The NASPA Latinx/a/o Knowledge Community (LKC) strives to support the research and share stories of colleagues who are engaged in scholastic work, especially those who focus on Latinx/a/o educational issues. This year, the LKC co-chairs are highlighting the strength, resiliency, and tenacious nature of mujeres in the field who deliberately and wholeheartedly embrace both motherhood and their professional roles as scholars (#LatinaMamiScholar). We would love to feature your story on the NASPA LKC Scholars Corner!
Tracy Arámbula Ballysingh, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration (HESA) at the Department of Leadership & Developmental Sciencess at The University of Vermont. Her research interests are on P-16 access/equity, first-generation college students, & socio-cultural and historic contexts of education. Learn more about Dr. Arámbula Ballysingh at https://www.uvm.edu/cess/profiles/tracy-ballysingh.
An open call for allyship and advocacy: Supporting LatinaMamiScholars through the hidden costs of academia
Chingona // noun. 1. a Spanish slang term meaning “bad ass woman.” A maker of her own camino, this is her path and she is going to follow it, regardless of what culture says. A chingona is any woman who chooses to live life on her own terms.
I have struggled to define what it means to be a LatinaMamiScholar on the tenure-track (TT) and believe this is rooted in fear of speaking truth to power. My journal is peppered with frustrated verbal brainstorms from which themes have emerged. An entry titled “The Canary in the Coalmine of Academia” lists multiple causes for what I described as “scholar-mami battle fatigue.” Two days later, I was called into the office of an administrator (subtext: white; not a parent; not TT). After accepting their invitation to discuss my challenges, they responded: “I’m so sorry to hear that, but let me tell you how you’re impacting my program,” and “lots of people have families and make it work.” The dismissive all lives matter flavor of their critique made my heart race. I felt violated and speechless but I could not understand why.
One month later attending the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education’s (AAHHE) Faculty Fellows Program, I found community and affirmation of my struggles in stark contrast. This made palpable the “fragmentation” we experience that challenges our sense of belonging in academia. This testimonio is born of those collective experiences. It is my hope that through a radical form of transparency I might: 1) prepare others for potential institutional challenges; 2) offer validation; and 3) issue a call for allyship and advocacy to our collective colleagues and administrators. With Latinas representing only 3 percent of full-time tenured faculty, we must further consider the ways intersecting forms of systemic oppression (race/ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, 1st gen status, family structure, marriage relationships, and geographic isolation) unique to Latinas’ lived experiences enact an invisible undertow in academic spaces. The vignette provided above seeks to demonstrate how these intersecting identities can be ignored by well-intended others and thereby, challenge our persistence. In the following sections, I outline the greatest challenges and needs discovered during my foundational years on the TT. Specifically, I identify three hidden costs of academia that fundamentally shaped my experience: 1) childcare costs, 2) patriarchy, 3) socioeconomic/1st gen/immigrant status, and 4) neoliberalism.
Many lack sufficient context for the exorbitant costs of childcare. Some have advocated for childcare for all to mitigate the often surprising costs of motherhood. Preschool tuition has cost me $12,774/child (infant care is even more), culminating in an annual total of $25,547 with two children attending concurrently. As the primary earner, this represented a significant portion of my income, left little room for other living expenses, and contributed to a growing debt burden. There is also a misperception that matters ease when children enter public school. I was surprised to discover after-school programs cost $350/month per child, totaling $3,096/year. Faculty must also find coverage for evening or weekend teaching and programmatic activities. If one teaches one evening class per semester, this costs approximately $50/week, $800/semester, or $1600/year. In addition, public school fall, winter, spring, and summer break “camps” cost between $50 and $250/week. At an average of $150/week for 9 weeks of school breaks, I spend approximately $1350/year on this coverage. In sum, total childcare expenses for a standard base-level of productive workday coverage has cost me approximately between $19,000 and $27,000/year. When additional miscellaneous sick days, teacher in-service days, and conference travel are added, the cost is greater. Moreover, the federal childcare tax credit parents are given is minimal—a mere $200. In my case, family is long-distance and unavailable for backup childcare, because we go where the jobs are in academia. My mother, who is 75, makes the long flight when she can, primarily to support my conference travel. Yet, paying for airfare to cover childcare is costly and hard on aging parents. As one who procreated in my late 30’s/early 40’s, my biological and tenure clocks, and my mother’s aging clock have converged in a perfect storm. Relatedly, the “baby window” might be associated with the gender pay gap, with women of color in academia earning 67 cents on every dollar paid to white men.
