Resisting Emotional Labor In Academe — a response to “Recognizing” it

When I read Julie Shayne’s post “Recognizing Emotional Labor in Academe,” the warnings of McNair directors and undergraduate as well as graduate femtors and mentors echoed in her advice. A decade since those conversations not much has changed. I followed a link to her reflection on leaving tenure track before I started this response. I get ‘fees’ about emotional labor essays because, well, my project is to unlearn it.

Here’s the thing about it, I have been running from the limitations of doing work from love. Emotional labor comes from love, the love that wants more for others stemming from an awareness of unacknowledged limited structural support many marginalized students experience. Shayne touched on that beautifully. We do what we do because we love it.  What’s important to note, which Shayne discusses in her leaving tenure post, is that, leaving the implosion is useful with community aka family.

That family narrative echoes some of what came up in the gender pay gap in a Freakonomics post I like to assign to my students. In that podcast/post, Dubner talks to economists and quotes women who in/directly refer to the Mommy Tax. This ‘mommy tax’ emerges in academia, regarding the division of emotional labor. So while, yes, the service should be counted as tenure, I am wary of it counting over what I can write and here’s why.

In my limited experience, in addition to readings I have not touched for over a decade, specific disciplines and even colleges, engage within this emotional labor. How may scientists have become humanities scholars’ as a result of their experiences in STEM fields? Someone’s doing the research. That research is not in that field, it’s in education, it’s in sociology…I have worked and studied within disciplines known for it, known for engaging it in because it’s part of the disciplines’ goals–gender, ethnic, latinx, american studies want to address disparity. We do applied research. We live it, theory in the flesh,  like Moraga would say.

I joke with colleagues, ‘Have they found you yet?’ They being the students who want someone who looks like them. We strategize how to avoid them; we can be more transparent with graduate students because we want graduate students to be tenure track. We want them to finish and have full time jobs. So the last few sentences divert from the critique to echo what Presumed Incompetent and scholars of racial microaggressions in higher ed narrate, we are swimming against the tide that says we are not supposed to exist here.

That’s why I resist emotional labor–I fail at it–but I fight every day to resist it.

As a woman of color who has seen womxn and folks of color build movements and remain erased,  I had a choice to make. That choice was to write them into existence OR join in the internalized oppress practices of grassroots movements that erase womyn and other gender minority and or people of color leaders. Because I gained a great deal of 1% capital by attending small private schools since I was three, writing made sense. The practice of challenging my internalized privilege on a day to day basis, in the few years I was an activist, forced me to come to terms with the fact–as I would later see–critics of my class privilege were envious and fighting for recognition didn’t work done nor did I find it beneficial to what needed to get done.

I want to get fed by my work. Not just literally–like insurance, among other benefits. Not just spiritually, like the high when I give props to a student for equating the courtroom setting of ‘Non-Stop‘ and ‘Wrote my Way out‘ a la Hamilton. The fed that says, I’m not done. I just got started. I want to write. I want to write the characters I wish to see on the page into existence. I want to write into existence the heroes the next generation does not yet know. I want to write into existence the heroes who don’t know they saved me yet. I get to that because of this PhD. I looked at direct service, advocacy–I did it–I even gardened and helped organized food pantries. And this is where I feed and get fed, in the balance of teaching and writing.

I don’t want the rules to change for me. Not because I fight for my students. Not if that means you are not going to give me time to write or do research. The students have to teach us how to fight for them and what they want to read in our class, yes. And I will listen. I suppose, as much as I agree with Shayne’s post. I operate from the position that part of what many of us have to challenge is encouraging students to ask us for help, feeding them enough until they can uplift each other, and normalizing the fact that folks of color can be full, can give a shit, and can make sure that our authority over our bodies, our communities and our minds can and will be ours.

Normalizing that, well, what would happen if the marginalized could tell their stories?


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