A visiting professor at Southern Illinois University is advocating for universities to provide bereavement leave to allow black faculty time to grieve and process trauma following triggering racist news and experiences.
Angel Jones, a visiting assistant professor in the department of educational leadership at the college, questioned why black educators are expected to return to work and act like nothing is wrong after such events.
“I am a proud educator who loves what I do,” Jones wrote in a piece published by Times Higher Education. “But before that, I am a Black woman. A Black woman who is expected to return to ‘business as usual’ on Monday after seeing a member of my community murdered on Friday.”
The critical race theory scholar wrote about how she emailed her students in January following the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old black man, to check on them without allowing herself time to process the horrific news and trauma.
“Although it is customary for employees to receive support and understanding while grieving the loss of a loved one, the same care is rarely shown to the Black community when we lose someone in horrific and traumatic ways,” Jones said. “Where’s our Black bereavement leave?”
The professor said she often puts her students’ needs before her own, but that universities should do more to support faculty of color — more than just sending out a campus-wide email in the wake of tragedies — in order to retain them.
“History has shown us that Black educators often have to exert additional emotional energy to pick up the slack the academy leaves behind after it sends its obligatory, and often performative, statement to the campus community,” she wrote.
In order to help black faculty members, Jones said colleges should do two things — offer counseling guided in race relations and allow time to grieve.
She said universities should fund counseling for black faculty to work through “racial battle fatigue,” or RBF, a term that refers to “the psychological and physiological consequences of experiencing racism.”
Racial battle fatigue can cause anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts as well as elevated heart rate, tension headaches, and stomach ulcers, according to Jones.
“Free counseling services, by culturally competent counselors familiar with identifying and addressing RBF, should be available at all times, not just when our trauma has been televised,” she wrote.
In addition, black educators should be provided the space to grieve — whether that means a day off, the option to work from home, and/or an extension on deadlines.
“Some may have thought I was joking when I mentioned Black bereavement leave, but I wasn’t. We need space and time to grieve without having to explain or defend it,” Jones said.
Since her article garnered attention, the professor said she has received an influx of hate mail from “racist trolls.”
She posted some of the vulgar, sexist, and racist emails she received on Twitter, noting that the senders were only proving her point about the weight of racial trauma.
“Thousands of people are in their feelings because they’ve drawn clickbait conclusions about an article that I doubt they even read,” Jones tweeted. “Black bereavement is a mental health day to deal with the psychological consequences of anti-Black racism. Don’t like it? Then end racism.”