Jennifer S. Simpson is the author of Longing for Justice: Higher Education and Democracy's Agenda. A timely and persuasive argument for Higher Education’s obligations to our democratic society, Longing for Justice combines personal narrative with critical analysis to make the case for educational practices that connect to questions of democracy, justice, and the common good.
How did you become involved in your area of research?
In the first year of my first full time faculty position, I attended a conference that addressed change at broad levels in higher education. This was a week-long conference that a group from my home institution attended. Alongside this conference, I had long had an interest in pedagogy and the purposes of undergraduate education. Further, my research brings together higher education and broader social concerns, including race, equity, and justice. My interest in ongoing forms of oppression, and possibilities for equity, have developed out of a desire to better understand my own agency and contributions—how can I resist participation in and complicity with injustice, and contribute to possibilities for moving toward justice? These questions have relevance for me in the contexts in which I live and work daily (such as higher education), and in public life more generally.
What inspired you to write this book?
Writing a book offers an opportunity to think and feel carefully about a subject over time and in an in-depth manner. It is a chance to sit with and reflect on questions that matter. Writing a book is also about believing I have something worth saying, and the ability to communicate those ideas. I care about higher education, about undergraduate education, and about what it offers in terms of possibilities for living together well.
How long did it take you to write your latest book?
I started articulating the broad priorities and questions for this book seven years before it was published. For two or three years, I continued to pursue the questions in an informal yet directed manner. After a couple of years of wrestling with the questions, I began to write—an outline, a summary, a description of my focus. Writing the first chapter was the most difficult—this chapter defines the parameters of the book, what the books addresses and how. I wrote drafts of all of the remaining chapters but one in about 10 months, while I was on sabbatical. I took another couple of months on the final chapter, and then completed multiple revisions of all chapters.
What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?
Education holds opportunity and responsibility. The chance to engage in an ongoing conversation with students about what matters most, about how we want to live, and about what is meaningful and why, is a gift and a responsibility. I hope that educators are thoughtful about that gift and responsibility. I hope that my research and my book might in some cases lead to changed educational practices.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Defining the focus of the book was difficult. It took time. It was laborious. It involved, at times, what felt like a lack of clarity and purpose. This difficulty eased if I could be patient with myself and the process.