Gossiping for Connection

If we want to feel connected, we need to break up with gossiping.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that as we feel more disconnected, we grasp for connection through unhealthy information sharing (i.e. gossiping). Unhealthy information sharing is all the ways we share information about other people that may or not be true. We show our solidarity and alliances by sharing gossip, debriefing gatherings/meetings to amp up emotion and build more solidarity rather than to vent or problem solve, sharing details of who said what at gatherings/meetings to those not in the space, etc. I think we use this as a cheap form of connection. A quick was to bond and as a way to seek and provide support.

These ways of connecting then bleed over to our connections with other people. Influenced by all the “off the record” information, we read tone and intent into peoples verbal and non-verbal communication. This then creates a feedback loop of cheap connection and disconnection.

Unhealthy information sharing also leads to secret keeping and the inhibits the ability to confront unhealthy or abusive behaviors.

To build or rebuild communication, we need to examine our participation in the economy of unhealthy information sharing. For example,
1) How are we benefitting by sharing information?
2) What are our motivations or intentions in sharing information?
3) Is this type of sharing making us feel more connected?

AND we need to break up with gossiping.
While we can theorize on a persons intent, we don’t actually know, so we can test our thinking by:
1) assuming good intent
2) taking peoples words at face value. Do not use our interpretations.
3) seeking clarification

Community Connections

I think a lot about community connection as a form of informal social support. Since the start of the Covid pandemic, I’ve been thinking about it more intensely.  Specifically, I’m thinking about our different levels of connection which I’m writing about now and later, I’ll write about grasping for connection. 

Many of us have different levels of intimacy with friends and family. We might have difference circles, tiers, or placements on the mountain for our relationships. And I think we spend a lot of time focused on nourishing those closest to us and often take for granted those lower down the mountain–those work friends or workplace proximity associates. 

Our less intimate friends such as work friends can provide a level of support that is not available from our closest friends. When I say work friends, I mean those people we talk to only at work (not only about work) and we rarely if ever interact with them outside of the workspace. For example, when we are struggling with a partner or with parenting, our work friends serve as a source of support from a subjective third person point of view. They can provide a space to vent and rant about our struggles at home. We can share with them things we might not share with our closer friends because we don’t risk relationships between our most intimates . When I was working on my dissertation, this type of social support was surprisingly high among the first time fathers I surveyed. Co-workers were one of the most frequently reported groups fathers went to for informal advice in parenting and partnering. I think as some of our work environments have shifted to less in office space and more working from home, I worry about the loss of this support.

How might the loss of these relationships impact our access and use of informal supports (or mutual aid) and increase our need for formal support which is costly and often unavailable? 

Letter to the Editor: Complexity in Care

I submitted this letter to the editor and the Star Tribune chose not to publish it but I think the information is important so I’m placing it here.

I am writing in response to the article published in the Sunday, September 11th edition of the Star Tribune titled, Troubled Twin Cities nursing home ordered to pay millions in neglect cases. I want to applaud the Star Tribune for making this a front page story, and I want to add a bit more information and complexity in order to help educate families about the current state of our healthcare system. 

I worked at what is now known as the Estates at St. Louis Park when it was run by a different for-profit company and also worked at one of the largest healthcare companies in Minnesota. Currently, I’m an Associate Professor teaching and researching healthcare policy and practice. While the for-profit status and limited enforcement of safety standards are critical components of quality care, the process of discharging patients from hospitals to different levels of care is a complex one that is driven by health economics. 

The more complex the healthcare needs of a patient, the more expensive they are to any healthcare system. The patients with the most complex health needs are often the ones who are most difficult to discharge to skilled nursing facilities. Complex health needs vary from cognitive declines (e.g. dementia), high skilled needs (e.g. wounds, tracheostomy), any history of physical violence, non-compliance, severe and persistent mental illness, or active substance use (including tobacco), and expensive treatments (e.g. IV antibiotics). These needs are partially the result of the cumulative effects of economic status. Patients with the most complex healthcare needs are typically those who have had inconsistent access to health insurance and healthcare over their lifespan, have a history of physical labor, and minimal assets. 

The difficulty of discharge is exacerbated if the patient doesn’t have quality insurance to cover these expenses. When they need skilled nursing care, they often have to rely solely on Medicare and Medicaid to pay for their care. If they don’t have the needed coverage, they continue to experience more and more health care problems leading to more complex health needs and decreasing their access to highly rated skilled nursing facilities. 

The skilled nursing facilities with Medicare Quality Ratings for 4-5 stars rarely accept medically complex patients unless they have a previous relationship with the patient or the patient has the financial ability to cover costs. Their high Medicare Quality Rating allows them to cherry pick patients that have simple healthcare needs that require less intensive care and allows them to make more money.  

