A couple months ago a woman of color colleague posted a pro tip on social media stating that if you want labor from women of color be sure to give credit where credit is due. I had a gut reaction as years of my own pathway through higher education ignited in my brain. My memory produced sparks of times I requested the labor of women of color and explosions of times I took their labor for granted.
“Can I meet with you on my time because I am so busy?” Yet, I chose not to acknowledge that you have an academic and social life and were mostly likely at capacity.
“Can I meet with you for feedback on paper?” Yet, you were not the professor for the class.
“Can I meet with you for feedback on my application?” Yet, I never asked you to write a letter of recommendation for me.
“Can I meet with you for feedback on my proposal?” Yet, I never put you on my committee.
Even worse some of these were last minute requests.
The entitlement of not knowing, what I did not know is unsettling. Until I would receive similar requests in starting my own career.
Feminist of color scholars such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Barbara Smith and countless others have noted that “invisible labor” coupled with the “minority tax” has been used to describe the unacknowledged work that faculty of color are taxed with through a heavier service burden, diversity efforts, racism, isolation and/or mentorship that limits the amount of time allocated to work towards tenure and promotion. While simultaneously engaging in emotional labor of performing “not angry” or “with an attitude” to not showcase discomfort when engaging in said labor.
I have to admit I am the first to say yes, but at what cost? I have concluded that all labor is not paid labor. Comments from individuals who state, “well that is part of the job,” “just say no,” “be better with your time” all lead me to believe that individuals are aware of my “invisible labor.” It is within that exact moment that I am now hyper visible and drowning amid fresh air. I am not complaining, but rather grappling with how to be acknowledged for my intellectual labor and given credit in the tenure and promotion process. I have been given a pro tip to document everything, and I do.
Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner, an Emeritus Professor at Arizona State University has dedicated most of her research efforts to examine the experiences of faculty of color in academia. Her coauthored article, “Faculty Women of Color: The Critical Nexus of Race and Gender” with Juan Carlos Gonzalez and Kathleen Wong (Lau) found that women of color faculty described experiences of “marginalization, subtle discrimination, racism and institutional racism, gender-bias and institutional sexism, and difficulties with students who do not expect to be taught by women of color.” All these findings, I argue, are wrapped in multiple forms of labor: physical, emotional, intellectual, invisible, hyper visible.
Giving credit where credit is due is something I am adopting as a junior scholar. Recently, a senior scholar and mentor told me to enjoy pre-tenure because after the workload only increases. I am actively exploring how to be mindful when asking for the time of senior colleagues while also adopting their strategies.
For undergraduate and graduate students giving credit where credit is due can be as simple as a few of the following:
1.) If we are writing a letter of recommendation, let us know the result of the application. A simple thank you goes a long way.
2.) If you request to meet, show up to the meeting and be on time. That demonstrates you value our time.
If you request feedback, make sure it aligns with our research agenda. Ask if we have the capacity to provide feedback rather than assume.
Labor is a part of academia. The labor for women of color cannot be divorced from colonization, White supremacy, or patriarchy. Our labor does not end when we leave the ivory tower it only begins.
Dr. Nichole Margarita Garcia is an assistant professor of Higher Education at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. You can follow her on Twitter @DrNicholeGarcia