I’m making my way (slowly) through two of Ibram X. Kendi’s works on antiracism and the history of racist power, policy, and ideas in America. His writing has been transformative for my thinking, and not just in the obvious ways around racism. I’m a small picture person. I don’t really know what makes someone a big picture person and another a smaller one, but that just seems to be the way my mind works. Though there are some strengths to that, a huge weakness is that I will often miss the overarching nature of issues. I see the symptoms, and know they need to be healed, but I forget to ask what the illness is. The implication of the illness not being seen is that all effort is poured into trying to relieve the symptoms, but all the while the illness causing them rages on and comes up with new ways to manifest itself.
Kendi’s work has been vital for giving me a model to understand the big picture (the illness) of racism, but he has also given me the ability to start seeing the world in general in a big picture way. His description of power driving policy being reinforced by ideas is something we see in many different areas of society that are in desperate need of change (most if not all of these areas intersecting with racism – the issues we face in our world are intersectional in nature).
The reason I bring up Kendi, and take a moment to discuss the nature of big picture issues, is because as I read Gabriela Saldanha’s piece “The Post-Pandemic University and the Caring Gap”, I couldn’t help but see it through the lens of power, policies, and ideas. Saldanha discusses the inhospitable nature of academia towards those who are “time-poor” and care-rich. In other words, everyone may have the same 168 hours in a week, but those who are carers have to spend 60% of that time doing things other than “career-rewarding” tasks (like caring for children, family, students, etc.), and non-carers get to spend as much or little as they want on them. The way this plays out is in missing opportunities to advance in “prestige”, not being paid a fair wage, and being told that if you would just “promote” yourself more, you might be able to make it to where the powerful are.
As I read, I kept asking myself – what is the end goal here? What is the thing that is being held just beyond the reach of individuals who are carers? On the surface it is money, respectful consideration, promotions, and opportunity. But something that kept itching at my mind was what Saldanha says towards the beginning of her article: the pandemic, “highlighted, among many others, the gap between carers and non-carers, not only in terms of pay but also in terms of prestige.”
It is around this issue of prestige that I began to think about Kendi’s work. I thought about who determines what a prestigious status is, what are the policies in place that help or prevent people reaching that level, and what ideas about prestige are floating around keeping things as they are. I know that this article is about multiple “gaps” between carers and noncarers, but this idea of prestige creeps into the conversation in a quiet way that feels suspicious to me. I realize that Saldanha is trying to make the point that if you have a goal to work in academia, there are currently policies and cultural factors in place that make it difficult for someone who has other things going on in their life to achieve a particular status in the field. If you can’t pay in time and sacrifice, you can’t move ahead. So to fix this, she suggests that we need not only a “cultural change” in how we compensate those who are “time-poor”, we need to set realistic expectations for what can be accomplished in a certain amount of time. When this is established, then people can rise to the level of prestige whether they are “time-rich” or “time-poor” because they will be playing on more equitable ground.
That said – this word prestige feels inherently hierarchical and I wonder if in the post-pandemic university we might want to move away from the idea of any kind of “prestige”. Hear me out – I know this sounds pretty pie in the sky – but if we are removing barriers for those who are striving to be treated in an equitable way, and then telling them to reach for the very thing that has been setting up the barriers, aren’t we just creating even more of a problem? I realize that Saldanha is advocating that the culture of prestige needs to change to include those not deemed prestigious, but I find using the language of prestige to be problematic in general. It is such an abstract term that doesn’t seem to really hold objective meaning. This is evident even in Saldanha’s mention of the REF and the lack of quality and fairness in what is deemed “objectively” quality academic work.
Maybe I’m way off on all of this and missing the point, but I think it is well know we don’t respect those who are carers – but we aren’t changing the bigger picture issues that continue to contribute to the lack of respect. I think that addressing the very notion of “prestige” is part of starting this process and moving towards a more equitable post-pandemic university. We need to call into question what we aren’t deeming prestigious, but we also need to question who is determining what is, why we use this term, and what role it is playing in contributing to inequity. In other words, stop just healing the symptoms and focus instead on the illness.
Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be An Antiracist. One World, 2019.
Saldanha, Gabriela. “The Post-Pandemic University and the Caring Gap.” The Post Pandemic University, 22 November 2020, The post-pandemic university and the caring gap – The post-pandemic university, Accessed 1 February 2021.
Five Card Story: A Posture of Reflection
a Five Card Flickr story created by Amber Gently
flickr photo by cogdogblog
flickr photo by bionicteaching
flickr photo by Serenae
flickr photo by bionicteaching
flickr photo by bionicteaching
Being reflective about the future requires being in the proper position. I had a choice between the kitchen table, the desk in the bedroom, or the couch. I was in the mood for something that will embrace me as I think, so I sink into the couch.
It is odd. I can actually feel the rust of time settling on the way things were. But it doesn’t seem to be a damaging force – though it erodes the very surface of things – instead, it is a transformative one. One that makes things into something new and makes me want to see what will happen, not what once was.
What an ass, you might think. Thinking things aren’t decaying. Thinking the way things have become isn’t something to mourn and be sorry for. But can’t I be hopeful in mourning? Wistful for the possibility of what is to come while keeping in memory what was?
Must I wrap up my hopes like a mummified artifact, cleaned of it’s tenderness and life, and seal it in a forgotten tomb- a sacrifice to what was?
Don’t think I will forget where we came from – where I come from. I do not forget the weight of what I was born into and what legacy I have to rewrite and rework. There is so much work to do. So I sit, embraced, and reflect on where to start.
2 replies on “The Problem of Prestige”
Amber – your suspicions about “prestige” in academia get right at the heart of the matter.
Will we play the same game, or will we re-imagine the rules of the game, and play in an entirely different way?
You say you are a small picture person, but I disagree. You have an internal vision, and it will keep evolving/growing, the more you stop to see truths, and where they come from. Research and reading does play a role in the growth of empowered vision, but the instinct to look in the right direction is a gift or a talent.
I am looking forward to watching your vision and your own work blossom…
Sincerely, xo-Dr. Zamora
This is exactly the type of outloud thinking, questioning we could have hoped for here, Amber.
I’m always wondering about the way things are pitted as binaries- carers vs non carers, with prestige vs without prestige, even big picture vs small picture. Everything is so much more nuanced than that, and you got there in digging into the question of carers, and more so about who has the choices where they can be on that gradient.
So it matters not big picture vs small picture it’s that you are sharing and developing your own.
Speaking of which I love what you did with the five photo story, and I also was intrigued that the site was able to return other, different stories people have generated from the same random pictures. There is some kind of metaphor there about creativity and the human potential.
Keep on making idea pictures.