Nice Work

All of us depend, in early age and often at the end of life, on the care of others. We are shaped by individual, consequential but highly contingent acts of care, or their absence. To think about care is to shuttle back and forth between social totality and the irreducible complexity of individual needs, from feeding or washing to dignity or meaningful attention, explains James Butler in a new LRB essay.

A friend shared James Butler’s recent essay in the London Review of Books, “This Concerns Everyone.” For me it was a compact UK complement to Jean Tronto’s Who Cares? How to Reshape a Democratic Politics. Both pieces ask readers to cut across economic, moral, emotional, and social approaches to care so we can do better at addressing the crisis of care that is everywhere and everything all at once, so to speak. And yes, I am writing a review of a review article that points you to even more articles.

“This Concerns Everyone” reviews several books and leads with worry about how aging and disabled people are cared for in England; other forms of family care are in the scope of the piece. Butler covers the harms of private equity and corporate approaches to the business of care that we should make front-and-center in the U.S. (as Rose Batt and Eileen Appelbaum are doing). He presents what one might call an inequality as policy (an oldie but goodie that helps with this idea) argument about how government austerity has reduced access to care and increased suffering, by design.

Butler writes:

It would be a failure if the only answers sought were economic. The problem of care raises questions that lie outside the typical bounds of policy work…. What degree of indignity, pain, degradation or abuse are we prepared to see the people around us suffer?

Yikes. He goes on:

And what, if we are unable or unwilling to do it ourselves, are we prepared to pay for the work most intimate and essential to human life? Politicians may not wish to acknowledge these issues, but circumstances will force them on us regardless.

In short: Care is about suffering, care is about money, and care is about labor. Butler illustrates the labor conditions for a growing UK care workforce with diminishing wages: 

One case recently investigated by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority found nine Indian care workers in the UK on student visas, sleeping in cold and cramped conditions, with evidence their recruiters controlled their wages. Coworkers had raised the alarm after noticing them eating leftovers from residents’ plates.

In the U.S. context, we understand these conditions to be a form of anti-Blackness. See, for example, a key essay on  #BlackWomenBest regarding Black women workers during COVID.

Now: hold that “systemic reliance on diminished power” of targeted groups in your mind as you turn to his next point: Butler asks us to consider seriously the existential, enigmatic place that care takes as both work and love. To face that question–the question of feeling about care work–is not easy. It is irritating. 

The irritating bit comes from the strategic and naturalized way that care is made to be sentimental and sweet:

Key [an author he profiled] cared for people with psychosis, and confesses to his naivety when he started the job. He detects a similar naivety in artists or professors for whom care is a fantasy of universal benevolence, a weakly secularised Christian caritas. Where’s the wiping up of blood or piss, the frustration and resentment, the sheer exhaustion? It would be easier if the fantasy were baseless, but the attention to the individual that care work requires does generate love, of a kind, sometimes. It isn’t a reward – that would be better pay – but a contradiction in the work itself, not something that can be reasoned out of it. ‘The love I feel in fleeting bursts at work is painful and complicated,’ Key writes, ‘and it would probably be better to not feel it. It’s a job. I scrub a lot of toilets.’

What to do? I’ve been doing this reading as a Sociology of Families professor–and as a person who needs care and gives care. I am looking for innovations to help college students know our subject beyond charts, graphs, or ethnographies. I’m also asking them to know themselves. In my Families classes, my mainly working-class students face this joint dilemma: They think about care and the realities of the double- and triple-shift lives of caring, working (often in caregiver jobs), and schooling on the one hand, and that commonplace sentimentality of care (referenced above) on the other. We can’t get anywhere without finding a way to recognize all of it.

Some students have taken the opportunity to join a photography project about wrkxfmly created by Working Assumptions. Photography allows students to go beyond the measurement of all things social that we typically do in sociology. Through photography, students are guided to see and share each unique case of the contradiction between the pain and the love of care described by Butler.

Where “This Concerns Everyone” isn’t on point for the U.S., it is often as revealing as where it is: Butler bemoans the slide away from a social safety net system in the U.K.; here in the U.S., there has hardly been one to slide away from. Despite the pandemic, we still have no federal requirement for paid leave. The toll on women is pronounced. A colleague recently asked me if there’s a chance that care can be or ever will be elevated–in economics and in culture? It was a rational question that made me sad. I think she was asking if we can get more people to see that it has never been a choice

In line with that, Butler wrote:

[Another author] counterposes the logic of care and the logic of choice, arguing that a narrow focus on choice can amount to patient neglect. The reality of care exposes our dependence on others and shows how constrained, even illusory, our choices are.

The sad part of the “will care ever be elevated?” is that we face care one way or another. Getting a glimpse of my father’s last few days in hospice last week—and sitting with his wife’s labors for him, for herself, for countless others during his long and yet sharp decline—was a reminder that the need for care and the human cost of care are as inescapable as his death was.

Will care ever be elevated and centered in our politics to reflect how it is central to our lives? Essays like Butler’s on the U.K., the monograph by Tronto on the U.S., other pieces linked here, and even my students working through it all using photography make me think: maybe? I can’t show you my students’ work today. Expert and artist visions of the enigmas of care, though, are here, where we recognize the tensions Butler describes in a 24-hour daycare center and here in an intimate portrayal of those same tensions in the ordinary care of children at home during the pandemic. To be continued.

I didn’t start out wanting to be a gun violence expert, and, arguably, I am not one. But violent events keep repeating and hitting closer and closer to home. My neighborhood grocery store, King Soopers, made headlines 2 years ago when 10 neighbors were killed there. Right now, we are focused on the devastating events in Buffalo and Uvalde and a shooting that killed 4 in Tulsa just yesterday. I can think of little else. I am also increasingly aware of the arguments about gun violence being caused by mental health issues. As a clinical psychologist and recently retired Teaching Professor at CU Boulder, my strategy for dealing with topics that make me uncertain is to look at the science. Today I’ve asked myself to do what I ask my students to do: Look at the science and beware the b.s.  

