Smiling to their Faces: Race, Emotional Labour and the University

Peter Wall Institute International Research Roundtable

There a strong narrative in academia that the university is post-race, or is exempt from the daily effects of implicit bias and racism because it cultivates scientific knowledge, the life of the mind, and scholarly objectivity. In fact, academia is an environment in which racial dynamics play out in an exacerbated fashion. The academic profession is characterized by subjective standards for productivity and excellence, so that a small group of individuals determines what work is worthy of merit and what labour counts as service. Faculty of colour, notoriously underrepresented in the western academy, must therefore prove not only that their contributions are worthy within the subjective standards set out by the mostly white academy, but that they are exceptions to the racial stereotypes that inform white subjectivities to begin with, in part, by out performing their white counterparts. This results in a “cultural taxation” in which faculty of colour must take on additional labour to prove their worth, including but not limited to supporting institutional claims of ethnic representation; engaging daily with racialized and patriarchal epistemologies and hierarchies that structure the disciplines and organs of the university; acting as experts on ethno-racial groups; serially re-educating the university and mainstream audiences about structural racism and the intersectionality of race and gender; and mentoring and administering care to under-served students and minority students, especially during times of public or national crisis. As a result of this added labour—often invisible, unrecognized, and unaccounted for—careers can be stalled, job satisfaction lessened, and definitions of academic excellence narrowed. 


This workshop will be centrally concerned with making these invisible forms of labour visible, especially “emotional labor”. We want to expand and extend how we think about the emotional labour of faculty of colour, how that labour ultimately benefits educational institutions, how it shapes the lives and careers of faculty of colour, and what kinds of structural and institutional changes would be necessary to make Historically White Institutions (HWI’s) more equitable intellectual, social, and work environments. The workshop will focus on identifying the kinds of emotional labours that are extracted from faculty of colour and will conclude with discussions of how HWI’s can count and account for such labour


Dr. Ayesha S. Chaudhry, Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice UBC