Dr. Jessica Riddell: A Year of Challenges, Research, Teaching and Knowledge Mobilization… and Critical Hope

Dr. Jessica Riddell: A Year of Challenges, Research, Teaching and Knowledge Mobilization… and Critical Hope

Dr. Jessica Riddell“Work smart, not hard” is the motto Dr. Jessica Riddell (English Department) lives by. Indeed, she also works hard, but strives to build alignment across the many positions she holds at Bishop’s and beyond. As a Full Professor in the English Department, her mandate as the Jarislowsky Chair of Undergraduate Teaching Excellence, her leadership at the helm of the Maple League of Universities, and her active research profile, Dr. Riddell has learned to see things as overlapping and mutually reinforcing rather than as separate or isolated roles.

One common thread connects all her endeavours: Dr. Riddell’s commitment to fostering delight. When asked about what inspires her, Jessica quotes Sir Philip Sidney, a sixteenth-century writer, courtier, solider. In The Defense of Poesie (1581), he writes, “Who will be taught if he be not moved with the desire to be taught?” Dr. Riddell believes, as Sidney did, that to move someone was to transform them, and that “an ideal teacher must generate delight to stir the heart and shape the mind.” At the core of Dr. Riddell’s work is the idea that the heart and mind are inextricably bound in the pursuit of knowledge – both in its acquisition and creation.

A year full of projects…

So what “delightful” projects has Dr. Riddell tackled this year? She finished a book on Shakespeare and Critical Hope (under contract with University of Toronto Press), published five peer reviewed articles and two book chapters, was an invited speaker at six different universities (nationally and internationally), wrote three OpEds in her role as faculty columnist for University Affairs Magazine (Adventures in Academe), appeared on national media platforms (including the Globe and Mail, CBC Sunday Magazine, and Quebec AM), and served on five national/international boards. She also was the host of a visiting scholar at Bishop’s University, Dr. Heather A. Smith, Professor of Global and International Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia, to facilitate national conversations around pandemic pedagogy. How does she find the time? “COVID-19 has presented a myriad of challenges,” reflects Dr. Riddell, “including how to find balance between teaching, research, leadership – and life! As a mother of two small children in the midst of a global pandemic I had to intentionally carve out time to play, dream, and be present; that in turn gave me the energy and critical hope to engage in the world.”

And a year full of challenges

The year wasn’t all about productivity however. Dr. Riddell faced many challenges, ups and downs, and periods of questioning throughout the year, like many of us. She has been very candid about her “messy journey” this year, most recently in an article in University Affairs on the difference between critical hope and toxic positivity, sharing her family’s personal struggles in the time of COVID.

“We often think that people who are productive are thriving,” Jessica shares, “but what I’ve realized this year is that my coping mechanism (for dealing with cancer in the time of COVID with small children) was to work. Work was the only thing that made me feel normal in the middle of very abnormal circumstances. But this is neither healthy nor sustainable behaviour, and it sets a terrible model for those around us. We need to think about how we can combat the narrative of toxic productivity and underscore that working until exhaustion is not a badge of honour. Not only is it essential to pause often, write more, and listen better to support our own individual wellness, together we can shift the narrative away from toxic productivity and towards a more humane mode of living.”

Dr. Riddell has become adept at finding spaces for critical hope with students and colleagues at Bishop’s and beyond. “My biggest takeaway from this year,” Jessica shares, “is that collaboration is the key to our resilience as humans, scholars, and citizens. We must build generative and generous spaces for ourselves and others so we can think carefully and critically about what we can do together that we can’t do on our own.”

Building for the future

What is in store for Dr. Riddell in 2021? “I have been thinking a lot lately about what a post-COVID world is going to look like, and I think we are still in the process of designing it. What I do know is it must be more inclusive, just, and equitable. Those values will propel us through a “pandemic portal” into a brave new world.”

Follow Dr. Riddell, Bishop’s University and the Maple League of Universities on Twitter to be inspired!