A Visual Call to Remember

ASHE 2021 Presidential Initiative:
Do They See Us? A Visual Call to Remember
Faculty and Staff Mattering & Pandemic Life in Higher Education

Project Directors:
Toby S. Jenkins (Jenki279@mailbox.sc.edu) & Michelle Bryan (MBryan@mailbox.sc.edu)
 

Staff and faculty are often reminded that while we are important to the success of our institution, students – both enrolled and college-seeking – are the priority. In March 2020 as universities and colleges began wading into unchartered territory, grappling with what would become a worldwide pandemic, that message grew louder and reverberated throughout academia. Across the country, as campuses transitioned to virtual learning, institutions went to heroic lengths to ensure that some semblance of “the student experience” was maintained at all costs. Yet, beyond the hasty guidance proffered on transitioning courses and engagements online, far less consideration was given to the aid, adjustments, and accommodations needed to fully support staff and faculty. Indeed, in the wake of this all-consuming student-oriented focus, their personal and professional struggles, frustrations, and sacrifices - played out behind closed bedroom doors and in makeshift home offices or in eerily quiet residence halls and vacant campus buildings - went unseen.

In August 2020, Chris Moody, executive director of the American College Personnel Association, sized up the collective sentiment of front-line student affairs staff across the country noting they were “…really exhausted right now. They’re heading into this new year really, really tired…” (Anderson, 2020). Nearly one year later, as we approach the upcoming (supposed) post-pandemic academic year, his description continues to hold true. Cumulatively, the racial and global health events of this past year have had a significant (negative) impact on staff mental health, job moral, and career trajectories, and has forced them to reassess their priorities. On her blog, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi’s Amanda Morales (2020) further explained:

Throughout this pandemic we have all done a lot of work. Sometimes this work has been outside of the purview of our normal job functions. We’ve removed or rearranged furniture and limited or outlawed guest visitation. Masks and social distancing are campus mandates everyone has to enforce. We have updated policies and procedures throughout the past six months. Classes and trainings have been pushed online in the blink of an eye. Faculty and staff across campus have been asked to recreate entire programs that took months, if not years, to hone into great student experiences. We’ve spent hours/days/months on the phone with upset parents and students (I’ve literally lost my voice several times). Some of us have been laid off, furloughed, or had our job searches halted as budgets across the country crash and burn. Not to mention being worried about catching—and potentially dying from—an unbridled, proliferating virus with no cure that has spread faster than glitter in a student work room and caused the deaths of more than 200,000 people in the US and almost a million worldwide. “Other duties as assigned.” Well sh*t, y’all (in my best Leslie Jordan impression) (para 3-4).

Because many staff members do not have the security of tenure, the backing of campus senate bodies, or shared governance policies (and junior staff are often younger and in the earlier stages of their careers), they are often left extremely vulnerable and thus unwilling to speak out and advocate for their professional needs and interests (Stoller, 2020; Anderson, 2020). Even among senior staff members, the pressure to be present has presented a conflict for professionals with pre-existing health problems or those parenting young or vulnerable children. Campus staff members have faced unexpected home-schooling, job-loss among spouses, increased student trauma needs, and the stress associated with executing a campus crisis plan.

In addition to facing the same home-life stresses faced by staff, faculty have been overwhelmed by the quick instructional pivot and the demand to accommodate students’ needs and alleviate their stress. A study of more than 570 full and part-time faculty at both two and four year colleges and universities found that more than half of those surveyed were experiencing symptoms of workplace burnout (Course Hero, 2020). Karen Costa, a faculty developer specializing in online pedagogy and trauma awareness, affirmed the presence of burnout among faculty with little to no response from college leadership. “Faculty are asking me where their presidents are and how to get campus leaders information about the impacts of stress and trauma. They report feeling largely ignored and unsupported (Flaherty 2020, para 33).” Moreover, in their February 2021 research brief, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that an alarming 55% of current faculty members were considering retiring or changing careers. In his Chronicle article last month, Kevin Gannon, who highlights the need for thoughtful considerations of post-pandemic faculty evaluation as one the many issues to which institutions will need to attend next year, offered the following advice to the field of higher education:

Acknowledge that the past 14 months have been riddled with grief and loss for many academics. A rush to resume pre-pandemic operations erases those people and their experiences. Whether it was a general sense of loss after the shift from in-person teaching to remote instruction, or the sharper and more specific pain of losing a loved one, everyone has been dealing with grief, stress, and loss. The only humane option is to acknowledge that reality, affirm that we support our colleagues in the healing process, and make that support tangible. As seductive as “back to normal” sounds, we cannot pretend that trauma isn’t part of the institutional landscape that we all now occupy (para 13-14).


