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In solidarity with UIC faculty

UIC’s Women’s Leadership and Resource Center and its Campus Advocacy Network program stand in solidarity with the UIC United Faculty Local 6456 as it works to negotiate a fair contract with the University of Illinois Chicago. The Centers for Cultural Understanding and Social Change (CCUSC) have offered our collective support as well.

Student wellbeing is not incidental to faculty working conditions. Far from it. Indeed, the decision of the university leadership to concede this point is evident in the promised allocation of $4.5 million towards strengthening the Counseling Center and supporting the development and implementation of a more robust and inclusive vision of mental health and wellbeing that extends beyond clinical care across the UIC campus. This is an important step, but it needs to be a long-term commitment, not just a stopgap.

By now, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how students show up in classes, as well as exposed the weaknesses in how institutions like UIC care for their students. Many faculty members have adjusted their teaching, classroom styles, and content in order to cultivate learning spaces where students feel supported emotionally at the same time that they are doing the work of preparing students to excel in various fields of study. Even as they deal with their own mental health concerns, I have seen how faculty members struggle to figure out how to help their students feel competent and confident enough to want to persevere in their courses. Some have even created alternative spaces beyond classrooms and office hours just so that students can stay connected to the institution long enough to get through. This kind of invisible work helps students succeed, but at what cost? It comes as no surprise that this caring labor is quite familiar to minoritized faculty, of course. None of it is supported by or reflected in any official contract but should be.

Sometimes, when students’ needs for support prevent the student from learning and threaten to overwhelm the faculty members, they are referred to CAN. More and more, our confidential advocates are seeing students with complex mental health issues not always, or even, tied to experiences of gender-based violence. We advocate for them anyway and connect them to other units that can address the housing, financial, legal, academic, and social support that they need to keep moving towards graduation. Faculty also seek our help in how to best support students with mental health challenges. In pre-pandemic times, CAN was already understaffed for a campus of this size but managed to respond to those who called on us. These days, our staff are carrying more than they should. As we work with other units to support students, and as I think about the faculty’s demands and where campus support needs to be directed, I see how CAN’s role in the campus ecosystem that supports students’ wellbeing is understated and misunderstood.

It bears repeating: UIC students have precious few places on campus to turn for help in dealing with the myriad concerns they face as they try to get a college education; the classroom is not usually the best outlet for students to work through mental health concerns, faculty are unable to be as hands-on as they might wish, and support units are not adequately staffed. The unequal distribution of resources between the UI campuses continues to do a disservice to our students; there is no good reason for the Chicago campus to not have the support structures that our students need to thrive.

And so, we are glad that the faculty union is using contract negotiations to make the institution pay attention to students’ needs. As a minority serving institution, I think we ought to know better than most that it takes a certain amount of inventiveness and forward-thinking to ensure that our students get what they need to thrive. We hope that our students, including student organizations, are paying close attention to how the institution chooses to address the problem. They will need to do their part in holding the institution accountable as well and letting us know when we need to do better.

Community as Rebellion discussion on Friday, January 20

If the faculty strike continues, we will need to postpone the long-awaited discussion of Lorgia Garcia Pena’s Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving the Academy as a Woman of Color. We are reading the text as part of our Feminist Page-turners series for spring 2023. The event is cosponsored by Office of Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and the Office of Diversity’s Underrepresented Minority Faculty Mentor Program. As issues of labor are on everyone’s minds right now, Community as Rebellion is an extremely timely book that addresses the myriad kinds of unremunerated and unrecognized labor that women of color faculty are often expected to carry out in universities. The book offers insight into how “diversity, equity and inclusion” approaches affect women of color in particular, and proposes ways for building community that supports resistance, transformation, and justice. UIC women of color faculty of all ranks as well as postdoctoral scholars are invited to register for the event and receive a book. We will notify you of any changes in programming.

Join us for our spring 2023 Open House event on Thursday, January 19 at 12 PM! The gathering will be in-person. Come learn about the exciting roster of programming that we are planning for this spring semester, and how you can get involved!

Take care of yourselves and each other,

Natalie Bennett