September 20 2017

Guide for the Guild

compassThe Guide for the Guild is a series of blogs posts submitted by AAR members in response to the Status on Women in the Profession Committee's work-life balance project. To learn more, visit SWP's page on the AAR website.

by Lisa Nichols Hickman, Duquesne University

"Parable of the Good Samaritan." Oil on canvas. Jan Wijnants, 1670.

When a nurse is exhausted by the ills on his hospital floor, we might diagnose the problem as compassion fatigue: A form of traumatic stress disorder affecting overwhelmed caregivers, compassion fatigue takes a physical, financial, vocational, emotional and spiritual toll.

Diagnosed among nurses and journalists, Nicholas Kristof has argued that compassion fatigue has become widespread because of pervasive news media coverage of crises around the world. I wonder what compassion fatigue looks like in academia?

In the medical field, compassion fatigue is exhaustion from caring. Perhaps a new, related diagnosis is needed for life in the twenty-first century: How do you describe someone who is exhausted, not from caring, but simply from living?

by Melissa M. Wilcox, Whitman College

The Olympics are airing as I write this, and there’s one ad I particularly detest. It features a slick, fifty-something, white man standing next to an opulent backyard pool overlooking a walled yard backed by palm trees. Over the course of the ad, this apparently successful businessman walks through an equally opulent and pristine house complete with very brief cameos (blink and you miss them) of two young, white girls and an attractive, predictably younger-appearing, white woman. The ad concludes with the man changing with lightning speed from expensive leisure clothing to an equally expensive business suit, walking out of his front door, removing the electric charger from his Cadillac, and stepping inside the car.

by James Logan, Earlham College

I arrived at Earlham College in the fall semester of 2004 as an assistant professor of religion and African & African American studies. Upon arrival I quickly learned that requests to serve my institution beyond the routine requirements of a tenure-track professor—teaching, publishing, academic advising, and committee work—would be a staple of my vocational life. Like most Black professors employed at predominately White liberal arts institutions, I was predestined by the circumstances of history to routinely make decisions concerning the degrees to which I should, and would, serve Black students (at my own institution and others) as all-‘round life coach, cultural advisor, counselor, family friend, and intercessory oracle. And all this while navigating within an institution developed, from its inception, for the intellectual and spiritual advancement, and social-cultural comfort, of European American peoples.

by Isobel Johnston, Arizona State University

Painting, attributed to Spanish school of the 17th century, of a kitchen maidservant working

This past year a man colleague told me his key to time management in graduate school: “The first thing you need to do is marry a woman.”

Having someone else to ensure basic daily needs is a distinguishing factor between many professional men and women. Yet the domestic demands of cooking, laundry, cleaning, and shopping are absent in Guide for the Guild's call for a list of tasks demanding professional women’s time. This absence reflects at least two issues:

by Cassie Hillman Trentaz

I’ve been trying to write this one drat sentence, in fits and starts, for the past twenty minutes—probably because it’s lunch time and I’m home today on a snow day (very rare where we live). But, with little ones at home, a “snow-nus” (as I used to refer to them) is no longer a bonus for getting work done. It’s a structure-disrupter.

by Mary O’Shan Overton, PhD Graduate, Boston College

As a single woman well over forty, I’ve entered the final stretch of an interdisciplinary doctoral degree after several years of hard labor. Due to familial and financial obligations, I’ve had to work nearly full time throughout my program. This combination of work and intense study has been costly on many levels—personal, physical, social, and, most of all, spiritual. This is ironic since my degree is in theology and education.

At some point, I noticed that the passions fueling my midlife leap had been depleted. Never-ending professional demands left me ragged. I regretted a lost relationship, my lack of children, the geographical distance from friends and family, and the end of a modest but stable lifestyle as a college instructor. To make matters worse, I was an alien in my own program and new city—a Protestant at a Catholic school; a feminist woman in a field dominated by men; a warm, magnolia-loving Southerner in the frigid land of snow and Puritans. In classes or out running errands, I often felt like I was hearing a strange language. It might have been English, but the dialect was unfamiliar. There was much I didn’t understand. Yanked from my roots, I didn’t know who I was or what I believed in anymore. Even worse, I didn’t know what to say or how to say it, a dire situation for a veteran talker and writer. 