Social workers are often the people who are helping to facilitate the discharge plan. Frequently, these plans are made with families who have limited experience and understanding of the process during a health crisis. While employed by healthcare systems, social workers should prioritize advocating for patients. To do this, they need to engage the family early in discharge planning, encourage families to tour facilities and ask questions, and explain the patient rights.

Social workers also have the inside knowledge and understanding about how difficult it might be to find placement for patients with complex health needs. They know which of the nursing homes are willing to accept these complex patients and which systems always have beds available. And they know that oftentimes these are the facilities with Medicare Quality Ratings of 1-2 stars. These facilities need to fill their beds so they accept patients with complex needs that require intensive care and staffing which then feeds right back into their low ratings. 

As reported in your article, Tobey Eldeman from the Center for Medicare Advocacy in Washington, D.C. “We are far too tolerant of poor care.” Our tolerance for poor care isn’t from lack of enforcement, but tolerance of the vast wealth that is accumulated by for- and non-profit healthcare administrators on the backs of people with complex health needs. While we need to be willing to fund the care people need, we also need to examine how those funds are being used in the provision of healthcare. This means not only reviewing and adjusting Medicare case mix to increase reimbursement rates to cover the complexity of need, but increasing the wages of healthcare workers who often have to risk their own physical and mental health to provide care in these underfunded, understaffed healthcare system, and demanding transparency between cost of care and how funds are being spent.

No one is free while others are oppressed

I’ve been struggling for the last several months with the intersectionality and hierarchy created around race, gender, and sexual orientation. I’ve experienced  some personal, professional, and public challenges in these areas.  One example is that I’ve been watching and waiting for people to react to the George Zimmerman verdict for the last few weeks. I’ve been deeply disappointed that some of those who have been so vocal on  issues of marriage equality and reproductive rights, have been eerily silent on the verdict.  Many of those who were enraged by Texas lawmakers passage of strict anti-abortion laws, were silent when the verdict was announced. Nearly all of those who changed their social media avatars to red equal signs of the Human Rights Campaign or the orange & blue messages of MN United for All Families, did nothing to visually advocate for peace and justice in the Trayvon Martin murder case. It was this lack of action, this silence, that deepened my understanding of the importance of discussing race, racism, white privilege, and white supremacy. It was this silence that pushed my understanding of the constant underlying roots of racism and white supremacy in the United States. It was these acts of silence that pushed me to reflect on my experiences.

Several years ago, I had an experience with an African-American man which ultimately ended our acquaintance.  He had asked to store his bags in my room since he had to check out of his hotel quite a few hours before his flight. I agreed. When I offered him my key so he could place his bags in my room, he offered up quite a few concerns about entering my room without someone else present including a concern about being accused of stealing. I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. A mutual friend (a white woman) offered to escort him to my room to place his bags. On the trip to my room, he proceeded to make comments about me and this friend including comments of us being aggressive in terms of academics, etc. This created a firestorm of sorts in which I view his attacks on my “aggressiveness” as sexist. I had several other interactions with him that I filtered through the lens of gender oppression. Then ultimately chose to avoid him.  Upon further reflection and while I still believe there are roots of sexism in his comments and actions, I’m able to better understand his concerns and reaction to my flippant responses. I also understand how my flippancy could have put him at risk. My intention was to not be racist but to put him at ease, what I did was fail to understand the long standing effects of institutionalized racism and white supremacy.  My experiences with him were filtered and clouded through my experiences of oppression to the point that I was unable to appreciate his oppression. I’m humbled and deeply changed from this reflection. I get that my dismissiveness of his experiences are similar to the silence of my white friends in the case of Trayvon Martin’s murder. I know I have a lot of work to do. And rather than judging others by their silence, I’m going to continue to reflect, learn, and continue my anti-oppression work.

Supporting students from a class perspective

An interesting article in today’s NY Times: Poor Students Struggle as Class Plays a Greater Role in Success  (alternatively titled as “For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in Hard Fall”)

I write about class a lot because it’s one of the few things I feel secure in my knowledge. When we think about class in terms of college, we often think about the financial aid piece. Universities have made great progress in meeting the financial needs of low-income student, but there are still nuances about growing up poor that are forgotten. It’s beyond the ability to pay for college. This article does a good job discussing the complex socio-economic influences in our lives. There is this cultural difference that exists between classes which people often forget or deny. As academics, it’s important that we are aware of these differences and able to support students coming from low-income families.

From the article: Annette Lareau, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that the affluent also enjoy an advocacy edge: parents are quicker to intervene when their children need help, while low-income families often feel intimidated and defer to school officials, a problem that would trail Melissa and Angelica in their journey through college.

