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?

Shifting ‘streets,’ redefining cred

When I was underemployed and freelance, I had the flexibility to build writing groups. The labor to set organization in an otherwise unorganized and unstable work schedule gave me purpose. A year later, when the time to write is limited and the deadlines are many, I have come to a few realizations:

  1. Organizing the space to write takes time, energy and hunger.
  2. Accountability has to be mutually beneficial where time, demand are on par between the individuals involved.
  3. I am no longer willing to share time, energy, support without reciprocity.
  4. Mixed-class collaborations have just gotten more difficult.


I have made enough progress on various writing goals to alter them a bit based on what I’ve learned. The lessons I have learned from social media un/follows, unrequited follows and comparable self-promotion has lead me to be less willing to outreach. Outreach used to be about the romantic ideals of building something ‘together,’ as nomadic as I have been, whether I want to or not, I pose a flight risk. I also have ‘privileges’ in theory that are difficult to execute given how years of underemployment have altered my relationship with my career.

This is the “my privilege has altered the purpose/passion of writing for me” post. What I write and how I build support is updating itself within the context of critical lessons I am relearning in professional spheres. Sitting with what that means alters how I come to understand both writing and pedagogy around access, community building, and asset building.

In transitioning audiences, I reflect on caste–the caste of production (writing) and the caste of labor (full- and part-time, term or contingent, freelance/independent or full on researcher).  Caste may be the inappropriate term, perhaps socio-economic-political hierarchies would be better used. I’ve lost street cred in the caste left behind and I will be required to ‘gain’ the assimilated/integrationist cred in the caste I’ve recently joined. The effort to write for the love of it while adhering to the demands of production to sustain professional sustainability requires swallowing the bile resulting from how many of us assimilate to the demands of the Market.

Survival doesn’t look the same for all of us. Neither does sanity.  Now among the ranks of full-time employed interdisciplinary scholars who also happen to write across genres, I have to figure out what both look for me. It’s taken me a year to internalize how much beyond my control has changed.


The theater of faculty diversification

This is the material I will insist on sharing with potential graduate students and junior faculty. Sharing in the context of – build armor -a village of love that surrounds you as your career progresses.

Shabana Mir's blog: Koonj - the crane

12190_racism_lowresfTo most of my academic friends who are identified as “diverse” faculty, Yale University’s recent Report on Faculty Diversity and Inclusivity in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences” sounds pretty ho-hum.

The Yale Report reviewed numerous plans for diversification, focusing on hiring and promotion data. The Committee found Yale’s many such endeavors locked a “groundhog day” scenario, a “perpetual loop: Form a committee in reaction to a crisis, pledge to diversify the faculty, and then fail to follow through with action and resources needed to sustain progress” (Beth McMurtrie, “A ‘Devastating Account’ of Diversity at Yale,” May 25 2016, The Chronicle of Higher Education). 
In other words: organize a big party around Change, and simply continue with racist practices of hiring and promotion.

Most university communities take the critical plunge when trouble is breathing down their necks. Yale is no exception.The credit for pushing Yale University authorities to critically examine its…

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A bridge in transit- on my first year of full-time teaching

Weeks after I started my first year of full-time teaching at a four-year university, I came across this letter in my twitter feed. I found Stewart’s advice useful, echoing what my relation-centered, yet quietly active mentors have told me since I started the academic career journey almost 15 years ago.

In this first year, to emotionally and spiritually survive:

  • I maintained strong engagement in social media groups catered to my overlapping social categories (i’ll explain why not identities in a sec)
  • I participated in #saturdayschool and #scholarsunday as much as I could
  • I scheduled monthly dinners at my house, deciding to limit to those with whom I had established consistent social-professional relationships (time spent is a needed professional love language)
  • I sought out and sustained lunch and coffee dates with colleagues, not just those in my department
  • I had writing accountability partners off campus as well as on campus
  • I did my best to maintain weekly engagement with mentors

I did more than the following, these practices, however, maintained my sense of humanity through the process. Back in my hometown, trying to figure out how to transition out of the scavenger scholar identity DSCN2587I had ‘formulated’ in my non-full-time teaching years. I know the archive work that will define my career for as long as possible, I also know that archival work is going to be extensive and a dance of strategic negotiations because within my home fields, my activism and my interdisciplinarity are suspect.  Peers and senior scholars will still see me as a student of a movement porque el chisme/bochinche es mas facil que compartir tiempo.


I will eventually need to stop squealing about the work that I do. Not because I don’t love it, more because the look in colleagues and senior colleagues’ eyes when I get animated and passionate…there will be those who disagree about withholding, but this is the kind of love I share with my closest/longest friends, who are not (straight) academics.  Economic survival requires participating in the ‘race for theory’ Barbara Christian warned us about in the 1980s. You’re meaningless till you’re published, even among those who ache for greater representation. As applauded as those who question it are, they’re not the most cited/most successful, unless they’ve done the other work to keep their job.

