I had every intention of making this winter break restful–not checking email, not working, and reading a lot. Unfortunately, I had manuscript revisions to complete and given the state of the world, they took almost the entirety of break. So rather than rest, I worked.
I recognize that the idea of having rest is one of privilege–while academics are workers and are exploited in their own ways, the exploitation looks and feels very different than the way other laborers are exploited. This post is not intended to diminish their struggles; instead I want to draw attention to how academics participate in their own labor exploitation and why we shouldn’t.
Breaks from work are necessary. They help us re-charge, they allow us to think differently about our work, they give our bodies a chance to relax. All of these things are needed for our well-being. This is why I get frustrated when people expect/encourage academics to use semester break to catch-up. I give my research assistants that time off, telling them that I’m not going to look at their work during the break so they shouldn’t do it! For example, I had a student reach out to me three days before Christmas, because a potential academic employer wanted a recommendation letter….by January 3rd. This is unfair to everyone–the student who might not have letters in time because faculty aren’t checking email over winter break, the faculty member who needs to work during their time off. I did it because I didn’t want the student to be harmed, but I resented it.
And I do not want to hear “this is how it is” or “you are so lucky you even get a break.” Both of these are tools employed to prevent people from questioning workplace expectations and are meant to maintain the (unhealthy) status quo. I can acknowledge that my workplace offers more protection and security than others and also acknowledge that there are parts of academic work culture that are inherently problematic and need changing.
I do want to note that given the events of the last month (or really, since the election), it is hard to be restful in any capacity. So it is possible that even if I hadn’t worked all break, I’d still start this semester from a place of tired.
What I do know is that lack of rest in our workplaces should not be something we accept anymore and I’m going to think about ways to change that in my own corner of academia.