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Women in academia report increased gender gap amid COVID-19

Women in academia are publishing less than they were before COVID-19. Gender gaps have long existed in the workplace, but the pandemic appears to be exacerbating them, according to a recent review authored by Merin Oleschuk, a sociology professor at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada.

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By Katharine DeRosa

Political science professor Deirdre Condit put up a sheet as a makeshift door for her home office to maintain privacy when she started teaching from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Condit, who has taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond since 1994, knows what it’s like to juggle work and home life. She said that while the house is often thought of as a woman’s space, women tend to have less places designated for productivity. “Man caves” have existed in family life, Condit said, and women are beginning to claim spaces such as “she shacks” to cultivate home territory.

“It’s harder to build that separation,” Condit said.

Women in academia are publishing less than they were before COVID-19. Gender gaps have long existed in the workplace, but the pandemic appears to be exacerbating them, according to a recent review authored by Merin Oleschuk, a sociology professor at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada.

Oleschuk tracked the gender gap with research publications. She found that reports about international studies, political science, economics, medicine and philosophy have increased in number, but these reports are being authored by women at lower rates.

In heterosexual partnerships, women tend to bear more childcare labor, according to Oleschuk’s study, which focuses on gender inequities in academia. Oleschuk’s study also pointed out that studies about childcare burden and gender equity often assume heterosexual, nuclear families, which leaves out large demographics of women without children; women with nonmale partners and single women.

Condit said that women in queer nuclear families face the same situation as heterosexual families, since “somebody has to pick and choose” who will watch the children. She added that queer nuclear families are already at a disadvantage since women on average make less money than men.

U.S. men’s median weekly earnings were $1,104 in the third quarter of 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women’s median weekly earnings totaled $902 during that time period, or 81.7% of men’s earnings. Women face career interruptions in the workplace due to motherhood more often than men do due to fatherhood, according to the Pew Research Center. Reduced hours, taking time off, quitting jobs and refusing promotions all contribute to more career interruptions for mothers.

“The really tough situation is for single parents or single elder care providers, since you have no one else you can hand off every part of it to,” Condit said.

Kimberly Brown, an associate professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at VCU, said that as a professor, her performance is based most heavily on research.

Research is one of the three criteria considered for VCU faculty seeking tenure, an indefinite academic appointment. The other two are teaching and service, according to VCU’s website.

Brown said that in addition to racism in the workplace, women of color disproportionately bear the emotional labor of students which can contribute to a lack of productivity. She said Black students were coming to her in increasing numbers this summer due to “dealing with overt racism, overt images of police brutality being often put in their face on social media.”

“I was trained to be a literature professor, not a psychologist,” Brown said.

Brown described emotional labor as emotional support without compensation and said that as a Black woman the labor is exhausting.

“I’m feeling the same sort of ways,” Brown said.

Brown suggested that student evaluations of professors be reconsidered during this time, since many professors haven’t been trained in online teaching. She said that students should be more lenient with professors if professors are expected to be more lenient with students in the face of online learning.

In light of the pandemic, teaching faculty in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences will receive a default “excellent” rating on evaluations, according to an email Jennifer Malat, the college’s dean, sent to faculty.

However, faculty who don’t perform their duties will not receive “excellent” ratings, Malat said. Evaluations include “multiple dimensions,” Malat said in a statement to Capital News Service. Faculty will receive feedback on their performance as well as recommendations for how they can improve their research, teaching and service in the future.

“A strategy for evaluations during the pandemic was challenging,” Malat said to CNS. “Many faculty, like students and staff, faced challenges in their work and personal lives. The committee recommended reducing stress on the particular rating of the evaluations and focusing on comments that will help improve performance in the future.”

Brown also suggested that universities extend the amount of time between promotions, colloquially known as tenure clocks, to allow professors more time to research.

There have been more than 50 requests for tenure clock extensions by junior faculty on the Monroe Park campus at VCU, according to Mary Kate Brogan, public relations specialist at VCU.

Oleschuk’s publication created 10 suggestions for universities navigating tenure promotions, including providing a one-year extension to tenure track faculty, taking teacher evaluations out of consideration during the COVID-19 pandemic and excusing nonessential service requirements for those with caregiving demands.

