"Are You Sure You're Fine in New York?"

Adati Tarfa, PharmD; University of Wisconsin-Madison

Olayinka Shiyanbola, PhD; University of Wisconsin-Madison

A few hours after my first virtual meeting with my advisor following the stay at home order, she sent me a text asking, “Are you sure you're fine in New York? Seems like you had a lot of disturbance today.”

“Everything is fine!” I promised. I couldn’t tell her the truth because I felt there was nothing she could do about it. Truth is that upstairs is my uncle, an at-home hospice care patient who is dependent on me for feeding, taking his cancer medicines, and any form of spoken communication. The main floor where I attend my classes is also where my hyperactive seven-year-old cousin attends classes and needs a lot of help with navigating her online activities. The basement is where my aunt, also a graduate student does her work. While I have plenty of room and the comfort of being at home, the interruptions I experience on a workday are plenty. And then outside of our home…you’ve read the news.

My department, Health Services and Policy Research in Pharmacy decided to host a check-in meeting for the graduate students and faculty with the Dean of the School of Pharmacy present. There I learned a medley of issues everyone was facing, and it encouraged me to share my own experiences. My peers and faculty provided me with some helpful tips but acknowledged that their responses may not be culturally appropriate for me.

They were right. After the phone call, my advisor checked-in with me. As a black person, she understood how I cannot seamlessly prioritize my work over familial responsibilities or claim a space within my home as out of bounds to others as was suggested or offered as an option in our department check-in. Our conversation made me realize how monocultural and homogenous a lot of the work-from-home tips are. I cannot use headphones to cancel any noises and help me concentrate because I must be able to hear my uncle’s clap indicating he needs me at random moments. I start and end my day with family religious meditation, so every meeting is scheduled outside of that time making my workday less flexible.The medidations are an important part of my life but in the past I had the leisure of scheduling it on my own time. Lastly, household chores make it impossible for me to experiment with my productivity, that is deciding when I attend to what and whom while I prioritize work. I believe my experience sheds a light that outside the very well illustrated work-from-home tips are many homes that are not structured to function that way.