Will Moore’s passing is tough to process, not just because he was such a wonderful mentor to so many people, but also because of the conversations he has started or reignited. Especially the conversation on depression, mainly driven by the Duck of Minerva with posts by Emily Ritter and John Busby.
Even those who do not suffer from clinical depression do get to feel tinges of it given the bipolar nature of our jobs. One day it is a lecture in front of hundreds of students (or three star generals) paying attention to every word, the next you are at a Starbucks trying to get 500 words in so you can at least feel productive. Another day you might get a journal acceptance email that was five years in the making and then, two hours later, a grant rejection email. The highs are high and the lows are low, but they come fast and quick in academia.
Yet, there is another conversation we need to have, one about being an outsider in academia. This is something Will suffered from given his personality. He was would say and do things that some people found shocking. (I was quite heartened to see that one of his last on Facebook posts was about dildos.) He did not hesitate to tell you the worst things about your work or say (and blog) shocking things in public. In short, he behaved quite the opposite of many in the field.
Will’s background was a bit unconventional from the dominant Ivy League type perspective common in the field. Those that go to top schools are institutionalized early on how to behave and survive in academia. Those that are outsiders, whether that be because of economic situation, biological determinants (depression or autism), or ethnicity and culture, all obviously have something important to offer the field. The problem is they are often rejected and belittled. A friend reminded me that moving to the United Kingdom resulting in many conversations where the answer was simply, that is the way it has always been done. Will would have none of that, but it is common in our field.
What Will gave us was valuable, his perspective was different, he didn’t want to do things the way they had always been done. He pushed us, called us out, Will Moore’d us. The outsider is needed because they think unconventionally, approach problems from different angles, and challenge us in ways that most the field avoids because they are just too polite. The outsider will reject conventional wisdom. Look at things differently because they are different. Will was a great activist for social justice because he was an outsider. He could see the problems with the dominant structure and the police state, trying to do something about the issue. But he also suffered because of his outsider views.
Academics need to learn to the respect the outsider. What outsiders offer is important, but they can also be tough to deal with. There is no easy solution beyond awareness that differences make us stronger. Diversity is a strength, and it applies to academia in different ways. Without outsiders like Will, our field is worse off. I will mourn the lost perspective that Will Moore offered most. The bravery to challenge everyone in the room and say they were wrong. We all must do better to be like Will Moore and to respect the future Will Moores that develop because being on the outside is not fun.