“I don’t think that it’s fair to evaluate a person for a situation nobody predicted was going to happen,” Brown said.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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PHOTOS: Cedarfield retirement community opens new $16 million apartment-style expansion

Cedarfield team members and residents have been working together to transition from an “institutional feel” to the Household model, joining a global health services and senior care movement. Household allows for greater emphasis on engaging residents individually by helping them continue their life pursuits as opposed to making them fit the mold of a traditional nursing home resident.

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Cedarfield, a Henrico County senior living retirement community, has completed the final leg of completion on a $100 million Cedarfield Master Plan Expansion project incorporating a person-centered approach that shapes the physical environment, organizational structure, and enhances interpersonal relationships for residents, family, and staff.

The $16 million, 16,000-square-foot, 40-apartment household facility features residential and industrial kitchens, newly designed dining spaces with multi-seating options, a formal area with a fireplace, family room, and private meeting areas. In addition to the amazing common spaces, every Household resident will enjoy a newly updated apartment, complete with private entryways and doorbells. While creating an atmosphere of genuine home, Household also provides residents with clear opportunities to direct their own lives.

“In this Household model, residents and team members are engaged every step of the way – from learning circles to determining the interests of individual residents, to planning, to implementing and running programs for the household,” says Cedarfield Associate Executive Director Matt Dameron.

Cedarfield team members and residents have been working together to transition from an “institutional feel” to the Household model, joining a global health services and senior care movement. Household allows for greater emphasis on engaging residents individually by helping them continue their life pursuits as opposed to making them fit the mold of a traditional nursing home resident.

“While there are team members in each Household that are primarily responsible for programming, the goal of this model is inclusivity,” says Dameron. He continued, “It could be large scale, such as leading a group program or cooking everyone a meal, to something as simple as sitting with a resident and sharing stories over a cup of coffee.”

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James River Association’s ‘Kids in Kayaks’ program aims to establish a lifelong love for our waterways

The James River Association (JRA) will once again be providing their annual ‘Kids in Kayaks’ programs to get students in the Middle and Lower James River Watershed on the water for several days of adventure, appreciation, and education.

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The James River Association (JRA) will once again be providing their annual ‘Kids in Kayaks’ programs to get students in the Middle and Lower James River Watershed on the water for several days of adventure, appreciation, and education.
The program began at the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and Baltimore National Heritage Area in 2015. In 2018, Fort Monroe created a new chapter in collaboration with the James River Association and National Parks Conservation Association.

Kids in Kayaks exposes a diverse group of middle school-age students to kayaking while they also learn environmental topics covered in the 8th Grade Virginia Science Standards Of Learning (SOL). This program gives students practical life skills, and encourages them to enjoy their surrounding environment.

“It is essential for students to have hands-on experience within a wetland to truly understand the beauty and science that happens daily.” says Katie Ferrell, JRA’s Lower James Senior Environmental Educator. “We want students to have these opportunities to become responsible environmental stewards that value the James River. It is of utmost importance to teach our students the importance of keeping our waterways safe, clean, and viable for many generations to come; teaching our students to love the James River is our number one priority because if you love something you nurture it into the future.”

Student participants will experience a variety of fun activities that connect them to the river and teach them about the importance of natural resources. These activities include paddle trips, seine netting, an exercise called ‘Wetlands in a Bottle’ that drives home the infrastructure and importance of our wetlands, and several lessons based around watershed education.

“The James River Association is so excited to partner with Newport News Parks and Rec, James City County Parks and Rec, Newport News Public Schools, and Hampton City schools for another great year of kids in kayaks!” Ferrell continues. “This is a great way to safely get kids outdoors this summer. We cannot wait to get back on the water!”

Programs will be provided through Hampton City Schools, Newport News Parks and Recreation, Newport News Public Schools, James City County Parks and Recreation, and the Richmond Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club.

Ken Samuel, Education Manager for the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club, reflects on past Kids in Kayaks programming: “A majority of the students had an absolute blast. They had a great time in the canoes racing against their friends. They enjoyed the pontoon boat and being able to handle different varieties of fish, and also being able to hold the crabs and know whether they were male or female. They also talked about lazily floating along the river, seeing the houses along the banks, and feeling the peacefulness of the water. It was a new experience for many of them and their confidence and stamina grew as the week went on.”

As part of the program, JRA is also partnering with the Richmond Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club to provide free pontoon boat trips for families on Saturday, May 15. JRA educators will facilitate the trips and teach participants about current issues facing the James River, and efforts to improve its health.

