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Being an educator has never been easy, but I’m scared that it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. Especially when it comes to getting basic medical care needs met.

Me sitting in an adjunct office, holding office hours.
Me sitting in an adjunct office, holding office hours.

I’ve written about my discontent with academia, focusing on how those of us who adjunct (and are teaching roughly 70% of college classes in the U.S.) are paid exploitatively low wages, without any job security, and usually without access to benefits such as health care. It’s an awful situation, and one I’ve been in for the last four years. The only reason I could keep doing what I loved – teaching – was that I was married, and on my spouse’s benefits plan.

That’s over now. And with the plans to repeal the ACA, I don’t see an affordable way for me, as a part-time college professor and part-time freelancer and part-time writer and part-time dance instructor, to obtain health insurance.

While I’m at Berkeley this semester, I’m covered (both in terms of being paid a living wage and getting health insurance as part of the job). So it’s not an urgent fear, but rather a looming one.

Yes, I could always look for employment in another field. There’s no doubt in my mind that with a PhD and tons of writing experience, I could rock a job in publishing, for example. I’m almost poised to take off as a full-time freelancer, too (but while I’d probably earn enough money to live on, that leaves the question of health care hanging).

This is a bummer for a number of reasons, though. I’m still appalled at how little America values its educators. We need a living wage and benefits if we’re going to be able to continue to afford to teach. It’s a travesty that so many universities utilize adjunct labor to keep costs down, shunting daily working expenses (owning and maintaining a laptop; obtaining continuing education and training) onto the underpaid workers without job security. This arrangement ill serves students as well, since adjuncts are teaching many of their classes but won’t always be around to write letters of recommendation or provide the kind of mentoring that a long-term employee could.

I’m sure I’ll figure something out for myself, so it feels a little selfish to be scared when the systemic problems are so widespread and so glaringly bad. And I’m relatively young and in good health. But since I was born with a uterus that, despite being fairly normal and healthy, requires annual exams, I need to stay on top of my health care. As a sexually active adult, I need to be screened for STIs. There’s birth control to consider, and preventative care for my skin (thanks, Southern California sun!).

And it feels awfully vulnerable to admit that this is a concern. I attribute some of that to mind-body dualism, and how since educators are meant to occupy the space of the mind, it’s gauche to admit that we have bodies with their own needs. It might even be seen as a reflection of how poorly suited we are to be scholars and teachers, if we’re that preoccupied with our bodies (health, beauty, sexuality, etc.). I know that’s an extreme interpretation of mind-body dualism, but unfortunately, this flavor of Western dualism is oppositional and hierarchical in nature, so it’s extremely difficult to promote an image of oneself as both an intellectual and a physical being. Moreso when you throw gender in to the mix, with the associations between women and the body and men and the brain.

(Gender bias does exist among academics – I wonder sometimes if we think we’re too smart to be sexist?)

So yeah. I’m scared. I know a lot of people are right now. I guess I just wanted to make a note of it here in my blog, because my ability to access health care might impact how much time I can spend on writing in the future. This is true for many writers, artists, and educators, and I believe our nation will be poorer for it if we don’t figure out a way to care for the people in these vital professions as much as for those in “traditional” 9-5 jobs (and even then, we’re doing a shit job of it in many cases, sigh).

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Jeana Jorgensen

FOXY FOLKORIST Studied folklore under Alan Dundes at the University of California, Berkeley, and went on to earn her PhD in folklore from Indiana University. She researches gender and sexuality in fairy...