From Ana-Maurine Lara, assistant professor, women’s, gender & sexuality studies:
Thank you for this letter Michelle and Lynn.
One of the continuously persistent failures of the university is its lack of understanding about the additional community responsibilities that faculty of color, migrant faculty, Native faculty and working-class faculty carry. I am not the first to say this. Tiffany Willoughby-Herard and many other faculty of color have made this same point many times before.
Many of us care for extensive, non-local networks of family, framily, elders, tribes through monetary and non-monetary remittances, problem-solving, providing resources when others in our families cannot, and being the primary emotional and inter-generational support. We are generally not separate from our communities, but deeply ensconced in them. Even from a distance. I have been deeply disturbed by the ways in which the institution has framed faculty as exceptional to the circumstances affecting all of us.
I have been reflecting on how we are dealing with an institution that defines family within a very narrow model that is heteropatriarchal and colonial. Within this model, family is nuclear, there are two parents and those parents are heterosexual and cis-gendered, and all children are biological, family is separate from community/tribe, family is private, and nuclear family is the center of social organization.
The institution also works with narrow concepts of personhood and care. When you define personhood as an individual subject separate from their community, with complete agency around their circumstances, and exceptional to the majority of other people, you are missing the many, many people who are constantly subjected to racism, xenophobia, violence and who understand ourselves as part of intergenerational contexts. This narrow concept of personhood is accompanied by an ableist concept of care. Ableism assumes everyone to be a model of genetic, physical, emotional perfection at all times, where all bodies and minds are assumed to operate in the same way in all circumstances, and that all of us have the resources and tools necessary to ensure our continued survival. It also promotes a notion that illness, injury or difference is a marker of being less than human.
Within this framework of personhood, the institution conceptualizes time in terms that undermine women, queer people, working class people and migrants. Not to mention the many, many of us who have physical, emotional, cognitive disabilities across the line. For example, where are the lines between “our own time” and “university time” within all of this? I have students who have to take 1 hour to get ready in the morning because putting on a shirt is hard work. I have colleagues who suffer from cognitive disabilities like dyslexia and with everything being online and remote, are having to create new modes of functioning and they are expected to do so “in a timely fashion.” And, our colleagues and students who have physical disabilities or are battling long-term illnesses are doing so in a context where their access to care is greatly threatened. Given this, we are expected to carry the same work load despite the heavier burdens our families and communities are experiencing on the same time frame and scale of time.
Under this pandemic, we are expected to be productive while business goes on as usual. This takes place within a context in which DHs both contribute to or are asked to participate within processes that are FALSELY URGENT. For example, changing course designations is NOT urgent. IHPs are NOT urgent. Graduation – believe it or not – is NOT urgent. Addressing unequal burdens of labor IS urgent. Addressing anti-Black violence IS urgent. Addressing our students going hungry IS urgent. Operating within a mode of urgency that places menial tasks on level with social crises disperses peoples’ energies, places greater power in the hands of those who are more quickly able to respond, undermines systems of accountability, and generates confusion. It is a mode of operation that does not account for racialized and gendered differences in labor and it is also deeply ableist. The institution does not seem to grasp that women and queer people in the academy carry the burden of additional emotional labor within our families and in our departments. All while we are also trying to live our best scholarly lives…
Within an institutional structure that operates within these frameworks and definitions, there is no accounting for the experiences of anti-Black racism that are outside of our control or the ways in which immigration policies mean that many of us are dealing with ICE, deportations and detention centers. It also doesn’t account for the additional psychic burden Asian-American faculty are experiencing with the rise of anti-Asian hatred. How many of our white colleagues are staying firmly in place NOT because of COVID, but because they fear racial violence on Eugene’s streets? This is not a hypothetical. Queer people, already at risk of housing and employment discrimination are now more at risk. Let’s not even mention how our queer concepts of family and care are not considered within the whole equation of fair labor. Queer faculty are not exempt from homo/transphobia in our everday lives. Native peoples are carrying the burden of inter-generational pandemic trauma in a context in which Native tribal sovereignty is continuously undermined. These are not intellectual issues, but rather, part of the fiber of our deeply communal experiences in which the pandemic has exacerbated our already existing circumstances.
Time changes when your survival and the survival of your people and community are at risk.
Lastly, I’ll say that I think that we have a lot to learn from disabilities studies that can inform an ethic of care as a mode of being within university spaces. Our common reading next year would hopefully center stories that can allow us to grapple with how ableism and eugenics (from which ableism arises) is a very real aspect of how colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia structure institutions in ways that diminish the lives of faculty, staff and students.
We are not exceptional. And the sooner we realize that, the easier it will be to understand that an institutional ethic of care is not that radical of a concept.