Habari Gani: Is This Thing On?

Written by
Autumn A. Arnett

Feb 28, 2022

Feb 28, 2022 • by Autumn A. Arnett

“Habari Gani” is swahili for “What’s the news?” It’s a greeting. It’s like “What’s going on?” During Kwanzaa celebrations, it’s used as an upbeat “what’s up?” When Marvin Gaye sang “What’s going on,” it was more to interrogate the state of affairs.

When I was trying to think of a name for a column, it was the first thing that popped into my head—and in both cases, as an upbeat greeting or a questioning of the way things are in the world, it feels like an appropriate column heading. 

Habari Gani?

Con Mucho Gusto

There’s this amazing phrase in Spanish, “con mucho gusto,” or “with much pleasure,” which is used in some dialects to say “it’s nice to meet you” (also used in place of “you’re welcome.”) I am honored and excited to join Women In Higher Education as the next editor, and look forward to getting to know all of the members of this amazing community. 

Con mucho gusto. 

I am generally an excitable person. My favorite icebreaker when I first meet someone is, Tell me what excites you. My answer is usually “everything, all the time.” Every morning when I wake up and see the sun come up over my neighbor’s roof out my bedroom window, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen—until I get to see the sky painted with all the colors of the sunset later that night. I get excited about new books I buy, or the seemingly endless parade of amazon packages that arrive on my doorstep every week. About meals I plan to cook. About the next book I’m supposed to be working on (even if I haven’t actually made much progress on writing any chapters).
I am particularly excited about taking the reins to lead this amazing publication in this pivotal moment for higher education. To help chronicle the changes taking place that will shape our higher ed-osphere for years to come. To elevate the voices of those who are often shut out of the conversations in higher education. To work with an amazing team of writers and staff and help shape the stories we tell. To hear from you, our amazing readers—via email and/or social media—about what’s on your mind. What’s keeping you up at night, and what are you excited about? What are you thinking about? 

Luxury of thought

I think a lot about the luxury of thinking. Of having time to think, not always being in react mode. Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have found ourselves constantly reacting to the world around us. We are still facing an ongoing global public health crisis, somewhat cyclical racial uprisings, more problematic policing, more people dying, ongoing performative allyship without real tangible action, an election cycle and U.S. Capitol insurrection that some of us are still trying to process over a year later. We haven’t even fully had the space to think about all that happened in 2020, and then 2021. And now we are in the third month of 2022. Wow.

If I’m completely honest, I’m seeing little thought or effort being allocated to envisioning a future that better includes America’s most vulnerable populations, amid folks’ eagerness to return to “normal.” Many of us are still hoping people hear our cries about how poorly “normal” was working in the first place, while still constantly reacting to the dismal state of affairs. 
Schools were failing students before virtual learning and “COVID slide” took over. Higher education was struggling to embrace diversity and equity as more than just a business case necessity to meet enrollment goals before the summer of racial reckoning. And the last two years have only exacerbated these realities, with fights ongoing to suppress a more inclusive American history from being taught in schools and new variants of COVID seeming to surface around every major holiday. 

Despite all of this, I start and end my days giving thanks to God for letting me see another day, because so many didn’t get the opportunity. I work hard to find small joys in each day. Even though work-life balance is eroded for many of us, with work-from-home meaning no set start or end times for the day, I revel in dinnertime conversations with my children. Every single day, I find a reason to laugh until I’m literally crying. 

We Can’t ‘Self-Care’ This Away

Like many of us, I’ve been trying on new hobbies since the start of the pandemic, and have already discarded several. I’m tired of virtual DJ sets, which were my favorite thing early on in the pandemic. But I really like that the pandemic has normalized virtual happy hours and “wine dates” with my girlfriends who live elsewhere; wine is another pandemic interest I’ve picked up. Pre-pandemic, I was strictly a bourbon girl. 
I’m rediscovering myself—and those in my house—and it’s not all bad. 
At the same time, there’s been an increase in institution- and organization-sponsored self-care webinars. Mindfulness retreats. Endless pandemic hobbies. But we can’t ‘self-care’ these realities away. They require systemic changes—changes that have to start at the top. 

I’ve recently taken up yoga, and as good as I feel after I’ve stretched, perfecting my moon poses and core strength are not going to make racial injustice, microaggressions, bomb threats at historically Black college and university bomb threats, gender pay gaps, economic injustice, environmental discrimination, male-led debates about the morality of abortion, redundant affirmative action debates or disparities in the diversity of tenured faculty and administrators at U.S. institutions go away. And frankly, it is an insult to those who experience any or all of these factors to suggest self-care is the salve. 
Even still, I’m excited about this moment and particularly about the energy of those who really want to effect real change. Change in systems, change in attitudes, change in behaviors. Change that will positively impact not just the next generation, but our current generations.

And so, with that: Habari Gani? Tell me what excites you.