education, Health

Episode 17: COVID series Part II: Addressing Mental Health (and poor working conditions)

‘The ghost of care in education and academia at the moment thrives on the intimate, fundamentally personal experience of these struggles, which often leads us to assume our own, isolated responsibility for causing and curing our problems – obscuring the burdens heaved by sexism, racism, elitism, etc. which converge with the current demands of education in the university space.’ – Joseph Uhlar

Dr Ann Wand sits down with cultural historian at the Open University, Dr Katy Layton-Jones, and former Male Welfare Office at the University of Oxford, Joseph Uhlar, to discuss the realities of working conditions in higher education and the effects this has on staff, student and academics’ mental health.

The show notes:

Additional reading material on poor working conditions and mental health concerns in academia can be found below:

Is College Still Worth It? | Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (2020)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YytF2v7Vvw0&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1hyC5na-lb7tQJmCrfcvc1HKUJ_9NEdT9S3Rock-_RhY7j3seq2OUL-d0

Too few counsellors on campus: why students are turning to mental health apps (2020)

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/feb/27/too-few-counsellors-on-campus-why-students-are-turning-to-mental-health-apps

Higher education staff suffer ‘epidemic’ of poor mental health (2019)

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/may/23/higher-education-staff-suffer-epidemic-of-poor-mental-health

I’m striking because insecure academic contracts are ruining my mental health (2019)

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/nov/29/im-striking-because-insecure-academic-contracts-are-ruining-my-mental-health

‘The way universities are run is making us ill’: inside the student mental health crisis (2019)

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/sep/27/anxiety-mental-breakdowns-depression-uk-students

‘It’s cut-throat’: half of UK academics stressed and 40% thinking of leaving (2019)

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/may/21/cut-throat-half-academics-stressed-thinking-leaving

Lecturer’s widow hits out at Cardiff University workload (2019)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-47296631

Facing poverty, academics turn to sex work and sleeping in cars (2017)

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/28/adjunct-professors-homeless-sex-work-academia-poverty

Aftermath of a Professor’s Suicide (2017)

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/04/21/recent-suicide-professor-sparks-renewed-discussions-about-access-mental-health

C&C announcement, education, Uncategorized

New Episode: Addressing Mental Health- coming soon!

The C&C Team is gearing up for it’s newest episode on addressing mental health issues with cultural historian, Dr Katy Layton-Jones, and former Male Welfare Officer at the University of Oxford, Joseph Uhlar.

Stay tuned!

Katy1

Picture of Me

education, Politics, Religion, Teaching resources

Episode 16: COVID series Part I: Educating the Roma

“I feel that if you’re on the margins, the strange thing is that you have more power. If you are not within a structure, you’ve got nothing to lose, then in a strange kind of way you gain everything.”

– Dr Julia Bolton Holloway

(taken from: https://citydesert.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/julia-bolton-holloway/)

Dr Ann Wand had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr Julia Bolton Holloway to discuss her work on educating the Roma in Florence, Italy. She has not only created an ‘Alphabet school’ for Roma children and adults to learn literacy, but her life’s work is dedicated to changing the world’s perspectives on one of the most marginalized communities in modern-day society. The C&C team is also fortunate to have had two Roma citizens, Daniele and Diamanta, join us at the studio in order to provide their side of the story, and for that, we are extremely grateful.

The show notes:

Dr Holloway’s story:

My doctorate is from Berkeley with a dissertation on pilgrimage in Dante, Langland and Chaucer. I taught for the Franciscans while writing it and raising my three sons, their father having left us penniless. I next taught at Princeton, we were the first generation of women so tenure was not granted, then taught at Boulder where I directed Medieval Studies, publishing many books and articles, but a bitter tenure fight. I persisted as a scholar but actually had to leave academia to be such, facing jealousy from men and a woman, imagining the outcome as becoming a shopping bag lady, homeless, but at least with Plato, Aristotle and the Bible in my shopping bag in their original languages.