“Middle-class students get the sense the institution will respond to them,” Professor Lareau said. “Working-class and poor students don’t experience that. It makes them more vulnerable.”

This is a critical statement in understanding the experiences and needs of many students who come from low-income families. I’m sure there are many reasons students may not ask for help. For me, I often didn’t know what kind of help existed or that it was ok to ask for help. There was also overwhelming feelings of shame in needing help or the idea of being a bother.

I don’t know what the solution is or how to ease the transition to college, but I think it’s something we need to keep thinking and talking about. A start might be to move away from this idea of “first generation college student” to actually acknowledging class differences. There are many older academics who are “first generation college students” but mostly like from middle class families. Especially any of those academics who graduated college prior to the 1990s. If you are 60 years old and a first generation college student, you probably come from a middle class background. The poor kids went to Vietnam. So, your experiences as a first generation college student are probably quite different than your students. Trying to identify with them in those terms misses the point. As a person who comes from anti-oppressive practice point of view,  I intentionally discuss class in the same ways I intentionally discuss race, gender, and sexual orientation. I hope this serves several purposes. First, to highlight some of the nuances of class that middle or upper middle class people may not get. Second, to indirectly share with students who may be from low income families that I may be someone who understands their struggle. Finally, I hope it gets people talking about class in the ways that we talk about other experiences of oppression within the context of academic experiences and successes.

Poverty Tourism

I read this article the other day over at Mother Jones. It’s one person’s tale of working as a picker in a warehouse. She spend five days as a picker and writes an expose on the working conditions in the warehouse. I’ll say this once:  I am an advocate for human rights which includes labor issues.  But I have several issues with this article and this type of journalism. It’s a form of “poverty tourism” where middle class people tour the working class to gain insight and experiences that they believe will make them more enlightened.

This article is the epitome of the disconnect between middle class intellectuals and those of the other classes. I cannot speak from an upper class perspective, but I can speak from the working class. There is all this knowledge being created in the middle classes that creates the narrative of “good” and “bad.” This group gets to expound upon the horrors created by the upper classes onto those in the working classes while the middle class intellectuals sit by virtually blameless. Yet, they are the ones writing the article, selling books, and giving speeches on the classism they perpetuate and benefit from.

The disconnect between middle class is apparent from the outset. A middle class woman knowingly takes a job she doesn’t need in order to get a profitable experience. With unemployment at 8% or more, it’s shameful to take a weeks worth of wages from a person who needs them, but she and her editors did not even discuss the privilege or ethics of her taking this job.

Furthermore, her ability to obtain a genuine experience of the working conditions is questionable. There is a difference in the effects of manual labor on a person’s body. A person who has been working manual labor for many years may have less trouble adjusting to the working conditions than a writer. This is not to argue that the  quotas and speed requirements are not troublesome, but the rawness of her pain may be exaggerated by her lack of current experience in the working class.

But this is all part of the disconnect between the middle class and working class. It is even apparent in the title “I was a warehouse wage slave.”  The American middle class values the hierachary created by capitalism. Such phrases reinforce the middle class belief of what kind of work is “valued” and “fulfilling.” Read warehouse work is wage slavery and writing for Mother Jones is not.  My mother, who is in her 60s, has been a waitress nearly her entire adult working life. She averages about 60 hours a week. Two year ago was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer  During her chemo treatment, she cut down to 35 hours a week. She could have cut back more if she wanted to, but the fact is that she didn’t want to cut back–not because she needed the money–but she because she needed the activity and socialization. She finds value in her work in terms of how good of a waitress she is and the friendships she has made through the restaurant. Articles such as this, discounts the value that working class people may find in their jobs. The writer further dehumanizes working class people when she refers to them as “drones” because people are defined by their work which couldn’t possibly have meaning or value.

Ever since Upton Sinclair wrote the “Jungle” we have seen muckraking journalist trying to bring the plight of the working class to the middle to upper middle classes. My question is this: Is anyone really surprised by the working conditions? Do we as a society really believe that we can get our products cheap and fast without some kind of violation of human rights? We need to move beyond this type of expose and start thinking, talking, and writing about–not just what do we need to give up and what are we willing to give up in order to advance a human rights agenda–but how and why are we benefitting from exposing the oppression of working class people. Instead of focusing on the emotional manipulation of working conditions, we need to challenge people to think critically about capitalism, and its insatiable appetite.

Education accessibility

As I enter the academic job market, I’ve been doing a lot of reflection trying to understand what I want to do and where I want to be. I am quite green and naive about what it means to work in academia. I’m a first generation college graduate. I was lucky enough to have an older sister to blaze the trail for me. Though I was a late starter (aka non-traditional student), I knew the ropes of applying to college, putting down the deposit money to hold your place, and completing the FAFSA. I am the first in my immediate family to go on to graduate school. Applying and completing my master’s program was not so different from my bachelors. I completed my undergraduate and graduate education via weekend programs at very reputable private colleges. I was exposed to great professors who were dedicated to teaching and mentoring me through the process.

