Scripps College resident assistants (RAs) recently hung two types of signs titled “Emotional Labor 101” across campus. One of the signs, printed on a white background, is titled, “Quick Guide For White Students.” The other poster, printed on black paper, is titled, “Quick Guide For People Of Color And Marginalized Backgrounds.”
Both signs, which are marked with the Scripps College administration’s stamp of approval, define “emotional labor” as “the exertion of energy for the purpose of addressing people’s feelings, educating, making people comfortable, or living up to social ‘expectations.’” The sign addressing non-white students notes, “Victims of emotional labor can be cornered in the classrooms, on social media, or in social events. If you are constantly having to explain or defend this could be you.” The poster then asks, “What can I do about it?” and states, “First and Foremost: Take care of yourself. Decide if it’s worth your time. The burden does not rest on your shoulders! Remove yourself if possible/necessary. You don’t owe anyone anything at the expense of your mental health. / Second: If you do decide to engage, practice some of these tips to avoid overexertion for the sake of educating: Refer to a friendly Google search of the concept in question; Call in professors and white peers to help educate their peer(s); Charge for your services. If you’ve decided you’re going to do it, at least get paid; Visit your designated [dean of students on campus] to talk about ways to address the mental toll.”
The guide addressed to white students, rather than discussing the ways one can undergo “emotional labor,” asks “How do I know I’m causing someone emotional labor? Ask yourself these questions: Could I have Googled the answer but I chose not to? Do I find myself in a situation where people of color or people from a marginalized group are educating me? What power dynamics are at play? Do I find myself getting defensive? Are people telling me I’m causing them emotional labor?” The message to white students ends by listing options for “What can I do about [causing others emotional labor]?” The poster states that white students should “Be mindful of your place and position. Google it! Seek community of white people who are educating themselves/thinking about social justice issues. Compensate the labor you caused. Educate yourself, take advantage of ethnic studies courses, the internet, and SCORE [Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment] . Take ownership for the harm you caused. Do better next time!”
Neither the Scripps College nor the RAs whose email addresses are listed on the posters responded to requests for comment.
Image: Olivia Wu