GSE researcher explores the relationship between motherhood and academic work during the pandemic – UB Now: News and Views for UB faculty and staff
For working mothers in academia, looking to each other and the wisdom of their grandmothers can provide support, renewal and guidance for the future, according to new research co-authored by the researcher from the Sarah A. Robert Graduate School of Education.
Along with Wayne State University researchers Min Yu, Erica B. Edwards, Sandra M. Gonzales, and Christina P. DeNicolo, Robert recently published “To remember. (Remember. Remember: Theorizing the Process of Healing, Sustaining, and Transforming as Scholarly Mothersin the Peabody Journal of Education.
Distilled from the same research, the authors authored a chapter, “Invoking abuelita epistemologies for academic transformation in the age of coronavirus: autoethnographic reflections from a collective of scholarly mothers,” in the book “Global Feminist Autoethnographies during COVID-19 Displacements and Disruptions”.
Associate Professor at GSE, Robert studies the relationship between gender and politics, focusing on gender inequalities in educational settings. Her work often leads her to explore the issues that women face in their roles in educational institutions.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought many of these issues to light.
“Mothers are the first educators of their children. But with the pandemic, women have become much more than just first teachers. They became co-teachers with professional educators,” says Robert. “They have become, in some cases, fully responsible for the upbringing and welfare of their children.
According to Robert, the work of educators had already intensified in recent years and then been exacerbated by COVID-19, especially for women. As circumstances worsened, her research shifted and she began to explore the experiences of educators navigating motherhood and teaching within old and new policies during the pandemic.
She decided to contact Yu, a former mentee, to talk about their own experiences as mothers and researchers. Yu then invited fellow Wayne State Edwards, Gonzales and DeNicolo to join the conversation.
They decided to meet virtually and record their conversations every week.
Describing themselves as a multiracial group of “scholar mothers” – a term that merges the two identities into one – they used their time together to discuss their families, their thoughts, their fears and their work to “deal with out loud in a collective form,” Robert explains. “It’s really an old-school, feminist, awareness-raising band.”
“We have not set agendas, nor planned how to support each other,” the authors write. “Yet our dialogues have nurtured us in ways we could not have anticipated. As we spoke, we identified the need to transform the institutional messages that produce shame and disrupt the boundaries between our mother-self and our scholar-self.
They used a circle methodology and a framework of abuelita epistemologies to deal with their experiences and share the ancestral wisdom passed down from their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. They have worked to heal the structural racism and sexism of academia and to harmonize the relationship between motherhood and professional work. And reflecting on the memories, sayings and practices of their ancestors, they began to replenish themselves.
The weekly get-togethers helped Robert remember recipes his grandmothers used to make, like die-cut cookies and Sunday morning egg and cheese sandwiches. “Their meals were predictable, but they taught me the value of collecting during tougher times, managing food and limited resources calmly, continuing those rituals around food – predictability, gathering – in the midst of disease, war, violence, riots,” Robert writes.
These memories inspired her to pass on the lessons of her grandmothers to her children. At the start of the pandemic, she taught them how to cook and cook, and sent meals, herbs and vegetables to those in need.
The encounters and research of Robert’s scholarly mother also had an impact on his approach as a teacher. She decided to focus on what matters most to her students. “I really thought about how I organize the learning in my classes, so that students have more time with other students, but also that what they do is deeply connected to who they are. and what they want in the course and the projection they see for themselves in the future.
Two years after their first meeting, the scholar mothers continue to gather. They check in to talk about their family, work responsibilities, and collaboration opportunities.
For Robert, having these conversations and continuing to conduct this research remains crucial.
“We are apparently overtaking COVID. But in reality, if you ask any woman with school-aged children what life is like, it’s still very complicated… COVID life continues to affect women with children,” says -she.
“And ask any educator. COVID is still having a significant impact on our lives too… Not everyone is a college professor, but women who have children and have a relationship with schools or universities still experience it.
“We haven’t come up with policies that help address the very deep ways that women, educators, scholarly mothers have been impacted by COVID and still are,” Robert says. “That’s where we really need to shift our focus now.”