Recently, I found that this type of accessibility is not always welcomed by faculty. There are faculty members in some schools that only want to teach within traditional day programs. Bemoan any mention of having to teach at night or the weekends. Thus, leaving many of these courses to adjunct/community faculty to teach. While this is a fantastic opportunity for adjunct instructors and students, I am disappointed that a group of students (those who can ONLY take night and weekend classes)  will never have exposure to some great scholars.

Educational accessibility is social justice issue for me. Despite what many think, post secondary education continues to be a relatively white, middle (upper) class  privilege. Without the accessibility of a weekend program, I would have never been able to complete my education. I needed a program that was flexible enough so my partner could work while I stayed home with our two small children during the week. Then on the weekends, my partner took care of the children while I went to class. My children grew up on college campuses as I moved from undergrad to graduate level work.

Then I went on to the PhD program. In my admissions essay, I wrote about wanting to teach and do research. That is what I wanted to do with my PhD. It’s still what I want to do, but what seemed so simple nearly 4 years ago, does not seem as simple today. There is a wide range of the types of positions to choose from tenure track to non-tenure track, research intensive to teaching colleges, and BSW, MSW, and PhD programs. Among all of these options though, one thing remains clear to me. I want to be at a school where I have the ability to teach in programs that emphasize accessibility. And I’m not just talking about accessibility in terms of ability. I’m talking about in terms of day, evening, online, and weekend classes or some variation. I was only able to obtain my education because of weekend and evening classes and I want to make sure I pay that opportunity forward to others. I am committed to teaching on the day, time, and locations that make it possible to bring educational opportunities to people who may not otherwise have the opportunity.

Leave your ego at the door

Great article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Being Mean in Academe

I too have been thinking a lot about meanness in academia.  I think this recent post in The Chronicle of Higher Education gets at one point of meanness in terms of the ways in which we provide critique and feedback to others, but it also got me thinking more about how others perceive and interpret feedback. I don’t support putting work down on personal level or lambasting them at professional conferences or presentations. I don’t support feedback that is not constructive. Constructive feedback is the key word here. This is feedback and critique meant to advance thinking, writing, and knowledge development. It is not personal. Yet, I’ve encountered people in the academy that cannot take feedback or critique without taking it personally. Their own self-doubt or ego inhibits their ability to receive feedback graciously and kindly. Instead, they respond in a retaliatory manner to defend their own ego and bully others into submission. This is a level of meanness that also needs to be considered. When we are working together to advance thinking, writing, and knowledge, it cannot be done in isolation. Feedback and critique are essential. We need to put our self-doubt and egos aside to really think about the greater purpose of our work. For me, the work I do will never be about self-glory, rather it’s about advancing the prevention of violence against women and children. If you have  feedback, suggestions, or critique on how to advance this purpose  I’m happy to have an ally to work with.

Informal supports for children exposed to domestic violence

Yesterday, at the conference presentation I did, they began with by reading my bio. Basically it states my education and my research interests. I was presenting on ethical considerations with social media in social work. As usual, after the presentation, attendees will come talk to me about the presentation and seek resources. However, yesterday was unusual in the sense that a person came up to talk to me about my research interests. She wanted to talk to me about child exposure to domestic violence. I was super excited as I love talking about research and any information I can pass along about domestic violence and child exposure makes me happy. Her questions are the same I hear from many people–they know kids who are being exposed but don’t know what to do to help them. They are not necessarily looking for professional resources like therapy rather they are looking for things they can do on a personal level to help. I spoke with her about some of the things I have learned that have had a positive influence on children’s lives. The assistance doesn’t need to be directly related to the violence they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing. It can be highlighting and encouraging existing talents such as art, music, and sports. Or giving kids opportunities to experience new things. Mostly, it’s modeling caring relationships so kids can experience alternatives. These “interventions” are rather simple, but may make a huge difference. I think it’s a matter of gathering more information of informal supports and getting this information out to the general public.

Privilege of learning

The new term of classes starts on Saturday. I’m going to begin class with a reminder about the privilege of education and learning. I want to remind students that they have the privilege of coming to class on time, giving presentations, taking part in discussion, writing papers, reading articles, completing 500 practicum hours, having opportunities that others–the wait-listed, the rejected, the unknowns–do not. A master’s education is a privilege that many people is the United States and abroad do not receive. I hope that students start this term with enthusiasm for attending class, presenting material, developing and expressing ideas, and enjoying their learning opportunities rather than disdain for the work of obtaining an education.