I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’” —Toni Morrison, “The Truest Eye”1
Since my recent tenure and promotion to Associate Professor, I have experienced the typical shift from a workload emphasizing research and writing (the necessary labor for achieving tenure) to a workload emphasizing administration and advising (the necessary labor for running the university). This change in my role as a university laborer has evolved in the context of growing public awareness that the university is a site of pervasive sexual harassment and systemic oppression for faculty, students, and staff who self-identify as women, as LGBTQ+, and/or as POC.2 As a result, I have found that my feminist practice primarily manifests in supporting the voices of marginalized and underrepresented members of our university community as they speak out against the injustices of our university administration and against the silencing and marginalization they experience in “safe” spaces shared with other feminists at the university.3 Much of this support is emotional labor and, as such, goes unrecognized (or is pejoratively recognized) and uncompensated by the institution. The time spent critiquing, strategizing with others, and demanding real change from the institution in terms of equity; the recruitment, hiring, and retention of non-cis-hetero-white-male academics; and in terms of family and kinship support (i.e., paid leave, tenure extensions, etc.) – this time spent laboring in service to and for the university is crucial to the university’s transformation into an actually diverse feminist space of agency, scholarship, and labor. While these minutes, hours, and days do not show up on my curriculum vitae, I’m thrilled to be logging them publicly and in concert with others here!
—Jennifer Creech, University of Rochester
1 Pam Houston, interview with Toni Morrison, O Magazine (Nov. 2003), http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/toni-morrison-talks-love/all#ixzz520t7eq6c.
2 At my home institution, this has led to an EEOC filing by current and former faculty members and graduate students against university administration. See Richard Aslin et al. vs. University of Rochester, https://www.scribd.com/document/366696664/UR-Lawsuit-by-EEOC-Complainants as well as the complainants reasons for filing after attempting to work with UR’s administration, http://www.campustimes.org/2017/10/11/want-work-ur-case-cant-compromised/. For a more general lay of the land of sexual harassment in academe, see Nell Gluckman, “’A Complete Culture of Sexualization’: 1,600 Stories of Harassment in Higher Ed,” Chronicle of Higher Education (12 Dec. 2017) https://www.chronicle.com/article/A-Complete-Culture-of/242040.
3 See Jennifer L. Creech, “Transparent and the Affective Labor of Being a Feminist Killjoy,” paper presented in the Seminar “Feminist Scholar-Activism and the Politics of Affect,” German Studies Association annual conference (5-8 Oct. 2017).