I eventually joined my Anglican convent which had been my school in Sussex, but found it had become the opposite of what I remembered, a place of beauty, scholarship and holiness. I fled to Italy, soul-shattered but was editing Julian of Norwich. The edition was published by Florence’s SISMEL. In my despair I found the Roma, even poorer than I, particularly when I came to be Custodian of the English Cemetery and they helped me restore it and build the library’s bookshelves, while I teach them the alphabet. I got that position because I had edited Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry for Penguin, and she is buried here, also here are Abolitionists like Frances Trollope, Theodore Parker, Hiram Powers, and Richard Hildreth. Frederick Douglass came to visit their tombs on 11 May 1877, my Roma restorer creating the plaque recording that. The Roma were freed from slavery with the publication the year after of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Romanian, and she was copying Frances Trollope’s and Richard Hildreth’s earlier anti-slavery novels!

I define myself as ‘libero professionista’, as an independent scholar, and in ecclesiastical standing as a vowed hermit. I publish as books and on the Web the works of women and men colleagues, while at the same time teaching the alphabet to Romanian Roma families denied literacy from their centuries of slavery and then the Holocaust in Transnistria.

More information on Dr Holloway can be found in the following websites:

http://www.umilta.net

http://www.florin.ms

http://www.ringofgold.eu

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nLkryRaFfQ–>

http://contemplative-oasis.blogspot.com/2011/10/interesting-hermits-in-21st-century.html

https://www.thecompassnews.org/2015/11/freelancing-the-religious-life-an-urban-hermit-tells-her-story/

Additional information on the Roma:

https://qz.com/298445/why-id-rather-teach-illiterate-roma-than-princeton-students/

https://qz.com/280695/the-roma-may-be-just-what-europe-needs-to-recover/

C&C announcement, education, history, Religion

COVID series: Starting June 6th!

libraryjulia

We’re finally getting back into the rhythm of things starting with our COVID series, Saturday June 6th. We’re kicking it off with religious sister, Professor Emerita, and custodian of the English cemetery in Florence, Italy, Dr Julia Bolton Holloway. She’ll be telling us about her incredible work educating Italy’s Roma community.

education

Like cupcakes on an assembly line: Towards a more responsible approach to mental health issues in Higher Education

Mental_Health_Message

(Photo by Wokandapix at Pixabay)

By Andrea Hajek

Over the past decade, the issue of mental health in higher education has received increased media attention. Articles recently published in the Guardian, for example, speak of a mental health crisis, with ‘British universities […] experiencing a surge in student anxiety, mental breakdowns and depression’. Accordingly, the number of drop-outs among students due to mental health problems has grown considerably. Worse still, a series of suicide cases have occurred, not only involving students: in February 2018, university lecturer Malcolm Anderson took his own life because of workload pressures. Clearly, levels of stress and anxiety are on the rise among staff as well.

This heightened awareness of mental health issues is particularly tangible in social media; it’s easy to come across academics of all levels venting their frustrations in lengthy Twitter threads. Universities, by contrast, fail to get a grip on mental health problems, often entrusting external support agencies or even just telephone services with the task to assist staff and students.

One of the causes of student anxiety is undoubtedly financial in nature; tuition fees have grown considerably over the past decade, with the cap being raised to £9,000 in 2012 (with the exception of Scotland). Similarly, workloads have become ever more unmanageable for staff, who find themselves juggling their time between teaching, marking, board meetings, four-star publications, and so on. All this in a performance-driven and competitive climate, governed by various research quality assessments and annual performance reviews.

Not surprisingly, academic staff increasingly fall back on counselling and occupational health, as Liz Morrish’s Pressure Vessels: The epidemic of poor mental health among higher education staff has shown (HEPI Occasional Paper 20, 2019): ‘Between 2009 and 2015, counselling referrals [by staff] rose by an average of 77 per cent, while staff referrals to occupational health services during the same period rose by 64 per cent’ (p. 13).

Among the reasons for this increase Morrish lists a strong emphasis on performance, excessive workloads, the imposition of metric surveillance, precarity and insecure contracts (p. 13). Her findings are confirmed by various other studies conducted in recent years: a 2018 online survey, for example, demonstrated that 43 per cent of academic staff displayed symptoms of some form of mental disorder.