What are the facts about the supposed correlation between mental health and gun violence? Here’s what I found:

Over and over again, scientific studies have demonstrated that people with mental illness are more frequently victims of violence, rather than perpetrators of violence. Mental illness is not a reliable predictor of violence towards others, but is a predictor of suicide. People with serious mental illness are somewhat more likely than people without such disorders to commit violence, but that rate was only 2.9% in one large scale study. The risk increases to 10% if substance abuse is added. That means 90% to 97% of folks with serious mental health disorders do not commit violence. And some mental health symptoms, including particular symptoms of depression, are associated with lower rates of violence.

Mass murderers are a small but clearly very concerning group. A 2018 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) study of 63 active-shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 found that 25% of shooters were known to have been diagnosed with a mental illness of some kind, ranging from minor to more serious disorders. But, and this is important, the FBI study concluded that diagnosed mental illness is not a very specific predictor of violence of any type, let alone targeted violence.

In a country that already stigmatizes mental illnesses, blaming gun violence on mental illness further stigmatizes a population that is already struggling. The research demonstrates that it just not helpful from a predictive or explanatory standpoint. But there are other factors, including social, economic, and life history that are contributing factors to violence, including: 

  • violent/angry thoughts; history of violence (not a mental health disorder)
  • being in an unstable life situation (not a mental health disorder)
  • being under stress, such as being bullied, going through divorce, job loss, and unable to cope (also not a mental health disorders)
  • history of physical or sexual abuse (not a mental health disorder)
  • disinhibition (that could be related to substance abuse, or even neurological immaturity) (not a mental health disorder)

Another factor is domestic violence – also not mental illness. We need to address the fact that 3 out of 5 mass shootings have been DV related and 68% either killed at least one partner or family member or had a history of DV.

A recent study reported that tremendous stressors (fear of death, social isolation, economic hardship, general uncertainty) from COVID-19 seem to have led to an uptick in mass shootings.

But here’s where the mental health and gun violence argument really falls apart: When we look at rates of mental health disorders around the globe about 1 in 7 people have one or more mental or substance abuse disorders. The US is no different – the rates of mental illness in US are comparable to rates in many parts of Europe, and a little lower than Australia, actually, but the rate of gun violence in our society is much higher: 25 times higher than in countries with similar economic development and similar social conditions.    

What’s the difference? Access to guns. This access makes our rates of violence so much more alarming and lethal.

This is not to say that mental health professionals can’t be helpful in this important and tragic problem in our society. How could mental health professionals help? 

  • Advocate for increased access to mental health intervention for people who ARE in distress before violence or suicidality emerges. Ideally, these services could be available in schools, and require a significant increase in funding for school counselors and psychologists.
  • Move towards models to accurately evaluate risk of violence. This tricky topic has been a focus of many scientific studies recently, because earlier efforts in this line of research were hampered by lack of funding for many years.
  • Help individuals cope with after-effects of violence. Seventy-one percent of adults experienced fear of mass shootings as “a significant source of stress in their lives,”, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association.
  • Help direct survivors of gun violence who exhibit posttraumatic symptoms and may need support for years to come.
  • Help shape policy that can alleviate stressors on a broader scale.
  • Voice, publicly and repeatedly, that mental health disorders are not THE culprit. They may sometimes be involved, but not in a reliable or predictable way. Instead, social, economic, cultural and psychological variables are in play here. The one thing that all of these instances of gun violence have in common is the availability of guns. Public policy and local ordinances must address this fundamental issue. 

So, that’s my summary of the mental illness argument.  It is a red herring that some folks hope will distract us from the real issue, which is ridiculous production of, access to and support for guns in the public square. I’ll keep studying. But my time—and yours I hope—is dedicated to action.

Dr. Tina Pittman Wagers is a clinical psychologist and Teaching Professor Emerita from CU Boulder. She taught classes in abnormal psychology, women’s mental health, and evidence-based psychological treatment for many years, and has also published in the area of psychosocial ramifications of Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD).


On March 24, 2020, about 2 months after the pandemic really started to make a difference in the United States, I started to experience symptoms of anxiety, or so I thought. I was experiencing shortness of breath and a heavy chest; I could barely walk around the block without causing severe shortness of breath. Although this a common, and potentially deadly sign of COVID-19, I chalked my symptoms up to anxiety; I convinced myself that I was experiencing a panic attack. Constantly. FOR 7 DAYS STRAIGHT. I truly believed I was having a constant panic attack for a week straight, even when I was awoken in the middle of the night with such shortness of breath that I was afraid I couldn’t breathe anymore; I believed it was “just anxiety”.

On April 1, 2020, I received a phone call from the Boulder Public Health Department asking how my 14-day quarantine was going and if I had developed any symptoms. So many thoughts began racing through my mind: Why on earth would they care? Aren’t they busy? Why do they care about people who don’t even have COVID-19? Maybe they are just trying to connect with people? Maybe they are trying to conduct a study on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people? What makes me so special that they are calling me to find out how I am doing?

Eventually, I said, “the shelter-at-home is going okay, I mean, I’m keeping busy since I’m still working”- GASP. The lady on the other line literally gasped.

She stopped me and asked, “Ma’am, you’re… still… working?”.

Well, yeah?

I responded and told her yes, “I work at a coffee shop and I have been working even though we have closed most of our stores”.

Her voice went silent and she eventually said, “Ma’am… you’re supposed to be at home… in quarantine… self-isolating, as you were directly exposed to COVID-19 and potentially have it.”

This was the first time I had been told about the exposure. Apparently, at my last doctors visit, I was directly exposed to a receptionist who later tested positive for COVID-19. I was floored. WHY DIDN’T I KNOW?