What caught me as I spiraled downward into silence was a big, lovely net knitted together by words, sentences, paragraphs, pages.  The language that I had lost helped me reclaim myself and my spiritual sensibility—in short, I was saved by writing. I kept a daily blog of long-form essays, linking it to my Facebook page where I had at least minimal contact with like-minded folks. They read and commented—not too many of them at first, but just enough to remind me that I was not alone. After my life and studies became too complicated, I abandoned the meaty extracurricular prose and turned my keyboard toward pithy little posts. During the horrendous year of comprehensive exams, these became meditations on flowers, as I forced myself to take daily walk breaks from my studies, during which I photographed whatever was leafing and blooming along the city sidewalks. My growing readership loved the photographs and the vignettes I wrote to accompany them, and I received friendly complaints when I stopped posting them this past year.

by Kirk VanGilder, Gallaudet University

"Southern secessionists raise flag at Yale College." Illus. in: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 11, no. 271 (1861 February 2), p. 173.

I recently found myself able to identify with the American bobsledder, Johnny Quinn, as he punched his way through a stuck bathroom door in a Sochi hotel during the recent winter Olympic games. I identified with his story because I’ve often been a “door breaker” in my professional life.

I was born hard of hearing into a mostly hearing family. In high school, my hearing became progressively worse. During my undergraduate years at Ball State University I began my transition from being a “kid with ears that don’t work right” to a participant in a vibrant Deaf culture and community.

And I’ve been breaking down doors ever since.

by Beth Eddy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Well, the time is almost upon me. My tenure materials are due in early June. The last cancer scare was over the Christmas holidays. My doctors tell me "reduce your stress load." They don't understand my situation.

I was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer in September of 2010. I had a complete mastectomy with the removal of seventeen lymph nodes early that October. Five of those nodes turned out to be cancerous. I was given a diagnosis of Stage III breast cancer. What followed were eight weeks of chemotherapy, then a month and a half of radiation therapy. After a year of recovery, I had a free tram flap replacement of my breast, which involved cutting a segment from my belly fat and muscle and hooking it up to the blood vessels that will keep it alive as my new breast. The second surgery was by far the harder of the two.

by Gail Labovitz, American Jewish University

Opening title screen of the film (2001) The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

The “Seligman Postdoctoral Fellowship in Judaic Studies” is very generous as academic fellowships go. It supplies full living expenses, including use of a large (multi-bedroom!) apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It includes health insurance and (very rare in a postdoc) a retirement plan. This coming week it even includes tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert, and I don’t know of any other postdoc that offers that. Moreover, the “Seligman Fellowship” will give me an opportunity to do the researching, writing, and publishing that will make me a more attractive candidate for academic jobs—most particularly, to do the necessary rewriting to make my dissertation publishable—without any teaching obligations. Finally, the “Seligman Fellowship” is highly exclusive. It’s never been offered before, and very likely will not be offered again. It’s only ever been offered to one candidate—me.

As you may have guessed, I’m married to Seligman.

by Alison Colpits, University of Toronto

Hands in Solidarity, Hands of Freedom mural on the side of the United Electrical Workers trade union building on West Monroe Street at Ashland Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.

I always find it unfortunate when the so-called work-life balance is framed as a problem for women. I’m aware that, as the AAR Status of Women in the Profession Committee (SWP) rightly indicates, it’s a problem for women insofar as women are still mostly responsible for “care work.” So I don’t find it unfortunate because I don’t think it to be true. I do think it’s true. Rather, I find it unfortunate because even though the work-life balance is an urgent problem for women, having women write and talk about it for each other isn’t going to change anything. The problem with the SWP calling for stories about the work-life balance in academia is that it’s the SWP that has to make the call for it.

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