Comic campaign about asymmetric uses of power in the academia

In 2018-2019, Jytte organised the creation of a series of comic strips to illustrate problematic situations in the academia involving asymmetric uses of power. The aim of the campaign was to encourage people working in the academia to discuss the problems they have encountered and to inform them of the resources available in such situations.

The campaign included a member survey covering hate speech, harassment, discrimination, and other forms of asymmetric uses of power. Jytte also organised a comic strip workshop delivered by Emmi Nieminen, the illustrator of Vihan ja Inhon internet (“The Internet of Hatred and Disgust”, 2017, Vehkoo and Nieminen). The campaign working group selected four themes that arose from the discussion inspired by the 2018 survey and the workshop. The comic strips were created by the artist Sirpa Varis in 2019.

The campaign was made possible by a grant from FUURT. The posters were made by Heidi Kosonen, and the accompanying texts were written by Kosonen and Johanna Turunen. Other members of the working group were Mikko Jakonen and Kaisa Laitinen. The comic strips and the texts were published in four issues of the Acatiimi magazine in 2019. Miia Ijäs-Idrobo, a Coordinator at FUURT, provided feedback on draft versions of some of the texts.

The comic strips and links to the texts can be found below.

Comic 1: Researcher faces hate speech

Hate speech has received a lot of media attention and unfortunately it has also become an increasingly widespread phenomenon in the academic environment. According to a 2015 survey by the Committee for Public Information, 68 per cent of academics have at least “sometimes” received feedback they consider disturbing. Up to 35 per cent of the respondents have either reduced their public appearances or carefully considered the context and the medium on offer. The statistic warrants an update since hate speech as a social phenomenon has grown exponentially since 2015.

In the early 2010s, the Finnish Union of University Professors and the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers expressed a wish that Finnish universities would update their safety instructions and practices for the internet era, which lead into concrete changes. In spite of its prevalence, the phenomenon is often hidden. For this reason, academics’ understanding on how to deal with hate speech also warrants updating.

What to do if you are targeted by or witness a colleague being targeted by hate speech? The procedures vary among universities but they all have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of their employees. Hate speech should always be brought to the attention of the security officer or a person in an equivalent position. Informing the right people is the first step in ensuring the physical and mental well-being of the targeted person. All threats should be recorded and documented, even when it requires dealing with abhorrent content, including the times and dates you have been called or contacted. You also have the legal right to record harassing phone calls. Strong cases should always be reported to the police.

In addition to physical threats to security, hate speech also causes stress and feeling of insecurity. Universities are responsible for the wellbeing of their employees – and this includes grant-funded researchers. Hate speech directed at research and teaching staff requires faculty, department, and unit-level action. The people with formal responsibilities are the health and safety representatives, the occupational safety manager, and the harassment contact persons. In harassment cases, you should also talk to your supervisor and/or line manager at first instance. You can also approach the shop stewards and the union specialists and representatives.

Peer support is also vital. Too often researchers are left alone with hate speech. If you witness hate speech, offer your support and do not leave your colleague to deal with the situation alone. Hate speech directed at experts is our problem.

Download the poster for your use from here:Sarjakuvakampanja_vihapuhe_blue_ENG

Comic 2: International Researcher Faces Discrimination

International mobility is central to academic work. While Finnish researchers are expected to qualify abroad, Finnish universities have to be an attractive environment for international researchers. Lately, media has focused on the brain drain of researchers educated in Finland, which is a problematic phenomenon with multiple causes. In addition to the insecurity typical to academic careers, the position of researchers is also affected by structural discrimination and racism.

Racism and discrimination are widespread problems in the academia. In addition to international students and researchers, it affects an increasing number of brown Finns. Discussions related to the phenomenon have consisted largely of individual statements that highlight the experiences of particular researchers or students. Institutions have mainly voiced either apologies or declarations of zero tolerance for racism. Structural questions remain unanswered.

Structural racism has no place in the academia and addressing it requires direct action. Based on her investigation, Anaïs Duong-Pedica has noted that Finnish universities do not have the tools to interfere with racism. There is also a clear lack of preventive measures. Universities should be required to provide concrete measures for addressing both the structural and the individual aspects of the phenomenon.

Racism should also be addressed on the level of everyday action. We must not be afraid to confront racist and discriminatory behaviour and talk, even when it is carried out by highly educated people and those in managerial roles. Special attention should be given to structural questions such as communication and recruitment practices. Communication plays a particularly important role in enabling every member of the academia to participate in shared activities irrespective of their background. The same information has to be available to all researchers irrespective of their linguistic background.

