Thursday, May 18, 2006

Trust and hard times

Recently, someone I know here at NWU got seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. S/he and his/her partner were very open about the illness, going so far as to create a blog to communicate with members of their family and community. The NWU community, so far as I can tell, responded as you'd hope: people cooked for them so they didn't have to eat hospital food, someone took over their spring yard care, people visited, etc. The partner told me it was the first time s/he'd actually felt the possibility of a real community at NWU.

In the discussions I've had with folks since we learned about that illness, a variety of people have talked about health issues they've had, which they didn't tell anyone at NWU about for a variety of reasons. Often, they were new and didn't know what to expect in terms of support or discrimination. Most of the people I've heard these stories from were other women, and not surprisingly, anything remotely to do with reproduction was hidden from the powers that be as much as possible.

I think the women, especially, worried that they'd be discriminated against if NWU administrators thought the women might get pregnant (especially the unmarried women) or have some potentially long term issues. I think they also worried that the administrators would perceive them as "hysterical" and discriminate against them.

I don't honestly know if different department chairs or administrators would discriminate about reproductive issues, but I can easily imagine the possibility. Married women who want/have children worry about discrimination; an unmarried woman faces far worse discrimination, not only academically, but in the community at large.

It's also easy to imagine department chairs or administrators discriminating against someone with depression or other mental health problems. It's not that someone would be fired, necessarily, but what would it mean if the chair or tenure committee mentioned it in a letter, even "nicely"? (As in, "X continues to produce outstanding research despite struggling with depression.") And certainly, it's easy to imagine a chair not taking someone's complaint seriously if s/he thinks it's "hormonal" or depression.

(No, of course it wouldn't be legal, but it would be danged hard to prove, and harder to resolve positively.)

On the other hand, when I look at the way people around here have responded to our colleague who's sick, I think about the support the other people missed having, and how much that support might have helped.

It makes me rethink my own feelings about what information I'd share if I had a health issue, and how I'd share it.

Of late, I've felt more comfortable being more open with some people here, and really felt, too, that I have a community in a way I haven't felt before here. It seemed so much easier to have that sense of community when I was younger, maybe because, a product of my white middle-classness, I hadn't really seen discrimination at work, and didn't realize it could happen to me?

No comments:

Post a Comment