I have gotten laid off from two out of the three roles I have held within higher education / student affairs. All of them have been student facing roles focusing on the work of Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion. I just began my third role about a month ago as an Interim Director of Diversity and Inclusion (I’ll explain the interim piece later), but my journey in higher education began almost 6 years ago - the day I returned to my undergraduate alma mater as the Director of Restorative Practices and Community Standards. I was a one person office with barely a budget tasked with embedding restorative practices into the fabric of our community standards process and the community at large. It should be noted that I was accepting this role in the wake of two large community incidents involving racial trauma and safety on campus, where students overwhelmingly felt they had not seen justice or accountability and their safety was still threatened. Which of course, I had only found out about after I had accepted the role.
On my first day, I was called in to facilitate a community healing circle process for student leaders to be able to reflect on and debrief these traumatic incidents. There were tears, intense feelings of grief, students walking out upset and needing much care and support. and then there was me, sitting there thinking “this can’t be real”. Needless to say, I realized quickly there was a lot of work and healing to be done and it was practically on me to begin steering that ship. What I did not realize is how quickly I would begin experiencing my own sense of disempowerment and injustice in that environment as a staff member, as a womxn and expecting mother, and as a person of color, only to then be part of the first round of layoffs (in the thick of the pandemic) when the institution was acquired by another higher education institution due to long time financial issues.
Being a womxn of color in higher education has come with a series of experiences that emulate those in which I have faced outside of that space, revealing itself to be a microcosm of greater society. I have endured harassment and racial bias through being questioned about my qualifications, a lack of respect for my position and work, and both micro and not-so-micro-aggressions. I have also engaged in intense conversations with multiple supervisors and HR about humanizing my experience as a mother/expecting mother and professional, and the messaging has always been clear and consistent everywhere I’ve been - “you are either a mother or you work, there’s no space for working-mothers”. I have been overtly questioned about my productivity output, when the essence of my work has been relational and difficult to always “prove” quantifiably. I have also had my psychological safety threatened by white staff and faculty who experienced adverse reactions to change and sharing of power or even dialoguing about repairing historical harms. All of this to say, I have had to be on the front lines of this work in multiple institutions, putting me at risk and in the crossfire between white-fragility and change. What is most compelling to me is that this seems to be the norm for us.
Many of these experiences have also been exacerbated by the fact that I care very deeply about our students and their experiences. Especially our most marginalized and minoritized students. I advocate, I amplify, and I empower, while little or no reciprocal support is offered to me. Oftentimes, I am pouring the same energy into advocacy and amplification of staff voices. As a result, my work has become fighting to be respected, seen, heard, valued, to belong…just like out there in the “real world”. So what then becomes of me after internalizing all of this messaging and experiences? There is an associated feeling that comes with our intersectionality as womxn of color in this space, and although I cannot always articulate the words to describe the feeling, it is quite palpable. Actually, it sort of feels like someone or something is taking constant jabs (like literal gut punches) at my humanity.
But I want to be clear about one thing - while this has been the reality of my career in higher edudation and student affairs to be specific, I still honor joy and place high value on my relationships within and without these institutions. I have also found that I have to take the lead and prioritize my care for my survival in these spaces. This can mean many things and look very differently depending on who you are and what you need, but what I mean is rest. Utilizing rest as resistance. My body has been upset with me since having these babies and this philosophy has been my saving grace, thanks to Tricia Hersey (Founder of The Nap Ministry) and her book ‘Rest is Resistance, A Manifesto’. This book quite literally changed me after my second higher education layoff (Also first round of layoffs and due to a budget crisis).
Even before I actually read it, the title alone had me feeling like “whoa, yea…YES!…I will nap to resist this grind culture!”.This book had my neurodivergent self feeling seen! I swore off of higher education after my second layoff (because it truly broke my heart), but through reading this book and taking time to reflect (and nap) on how to better care for myself as I navigate this career and just being a human, I am finally able to create the necessary boundaries in order to preserve my energy, my time, my wellness and my existence in this space. Granted, I am still a work in progress, but with this new role, I have decided to only accept it interimly for a few reasons that include things I cannot budge on because I know how much this work takes from us, and how little it replenishes.
Additionally, after many, many naps, I now know how valuable my time is, my sleep is, how much of an asset I am to these institutions, and to me, that makes me expensive in the best ways. Yes, compensate me well monetarily for my time, but also...
Compensate me with grace, space, flexibility and trust.
Compensate me with understanding that I am a mother, I am a human, I am a body with needs, I am a neurodivergent mind that cannot work well within these structures because they do not consider this aspect of my identity.
Compensate me with the allowance to appear as I wish in the workplace without the constant ‘unprofessional attire’ side eye.
Compensate me with compassion for the energy it takes to be constantly marginalized in some capacity and still be a part of the dismantling of these oppressive systems.
I deserve this particular compensation package. I know writing this that I am operating from a place of holistic exhaustion, so I recognize much of this is probably wishful thinking. However, nothing changes if nothing changes, so I will keep advocating for myself and others like me through resisting the grind, setting boundaries and being clear about what I offer and what my needs are, restoring joy for myself and others in this higher education space…and of course, napping.
Nap Well WISA Family,
Jammy Torres-Millet (she/they) is the daughter of Puerto Rican migrants, a mother, a life partner, a basketball fanatic, a Sport Social Worker, a poet, the oldest of 7 children and so much more. She has worked in Higher Ed/Student Affairs for almost 6 years, doing (JEDI) Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion work by way of restorative practices. She is passionate about service and helping communities thrive through connection, empowerment and cultivating joy.