On April 2, 2020, I was tested for COVID-19 after explaining to my primary doctor that, although I’m sure it’s just anxiety, I have been experiencing shortness of breath and a heavy chest. She asked how long the symptoms were happening and how often I was experiencing them. I explained to her that I have been experiencing these symptoms for about a week and it was constant. I continued to tell her that I cannot walk around the block without being so short of breath that I am literally gasping for air, but again, it is probably just anxiety. I mean, really, would a healthy 21-year-old female catch the coronavirus? And even so, why would it be the coronavirus when I have so much stress; I just moved all my classes online, I am graduating in less than a month, I can no longer see my boyfriend after he graduates from basic training- there’s really no reason to stress about this being the coronavirus. She believed me as well. She was convinced, just as much as me, that it was probably just anxiety and there was nothing to worry about, but, better safe than sorry.

On April 6, 2020, my results came back. I tested positive for COVID-19.

This isn’t new, there is no secret, there is no surprise; women are treated differently. Women have expectations, mainly dictated by men, to not claim they are hurting, struggling, or sick. When women are actually sick, or hurting, or struggling, they are thought to be just emotional; no matter what it is, it can always be explained by their emotional state. Heart attack? Probably just anxiety or a panic attack. Autoimmune disorder? Just depression. Stroke? It’s anxiety. Their physically sickness rarely exists because it can always be explained by their mental sickness; mental health issues. COVID-19 is no exception.

We have seen it throughout history, from the time Ancient Egypt coined the term “hysteria” claiming that women’s “issues” were all because of their mental health. To Plato claiming the uterus is sad and troubled when it does not join with the male in the act of giving birth. To Aristotle claiming women can be released from their “issues” if only they participate in Maenads, the act of wine and orgies. To Hippocrates using the term hysteria to claim epilepsy was just a woman experiencing mental health issues and their uterus was just restless and poisonous due to a lack of sexual activity with a man. To Sigmund Freud believing women with sickness were just experiencing “penis envy”, the act of being so devastated and disheartened that you do not have a penis that you develop a sickness. To now, where women are still experiencing the belief that their actual, true, physical sickness is just a mental health issue and their body is punishing them for being a woman.

In a time of crisis, we are expected to keep calm, keep our cool. But how can we? How are we supposed to not panic during a time like the COVID-19 pandemic? Why are we expected to believe our symptoms of COVID-19 are just mental health issues? And more importantly, why are our symptoms simply brushed off as mental health issues? This type of mentality is dangerous, especially for women, as it mainly pertains to them. We have created women who are scared to express their symptoms because they will be downplayed to mental health. In a world as uncertain as now, this is the last thing we should be allowing women to do.

When I was experiencing signs of COVID-19 I simply brushed off these symptoms as anxiety; I believed the shortness of breath I was experiencing while walking around the block was simply anxiety and stress. This is the world that has been created for me. We have created a world where women are constantly downplaying their symptoms of real issues because of fear to the point that I was afraid to address real symptoms I was experiencing in fear that I would not be believed. Time and time again, I have seen doctors and physicians who have downplayed my serious medical issues to mental health. For example, when my body was physically rejecting my recently placed IUD, I was told that I simply just had “bad cramps” and they will go away in a few days. They did not. I ended up back in the hospital a few days later being told the same thing. It wasn’t until a doctor took me seriously and realized the “bad period cramps” I was experiencing was actually my body rejecting my IUD. And I am not the only one. Women everywhere have stories of similar experiences; my mother for example. When she was actively having a heart attack, she was told that she was experiencing a panic attack because her symptoms only included nausea.

THIS. NEEDS. TO. CHANGE. We cannot allow women, and men, and anyone else in between, to allow women to brush off their symptoms of serious disorders, especially in a time of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2020, women know damn well between the difference of physical health and mental health.

A coda: As of April 21, 2020, I am fully recovered and no more symptoms; no heavy chest, no more shortness of breath, no more anxiety. Although I am fully recovered, my resentment and anger towards the healthcare system still stands. I am still angry at the way I have been treated, and in the way I have allowed myself to be treated, but eventually we will know how to change this, how to do better. Right now, I am currently staying away from work but will continue back after graduation. As of now, as many other members of the class of 2020 in my position, I am in search of a “grown-up” job to jumpstart my career. However, that seems far fetched; in times like now, I am so uncertain that a career-related job is even real, if there’s even a possibility of a job when we are beginning this deep health and economic crisis.

Abby Wikholm is a 21-year old senior at the University of Colorado-Boulder graduating this May 2020. She studies psychology and sociology, with a concentration on criminal justice and mental health. She aims to become a lawyer, to be a voice for the poor, disadvantaged, and disenfranchised. Her training and experience have taught her the prevalence of mental illness and how it affects individuals as well as their families and friends. She just joined twitter, so follow her at @WikholmAbby and support the Class of 2020.


Jessica Fulton / The Joint Center

Revisit this March 2018 interview with Jessica Fulton to celebrate her new position at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies as their Economic Policy Director. As their twitter description puts it the Joint Center is currently focused on the future of work and congressional staff diversity. Jessica generously gave her time last spring to Framingham State University students seeking to learn about careers in public policy for Black women.

Last month I got to interview Jessica Fulton via Skype to learn more about her career and her work. She is the External Relations Director at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Equitable Growth is a research and analysis organization that is dedicated to finding ways to promote broad-based economic growth. Before Jessica was at EG, she was the Outreach Director at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, an organization that focuses on budget issues for the District of Columbia. Jessica is an alum of the University of Chicago, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Economics, and of DePaul University, where she earned a Masters in Economic Policy Analysis. Our conversation—and the interview below—focused on my desire to get some pointers on how more young women of color can make a difference in social policy.

EO: What are your top pieces of advice to young minority women seeking to work in social policy?

JF: If you’re able, try to get an internship in DC so that you’re able to learn more about how things work here. There are a few organizations and Members of Congress that pay their interns, and that’s obviously ideal, but many don’t. If you’re unable to find a paid internship, and can’t afford to take an unpaid one, consider alternate ways of getting into policy work. I know people who got their start by working in a paid position on a campaign of a candidate they really believed in. Others found entry level assistant positions to get their foot in the door. You can also consider getting an unpaid internship and supplementing it with a part time job, which is what I did.

