Winter Break Reflections

Greetings!
This has been a challenging semester, more than most.  As we finish the last of the reports on the to-do lists, submit the grades, tidy up our electronic desktops, and make the transition to Winter break mode, there’s also some reflection to do.

I hope that administrators, unit leaders, faculty and students take a moment to consider what the institution did well in its pandemic response and where we need to do better for the coming semesters.  While most universities have focused on evaluating efforts to contain COVID-19 (remote learning; testing; managing movement), it is also true that there were both predictable and unintended consequences for faculty, staff, and students alike.   Given that some of our community members did become ill,  I hope that there is a way to hear from them, and to gain insight that can help all of us do better as the pandemic rages on.

UIC’s Office of Institutional Research reported the findings of its survey of students in Spring 2020 and Fall 2020, respectively.  The majority of the respondents were female-identified, White, Latina and Asian American. While focused on questions that the institution thinks is important (the student-led survey is here), the report offers important insight about how our students are experiencing education in the context of the pandemic.  I urge everyone to read it and consider how we can organize Spring 2021 to prioritize connection, community and wellbeing.

As we speak, there’s a lot of data-gathering happening to document how the lives of women faculty have been affected.  The patterns from the media stories maps onto the patterns showing up at individual universities: more caring and support work (for family members and students); expansion of teaching work; less research and writing; more emotional stress; more service work; fewer resources for childcare.  The perspectives of tenure-track women faculty are overrepresented in these studies though; less visible are the stories of contingent faculty, where more women of color tend to clustered. The accounts of women faculty at Stanford University give some insight into the personal and professional costs (for graduate students who are interested in becoming faculty members, you can learn a lot from the comments).  The good news is that research by Dr. Irina Buhimschi at UIC’s College of Medicine is already underway to document the experiences of women faculty here; I expect that the study will be expanded across the campus, and I hope that it includes non-tenure, clinical and contingent faculty members who teach many of our students and large courses.

While various tools and metrics are being created to assess the impact of the pandemic on women faculty – from surveys to covid impact statements – no similar effort has yet surfaced to document the experiences of university’s administrative staff.  The overwhelming majority of administrators at UIC are women; they have been absorbing the expanded workload and shepherding reorganizing efforts to ensure that remote learning, research and everything else continues to flow.  If we do not ask questions about childcare, mental stress, physical health, financial security, impact of funding/research on work output and job security, etc. of the people who make the institution run, we cannot know the full impact of the pandemic on the university.   Faculty members’ and students’ pandemic stress is now rightly recognized as “chronic.” When will we have words – same, different, layered - to characterize what is happening to the people who are the essential workers of the institution?

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“I wanted everyone to see how terribly I was treated…they didn’t care about what was happening to me.”   These are the words of Anjanette Young, an alum of the UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work.  Over the past few days, and because of her bravery, we have been learning how easily police violence enters and disrupts the lives of women of color in this city.  The video, by now public and widely circulated, is available to us because of Anjanette’s insistence that we, collectively, need to bear witness to how police violence looks, feels and takes form when it touches Black women.  Police violence against women of color is a Black feminist issue, and as scholar-activists like Andrea Ritchie (Invisible No More) have demonstrated, Anjanette’s story is part of a collective Black women’s story of dehumanization and resistance.  Dr. Eve Ewing at the University of Chicago has spearheaded a campaign to support Anjanette’s legal battles. WLRC provides an overview to the topic of Black women and police violence on our website. Make it part of your holiday reading!

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For our final newsletter of the Fall 2020 semester, we feature UIC graduate students who are engaged in anti-racist activism at UIC.  These activists are building new platforms and opening up spaces for students of color to speak out on university-wide issues; the UIC education they are receiving through this work extends far beyond academic study.  Graduate students are the future of every discipline, and yet there are academic departments where there are few women, and no women of color.  These students are also becoming specialists in their respective fields in a cultural context where racist and sexist disrespect of women’s advanced credentials and expertise persist, and where women are questioned about how they represent themselves.  I ask that you learn about the individuals, the collective efforts they are helping to shape, and support the work they are doing to make UIC a more inclusive and equitable university for all who study and work here.

Listen to Mariame Kaba talking about hip-hop’s role in shaping abolitionist imaginations, and engaging in conversation with Fatima Warner, the Chicago-based rapper who goes by the moniker No Name (begins at 41:21).

Make something:  Crafters are invited to make winter items for houseless people.  The official #Warm4Holidays event will be on December 31 and January 1, but feel free to get started now!

Gift something: Check out Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott, award-winning YA writer and activist (as well as a recent transplant to Chicagoland!), is making its way onto many “book of the year” lists.

In the words of Mariame, may 2021 bring us more justice and more peace.

Take care of yourselves and each other,

Dr. Natalie Bennett