On January 14 and 15, the Hamilton Lugar School brought together a diversity of scholars and researchers to examine how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the lives and wellbeing of caretakers, particularly in academia. Early research on this subject, presented during the conference, provides hard data on how caretakers—mostly women—have taken on increasing responsibilities both at home and at work, with long-term implications for individual career advancement and diversity, equity, and inclusion at the institutional level.
Co-sponsored by the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE) and the Critical Legal Academic and Scholars International Collective (CLASIC), the symposium also considered how the pandemic of racial injustice has multiplied these difficulties. The plenary session, with Professors Melissa Murray of NYU; Jessica Calarco of IU; Tina Cheuk of California Polytechnic State University; Anne Joseph O’Connell of Stanford; and Meera Deo of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law served as part of the series on Race, Gender, and Power in Global Politics, which addresses issues of systemic inclusion in foreign policy.
The research presented in this session has significant implications for addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion during and after the pandemic. Professor Calarco, for instance, found through a survey that the increased number of hours worked at home and at the workplace takes a serious toll on caregivers. Many women caregivers said they have considered leaving their jobs, and the crisis could exacerbate inequalities between caregivers and non-caregivers. The survey found that interventions are needed for logistical support and to recognize caregivers’ outstanding efforts.
Professor Cheuk, looking at student caregivers, found similar difficulties at Cal Poly, particularly in the BIPOC and Latinx populations. Instead of being forced to choose between caretaking and working, or fulfilling work duties and maintaining mental health, she argued, “There should be expansive ways for us to be our full selves as parents and students and faculty and staff as we do caretaking work.”
Looking at caretakers in a law school context, Professor Deo said, “Faculty members are doing all they can to support their students, but they are not getting the support they need from the administration.”
Distressingly, she saw that faculty and staff caretakers are starting to normalize and accept the negative mental health effects associated with working long hours while also caretaking during a pandemic. Further, junior scholars who are unable to do research are nervous about what this means for their professional future.
Professor O’Connell used survey feedback collected at Stanford to consider ways that university administration can provide more support to caretakers. Among proposed solutions are more research support, more time, and adjusted expectations for performance and tenure reviews.
“I’m tired of the excuses that people make to protect the status quo,” said Cheuk during the public Q and A about the difficulties facing caretakers.
“These are structural problems that we cannot fight individually. There need to be systemic solutions to address them,” echoed Deo.
But now, Deo added, could be a time to address issues that have been simmering for a long time. “This is an opportunity for people to really come together,” she said, and this symposium is one example of that opportunity.
The symposium also included a reading by Professor Etienne C. Toussaint of “How to Survive a Pandemic: An Elegy to America,” in which he meditates on and works through his feelings about teaching law as a Black man during the dual pandemics of systemic racism and COVID-19.
Additional symposium topics included:
- Theorizing Power and Ethics in the Pandemic
- A Global Pandemic: International Perspectives on the Effects of COVID
- Challenges for Aspiring Faculty
- Teaching and Learning During the COVID Care Crisis
- Theorizing the Material Effects of the Pandemic
- Erasing Boundaries Between Home and Work
- Addressing the Challenges of Student-Intensive Academic Work During a Lockdown
- The Role of Administration and the Structures of Academia
For more information, visit hls.indiana.edu/covid-symposium.