At UC Davis, self-care is promoted through lists of stress resilience resources and wellness directives, that places the responsibility of self-care onto the student. In another form, the University materializes self-care through free items such as food and clothing, distributed as stress relief, to students at Student Housing and other UC Davis-sponsored events. The numerous online resources the institution offers function as a cover that prevents students from holding the University responsible for the unrelenting pressures exacerbated by the pandemic.
Self-care is not a quick-fix, nor is it a well-earned break between classes. As paraphrased by Angela Davis, self-care is a practice and course of action of the mind, body, and spirit. At the same time, self-care cannot be approached as one-size-fits-all.
Self-care has always been part of anti-racist struggles and survival. Last year’s COLA strikes were about a demand for a living wage, a demand to survive. Undergraduate and graduate students are being forced to choose between economic and food insecurity and attending university. For BIPOC students, this plight is compounded by racial and class oppression.
The Abolitionist University Studies Journal puts it best, “the university’s appearance of necessity is no mere mirage but rather the effect of its centrality within settler-colonial and racial capitalist regimes of accumulation.” Reflecting Self-Care responds directly to the failings of our own University. Since its conception, this land grant institution has been complicit with capitalism in producing toxic individualism that penalizes those who attempt to promote an agenda of self and collective radical care. Reflecting Self-Care invites the viewer to engage and reflect on their experience at UC Davis within this context, and evaluate its values as an institution.
Self-care is both a symptom of and facile solution to neoliberal ideologies and global capitalism. The pressure to be hyper-productive, strive more, sleep less, take risks have led to increasing cases of burnout. Capitalism has transformed self-care, our only hope in preventing burnout, in the form of the wellness industry, a commoditized self-care remedy consisting of specialized diets, therapies, and materialistic items which cost money and time that students do not have. In the context of Reflecting Self-Care, it is vital to view capitalism and neoliberalism as a system and ideology that happily dances and relies on oppression and even death, especially of marginalized peoples. The neoliberal ethos presumes that we are all on the same level playing field by recasting inequality as individualistic freedom. It suggests that working hard enough in a rigged and racist system is fair, and promotes the free market as breeding innovation and giving everyone what they deserve. These fallacious ideas are unearthed when radical self-care is examined, when we begin to ask ourselves why it is so hard to care for ourselves in today’s world. Within this context, the exhibit invites the viewer to engage and reflect on their own experience at UC Davis and evaluate its values as an institution.
Audre Lorde writes about self-care as a radical act that makes sustainable environments to heal and learn. The following is a list of recommendations from the co-curators of Reflecting Self-Care that begins to envision an education that focuses on mindfulness, mutual respect, open and honest communication, interpersonal relationships, and creating healthy boundaries:
- Free tuition
- Affordable housing
- Flexibility and a different mindset about deadlines
- Reconsider the 10-week system as an ineffective method of learning; too much content and too little time
- Challenge the logic that “doing well” aligns with monetary wealth and “well-being”
- Integrating courses about how to understand our minds and bodies in a way that promotes healthy living
- Access and low cost for food and affordable childcare
- Stop with the spread of blatant ableism in messages such as “take time out for yourself” and “Just do it!”
- Create equal access to buildings and spaces around campus by keeping elevators working and ramps safe, while giving easier access of course materials to students with mental disabilities
- Encourage students to take classes on US civics and decolonization
Unraveling is made out of industrial grade cotton and polypropylene rope and cord, and printed paper schedules contributed by the UCD community. The shape of the rope piece is based off of the hammocks that hang in the UC Davis quad: a recognizable symbol for relaxation. Almost parasitic, the schedules that have embedded themselves onto this structure, are causing the hammock to unravel, come apart. Its woven structure, built for resting the weary body, is becoming loose due to the overloaded schedules of UC Davis students and staff. This component of Reflecting Self-Care, which is located on the patio of the Manetti Shrem Museum, was conceived and fabricated by Rebecca Myers, one of the co-curators of the exhibition.