A Visual Call to Remember

In the late spring of 2021, as vaccines dissemination began in earnest, the dominant narrative in institutions of higher education shifted to the importance of “getting back to work” - as if all of us had spent the last 12 months doing something other than working. This summer, with vaccines widely available to all adults and youth, universities are preparing for a “return to normal” this coming fall. We contend that, in the quest for “normalcy”, institutions run the risk of returning in ways that ignore valuable lessons learned by faculty and staff during the coronavirus pandemic – lessons that have important implications for how we wish to live our lives as scholars and educational professionals.

The magnitude of what we have experienced- the extraordinary amount of labor engaged during the pandemic and the job-related stress with which we grappled- calls us to question the current desire to behave as though this past year did not happen. The hidden nature of our struggle makes it all too easy to forget that the coronavirus pandemic is not just a moment in our shared history, it is a time period that we survived. We lived through it and those memories and experiences have made a lasting imprint on our lives. As such we need a means of remembrance that honors and acknowledges what we experienced. We seek to expand conversations about the ways in which we’ve changed as a contribution towards important decisions that must be made about how institutions will reorient themselves to honor those changes. Our hope is that, in creating a visual reminder of what was experienced, what was won, what was lost, and what was sacrificed, we contribute to those voices calling for campuses to take better care of their faculty and staff.


Photo Submissions for Presidential Initiative & Session (Exhibit)

This exhibit seeks to create an intentional space for acknowledging and honoring faculty and staff as mattering on campus and thus worthy of having their experiences seen, heard, and valued. With this call, we encourage higher education faculty and staff to share with us poignant moments you captured last year that most represent your life during “a year of COVID.” These photos can be personal or professional in nature. They may be family-related or reflect your work environment, etc. Visually tell us a story of how this year impacted you.

Share with us your utterly ridiculous attempts at professionalism or the brilliant winning moments when the new virtual reality worked perfectly. Help us to see the difficult moments, the frustrating hours, the experiences of grief and loss. Show us your joy, your exhaustion, and your attempts at wellness. Tell us the truth of this year- the whole of your reality.

We welcome contributors to share (1) a single photo that says it all (“This one captures it for me”) or (2) a series of up to three photos that represent multiple facets of your experience of the coronavirus pandemic and your interactions (or lack thereof) with the world during it.

Please submit photos for inclusion in this exhibit here. The deadline to submit is September 3, 2021.

We anticipate communicating final decisions on acceptance by September 30, 2021.


Notes

Anderson, G. (2020). Student Affairs Staff Challenged by Pandemic Demands, Inside Higher Education, August 20, 2020. Retrieved June 28, 2021 at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/08/20/student-affairs-staff-challenged-pandemic-demands

Chronicle of Higher Education (2020). On the Verge of Burnout: Covid-19’s impact on faculty well-being and career plans, October 2020. Retrieved June 28, 2021 at https://connect.chronicle.com/rs/931-EKA-218/images/Covid%26FacultyCareerPaths_Fidelity_ResearchBrief_v3%20%281%29.pdf

Course Hero (2020). Faculty Wellness and Careers, Course Hero Blog, November 18, 2020. Retrieved June 28, 2021 at https://www.coursehero.com/blog/faculty-wellness-research/

Flaherty, C. (2020). Faculty Pandemic Stress is Now Chronic, Inside Higher Education, November 19, 2020. Retrieved June 28, 2021 at https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/11/19/faculty-pandemic-stress-now-chronic

Gannon, K. (2021). Faculty Evaluation After the Pandemic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 9, 2021. Retrieved June 28, 2021 at https://www.chronicle.com/article/faculty-evaluation-after-the-pandemic?cid=gen_sign_in

Morales A. (2020). Other Duties as Assigned: Surviving a Pandemic as a Student Affairs Practitioner, NASPA Blog, September 27, 2020. Retrieved June 28, 2021 at https://www.naspa.org/blog/other-duties-as-assigned-surviving-a-pandemic-as-a-student-affairs-practitioner

Stoller, E. (2020). Keep Campus Closed - What Higher Ed is Too Afraid to Say, Inside Higher Education, August 10, 2020. Retrieved June 28, 2021 at https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/student-affairs-and-technology/keep-campus-closed-what-higher-ed-too-afraid-say