Sunday, March 16, 2014

Requiem for Joanna

The University of Central Arkansas, and most especially its Writing Department, suffered a terribly keen loss last week with the passing of our colleague Dr. Joanna Castner-Post.  Joanna was way too young, way too energetic, and way too loved for us to believe she's gone, but there it is.  And Joanna wasn't only loved, she was needed.  If you spend a lot time in higher education, whether as a student or professor (or both), you come to recognize a certain kind of undying, mid-level hubris that exists there.  After all, you're talking about people who have been lionized their whole lives for being smart--and they usually are, and they have the degrees to prove it.  And they are determined to prove it.

Joanna wasn't like that.  She was a supportive and enthusiastic colleague, a colleague who tried to see the best in the people around her and encourage the best in those people.  She did not act out of any closeted agendas.  If she told she believed something, you knew it was so.  Instead of shooting down new ideas and explaining why they couldn't work, she exulted over them and encouraged us to try to make them work.  She was that rare human being in academia: someone you could trust completely.  Even rarer: She was an optimist.  And she worked really hard.  It was for these reasons that she was so incredibly beloved at UCA.  Not only by her colleagues, but by her students and by the many classes of tutors she helped train at the UCA Writing Center when she served as its director.  For a week before her death, Joanna was in the Critical Care Unit at Conway Regional Hospitial in a chemically induced coma.  You never saw such a steady stream of people visiting a patient.  There were literally lines of people waiting to see her, to offer her their prayers and encouragement, and, in the end, to say goodbye to her one last time.   Not a soul was there because they had to be, only because they wanted and needed to.  One young man, a former Writing Center tutor, flew in from Utah just to see Joanna and say goodbye.  He then proceeded to fly right back.  At one point seven of her former tutors surrounded her bed, not wanting, any of them, to leave.  Several of her former students visited as well, many in tears.  It was a very very difficult week, but also an astonishing one.  Astonishing for the amount of love and respect one person could engender.   But then again, we're talking about Joanna.  

I remember when we first hired her in the Writing Department.  For some reason, which now I can't fathom, we did not receive the usual excessive number of applications in response to our job ad.   Some of us were unhappy with the pool of candidates en masse.  We talked about how we should go about our next job search to make sure we got a bigger pool.  I'll never forget what our (then) department chair Dave Harvey said in response:  "Yes, it would have been nice to have a bigger pool of candidates, but the bottom line is that if you've hired Joanna Castner-Post, you just had a very successful job search."  Of course Dave was right.  Something Joanna kept showing and showing as the years went on.  In fact, it might have been our best job search ever.    
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Within hours of her passing last Friday morning, some former tutors of UCA's Writing Center established a Heifer Project "Send a Girl to School" fund in Joanna's honor.  The goal of the fund was to raise $275, as this is the amount that guarantees that one otherwise underprivileged girl can go to school in the developing world.  As of this writing, only two days later,  the fund has raised several times that amount.  Indeed, it's headed toward $2000.  What a testament to Joanna.  She may end up sending five or six girls to school--maybe more!  I mention this only as an example of the great love Joanna inspired in the UCA Community and beyond, not to try to trick you into opening your wallet.  But if you think you'd like to donate to the fund, you can do so by following this link.  


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