BIPOC Employees Do Not Want to Return to Campus

What We Can Do to Support Them

COVID-19 and the reinstituting of campus life for the upcoming fall semester have made work from home/work from anywhere (WFH/WFA) a mega topic within higher education. Yet, there is a significant subtopic fueling a great deal of digital discourse, and it appears few institutions are willing to put plans in place to address it.

Chances are, if you manage or work with remote-based employees who identify as BIPOC or with other marginalized communities (such as those with disabilities, LGBTQ, non-binary), they have little or no interest in returning to on-campus workplaces.

Ever.

Why?

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, for many marginalized staff members, working remotely has meant a dramatic reduction in subtle and not-so-subtle workplace discriminatory practices from peers and managers, ranging from bullying to microaggressions and ableism. This employee group thus broadly communicates a sense of relief not to have to engage with on-campus, work-related ugliness

One could rightfully argue that pandemic weariness is race and gender-expression neutral. Additionally, staff of every ethnicity appear to desire hybrid working models that support work/life balance. I concur there are truths within these points.

However, there is no denying the stark reality of the racial divide among staff regarding WFH/WFA. This racial divide is so striking that I believe it is a crisis in the making for higher education workforces, as we are already seeing significant impacts in the private sector. I fear that we risk losing years, if not decades, of higher education’s statistically small yet important workforce diversity gains if we do not address it sooner rather than later.

Given where we are at this remarkable time in history, the question for you (as a peer or manager) is, what are you willing to do to support marginalized staff? 

My suggestion is to start by asking them what you can do to help improve the workplace experience. Brace yourself for a tough conversation that may raise such issues as your perceived bystander behavior, participation in microaggressions, or devaluing diversity topics. Yet, I urge you to lean into these discussions to learn and transform rather than veer into defensiveness. When discussing staffing models, work together on establishing new team working norms that are human centered. Take the time to understand how cultural variation exists within your group. Be open to continuing remote work unless a staff member’s work functions can only be achieved through a standard five-day-a-week on-campus schedule. Finally, approach remote working models as diversity initiatives.

Colleagues, workplace discrimination in higher education and its damaging, long-range impact on recruitment and retention will not self-correct. We must approach this issue head on or prepare for mass departures from our sector over the next several years. We cannot support and sustain higher education without staff that reflects the nation’s and the world’s rapidly changing demographics.

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Interested in contributing to TIE? Send an email to Deb V. at Choice dvillavicencio@ala-choice.org with your topic idea.


Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.

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