Alice Brown discusses women’s labour in the university through her position as ‘Women’s Advisor’.
Alice Brown: In general, women tended – I’m generalising here – to pick up a lot of the pastoral issues in departments because young men as well as young women were more comfortable sometimes speaking to a woman about it.
Marta Kowalewska: Yeah. That position [of ‘Women’s Advisor’] was primarily a pastoral position, or – ?
AB: Yes, because I was still a Director of Studies, so you were still giving advice on courses people would take and their academic side, but the pastoral work was much more about… relationships, personal issues and difficulties, sexual harassment, and just general things to do with family sometimes. Quite often, it’s quite a common thing that parents break up when their children go to university. There was a range of things to do with personal issues and difficulties. Because it wasn’t always to do with sexual harassment [but]to do with personal issues. I was older, because I didn’t get my first degree until I was 37. So I’d be in my 40s then… I had children, so I think there was that feeling that I would understand some of these things.
MK: How did you find that position? Did you find it rewarding, did you find it quite a lot of emotional labour, or both?
AB: Well, that’s a good point, because I got no training for it when you look back! So it was all very ad hoc. But if you felt you could help somebody, it was rewarding. And I remember being at an event years later and this woman came up to me, and she said, ‘I just wanted to tell you that you won’t know me but you’ll know my daughter, and she was about to give up everything at university but you encouraged [her] to stay on, you coaxed her and supported her through what was a very difficult period and now she’s on to do XYZ.’ …I guess you don’t realise you’re having an impact. In different jobs I’ve done and roles I’ve played, one does try to make a difference. [It] doesn’t always succeed, but I think being sympathetic, [keeping an] open ear and listening to people’s issues sometimes is enough. But no training for that so I learned on the job.