Staying employed matters, the scavenger scholar wanted to be visible between freelance work, part-time work, and unstable grant-funded positions. Now that ‘public intellectual’ is no longer needed to sustain visibility, I can focus on writing on the queer theory, participatory action methodology and ‘becoming’ training I have had over the years.

I minimized blogging because I had four courses to teach; I also debated on the extent to which I would continue contributing to blogs, considering the lack of peer-reviewed articles I had written. I have submitted, dealt with rejection and will resubmit one, and revisit another after I publish the article that I wrote on the theoretical concerns of that first article. I have forty annotations, a co-authored proposal, and that archive project to focus on stabilizing this summer.

In this analysis, my students have not been discussed. The status of education is why. I love my students, not in the ‘they’re perfect’ kind of way, nor in the ‘it’s my job to save them from the failures of education’ kind of way. I had to let go of the latter given the systemic turns about to befall all levels of education.  I consider Dr. Stewart’s advice in “Just because you’re magic,” which I linked earlier. Zir was right and offered a critical model by which to understand ‘being a possibility.’ For my students, I echoed that by sharing my mother, sister and brother with them. Because of the ways each of us, yes my mom too, follow the mantra “you will have to be better than and do more than the others” (Stewart, 2016). Following it means coming to terms with the ‘leaving’ I had done, the ‘leaving’ I encourage students to do. The ‘leaving’ that may not allow us to ‘come back for the ones we leave behind,’ to pull from Sandra Cisneros’s House on Mango Street.

I used to struggle with that, from my first day of formal field notes, I realize that coming back for the ones left behind is now considering the respect of those who can’t out, those who want to create opportunities of return and never leaving. Making peace with not being one of them is the summer goal. Not only because I love where I’ve gone, who I’ve met, and the lives they have shared with me but because protecting the dual lives that Stewart calls people like me to have, requires the ability to be mobile, flexible, and constantly moving/growing.



Too much yet not enough – on mothers and daughters

Vision – a multi-ethnic US lit class inspired the idea to teach mothers and daughters because of A Woman Warrior and In the time of the Butterflies in 2012. Dr. Thabiti Lewis unintentionally sparked the great idea because he believed in my work, even though lit is not my theoretical home. Sexuality and how it’s scripted makes me swoon and write, which is what sparked the mothers and daughters concept.

And then, years later, with the greater visibility of gender fluidity and gender nonconformity and transgender marginalization, there was more material I needed to include. SHIT!

I characterize what I learn from these experiences as failures and hiccups. When I use the word failure, I am embracing that the stumble is a reason to get back up and do better. The ‘hiccups’ posted below stem from what I learned from the awareness of potential under the general focus of the course. New to a university whose Gender and Ethnic Studies Programs are in a place of growth, ‘hiccup’ reads like the best way to define the way institutional realities inform what I knew I could not do yet. They may relate to though not be complicit in the ‘failures’ that have emerged throughout teaching.

This is not only my first semester of full time teaching at a four-year institution. It is also my first semester of teaching as a primary profession in FOUR years. So I embrace the concept of failure as well as hiccup as a critical acknowledgement of affirming my potential while simultaneously resisting the fear of internalizing a growth area as a limitation.

Failure 1

New to teaching this semester, with four courses, I did not have time to resist cisnormativity in the construction of the course. I knew of blogs and shows, however, I did not want to tokenize for the sake of representation. I realize, in evening teaching about ciswomen reflecting on mothering cischildren, that ‘mothers and daughters’ would NOT be enough to cover queer parents with queer children or anything along the spectrum. A third of the way through the semester, I realized not only would this need to be its own class, so too would the other major topics discussed.

Hiccup 1

I call this a hiccup instead of a failure. Despite being a Latina Studies scholar, I decided to assign to Asian-American texts. A Woman Warrior and Invisible Asians on transracial adoption. I joked to my Asian-American Studies department colleague that I could teach the whole class using Asian-American writers, especially after he recommended another (Filipina) memoir. He joked that I should. At Mundo Zurdo in TX, I learned of Chicana mothering work articles and books that would be released this April. I primarily framed the course around ‘ethnic’ racial differences, with Invisible Asians being the only non-memoir.

