Representation Matters, even on college campuses! Students of color (SOC) often seek solace within the four walls of their professor’s (of color) offices. Those spaces quickly become safe spaces for these students, as they feel confident in the fact that their feelings will be heard, understood and respected by members of staff who can personally relate to their experiences. While in one of these safe spaces provided by a Faculty of Color (FOC) on Muhlenberg’s Campus, I brought up this topic and learned that the importance of SOC and FOC relationships is recognized by Faculty of Color, sometimes leading to a sense of responsibility to be there and support the students of color that identify with them. Though FOC willingly become a shoulder to lean on for students, in some cases, their institutions exploit their willingness to provide additional unacknowledged and unpaid labour as support systems for SOC . These institutions also often lean on the backs of FOC to inform institutional reform, though these proposed reforms are often ignored in the name of “working towards change” as opposed to actually implementing change. These responsibilities are considered to be hidden labor because they exist outside of the faculty members’ job descriptions and therefore remain an unacknowledged but nonetheless substantial part of their responsibilities. These responsibilities are understood and often even come to be seen as expected.
While providing support to SOC is often something FOC want to do, this responsibility can become cumbersome. As these FOC work tirelessly to create and maintain safe spaces and opportunity for SOCs at PWIs, their institutions can ironically become dangerous spaces for them due to lack of support for them, forcing them to ultimately do what is best for their sanity and mental health, which often takes the shape of moving on to other more diverse and supportive institutions. A student of color on Muhlenberg’s campus once coined this phenomena “The Revolving door of Faculty of Color.”
PWIs across the country, both collegiate and pre-collegiate, fail to acknowledge the weight of the responsibility given to FOC and how this additional responsibility can lead to increased stress and dissatisfaction amongst both faculty and students. What are some ways that PWIs can do a better job of acknowledging and relieving the “hidden labour” of FOC?
This is a special post in a series authored by students in Professor Wolfe’s Spring 2019 Research Lab. We are studying the experiences of students of color at PWIs.