Also, it’s much easier to get a job in DC if you’re actually in DC. It’s really expensive to live here, but if you can come sleep on a friend’s couch for a bit, you can set up interviews, informational conversations, and networking opportunities that could get you some meaningful connections. You should also try applying for jobs with a local address on your resume if possible.

EO: How do you advise people to zero in on areas of focus?

JF: I think one of the most important things that you can do is to start to get to know people who are working on the topics that excite you most. Ask people you know for introductions to people who might be willing to sit down with you to do informational interviews. If you don’t have connections already, think about your networks. Are there alumni from your university who might be willing to speak with you? Do your professors know people who work in social policy? Talking to those people about what they do and what their days look like can be a great way to figure out what you want to do.

You should also try to sign up for newsletters from the particular policy organizations or Members of Congress that you’re interested in. That way, you can get to know more about the topics different organizations work on and what they actually do. This could be helpful in future interviews, but also may help you to figure out which specific issue areas you have a passion for.

EO: Why are young minority women so important to the work of social policy?  

JF: A good number of social policy issues disproportionately affect people of color, yet there are usually very few of us in the room when the problems or the solutions are being discussed. And while things are slowly getting better, often women of color, especially black women, aren’t at the decision making tables even if they are part of a policy organization. I think that’s actually really important. For example, when I walk into a room, I’m bringing my education and work experience, but I’m also bringing my life experience and that of my friends and family members. The other folks in the room have important perspectives as well, but my friends, family members, and even myself, are more likely to have experienced certain obstacles and situations that are more common in minority communities. So when I’m thinking about problems and solutions, I can’t help but to look at it through that lens as well. And I think in the end, when you consider how any kind of problem solving works, the most effective solution is one where you’ve considered a diverse set of perspectives to arrive at your conclusion.

Jessica Fulton is now Economic Policy Director for the Joint Center.  You can follow her on twitter at @JessicaJFulton, and follow them on @JointCenter. Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a 2018 graduate of Framingham State University in Sociology with a minor in Political Science.

And by she, I mean Eunice Owusu, a 2018 Framingham State University graduate. She walked across the stage, shook hands with the president of the institution while her family, friends, and plenty of others who look up to her, support her, and love her, cheered her on. Currently, Eunice is a cheerleading coach for South High Community School, building and creating a group that fosters a positive energy for supporting all of the teams they are motivating at every game. Filling the world and the people around her with positivity is only one of Eunice’s many strengths. Eunice is extremely talented in the art of makeup and began her very own business, Hint of Ebeauty, creating wigs. However, her passions do not stop there. Her interest in Family Law and Policy drives her future for changing the lives of low-income families and immigrant families through looking at the policies that effect these populations. Because of this passion, Eunice plans on attending graduate school next fall. In addition, because of what we learned in our course studying careers of Black women in public policy in Washington, D.C. I had the opportunity to learn more of who Eunice is, who Eunice was, and everything that Eunice will be:

TC: What did you learn through your independent study: From Margin to Center—women of color in policy? Why did you take the course and what did you learn about yourself?

EO: One of the biggest things I learned in this study was that in order to be the most confident Black woman, you cannot be afraid of your own voice. There is so much importance and weight in speaking up for those who cannot be at the table, when the table is full of those can never relate. The very few Black women proves that there is in fact racial disparities in American work life. But it is one thing to sit and complain rather than to become informed and aware. To be informed and aware is to make sure that our faces are necessary and are holding positions that lead to redirection of policy to benefit evenly and equally for everyone while bringing justice. Black women in policy such as Janelle Jones, Valerie Wilson, Angela Hanks, Misha Hill, Cherrie Bucknor, and Jessica Fulton all agree that educated Black women are needed and should not be afraid to speak up. For me, in the past, I shied away and became passive because of the fear of being “too passionate” or “too angry” in situations where my voice would have secured the change I wanted to see. It was important to me to see what women from similar backgrounds as my own did to get where they are today. This study became my motivating push to follow their footsteps while creating my own path into policy work.

The study was formulated by my professor, Dr. Virginia Rutter, who helped us to connect with Black women doing policy work in DC. I took this class to help me really figure out what I wanted to do in my graduate studies and what kind of career I can make out of my Sociology and Political Science background. It helped me understand what policy work actually is and what kind of things go into it on a day to day basis. To see first-hand what kinds of people are part of organizations such as the Economic Policy Institute and DC Fiscal Policy Institute really helped my understanding of what life after grad school could be like. To me, there is no formula or handbook on how to be a successful woman after college. The truth is that months after graduating from Framingham State, I’m still trying to figure out how to get to the next step. This study made me realize that my presence, my knowledge, and awareness of the community I come from can speak volumes in public policy.

TC: How do you feel your identity, as a Black woman, has impacted your experience in college?

 EO: My identity as a Black woman impacted my experience in college because of the fact that I knew that I was not “cut from the same cloth” as others. In other words, being an African woman in college that represented my entire family, immigrants, and the ones that live in my country, Ghana, college was less of finding myself and more of making sure I was making all the ones counting on me proud. That pressure alone was my motivation to make sure I was soaking up all the knowledge I could for the ones in family that didn’t make it past their first few years of high school; some, their first years of junior high. As a Black first-gen woman, my layers made me excited to study the main things that were affecting my family first hand: immigration, education, and income inequality.

My identity as a Black woman impacted my experience in college because it framed my passions in my studies. It motivated what classes I took and what kinds of organizations I joined. My dark skin tone combined with my intelligence shows people that not only are Black women capable, our ideas are worth listening to. While attending a white institution with undercover racial bias and people who always underestimate the minorities who attend the school, I was able to understand not only what it means to be a Black woman but what it means to be myself. From freshman year to post grad, I no longer find myself sitting in in the back and listening to others. I have become a brave voice potential of change in the communities I am a part of.

TC: What would you tell high school Eunice?