In reality, workplace stress in higher education has been on the rise for quite some time now: Gail Kinman’s 1998 report on occupational stress in higher education already pinpointed heavy workloads and long working hours as the main causes, in particular among younger (non-tenure-track) academics. Yet, Morrish observes, universities ‘purposefully flout a legal requirement to prevent stress in the workplace’ (p. 14). Thus, another recent study revealed that less than 11 per cent of the 136 universities that participated in the study had adopted any policy to support staff wellbeing.

While studies like that of Morrish are beginning to outline how academic working conditions negatively affect graduate students and academic staff, we don’t have much data on PhD students. Their situation is no less dramatic, though: one study concluded that PhD students were ‘nearly 2.5 times more likely than highly educated people in the general population to be at risk of depression or another psychiatric disorder’.

Yet, universities don’t seem interested in developing policies to tackle mental health problems among their PhDs. Perhaps this is because the latter mostly enroll through a scholarship or a grant – their ‘satisfaction’ is therefore considered less important than that of students paying the full £9,000 tuition fee. We could, however, counter-argue that the dropping out of a funded PhD student due to a mental disorder still implies a financial cost for research institutions, especially when they are part of larger research teams (K. Levecque et al., Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students, Research Policy 46, 2017, p. 869).

Another possible reason for the lack of services directed at PhD students is the fact that they aren’t staff. They aren’t hired to deliver courses and mark exams, so why invest in their psychological wellbeing? Consequently, they don’t have access to counselling or occupational health services. Yet, they are in no less need of support. Further still, given that PhD students have quite specific task characteristics and different working conditions than other academic groups, there is a dire necessity to identify the ‘organizational factors’ that impact on an individual’s mental health (K. Levecque et al, p. 877). Only then can we develop an accurate policy to support PhD students and – I would add – early career researchers.

I hear you saying, well, a PhD programme is meant to create leading academics, capable of resisting stress and handling heavy workloads. Kind of like natural selection. True, but within reasonable limits, and certainly not at the cost of individual suffering. Nor is it true that the ‘fittest’ are always better qualified than their ‘weaker’ peers: unfair recruiting strategies, favouritism, power imbalances and even plain discrimination (often based on gender, generational, racial or class differences) can work to the – not always deserved – advantage of some. PhD students themselves often participate in these power games. Healthy competition? Whatever you call it, it is counter-productive: other than potentially causing individual suffering, in the long run it will affect research itself (K. Levecque et al, p. 877).

In sum, it’s a complicated matter, which can’t be resolved simply by introducing a qualified professional – that’s just making it a personal problem, whereas the responsibility also lies with universities and research policymakers. In fact, I would argue that the problem is inherent in the whole university system.

No easy answers exist, but here’s my top five list of possible ways forward:

  1. Extend the overall duration of the PhD programme, without financial penalties, even if this might imply falling behind in the PhD production process.
  2. Cease to resort to short-term contracts to resolve institutional structural problems ­– this tactic is hardly good for the stability and continuity of departments themselves.
  3. Be more honest with potential PhD students, especially about career and job prospects: higher education shouldn’t be about churning out degrees like cupcakes on an assembly line.
  4. Build PhD communities. Of course this is already happening, often spontaneously, and some universities have excellent postgraduate spaces and training programmes. What would be necessary, though, is a more personalised yet structured service, focused not just on skills training or providing quiet study areas, but also on tackling emotional challenges and helping students develop a healthy work-life balance.
  5. Finally, break the taboo that surrounds mental health. Being more open and honest about it will help academics (especially the younger or more vulnerable ones) to ‘come out’, without fear of penalisation or discrimination.

In the end, what is at stake isn’t just individual suffering, but the quality of higher education as a whole, and the future of our research landscape.

About the author:

Andrea Hajek is an independent researcher and an academic proofreader at Your Editing Alternative. She obtained her doctoral degree at the University of Warwick, and has held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Glasgow. She is the Managing Editor of the journal Memory Studies and an Associate Editor for Modern Italy. She is also a founding member of the Warwick Oral History Network and an affiliate member of the Centre for Gender History (University of Glasgow).