Failure 2

In teaching Park Nelson’s text, I realized I could not give it the credit needed because of how much scaffolding is needed about method. I know it, however, going from Rich’s critical yet dated text to a Korean-American adoptee’s qualitative study about the particularity of her community needed to be ‘set up’ with an anti-racist and anti-colonial text on method to explain why 1) Park Nelson did not talk about her family 2) why that absence was significant. For some of my students, this was their first exposure to the lived reality. Their engagement with the text, unlike more affluent communities, is not based on willful ignorance rather affinity to the struggles of mixed-race families bio-determined or not. Teaching Park Nelson at an MSI in a transient city not used to ethnic diversity that isn’t going anywhere, raised unexpected set of concerns. I will probably use a chapter of her book in feminist methods, framed in the conversation Park Nelson and I had about my experience teaching it.

Hiccup 2

In my second semester, I had learned of the midterm slump. I decided to assign two shows: Jane the Virgin against One Day at a Time. When I first proposed the class, I was working on an abstract on presenting on the teaching experience. I did not begin an IRB for it because, second semester, 4 courses, and Oscar Lopez Rivera research. The two weeks produced more than I could have possibly imagined. We challenged Variety’s discussion of the show and my students gave incredible insight that extended my analysis of the shows’ complex relationship with each other. Not just because Justina Machado is in both of them or because 2 Chicago Latinas (Rican and Mexi-Rican) are starring as characters outside their ethnicity. Politically, I would inherently struggle writing from their claims because their ideas were just…BRILLIANT.

I ended the discussion of these shows with the commitment that I would dedicate an entire class to both of them. One of my students said, what about The Fosters? She also said she would take the future versions of this class.


  1. The next time I teach a version of this class, I will propose either a Latina Studies, a queer studies or methodology focused proposal. While a few themes -cis mothers and cis daughters, queer parenting &/or children, transracial/transnational adoption, inter v. intra racial adoption- emerged,  I will need to focus on one. I can propose to do multiple over the course of a year, however, I will do so with the intent of depth over breadth
  2. This course served more as a survey or intro to ‘themes in examining the relationship between mothers and daughters.’ The oral history assignment is my most favorite assignment thus far. I will submit an IRB when I assign it again so that, if students decide they want to publish it, they can. Their questions were moving, inspiring, reminding me that one of my favorite aspects of being an educator is what I learn form others’ growth.
  3. The TV shows I discussed need to be framed in media and family studies. I will talk to the chair about whether or not the course exists on the books. I will then reach out to other departments about cross listing, considering that both shows do so many tropes, the good AND the bad, in ways that warrant greater discussion.
  4. Keep experimenting. I taught one lesson on Hamilton – the mixtape in two courses. I did so because I knew I was going to teach a Hamilton course for my study skills class and because I wanted to teach a class on Lin Manuel Miranda’s work. I’ve learned a lot about how students initially reacted to it and I am looking forward to what I build from it next semester/year.


Sharing what we love with students becomes so contagious. I am grateful for the community I have built in my first year. Here’s to making year two stronger and that much more fun!



I taught the walkers against each other this month, which opened the mic drop conversation – two figures who critiqued each other on page to uplift others but never heal, what does that mean? Framed R. Walker critique with ‘Mothers Gardens,’ and positioned that meditation as interrogating how focusing on recovering the past affects empowering the present. Following up with A

But You Haven’t Seen it Yet: Why Critiquing Marketing of Future Portrayals of Disability is Important

When I asked friends on Twitter how to feel about this show, they pointed me to this blog. Despite having autistic family members–blood and chosen–I learn how to interact with them slowly, listening to what their mothers and siblings tell me. I follow their lead. This blog speaks to the concerns/reservations I had regarding the show, despite being a fan of the main actors in the show. I also wonder if the African American characters are also ‘troped.’
Nicholas Gonzalez’s recent ‘re-emergence’ decades after Resurrection Blvd, warrants ‘consumer activism’ in watching–despite our population latino actors represent 4% on screen–, however, not at the expense of ableist representation.
Continuing to run into these problems on screen – representation, good storytelling – provide useful teaching tools (I have retweeted this article to share with students), though it begs the question that I’ve come across in disVisibility and neurodivergent twitter conversations, who tells, produces and invests in our multiple, complex stories?


The Good Doctor

Image Description: Promotional poster for the upcoming ABC show The Good Doctor. The title appears in blue over a grainy black and white image of half of series star Freddie Highmore’s face (he is a young white man with dark hair). In contrast to the black and white, his eyes are a vibrant blue.

Yesterday, I saw promotional videos for two television shows that will be premiering next fall. Both shows deal with characters that are likely autistic (though only one will acknowledge that). They were the trailer for new ABC medical drama The Good Doctor

and a first look video of The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) spin-off Young Sheldon. That video has since been removed so I can’t link to it.

I am concerned about both. I’ve written about my issues with how TBBT theory deals with the character of Sheldon Cooper who is deeply coded as autistic but…

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