Socioeconomic/1st generation/immigrant status
I am also a first-generation college graduate from an immigrant and working class family. This means I lack the generational wealth that mitigates student loan debt, automobile, and home purchases that converge with childcare costs. The impact of these identities is felt more profoundly because my life partner also holds 1st generation, low-income, and immigrant identities. Because men of color are similarly underrepresented in academia and other professions, and due to racism or mere preference to share life with someone who understands your own marginalized identities, cishet women of color may find marriageable partner pools limited in ways not felt by non-white peers.
Another challenge I have encountered is overcoming patriarchal norms embedded in our homes and institutions. We must challenge the misperception that children hurt women’s careers. My partner’s gross income during my first three years on the TT was barely enough to cover childcare expenses. Whenever I broached the subject of his staying home to ease the challenges of cost and finding care, it always ended in argument. I grew resentful because I believed if the roles were reversed, there would be no question. Even with the presumptive “equity” of dual-income households, the research is clear that unpaid care work disproportionately falls on the shoulders of women due to gender norms. As a result, mothers are drowning in stress. The research is also fairly clear that the burden of invisible work that falls on working-class women of color faculty extends beyond the home into academic spaces.
Compounding the challenges of high childcare costs and patriarchal power inequities are growing neoliberal forces in academia. Increasing demands to teach and attend meetings, programming, and admissions events in the evening and weekends disproportionately affects LatinaMamiScholars. Declines in state appropriations that push institutions to compete in the academic arms race filters down to faculty who must be increasingly present during hours not typically covered by traditional childcare. The interaction of a neoliberal reality with challenges previously presented contributes to overwhelmed feelings and might lead faculty with multiple marginalized identities to question their suitability for academic life.
Rising to and through the faculty ranks remains a challenge for women. In my experience, high childcare costs, patriarchal norms at home and in academia, intersecting socioeconomic statuses, and increasing neoliberal pressures have challenged my persistence. To overcome this, comprehensive institutional support has been beneficial and necessary. Family support is wonderful. But not all of us have it. Supportive partners are wonderful. But not all of us have them. Colleagues and students can help by recognizing our unique challenges, by advocating in institutional spaces, and by respecting our limited productivity time. It is emotionally exhausting to be the one who must consistently set limits and boundaries, especially when coupled with imposter syndrome due to hyper-underrepresentation. Promotion and tenure committees can consider our hidden costs when examining tenure files and avoid comparison with more nimble and less financially burdened colleagues. Institutions and colleagues can support mothers by minimizing demands for evening instruction. When unavoidable, universities can subsidize child care according to the model offered by the University of Houston. Contracting with Bright Horizons, Houston allocates 10 calendar days/year at a subsidized rate of $15/child or $25/family for center-based care and $6/hour for in-home care.
During my first three years on the TT, the greatest contributors to my persistence and thriving have been: 1) protected writing time, 2) drama minimization/fostering collegiality, 3) autonomy, 4) support with home management and raising children, 5) capacity for wellness, including time for healthy food preparation, exercise, and mental health counseling, 6) constructive feedback from a place of genuine care, 7) concrete guidance and mentorship, and 8) financial support. Higher education claims to support women, parents, and families but often falls short of mission enactment. The structural obstacles named here may work against our success, persistence, and joy but we must still imagine a vision of what is possible. This is done, in part, by telling our stories and speaking our truth in the hope that we foster allyship and advocacy in ways both big and small.