C&C announcement, education

Episode 14: Diversity in academia

‘Coffee & Cocktails’ has just released a new episode focusing on diversity (or the lack thereof) in academia. Our guest speakers include Dr Alia Amir of Uppsala University, Dr Manali Kumar of the National University of Singapore and Amir Massoumian of SOAS.

Please feel free to subscribe to our show, as well as follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

If you’d like to participate in future shows and/or have an idea you’d like to share, you can contact us via the host’s website at annwand.com

We look forward to hearing from you!

C&C announcement, education, Environment, Teaching resources

Looking for guest-speakers for next month’s podcast: Women and people of color in academia

diversity

If you would like to participate in what will undoubtedly be a very insightful and fruitful discussion on the importance of diversity in academia (both in terms of the role of diversity in literature and in the academy), please feel free to contact our director, Dr Ann Wand.  

C&C announcement, Careers, education, history, Politics

Episode 12: How to have impact inside and outside of academia

C&C has just released its newest episode on ‘How to have impact inside and outside of academia’. Our guest-speakers were Dr Markus J. Prutsch of the European Parliament and Heidelberg University and Dr Alix Green of the University of Essex, both of whom provided an interesting account on the role that academics can play in traditionally non-academic settings.

Book annoucement, education, Uncategorized

Facebook and Conversation Analysis: The Structure and Organization of Comment Threads (Book abstract)

Facebook book

This book, written by Dr Matteo Farina, explores how people communicate on Facebook. It addresses questions like: is there a clear organisation that characterises conversations that take place on Facebook or do Facebook conversations consist of messages that randomly follow one after the other? If so, what is this organisation? Facebook and Conversation Analysis: The Structure and Organization of Comment Threads (2018) applies concepts and ideas of Conversation Analysis (CA) to describe the structure of comment threads, the “conversations” that take place on Facebook. CA is a methodological approach which is normally used to explore the structure of spoken conversations, however, Farina has turned it towards Facebook comment threads. He uses CA to provide clear and important insights into the organisation of Facebook interactions. He shows that comment threads are not made of random messages, but they have a clear structure. This structure is based on the actions performed by Facebook users in comments published within comment threads. In other words, Farina claims that people perform actions when they post messages on Facebook such as questions, responses, apologies, tellings and so on.

Facebook and Conversation Analysis: The Structure and Organization of Comment Threads, has received highly favourable reviews from Linguist List and CALICO, and was the 2018 bestselling monograph across Bloomsbury’s Linguistics List. In his book, Farina explains that it is possible to understand the structure of Facebook interactions by examining the actions performed in messages posted in comment threads. This book is recommended to anyone interested in applied linguistics, conversation analysis, sociolinguistics, and especially readers interested in understanding how people communicate in social media.

About the author:

Dr Matteo Farina is a Casual Course Coordinator at The University of Adelaide and Flinders University. His research is in the fields of Applied Linguistics and Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC). Matteo applies concepts and ideas of Conversation Analysis (CA) to investigate how people communicate in everyday social interactions. He is especially interested in studying online interactions, like Facebook comment threads.

education, Politics

You Go to School, You Take on Some Debt

Markedsføringsmateriale fra forskellige universiteter

During my anthropological fieldwork in Wisconsin in 2017, I encountered what some of my interlocutors called a “forced timeline”. It denotes a specific route in life that many young Americans feel pressured to comply with: “it’s like you go to school, you take on some debt, you know, you find a good job and you pay it off”. I wondered why so many of the people I met expressed criticism towards this idea while at the same adhering to it.

I later realised that one answer could be the aspiration for a good life, which for many entails upwards social mobility or the opportunity to get a secure and well-paying job. Due to credential inflation, jobs that used to only require a high school degree now require a college degree; and attending a high-ranking university may increase one’s chances to do well in a highly competitive job market (Ho 2009). However, college degrees and especially those from high-ranking universities are costly.

