Maybe it is just me, but I find it unsettling when someone talks about socioeconomic disparity yet that person is driving around in a brand new BMW. Then for that same person to comment, without any emotion, on how one of her employees is about to have her home foreclosed and be on the streets. That just doesn’t align. Oh yeah, that was during a session on “diversity in the workplace.”
It was a great reminder of why I work in higher education and not the corporate world. I am an educator. I teach when ever an opportunity presents itself. I do not scold for the sake of a position, title, or authority I may have. I recognize and openly admit my privileges, my shortcomings, my lack of knowledge. I do not try to compensate for those things so to seem as if I am superior to others. I do what I can to improve my environment. I do not put down others to raise myself up. I keep my ego in check. I appreciate being humbled from time to time.
I am willing to put myself in the line of fire for those I support. People who I am advocating for, who depend on me. Sometimes that means slightly compromising my own integrity for a brief amount of time to protect those I am advising and supervising. It means having difficult conversations with administrators to provide my perspective and those of whom I work with on a regular basis.
This happened to me this past August. I was not happy with where things were going at my institution and changes that were being made. I felt the school was making decisions without taking into account the impact on students. I was frustrated and all I could think about was leaving. I did a mini-search. Luckily, it did not work out and I realized that leaving was a solution, but not the right solution. I was upset with why the institution was making decisions that were hurting students, but my departure would have exacerbated the problem further. I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate.
Yes, I am leaving at the end of this academic year for multiple reasons. At the same time, I am helping prepare for my departure. I have communicated what I needed to say about the decisions being made and why I disagree. I am supporting students who are advocating for a full-time permanent replacement with experience in fraternity/sorority life. I am guiding them through a difficult process. Because of my decision to stay (even though I have been overly frustrated at times to the point of wanting to quit), I have been able to assist them in developing advocacy skills that I hope they will take with them beyond college.
What does this have to do with what I was saying in the initial paragraph? It comes back to having an emotional investment in your work. I try to make sure that I bring “emotional labor” to my interactions with others. Yes, people in the corporate, for-profit world can have emotional investment in their work. They can exhibit “emotional labor.” The catch is that they don’t necessarily have to do it, as exhibited by our speaker. It would be great if they did but it is not a requirement. The person was young and successful. She has gotten far in a short amount of time without emotionally investing in her work. Yes, it was a small snippet. I do not know the full story. But that brief experience, was enough for me to reconsider shopping at this particular company in the future. To hear that someone has worked for six years in an environment that has a high population of Latino/a, Chicano/a, Hispanic, and Mexican-American employees and customers, but still barely knows any Spanish, nor has taken time to learn, that is not demonstrating “emotional labor.”
It is not a requirement of my job either to demonstrate “emotional labor.” There is nothing in my job description that mentions the phrase nor talks about being emotionally invested in my work. I do not get paid extra for going above and beyond. It is something I feel is important. It is taking the time out of my schedule to meet with students who are not in my direct purview. It is creating opportunities that others can benefit from even if it puts more work on my plate. It is taking time to learn and read what is out there in the field and the world, so I can bring these elements and perspectives to my job. It is putting in that extra bit. It is bringing my true authentic self to work. It is providing the necessary “emotional labor” to make an impact beyond my job description. Ultimately, I cannot think of doing it any other way.