomforts of facing our own complicity without turning to harmful kinds of hope for redemption, absolution, or innocence;
- Noticing, interrupting and ‘composting’ harmful desires, and supporting others to do the same, with patience, humility, critical generosity, and compassion;
- Recognizing the need for both the depth of analysis (‘deep diving’) and strategic, context-specific engagements that can move people away from harmful patterns;
- Opening ourselves to being taught by the mistakes of a fundamentally harmful and unsustainable system, so that we do not continue to repeat these mistakes;
- Developing educational engagements and interventions that invite and activate non-transactional forms of responsibility;
- Instead of seeking prefabricated alternatives, experimenting with different forms of higher education while remaining vigilant about not repeating old mistakes, learning from inevitable new mistakes, and not projecting onto what might emerge;
- Respectfully engaging with the insights, practices, and imaginings that are rooted within historically marginalized ways of knowing and being, without romanticizing, instrumentalizing, or appropriating them for one’s own ends; and,
- Prioritizing forms of collective well-being that address our interdependence and uneven vulnerabilities.
If you would like to join the Higher Education Otherwise network, please visit the Contact page of this website.