Emerson College has been my professional home for over a decade. I curate and direct the Bright Lights Film Series, a free public exhibition program screening more than 50 films an academic year for in excess of 4,000 attendees annually. I love my job and I know how valuable my work is to the students, faculty, staff, alumni, and Boston community. The screenings and discussions I host focus not only on the form—aesthetics and production values—but also on the content of films, providing a much needed opportunity to discuss critical issues like racial inequity, sexual assault, climate change, gun violence, and queer liberation in a communal setting.
I have made my career promoting the stories of women through the Fifty Percent Female Initiative, screening at least 50 percent films by female filmmakers. I speak at film festivals and conferences on programming for gender parity, encouraging women into leadership roles in all areas of the film world. Yet, in the six years I have been directing this film series, I have been denied a director title and a salary commensurate with my male colleagues. I have tried to advocate on my behalf for many years to little effect.
Things at Emerson are not the same as they were 18 months ago. We overwhelmingly voted in a union for staff and have been bargaining with the college for our first contract. Collective bargaining has shown how widespread such issues are: on average, women at Emerson earn 91 cents for every man’s dollar. Emerson’s workforce is 60 percent female, yet among the 15 employees in the highest pay grade, all but three are men. The lowest pay grade is 80 percent women.
Emerson has an opportunity to lead on issues of gender equity through a good first contract. Unfortunately, the administration is insisting on a compensation plan that still includes merit pay as a significant portion of possible raises, doled out at the discretion of a supervisor. But the facts show that we do not live in a meritocracy at Emerson. Women are held back or not given opportunities to advance. Just like almost every other American workplace, we are stuck in a system that, at best, undervalues women and, at worst, creates an environment of abuse and assault.
The #MeToo movement tries to make clear what many have long said—it is not easy to be a woman in the workplace. While it’s crucial to address instances of sexual misconduct, we need to look at the larger structures of gender inequality that make many workplace environments ripe for abuse. When we routinely devalue the work of women (by failing to promote them into positions of power, failing to pay them commensurate with their male colleagues, and failing to provide adequate maternity leave and child care) we contribute to a climate where inequality is allowed to flourish.
Emerson is comprised of thoughtful, caring individuals who believe in social justice (so much so that we have an office dedicated to its pursuit). With the support of students, faculty, and alumni we have the opportunity to set an example in the national conversation about work inequality, if we can do more than pay lip service to fairness and egalitarian values, and finally settle our first collective bargaining agreement.
I am hosting an event, Beyond #MeToo: Confronting Power Imbalances in Arts and Media, in the Bright Family Screening Room on Wednesday, April 11 at 7pm. This event is free and open to the public. You are all invited to join the conversation, which must include how we value women and the work they do as the foundation of how we address power imbalances.
For more information on the upcoming event, visit web.emerson.edu/brightlights
Ed note: Just as we were about to post Anna’s letter, the following came in via email from SEIU Local 888 with the subject line: “Emerson staff accuse management of making unilateral changes to their jobs and working conditions. Unfair Labor Practice charges filed with Labor Board.”:
BOSTON – After 18 months of bargaining for a first contract, representatives of the Emerson Staff Union have filed unfair labor practice charges against Emerson College.
The charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board included complaints that the college’s representatives have failed to bargain in good faith by making unilateral changes to employees’ jobs and working conditions.
Charges were also filed for violations of members’ federally protected rights to engage in collective, concerted activity to improve their wages and working conditions.
John-Albert Mosley, Program Coordinator in the Visual & Media Arts department and member of the Emerson staff union said, “I love working at Emerson, but we refuse to accept the administration’s consistent attempts to undermine union support. We come to the bargaining table in good faith and we expect the administration to do the same.”
The 140 members of the Emerson Staff Union who are members of SEIU Local 888, provide critical administrative services and support to Emerson students and faculty in the information technology, registration, television radio and film, library, clinical and academic departments.
Local 888 is uniting higher education professionals at Emerson, Suffolk, Boston University, Brandeis University and UMass Lowell. To learn more about SEIU Local 888, visit www.seiu888.org.