Wednesday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, which is a day, according to the IWD campaign’s website, “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”
And it is because of that call to action that I am writing. Today I participated in A Day Without A Woman, and took a personal day from work, have abstained from all social media, and haven’t spent any money (although if I had, I’d have spent money with women-owned businesses…). Trevor, who is employed at a woman-owned business, has been working from home today, and has taken Roo on all of her walks, has made us lunch, and will be making us dinner. Hopefully soon.
And I was looking forward to the day as my small part in a much larger movement. I wasn’t able to march in January (although I knitted some pink pussy hats that my amazing lady friends rocked at the March on Washington), so, for me, this day felt like my own little march — my march for equality and for justice and to recognize the privilege and the duty that I have as a citizen of the United States to protest in the first place.
But yesterday, Tuesday, March 7, I had the worst day of my professional life, and I needed to change my focus and my view of what I was protesting for.
Yesterday, four of my colleagues in the counseling department at McHenry County College — four women who have served the college in every imaginable way, consistently, and frequently without thanks — were let go as part of the college’s reduction in force. Three of these four women are part of the eighteen-member faculty cohort I led through our new faculty orientation program during my first year as chair of faculty development in 2009; the fourth has worked at the college for over twenty years. One of these women leads the grief support group and the Autism support group at the college; one of these women wrote the textbook now used in the college’s freshman experience course; one of these women sat on our union’s negotiating team for six months to help craft the language under which I am now employed and under which they have now been terminated; one of these women organized an interview session last week with the candidates for the upcoming Board of Trustees vote so that our faculty could get to know them and make an informed decision. These women have helped MCC’s six thousand students with career planning, navigating college for the first time, and crisis intervention. And today, along with all of the counseling adjunct faculty members, these four women are gone.
But the students who needed them are still on campus, hoping to get help with career planning, hoping to get assistance navigating college, and hoping for someone to take their hands and help them out of crisis.
For the past three years, the college has been operating its budget at a deficit, most recently because of the lack of state funding promised to us and other public institutions caused by Governor Rauner’s budget…issues. One third of our operational money is supposed to come from the state; a third from the county; and a third from tuition. So, without that money from the state, the college was facing either raising tuition (we are currently at $104 per credit hour, while area institutions College of Lake County, Elgin Community College, and Kishwaukee College are at $112, $125, and $129 respectively) or voting on a tax levy, which they have refused to do for years.
So the college needed to put a bandage on this gaping wound, and a reduction in force for faculty, staff, and administrators seemed a necessary evil.
There is no good in this. There is no silver lining. And I know that that MCC is late to the game in terms of a RIF: CLC, Elgin, and Kish have all experienced layoffs starting in August 2016, and the board of Rock Valley College just voted to lay off twenty-eight faculty members; and it’s their second round of cuts. But that doesn’t make our situation any easier to swallow.
It doesn’t change the life-sucking reality that yesterday I tried to help my colleagues, who’d been given five minutes to collect their things and leave, pack their offices into boxes. Years and years and years of accumulated office supplies — many emblazoned with the college’s logo — and books and knick-knacks and gifts and cards from students. And when I got back to my own office and sat at my desk, looking at my collection of supplies, books, student-gifted knick-knacks and student-created paintings and writings, I grieved for my colleagues and for the students who will need them.
Today is A Day Without A Woman. It is a day we hope the world will realize how much women contribute to our society, to our collective whole. We are not better; we are not more important; but we are equal and we deserve to be treated as such.
There are many problems that need to be fixed, and today I will start work to solve them, beginning with my college. I will campaign for the two trustee candidates for my college board, Linda Liddell and Tom Allen, who I believe will best help us. I will vote for Liddell and Allen on April 4, 2017, and I will recruit as many people as I can to vote with me.
Today I started marching. Tomorrow I will continue.