Since the 1970s and 1980s, many universities have seen state funding slowly diminish. In the state of Wisconsin, for example, state spending on education is now the same today as it was in 1966 (Goldrick-Rab 2016). For most Americans, higher education is now the second largest expenditure in their life, only surpassed by homeownership (Hacker and Dreifus 2011). A generation or two ago, students had the possibility to finance their education by working throughout the summer. As my oldest interlocutor told me at a private college, when she was reflecting on all the changes that had happened to the educational landscape: “It’s extraordinary. Nobody can do what we did”. So, what does this mean for Americans and their ability to pay for their education?

It has been and continues to be the norm to take out loans in order to finance one’s education; in fact, students are more likely than ever to work part-time and take out loans at the same time (Goldrick-Rab 2016). Essentially, loans allow students to borrow money from a future in which they are financially better off, and as one woman from Illinois told me: “What is a few loans if it guarantees time and resources to study? (…) Instead of (…) losing my whole future?”

The choice to take out student loans seems to be a no-brainer when entering university, but upon graduation, many are hit by a grim realisation. For example, one of my interlocutors broke down in tears when she explained that her loan burden meant that she would not be able to give her unborn child the same kind of financial support as her parents did for her. For this reason, she needed to quit her current job and was searching for higher-paying jobs.

Her story is not exceptional; 45 million Americans currently owe a total of 1.6 trillion USD in student loan debt. For many, that debt structures their life according to the logic of repaying one’s loan, which means that debtors have to constantly think about their financial choices so as to continuously meet every single payment deadline (Lazzarato 2011, 2015). First of all, many debtors simply have to accept any job opportunity that presents itself (and turn down unpaid internships), even if it is completely unrelated to one’s education. Secondly, they may have to move back home to their parents to save money and postpone buying a house, which has a negative effect on the U.S. national economy (Cooper 2017). There is virtually no possibility to declare bankruptcy because of student loan debt, and the debt carries a racial and gendered dimension as it disproportionately affects women and people of colour (Houle and Addo 2018). For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said about her own situation: “(…) it was literally easier for me to become the youngest woman in American history elected to Congress than it is to pay off my student loan debt”.

While some scholars and politicians argue that student loan debt is “manageable” and “not a lot over a lifetime” (Akers and Chingos 2016), the lived experiences of American debtors reveal a more nuanced picture. Whether through anthropology or other disciplines, attending to people’s everyday life and vocalising what is taken for granted remains a contribution of utmost importance to the debate about the double-edged sword that is student loan debt.

Literature

  • Akers, Beth, and Matthew M. Chingos. Game of Loans: The Rhetoric and Reality of Student Debt. Princeton University Press, 2016.
  • Cooper, Melinda. Family Values: between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism. Zone Books, 2017.
  • Goldrick-Rab, Sara. Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. UNIV OF CHICAGO PRESS, 2016.
  • Hacker, Andrew, and Claudia Dreifus. Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – and What We Can Do about It. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011.
  • Hess, Abigail J. “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: To Pay off Student Loans ‘I Had to Do Something That Was Nearly Impossible’.” CNBC, CNBC, 25 June 2019, http://www.cnbc.com/2019/06/25/aoc-it-was-easier-to-get-elected-than-to-pay-off-my-student-loans.html.
  • Ho, Karen Zouwen. Liquidated: an Ethnography of Wall Street. Duke University Press, 2009.
  • Houle, Jason N., and Fenaba R. Addo. “Racial Disparities in Student Debt and the Reproduction of the Fragile Black Middle Class.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 2018.
  • Lazzarato, Maurizio. Governing by Debt . (Semiotext(e)), MIT Press, USA, 2015.
  • Lazzarato, Maurizio. The Making of the Indebted Man: an Essay on the Neoliberal Condition. (Semiotext(e)), 2011. MIT Press, USA

About the Author:

Mathias Sosnowski Krabbe works as a Research Assistant at the University of Southern Denmark. He has fieldwork experience from Hiroshima, Japan and Wisconsin and Illinois, USA. He completed his MSc in Anthropology from Aarhus University in 2018.