SUS BIPOC committee to advocate for science students experiencing racism, but without compensation

The Science Undergraduate Society announced on June 7 that it would be creating a BIPOC working group to allow for “open discussions of BIPOC experiences,” among other long-term goals to support the Black community.

But members of the working group won’t be paid for their work or the emotional labour that comes along with that work.

The BIPOC Extraordinary Working Group, as it’s formally called, consists of eight students and will act as a go-between when working with administration. Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) president Shovon Das said the committee’s purpose is to create “avenues for students to advocate for themselves in terms of any racism they’ve experienced as a Faculty of Science student or in the Science Undergraduate Society.”

“I’m a person of colour but my experience is not encompassing to all the other experiences,” Das in an interview with The Ubyssey.

“We were looking for people that were able to advocate, not only to me but to advocate beyond me to other people in the Faculty of Science,” Das added.

Potential for uncompensated emotional labour

The members of the working group will not be paid for their work, which Das said is a product of the fact that no one in the SUS gets paid.

When asked about potential emotional labour in this working group, the SUS president asked for a definition of the term. His response was that this working group would not act as “a resource for people trying to be an ally.”

The lack of payment around consultation with racialized groups has brought the concept of uncompensated emotional labour into broader conversation. First defined by Dr. Arlie Hochschild in the 1983 book The Managed Heart, emotional labour at its core refers to one having to “regulate or manage emotional expressions with others as part of one’s professional work role.”

Racialized faculty at the university have spoken in the past about dealing with unpaid emotional labour. The Indigenous Committee recently released a statement criticizing “extractive” consultation and emotional labour.

Psychology Professor Benjamin Cheung spoke about the emotional labour that BIPOC students on committees like this may experience.

“It’s certainly often the case [that] the very nature of doing this work creates emotional labour,” said Cheung. “But so much of the emotional labour in this work is more of the pushback from the administration system or from non-BIPOC people.”

As a member of an equity committee himself, he is mindful of how much emotional labour he puts into this work. Cheung noted that he has almost no history with the Faculty of Science and does not know how the SUS operates.

Notably, the statement announcing the working group acknowledged that the student society posted later than expected. “We recognize our delayed response to the Black Lives Matter movement cannot be excused,” the statement reads.

Das said that because the SUS was delayed in posting, it took more time to educate members and formulate a plan moving forward to address systemic racism in the student society and the faculty.

“We acknowledged that we posted late. And because we posted late, we took the time to educate ourselves, be more aware, watch the news, read the resources, and we took our own initiative to get ahead and get ourselves informed. But evidently, it’s still a new world for most of us,” he said.

Cheung suggested that students who endure emotional labour have support systems in place and to take care of themselves, as this type of work can be frustrating. He said that the university as a whole could do more to support BIPOC students.

“There are strides being made, but until bigger strides are made, students need better emotional support and better mental health support,” said Cheung, “which involves having more counsellors and involves having counsellors that are themselves culturally diverse.”