EO: High school Eunice was my most indecisive self. This is because I battled back and forth in whether or not I wanted to pursue family law or do something STEM related. I became the only one taking classes like human geography while my friends took classes like physics. Coming from an African family, the expectation to become a doctor or engineer or anything STEM related was the ideal and that discouraged me from following the beat of my own drum. I would tell high school Eunice that there is nothing wrong with making a career out of passions. There was no need to seek the approval of others because it didn’t matter what field I chose. What mattered for me was whether or not it fed my want to help others battling things that I witnessed and went through, coming from a single-parent-immigrant household. I would tell high school Eunice that nothing comes easy, but it will make sense in the end. I would tell her that studying something that you are passionate about is extremely important because that determines your ability to not only retain information but to apply just about anything.

Tasia Clemons is a 2018 graduate at FSU in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. She is currently a Hall Director and in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program at Canisius College. Follow Tasia at @TasiaClemons. Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a 2018 graduate of Framingham State University in Sociology with a minor in Political Science.

Tasia Clemons at May 2018 Framingham State University graduation

Let me introduce you. Tasia Clemons is a new graduate student at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, where she studies Higher Education and Student Affairs. She also fills the position of Resident Hall Director where she will continue to make difference in people’s lives, one resident at a time. Tasia Clemons has been a huge advocate for students of color at Framingham State University where she earned her Bachelors in Sociology and also has a YouTube channel where through this, she fights and discusses action for various things that surround being a person of color. Her blog, “Brown Skin Education” follows her personal account of colorism, racism, and motivation for individuals who look just like us. Her message is this: We are capable. That is what our entire research on black women in policy and the lack thereof is about. Showing others that black women are not only capable, but we are important catalysts of progression. She and I worked together in our special course studying careers of Black women in public policy in Washington, D.C. and we put together some of our culminating thoughts.

 EO: This past year you were the lead advisor (Administrative Resident Assistant or ARA) in the largest residence hall at Framingham State. How did your identity as a Black woman affect your experience?

TC: What was different about this past year compared to my other three years at Framingham State was that one, I was an ARA. This brought more responsibilities and more authority. However, another difference was how hyperaware I was of my Blackness. There had been an abundance of things happening in our society, on our campus, and around the United States that had negatively affected how I saw myself in my position. On top of worrying that I was actually being listened to during meetings (where I was one of only two people of color out of seven) I had to make sure that all of the race-related issues that were weighing down on me in the U.S. did not affect my position. Day in and day out, thinking about being an ARA and working closely with University Police but constantly seeing police shooting POC’s everyday sometimes put a strain on me. Making sure that those I hired reflected our campus community was a priority. The diversity on leadership teams was limited, and I wholeheartedly wanted to make sure that POCs felt comfortable entering into a residence hall.

Working tirelessly day in and day out to not only prove to myself that I could do this position, but prove to those around me that I deserved to 1.) be in college and 2.) be an ARA left me, on some nights, burnt out. I had to make sure that when I spoke to an employee, a student, my supervisors, and more, that I used a certain tone and voice to make sure they would not assume the worst about me before I even had the chance to prove myself. However, after dealing with all of those factors, it was what Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and Economy (PREE), said in one of our interviews that really changed my views as I move towards my new position as a Hall Director at Canisius College. We had the opportunity to ask Valerie about if she felt the need to prove herself when she entered all white spaces. Did she feel as though she had to do so much extra to ensure that they knew she was capable? Valerie said that we should just allow our work to speak for itself; that I should not be fighting for others’ approval or exhausting myself to prove to my white counterparts that I am capable because undoubtedly, due to the biases and prejudices that sometimes people are unaware that they have, they are going to have some negative thoughts about me because of my skin color.

Because of this independent study, I understand that isn’t entirely their fault. Every person has preconceived judgements on an individual and that is hard to admit. It’s just the matter of being able to catch your prejudices, reevaluate your judgements, and understand where they come from is what is important. Systems must change, but people must change too. We did not get these prejudices out of thin air—they are systemic. They came from the world around us—but it is up to each individual to actually think critically about why they have the thoughts they do and how they can work on being an ally to change the thoughts of others. I just have to continue to do what I love—fight for the rights of marginalized students and continue to do the work to help them rise. The position, being a Hall Director and more importantly being a Black woman in a position of power in a predominately white space, will already challenge me enough. I should be challenging myself simply to do better than I did yesterday, not to make sure my white counterparts aren’t assuming the worst. My work will speak for itself.

EO: How did this study alter your views on life after college and Black women with careers?

TC: For starters, this course definitely made me more confident in myself. Having the resources and ability to speak to Black women about their careers helped me envision myself being a mentor to a young girl or woman who looks like me. Although the women we interviewed I saw as celebrities, speaking with them reminded me that they faced, and still do, hardships and struggle. It made me see that it is mostly about the perseverance and the resilience that you have that pushes you through. In addition, the support system that I actively choose could make or break life after college. Although I will continue to turn to those who helped me get to the graduate school I am attending, helped mold my future, and guided me towards chasing my dreams, once I get to my next stop in my journey I must find the people there who are 100 percent fighting for me. I was able to hear about all of the external forces that try to push Black women down through this study and get advice as to how to handle it, but I must make sure I am surrounding myself with people who make me feel nothing but good about myself. The society has already spent years trying to push me down, it is better I am surrounded by those who want me to rise up.

EO: How did this independent study help you in your decision to pursue higher education and student affairs in grad school?

TC: Since we focused on Black women in social policy, it reminded me that there is an abundance of policies that must be addressed. In a phrase, I learned that inequality is policy. Although I am passionate about people who are incarcerated, low-income families, low-income housing, and so many more policies that affect those populations, I have had the opportunity to enforce policies at my undergraduate institution as an ARA. With the mixture of being an ARA, being a sociologist, and being a Black woman, I started to question the policies at all higher education institutions. This independent study pushed for me to think more critically about how higher education policies affect all marginalized groups at an institution. Although I can continue to do programs addressing issues surrounding racism, speak to students who are struggling in college, and attempt to shed a light on marginalized students who are often silenced—sometimes looking at the policies and the hidden language in them is what needs to be done to produce some form of change. This independent study helped me think more critically about the policies made at institutions and what I can do, as a member of a marginalized group, to change them.

Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a 2018 graduate of Framingham State University in Sociology with a minor in Political Science. Tasia Clemons is a 2018 graduate at FSU in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. She is currently a Hall Director and in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program at Canisius College. Follow Tasia at @TasiaClemons.

Valerie R. Wilson / Economic Policy Institute

As part of my research on black women in public policy during my senior year of college, it was only fitting to interview Dr. Valerie Rawlston Wilson of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Dr. Wilson is an economist and Director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE). EPI focuses on economic research and policy analysis; their mission is to inform and empower others to know more about the economy to find solutions and ways to increase their economic mobility. PREE, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, focuses on the economic circumstances of people of color. Dr. Wilson’s latest work includes research with Jessica Schieder that argues that the War on Poverty failed. To wit, there are more people in the U.S. in poverty than 50 years ago; children of color are especially affected. I spent an hour talking to her on Skype for my study, and then followed up with a few focused questions, shared here, about her career path in policy work while defying stereotypes of black women.

EO: As director of PREE at EPI, what does your job consist of?

VW: As director of PREE at EPI, I serve as our resident expert on issues pertaining to racial justice and economic inequality. What that means in layman’s terms is that I do research, write, and speak about racial and ethnic disparities in unemployment, wages, income, poverty and wealth. I also engage with other organizations and the media around these issues.

EO: As a black woman in policy with a PhD, what were some of your biggest challenges getting to where you are today?

VW: My biggest challenge was winning the mental game that comes with getting a PhD, which feels like a process where you’re constantly having to prove yourself. There’s an interesting mental and emotional balancing act that goes on between having the confidence to say, “I am capable of doing this. Of course, I deserve to be here,” particularly in a field where there are very few black women, and being humble enough to admit when you don’t know something so that you can get what you need to finish. Another big part of getting through a PhD program is persistence – being able to push through the many difficult, tedious, often solitary tasks while coping with disappointments and detours along the way. I was able to earn a PhD not because I zoomed through the program without any problems. I finished because I didn’t quit.

EO: What influenced your passion and decision to focus your research life around topics like economic inequality, wealth, and income?

VW: Growing up as a black person in America, it’s impossible to miss the racial divide between those who have wealth and power and those who don’t. I was blessed to grow up in a middle-class family with two parents who were working professionals, and to live in a neighborhood with other black, professional middle class families. We were not wealthy by any means, but at the same time, I was aware that my life wasn’t necessarily the norm for all black people. I was also an excellent student, and a very analytical thinker. When I discovered that economics was a way I could use my intellectual curiosity to say something meaningful about how race affects social and economic outcomes, it seemed like a perfect match.

EO: Often times many black women feel the need to prove that they are capable and deserving. This is because of the fear that others won’t take them seriously or see their voices as valuable. Through our conversations and reading her work, Dr. Wilson helped me realize that if I work hard enough to stay persistent, informed, and aware, I do not have to prove anything to anyone; my work will speak for me. My voice and my abilities are just as important as everyone in the room that doesn’t look like me. It is easy to just assume that being a person of color, I can’t get as far as I want to in my career goals. But having people such as Dr. Wilson to prove otherwise makes a difference in not only my life but for every black girl and woman who doesn’t feel as though they are enough.


Eunice Owusu is a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern and a 2018 graduate of Framingham State University in Sociology with a minor in Political Science. Dr. Wilson’s full bio is here, and you can follow her at @ValerieRWilson.

Angela Hanks / CLASP

Angela Hanks, a scholar studied at Framingham State University in the “From Margin to Center: Women of Color Doing Public Policy” this spring, began a new post as director of the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) in Washington, DC. Time to re-read her inspiring interview with Tasia Clemons, who is in graduate school now at Canisius College.

It is my senior year of college and I am adjusting to the fact that in less than a month, I have to go out into the world and decide who I want to be outside of education. Although graduate school is in the future, navigating the world as a Black woman, carrying an abundance of interests, and ultimately just wanting to make the world a better place is at the forefront of my mind. Currently, I am enrolled in a course called “From Margin to Center: Women of Color Doing Public Policy” where I get to learn about women of color in Washington D.C, read their work, and gain personal knowledge and skills through interviewing some amazing women. I had the opportunity of learning from Angela Hanks, Director of Workforce Development Policy at the Center of American Progress (CAP), a policy institute focused on bettering the lives of all Americans through research and action. Her work focuses on promoting workforce development policies that raise wages and employment opportunities of workers. In this interview, I was able to get advice for women of color, like me, who want to shine in the world of policy:

TC: Based on your passions—what do you see yourself doing through your position as the director of Workforce Development Policy at the Center for American Progress?

AH: People who do policy work should always begin and end with the people they’re trying to help in mind. I work in policy because fundamentally, I care about marginalized people – whether it’s workers, women, communities of color, or anyone at those intersections – who face structural barriers to equality or economic security and have little or diminished political power. I also keep in mind that those structural barriers didn’t just appear; they are often the direct result of conscious policy choices. Policy choices that my work can and should help unwind.

For example, I work on policies to expand apprenticeships, paid training programs that have recently become popular among politicians because they often pay high wages and typically lead to a good job. However, these programs frequently do a poor job of including women at all, and people of color tend to get paid less than their white counterparts. So when I’m working on policy solutions, I tend to focus my attention on how we got here, and what policies are need to ensure POC and women have equal representation in the best jobs.

TC: What is one thing you wish you knew before entering the world of policy?

AH: Probably what policy work actually is? I went to college in D.C. because I thought I liked politics, and immediately declared a political science major at George Washington University. I had no idea what political science was, but it sounded right at the time, so I ran with it. I didn’t even really begin to wrap my brain around what policy is until I interned with my home state senator on Capitol Hill my junior year. The internship was unpaid, so I was only able to work part-time during the school year, while waitressing (pay your interns). Still, something clicked – this was what I was supposed to do. That internship helped me decide to go to law school, and after I graduated I found myself back on the Hill in the job I’d wanted back when I was an intern.

