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Susanna’s Son

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Susannah Cornwall, Senior Lecturer in Constructive Theologies at the University of Exeter. I’m the author of various books on Christian theology, sexuality and gender, of which the most recent is Un/familiar Theology: Rethinking Sex, Reproduction and Generativity (Bloomsbury, 2017).

What have you been doing and are you able to work during this COVID-19 lock-in?

I’m Director of Education with responsibility for all our undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes in Theology and Religion and Liberal Arts at Exeter, so this has been a spectacularly busy time, working out details of changes to assessments and exams, moving teaching online, and ever-changing contingency planning in response to the latest advice. We are also working out what will happen with admissions over the summer, and helping our students with a wide range of academic and pastoral issues raised or exacerbated by coronavirus. As ever, I’m in awe at their resilience, patience and good humour.

Work from home is really challenging now that it also involves full-time childcare: my husband (also an academic) and I are doing alternate work and childcare shifts. I’m fortunate to be in an institution that has made clear that it appreciates these are exceptional circumstances and that something has to give, and is encouraging us to prioritize our own and our dependents’ wellbeing. I have colleagues elsewhere who are being told that the expectation is that there’s no drop to their productivity during this time, which is terribly unrealistic and inhumane. However, there’s no getting around the fact that a constantly shifting mode and getting no uninterrupted time to work is going to have knock-on effects, and I hope institutions are going to take seriously the fact that there are equality, diversity and inclusion implications to all this that will impact on many academics’ pay, progression and job security for years to come.

Which aspects of your work past and present might be particularly interesting for supporters of the Shiloh Project?

I’m currently working on a constructive theology of gender diversity, and coronavirus is highlighting the fact that lots of the precarities trans people face are even more heightened in a pandemic. These are extreme times and big decisions are being made centrally for the sake of what we’re told is a common good, but of course there’s going to be collateral damage. This is a time when life looks almost unrecognizable, so there are all kinds of possibilities. People are learning about ways of life they didn’t know before; new relationships are being forged that didn’t exist before. So that’s exciting, but it also means there’s even more marginality and precarity than there was before.

But it’s an opportunity, too. When the world goes back to normal (will the world ever go back to normal?) what will gender look like? How will things be for trans and intersex people? What do all of us, cis and trans, endosex and intersex, want to carry over into our new world?

How are you bearing up and what’s helping you most?

I have it so much easier than many people: I have secure employment, a safe place to live, more than enough food, a garden, internet, and more. I live within walking distance of green fields and the edge of countryside. I’ve started running again. I’m enjoying doing more “slow cooking” (but not slow-cooking!) than normal, and my son is revelling in having everyone at home. He’s very used to one or other parent being away for several days or having had to leave early before he gets up in the morning. So I’m enjoying the fact that he’s enjoying it! I think I’ll also look back with gratitude at having had this unexpected extra time with him at home every day before he starts school in the autumn.

I love the small creative acts of kindness that people are doing around the neighbourhood: setting up WhatsApp groups to ensure everyone is okay and has enough shopping; some kids in the next road have set up a pop-up library (with hand sanitizer!) outside their house; people have been chalking murals and adventure trails on the pavement for children to enjoy during their walks; someone has made their front garden into a safari zoo with toy snakes, orangutans, birds and big cats to spot. All that said, I’m also finding it really hard. I feel sad that my son is missing out on so much time with his friends and amazing teachers. I’m feeling lethargic, powerless, and like I have only just enough energy to tread water and survive, when I somehow want to be making the most of this weird time. I’m feeling frustrated that I’m too exhausted to be creative or generative, or even think about grand schemes like “theology in the time of coronavirus”. I’m feeling angry that it’s taken this situation for people to realize how scandalous it is that nurses, care workers, supermarket workers, food producers and distributors are the people on whom society really relies and yet continue to be underpaid and badly treated.

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Susannah Cornwall

The author Susannah Cornwall

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