Emily Solari, Ph.D.
Just two weeks ago, I had been prepared to send a letter to our POWER membership about the organization’s plans for the new decade. The contents largely outlined the goals and mission of the organization, described some of the work we had been actively and sometimes quietly engaged in, and our aspirations moving forward. It became evident two weeks ago the world was quickly changing, and today, having re-read what I wrote weeks ago, it became crystal clear that much of what I had outlined is no longer relevant.
As I have settled into a forced homeschool situation with my three young boys coupled by an exponential work load increase, the things I deemed important two weeks ago are no longer. Today I worry about the health of my nuclear family, my aging parents and grandparents, and my friends far and wide. In a very real way, I worry about being able to manage my job while also managing my kids at home. I hope that someday soon, I will get through just one zoom call without my 5-year-old interrupting it by yelling some totally asinine thing that at the very least worries the participants on the call, and most certainly makes it so that they are judging my parenting. As I work late into the night trying my hardest to catch up, I often get paralyzed by the thought that I just can’t do it all. I can’t, and quite frankly, I just don’t want to. It feels weird to be pushing so hard on the ordinary work things when the world is in such a desperate and strange state. I worry that my kids are worried. Should I be concerned that they have started playing a game called “social distance freeze tag”, I mean- this is odd, right? I worry about the kids in schools, those who usually benefit in some way from my work, and are often the most marginalized in schools- how are they coping at home? Essentially, I worry about all the things. And, I am concerned that with all this worry, about my family and the world around me, that I will never again be able to fully engage in the deep and critical thinking that is required in our line of work to be a productive scholar.
At the same time, I realize that my concerns are happening from a place of great privilege. I have a roof over my head, resources for myself and my children, and job security. I am keenly aware that not all the people that make up our membership are in the same situation. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the impact this situation will have on my more junior colleagues and those not situated in tenure or tenure line positions. Since so many of us work in applied research settings there is no doubt that research agendas have been disrupted. This will have more of a negative impact on our junior colleagues than more senior, there is just no way around this. Folks who hear the tick tock of the tenure clock, or were collecting data as pilot study to submit an early career grant are more impacted. Similarly, dissertation studies are being altered as we speak and graduate students and postdocs are looking at a new reality of a potentially even more difficult academic job market.
When POWER was first conceived we had a laser focus on three main goals, which are to advocate, support, and connect people in educational and human development research, with a particular interest in lifting up junior women in our fields. Now, more than ever, is the time to think about how we can do this as a collective group. I have heard from several good friends who are more junior that they feel hesitant about speaking up against the narrative around productivity during this time. To those people, I would like to scream, “I am here for you and I think many others are as well.” It is so important for us to keep in mind that for people who are in vulnerable positions within the academic structure, their vulnerability is exacerbated in times like these. The question becomes how do we use our collective voice to support ourselves and those around us.
Advocate. I am hopeful that the people who are in positions of power across the multiple institutions that we represent, and those that have secure job positions, will be unapologetic in their advocacy for folks in our community for whom this is not their reality. Those of us who can speak up, should. We should be asking the hard questions about how our institutions are going to deal with tenure related concerns and funding of graduate students as we move forward. I am not suggesting that we all have to be publicly vocal, some very important things can happen at the local level. Be the person who surfaces the issues at the faculty meetings, engage with your other more senior colleagues about these concerns. Lead the efforts around how we will rethink the notion of productivity in 2020 and 2021. Ask the hard questions about your institution’s plan to support graduate students. Bottom line, our junior colleagues should not be left alone to consider how the current situation is going to impact them differentially and in inequitable ways.
Support. People are approaching this new reality in drastically different ways, and I have found over the past two weeks that this means that there are very different types of supports that folks need. One interesting consequence of our current situation is that I have heard on more than one occasion more senior colleagues suggesting that this time is a great time to be productive. I’ve heard - we are stuck at home, why would we not consider how we can use this time to write more papers, conceive of grant ideas, etc.? To those people, I ask that you stop to consider how this narrative impacts the people around you and how actively resisting the notion of sustained and even increased productivity during this time may be a supportive step for women and our more junior colleagues. As people are settling into this new reality, we each have our own individual distractions. Some of us have increased childcare and/or eldercare responsibilities, some of us are scrambling to provide quality content to our students in an online platform for the first time, many of us have seen research disrupted. Many of us are feeling a heightened state of anxiety- we are concerned about our students, our families, the world. Let’s be mindful of this in our interactions, especially those of us who are in positions of power within institutions. And more importantly, let’s try to be intentional in support of our colleagues, especially those who are struggling to find secure footing in their personal and professional lives during these extremely trying times.
Connect. Let’s be purposeful about connecting with each other, both socially and professionally. One of the most successful activities that POWER has been engaged in over the past two years is our most simple - we host happy hours at professional conferences and meetings. These happy hours serve as a safe place for women, and, others who support women in our field to talk about successes, issues, and create meaningful relationships. Early on, our steering committee recognized that we are more powerful as advocates when we communicate with each other. As our new reality sets in, we should share what is working for us, how our institutions are responding, and ideas for advocacy and supports across institutions. Please also connect with me and with our steering committee as you see fit, we want to hear from you and we want to know how we can support your efforts at your institutions.
Let’s take care of and be kind to each other and ourselves as we move through this uncharted territory.