TC: Do you have any advice for young Black women who are interested in attending graduate school, a career, or participate in future work involving social policy?

AH: Know that your voice and perspective are valuable and deserve to be heard. There will literally always be a white guy who tells you he knows better than you – don’t take his word for it. Don’t let his confidence override your qualifications, or make you second-guess your own experiences.

Seek out other Black women in your field. I’m so fortunate to have a supportive network of Black women colleagues and friends at CAP and at other organizations (including the other women you’ve interviewed!) who make navigating spaces with very few people who look like us much easier. It makes a huge difference, I promise. Finding good allies who show you that they value you and your work helps too.

TC: What does it come down to? Believing in myself. In a field surrounded by people who might not look like me, as Angela Hanks said, I have to know that my voice and perspective are valuable. In a society demanding to cut the words of women of color out, I have to understand that I deserve to be heard—just like all other women of color deserve.

Tasia Clemons is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern; she tweets at @TasiaClemons. Starting in July 2018, Angela Hanks Director of the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) in Washington, DC. Find her on twitter at @AngelaHanks.

Originally posted on April 17, 2018.



Cherrie Bucknor / Harvard University

It has been weeks since I have crossed the stage, shook the hand of my college’s president, smiled at my family in the audience, and received my Bachelor’s degree. It struck me knowing that I had finally got to that very moment. The moment I had been waiting and working at for four whole years, and a bunch before that. Although I can thank my family for the endless support, thank my friends for the long nights of studying, and myself for remaining determined through absolutely everything—I also must thank my professors. Especially the professor who allowed me to reach my fullest potential, push me past my limits, and allowed me to see that I am capable of achieving whatever goals I set for myself. Virginia Rutter, the professor for the independent study, Margin to Center: Black Women in Policy, facilitated the unique class, where we talked to a lot of great women, including  Cherrie Bucknor, a doctoral student in Sociology at Harvard University. Her research interests include class, race, gender, labor unions, and social policy. Previously, Cherrie Bucknor worked at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) where she developed a series called Young Black America. Sitting across the table from her at lunch in Cambridge, I was able to hear all that she had to say about her series, her advice, and so much more:

TC: What advice do you have for Black women who want to attend an ivy league school?

CB: This is probably going to sound a bit ridiculous coming from someone who is currently at Harvard and who got their undergraduate degree from Penn, but I would encourage them to not necessarily strive to go to an “Ivy League School”, but to go to the school that they believe will be the best fit for them, both academically and emotionally. That should be the ultimate goal. As in many things in life, there will be sacrifices to make in these two areas (and others), but the goal should be to try and end up at the school that will maximize those two areas and others that are important to you. Oftentimes, when we think of college, we only think about the academic aspect. But, for me, both in the past and currently, the non-academic parts of my life on campus really help to keep me on a good page emotionally when I may be dealing with things in class or with my research that would otherwise keep me down.

I would also encourage them to speak with Black women who are already at the institution to hear from them what their experience has been like. Our experiences as Black women are unique in many ways and for me, it was invaluable to hear from the Black women who were already in my program. The Black women who paved the way for us will have advice on how to navigate the particular environment that you will find yourself in. Every school and department is different, with their own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s best to know as much going in as you can.

TC: What gets you through your days/moments when you are discouraged?

CB: The short answer to this would be “my people”. More specifically, I have a community of people, both in the Boston area and elsewhere who get me through the moments when I feel discouraged. This includes my parents, siblings, and other family members who have been on this journey with me since the beginning and who are just as invested in seeing me reach my goals as I am. The friends that I spent the past 5 years with in DC are just as much a part of my life as they were when I lived in DC. They are always there for me to vent to. They know just the right GIF or meme to send me that will make me literally laugh out loud.

Over the past year, I have also been lucky to develop friendships with fellow students in my department and throughout Harvard who I really vibe with on many different levels, whether it’s because we have similar research interests, political interests, experiences as scholars of color, or we watch the same TV shows or hate the same sports teams. While these friendships are relatively new, and some were unexpected, I can already tell that they will be “my people” for years to come.

Lastly, as I’ve mentioned above, the non-academic aspects of my life here also get me through the moments when I am discouraged. My work with our recently-certified graduate student union brings me so much joy because of the possibility of making Harvard a better place through the bargaining process. I have also been working with a great, diverse group of students who share my interest in prison abolition and who experience similar challenges as students of color on campus. Every week or so, I know that I’ll be sitting in a room with or on a conference call with people who are committed to doing good research and good work in our community. I feel very fortunate in that regard.

TC: Why did you choose to focus on Young Black America as a series when you were at CEPR? What was it like to conduct and then communicate this type of research?

CB: My Young Black America series was actually my first solo-authored work at CEPR and it was about 6 months into my time there. I say this all the time, but I definitely feel as though CEPR spoiled me as a young researcher. The latitude that I was given during my three years there was truly remarkable. This particular research came about because of a curiosity that I had. I really just wanted to answer the question “what’s going on with young Blacks in America right now”? As a young Black woman, I wanted to know how our community was doing. The recovery from the recession was going along too slowly in my opinion and I had heard a great deal about the experience of workers overall, or Black workers overall, and I wanted to see if the story was the same for young Blacks. I presented my idea to my office mentor and boss and they both were excited about it and basically told me that I could design the series however I want and they would support me.

Given the fact that many people associate educational attainment and success with economic success, I decided to do the first two pieces on recent data on high school graduation rates, college entrance, and college completion. The third piece was about employment and unemployment rates, and the last piece was about wages. The series told a story of increasing educational attainment that has not necessarily translated to significant gains in employment and wages, leaving persistent racial and gender gaps.

