Friday, January 15, 2021
It’s not easy to teach from home while also caring for kids whose schools have gone remote. And that law review article you want to finish? Good luck finding time for that.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented no shortage of challenges for legal academics, and an upcoming virtual symposium explores how those burdens have been especially onerous for women and are likely to carry long-term career implications. The free Symposium on the COVID Care Crisis and its Implications for Legal Academia takes place Thursday and Friday, and was the brainchild of Florida International University law professor Cyra Choudhury, Thomas Jefferson law professor Meera Deo, and Indiana University professor Shruti Rana.
Law.com caught up with Choudhury to discuss why women are struggling more than men to balance work and family, and how the legal academy can help ensure women don’t fall behind. Her answers have been edited for length.
How did this idea for the symposium come about?
A number of us had been noticing the impact of the COVID pandemic on women, very early on. Last year, around June, I started noticing in my social media feeds women complaining about the pressure of isolation, quarantine and the lockdown orders. I’m a family law scholar. I spend a lot of time looking at families and what impacts them. I’m a feminist legal scholar too so this was of real interest to me. It’s odd because I don’t have children so I’m not in the same position. But a few months into the pandemic people were feeling the stress and pressure. [Meera Deo] and I were tweeting with each other about these issues. At that point, one of us suggested, “We need to do something to bring to light that this is going to be an issue downstream.” We had noticed that women scholars in other disciplines were having a hard time producing scholarship and meeting all their work obligations. We started working on a letter to law reviews alerting them that they were going to see a drop-off in submissions from women. We sent it out to a majority of law reviews telling them, basically, “This is the crisis.”
Scholarly output is one way to gauge the impact of the COVID child care crisis. What were some of the other concerns you were seeing surface from women legal academics as the pandemic set it?
Concretely, the child care burden. This quickly turned into having to juggle work from home and 24/7 child care at home when schools started shutting down. That was the most obvious stressor for most people, and it continues to be. We have no child care outside the home, so parents are having to not just meet their work obligations. We see overlaps: people taking Zoom calls while trying to supervise their kids at their learning, in the same physical and temporal space. And there is just the mental stress of COVID—if you came down with it, that adds an additional burden.
You received a robust response after you put out a call for papers on this topic. Did that surprise you?
We knew this was something we had to think about and we had to theorize, document, etc. We didn’t do it unthinkingly. When we put out the call, someone said, “This is odd that you are asking people to write about not being able to write.” Not everyone is in the position of being so stretched that they can’t produce something. On top of that, we made it very easy. We got a very positive response. We didn’t want to turn people down, so we tried to slot in as many people as we could. We expanded [the symposium] to two days. We were surprised at people’s willingness to do some work on this. We were gratified that people wanted to talk about this, because it’s impacting them personally. For many people, what they’re writing about is really personal experiences.
Read more here.