Last fall, after nearly two years of underemployment due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I began teaching at Mercy College in New York as an adjunct professor. I was excited to finally be back in the classroom doing the thing I loved: teaching. I knew the terms of my contract, and while I wished the compensation was better, I accepted the offer in hopes that a steady income would be the start I needed to finally get back on my feet.
My story is not unique — it mirrors the lived conditions of Black and brown folks in academia across the country. According to a 2020 report from the American Federation of Teachers, nearly half of U.S. adjunct faculty members “struggle to cover basic household expenses” and more than 20 percent depend on public assistance. The pay rate for Mercy College adjuncts is $3,000 per course, and, while rates vary, adjunct pay remains low. Nationally, adjunct faculty members make, on average, just $3,500 per course.
This low pay, paired with precarity on the job and two years of stalled negotiations with management, has led adjunct faculty members at Mercy College to plan to strike during the week of May 2. I stand in full support of these workers, and all of those seeking just working conditions.
If Mercy college, along with all U.S. colleges and universities, wishes to attract a more diverse faculty pool, they must begin by offering better working conditions for adjunct faculty members, including higher wages and longer contracts. This is crucial because the majority of Mercy students are low income and people of color. Representations of different racial, class, and gendered experiences among faculty is important. I can attest to the positive effects of having someone who looked like me helming a classroom.
As educators, we give our all to our students. However, when queer educators of color face the socioeconomic disparities that accompany their experiences as marginalized people of color in America, it is more likely that a larger proportion of these educators’ time and attention will be occupied by the day-to-day struggle of staying afloat and living paycheck-to-paycheck rather than serving their students. For institutions whose students are largely people of color, BIPOC representation in faculty — from adjunct to tenured staff — is critical to student success and engagement, and to creating a safe and welcoming campus culture.
As an educator who knows the economic realities that Black and queer people in academia face sustaining a living, I support striking in order to improve the pay of Mercy adjuncts. Black and brown students and adjuncts at Mercy deserve more, and I hope with this strike that they are able to create a Mercy community that truly empowers students to thrive.
About the Author
Victoria Collins Victoria R. Collins (she/?they) is a queer, Black, southern writer and educator born and bred of the clay soil of Mississippi, currently living and working in The Bronx. Vic holds an MFA in Nonfiction Creative Writing from The New School. Follow Vic @vicwritesthings
This blog originally appeared at In These Times on 4/28/2022. Reprinted with permission.” https://inthesetimes.com/article/mercy-college-new-york-strike-adjunct-labor