As I mentioned above, this series was my first solo-authored work at CEPR. The very first piece in the series also ended up leading to my first interview with a reporter. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I went into our communications director’s office and proceeded to vehemently protest against doing the interview and how I was sure I would make a fool of myself. However, after a mini media training session, I gained some semblance of confidence, or at least enough to go through with it, and it went perfectly fine. To this day, I still get nervous and worry whenever I have to speak to a reporter or do a radio interview, but I just remind myself of this: what good is it to do research that you think is important if nobody hears about it?



TC: Cherrie made it clear. As I move out of the world of undergrad and maneuver my way into a whole new environment in graduate school, having, as she puts it, “my people” when I get discouraged is exactly what I need. What is an important take away is that having “my people” will not be enough. I must make sure that I am focusing on myself too—the things that make me happy, the moments that bring me joy, and I must value my self-care because being a woman of color, the external social forces in our society are working against me. They do not want to see me rise nor do they want to see women of color shine. However, I must understand that since I am a woman of color, my self-care is revolutionary… and the bonds I create with other Black women as my future unfolds will be too.

Tasia Clemons is a recent sociology graduate from Framingham State University as well as a graduate assistant Hall Director at Canisius College. She tweets at @TasiaClemons. Cherrie Bucknor is a doctoral student at Harvard University and currently working on two projects: examining the union wage premium for young workers in the United States overall and by race and education level, as well as a project titled “Race, Economy, and Polity in the Trump Era.” She tweets at @CherrieBucknor.


Misha Hill \ Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

Three weeks from graduation, and I’m still deep in my study of Black women who inspire me to do more and more great things. For me, this means focusing on my future that will involve some combination of work as a sociologist and educator, examining policies that affect those who look like me, and mentoring Black and Brown people to be the strongest leaders they are all capable of being. My future is becoming more clear and visible each time I hear of other Black women’s’ experiences.

This week, I share an eye-opening interview with Misha Hill, State Policy Fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, who told me about variety of her experiences, insights, and work. While Misha was pursuing her Master’s in Public Policy at George Washington University, she was an intern with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Family Income Support team. In addition, Misha also interned with the Women’s Health Division at the Kaiser Family Foundation through the Person Foundation Fiscal Policy Internship. This is what she had to say:

TC: Taking your experience in working within policy, what challenges have you overcame that got to where you are now?

MH: My biggest challenge was lack of knowledge about policy careers. When I was applying for MPP programs [Masters in Public Policy], I didn’t know the difference between working at a think tank or a private consulting firm, and in undergrad I barely knew those types of organizations existed. I did not have many people in my network who worked in public policy, and my university didn’t provide a clear pre-professional path either. Those challenges are unique to my experience, but I think they also represent structural challenges for men and women of color interested in this career field. Because public policy organizations are still predominantly white spaces (Policy Link, the Urban League, and Unidos are a few critical exceptions) most Black folks don’t have many people working in public policy in their networks.

I overcame those challenges with reading, research, and reaching out. I read about policy topics I was interested in, researched the organizations that were writing on those topics, and utilized every aspect of my personal and professional network to find and build professional connections.

TC: What advice do you have for women of color who are interested in pursuing a career in public policy? 

MH: My advice to young women of color interested in pursuing a career in policy is the same advice I’d give young woman of color starting any career in the U.S. The system was not made for you to succeed. It may be hard to get your foot in the door, and you may take a path that’s longer and more roundabout than your white or male counterparts. That’s okay and the insight you gain on the journey will likely help your white and male counterparts if they’re willing to listen. Use LinkedIn and offline networking, strategically. Even if you don’t know someone working in the field you may have a mutual connection or be affiliated with the same school or organization. Don’t be shy to ask for an introduction or reach out to a stranger. Know your worth and ask for what you need to succeed. Channel the confidence of a tall, middle-aged white man and assume that people will give you the things you ask for. And lastly, stay in touch with people who have helped you out along the way. An email updating former supervisors or people who have written you letters of recommendations once or twice a year shows those folks that you appreciate the investment you’ve made in them and keeps you on their radar for future opportunities. 

TC: You do a lot of work focused around gender, specifically women, and wrote an article looking at the “tax perspective on International women’s day” that highlights the work that has been done and still needs to be done surrounding gender inequality. Knowing that the U.S has a long way before they start incorporating a gendered lens into their budgeting practices, how do you foresee gender budgeting, something you mentioned in your article, being used in the United States helping women? Specifically, how do you see it helping women with a variety of intersecting identities: immigrant, Black, Transgender, low-income, etc.?

MH: I don’t see the US incorporating gender budgeting, especially not on the federal level. My view is pessimistic and jaded. But this country has a collective refusal to acknowledge that inequitable policies negatively impact all of us, not just the marginalized groups that are hurt most. Setting that pessimistic view aside, I do imagine a world where a gender equity lens was applied to how governments develop their budgets and financing. A first step would be to analyze the differential impact of a proposed budgets on men and women. The U.S. does currently have programs on the revenue and spending side that inadvertently target women by linking benefits to children. But these programs are of little help to women without children. And current investments in these programs are inadequate at best, and often these programs are losing public investments. Hence, my pessimism. Currently, if a government applies an equity lens to a program it’s after the program is in place. In an ideal world gender budgeting, in combination with other equity lenses—like race, income, or immigration status—to policy analysis would provide data on the likely impact of a budget before the programs funded by that budget are put in place. Which is why we need more women of color working in public policy to push for and perform these analyses!

TC: Bottom line I see here: Do your research, keep connections, and trust that you are going in the direction that you need to be. There will be speed bumps on your path, dead-end zones in your life causing you to turn around—but if you trust yourself, things will fall into place. The end of the world does not have to be as dramatic as we, as college students, sometimes make it out to be. Misha, being so honest about her challenges, reminded me that yes—she is successful but with that, she is also human. Since we all are human, mistakes will be made, and still the path can make sense.

Tasia Clemons is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University, an Administrative Resident Assistant, and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs Intern; she tweets at @TasiaClemons. Misha Hill is a State Policy Fellow at the Institute of Taxation on Economic Policy.