Consider This: When I Needed Community Supports

As the 1980's came to a close, so did my marriage. At the same time, I was completing my doctoral work at the University of Alberta while…

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As the 1980's came to a close, so did my marriage. At the same time, I was completing my doctoral work at the University of Alberta while working part-time in the Faculty of Education. By the end of 1991 I found myself unemployed; a single mother of a 9-year-old who didn’t understand why her world was coming apart, and with a PhD still over a year away. Obviously, I had to make some big changes.

I was thrilled to be able to start my academic career with an ABD (all but dissertation) in the State University of New York (SUNY) system at an undergraduate college, just outside of Rochester, NY. It had been a whirlwind courtship unfolding over 6 months of high anxiety as I realized I was about to move to a different country and culture, with no social support, in an entirely new professional role, with a frantic child and a dog. I had to find a place to live before I arrived in August, get Courtney enrolled in school, start the visa process, hire movers, and get legally untangled from my marriage and its associated debts.

With all of that, I guess I wasn’t paying too much attention to my contract as Assistant Professor in the College of Education. Soon after I arrived on a Greyhound Bus and met with the administration, I realized that I had committed to a 9-month contract, and a 2-year probation, which is quite common in state universities (who knew?), with a $26,000 annual salary, paid over 12 months. But, I had to buy a car, and rent and food were no cheaper than in Edmonton, nor were school fees, utilities, a new driver’s license and car insurance, and other (endless) incidentals.

I thought I could meet this challenge by myself. I was very wrong. Before long, I was using the Food Bank, barely squeaking out the rent and car payments. I was falling rapidly into (new) debt, struggling with a depressed daughter, trying to finish my dissertation and start a research program and supervising student teachers in schools that had to employ armed guards. I had some wonderful and compassionate colleagues but they could only do so much. I was truly, mostly, one month away from being homeless.

The adventure ceased to be exciting and challenging within a month. In the space of a year I had gone from a well-educated, self-starting and reasonably well-off, fully employed woman, to a single mother in a strange country struggling financially, socially, mentally and professionally. Thanks to my colleagues I was able to identify the social services I needed to simply endure long enough to get back to Canada and a new career in Northern Manitoba (a different kind of struggle).

My point is, that with my background and privileges, my opportunities and advantages, I still found myself in dire circumstances that couldn’t have been predicted 12 months earlier. If it hadn’t been for the availability of social and community services, like those provided by the United Way, I think my daughter and I may really have been a homeless family. This experience can happen to anyone in a flash. For us, it was a combination of circumstances, context and, yes, some poor decision-making. Unfortunately, not everyone can count on empathetic colleagues and available services to give them enough of a safety net to change their story.

I give monthly to many of these community supports, among them the United Way. Because but for the grace of the goddess, any of us can find ourselves in serious need.

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The University of Alberta’s United WayThe University of Alberta’s United Way fundraising campaign runs from October 10–26, 2018. To learn more about how your can give, share, and uplift the community through your participation visit the U of A’s United Way website.U of A’s United Way website.

Katy Campbell — Dean, Faculty of Extension

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Katy Campbell was born, raised and educated in Edmonton, and received her PhD (1994) in Instructional Studies from the University of Alberta. Her doctoral research involved a narrative study of a collaborative instructional design process as a socially transformative practice.

Now Dean of the Faculty of Extension (2009 — current), she has worked as an instructional designer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta (1983–93), as Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the State University of New York College at Geneseo (1993–95), and as a designer of distance programs at Keewatin Community College in Manitoba, Canada (1995–96). She is currently a Professor in the Faculty of Extension.