If you witness discrimination, show support to your colleagues and help raise the issue at the workplace. It is of utmost importance that the issue is addressed by an outsider, not the person who is discriminated against. The harassment contact persons should be requested to carry out an official investigation. You can also approach the shop stewards and the union specialists and representatives.

Download the poster for your use from here: Sarjakuvakampanja_kvtutkija_scarlet_ENG

Comic 3: Early career researcher collapses

(earlier published in issue 7/2019 of Acatiimi:

According to a 2017 survey by the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers, the lives of Early Career Researchers are coloured by perpetual insecurity. There is growing awareness of the insecurity of the research career path and the problems particular to its early stages, such as short funding periods. Attention has also been given to the prevalence of ECR labour in the so-called academic grey market. In addition to their own research, ECRs can be burdened by unpaid work forced upon them by their schools and higher-ranking colleagues. This type of work can be difficult to turn down since ECRs are constantly required to prove their worth and there are few means available for doing so.

It is all too easy for an ECR to burn out. Many grassroots agents have commented on the anxiety and exhaustion especially of doctoral and post-doctoral researchers. In worst cases, exhaustion and anxiety may even render ECRs incapable for work. Burnout, mental health issues, the general insecurity of a research career, and low pay hasten the brain drain of the university sector. According to the FUURT survey, nearly 60 percent of the respondents were considering moving to the private sector and almost 50 percent were thinking of switching to an entirely different line of work.

For research to remain an attractive career path, the working conditions in the academia must be made more accommodating for ECRs. The final report calls for increasing professionalising of the early stages of the research career by harmonising the job titles of doctoral researchers, increasing their wages, and extending their funding periods. Many ECRs also face problems related to their employment rights, such as collectively agreed pay increases and travel allowances. Those grant-funded ECRs who have no workspaces or right for occupational health care are in a particularly vulnerable position. Universities must act to protect researchers in such positions to ensure that their wellbeing would not depend solely on their peers.

Any ECR who is feeling exhausted should remember that the first point of contact is their academic supervisor. Shop stewards can also be contacted in issues regarding employment, salary, and workload. Earlier this year, FUURT launched career coaching as a new membership benefit and this can be also used to get wellbeing support. Additional support is provided by the main representative of the subject, the head of school, and your colleagues. The Farmers’ Social Insurance Institution Mela also provides wellbeing activities for grant-funded researchers.

Download the poster for your use from here: Sarjakuvakampanja_nuoritutkija_pink_ENG


Comic 4: Female researchers face discrimination

(earlier published in issue 8/2019 of Acatiimi:

Johanna Lätti has studied gender parity in the academia. A year ago, she told an interviewer in the Acatiimi that men and women are still far from equal in the academic world. While straightforward discrimination is rare, a complicated network of relations often ensures that the “academic elite” remains predominantly male, even though the proportion of women in universities and research keeps increasing.

The statistics paint a bleak picture. 58% of all university degrees and 51% of doctorates are awarded to women. Yet around 70% of professors are men, and the average salary of male professors is more than 300 euros higher than that of their female counterparts. The increasingly popular tenure track recruitment has deepened the chasm between genders. In the academia, the glass ceiling seems to be as solid as ever, although differences between fields are significant.

Regarding pay and factors bolstering inequality, Lätti draws our attention to the effects of issues such as performance management and the new collective bargaining agreements that have made wage negotiations increasingly local. On the other hand, career progression is affected by the gendered nature of family leave and the way administrative, collective, and meta-work piles up on women. As Leena Näre has pointed out, the work and wage discrimination experienced by women is connected to structural issues related to career progression. An underlying factor is the popular idea that researchers are by default male.

The recent FUURT questionnaire for early career researchers highlighted the disparity between the experiences of male and female researchers regarding equality in the academia. Women were less likely than men to consider the treatment of people in their department equal. They were also more likely to consider that being a man is an advantage in an academic career. Jytte’s questionnaire also pointed out blatant discrimination and sexism: female researchers reported the prevalence of sexual innuendo and harassment. Female early career researchers are also often subjected to gender-based belittling.

What should female researchers do when they encounter discrimination and harassment? In case of sexual harassment, it is good to inform your colleagues and immediate supervisors as well as your harassment contact person. Problems related to your employment, salary, and workload should be reported to your shop stewards. The Ombudsman for Equality can be requested to investigate discrimination at hiring. It is also important to remember to fight for your rights for example when doing your workplan. Make sure you familiarise yourself with the collective bargaining agreement once it has been finalised next spring.

Download the poster for your use from here: Sarjakuvakampanja_naistutkija_aqua_ENG