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Virginia colleges mull legality of mandatory COVID vaccine

Virginia universities plan a return to campuses in the fall, but there are questions if the COVID-19 vaccine can be mandated. 

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By Hunter Britt

Virginia universities plan a return to campuses in the fall, but there are questions if the COVID-19 vaccine can be mandated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only authorized the vaccine for emergency purposes, according to Lisa Lee, professor of public health at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The vaccine does not yet have full FDA approval.

The vaccine was authorized for emergency use, so people have to be given the choice to take it and be informed of the consequences if they don’t, Lee said.

“Many legal scholars have interpreted that as saying that people cannot be required to take a vaccine that is under an emergency use authorization,” Lee said. “They can be when it has full approval, so that’s where the hitch is.”

Rutgers University in New Jersey may have been the first to require the COVID-19 vaccination for returning fall students, according to Inside Higher Ed, a publication tracking higher education news. Since then, multiple universities have said the vaccine will be mandatory, with accommodations for documented medical or religious exemptions.

Colleges are on unfamiliar legal ground with the decision to require COVID-19 vaccinations, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Currently, Virginia colleges request documentation that a student was vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, measles and mumps.

Some universities in the District of Columbia and Maryland have announced a mandatory fall vaccine policy, including American, Georgetown, George Washington, Johns Hopkins and Trinity Washington universities.

Virginia universities are still contemplating the legality of requiring the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Virginia Tech is currently thinking about this decision and our university spokespeople will keep both the campus community as well as the larger community aware of what they ultimately decide,” Lee said.

Lee said it makes “a lot of sense to mandate the vaccine,” both from a public health and ethical perspective.

“We know that young people tend to gather and that’s what really spreads this infection,” Lee said. “In this pandemic, we have to take care of ourselves for sure, but we also have to take care of each other, and the vaccine helps us do both of those things.”

Mixed reaction to mandatory vaccine

College students across the commonwealth are making their opinions on the vaccine known, and many differ drastically. Grey Mullarkey, a communication arts major at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said the vaccine should be mandatory for college students and employees.

“The only reason I think a student should not be required to have it to come back to campus is if they have an extreme allergic reaction to vaccines,” Mullarkey said. “I think that all the anti-vax propaganda and making the vaccine a political statement is dangerous and completely counterproductive.”

Mullarkey received a free COVID-19 vaccine through VCU. The process was “quick, easy, and not painful,” Mullarkey said.

Other students said the vaccine is too new to be mandatory. Dajia Perry, a psychology major at VCU, said the vaccine shouldn’t be required until it has undergone more testing.

“I feel like it’s good that we have a vaccine, but I also think the process was rushed,” Perry said. “As of right now, making it mandatory would make me more reluctant to take it because I would feel like it’s being pushed on me.”

Federal health agencies called for a pause of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this month due to reports of blood clots in some individuals who received it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA said these effects “appear to be extremely rare.” Virginia stopped administering the vaccine until the investigation is complete.

Colleges instead are offering employees and students two-dose COVID-19 vaccines. Virginia Tech had sufficient availability of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Mark Owczarski, associate vice president for university relations at Tech, stated over email.

“Virginia Tech has been working with the New River Health District to avail vaccines to all our employees and to all our students,” Owczarski stated.

Tech will continue hosting vaccination clinics until demand has been met, according to Owczarski.

VCU used its Moderna and Pfizer vaccine supply to honor J&J vaccine appointments on the day the latter vaccine was paused.

Fall transition to campus

Virginia universities are announcing a transition back to in-person classes for the fall semester.

VCU will offer in-person and online classes. The university will cap capacity in most buildings, and require employees and students to wear masks and complete a daily health survey.

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville will also return to in-person instruction. The university will provide more details about health and safety plans by July 15.

“After a year in which the pandemic disrupted nearly everything about the UVA experience, we are eager to get back to living, learning, and working together here in Charlottesville and we know you are too,” U.Va. President Jim Ryan, Provost Liz Magill and Chief Operating Officer J.J. Davis wrote in a statement.

Tech is currently preparing for a fully in-person fall semester. President Tim Sands stated last month that he is hopeful for a “pre-pandemic experience.”

Many college students are also hopeful for a return to an in-person, college experience. Greta Roberson, a student and employee at George Mason University in Fairfax, said that she and her fellow coworkers were excited about the vaccine and were among the first at Mason to get vaccinated.

“George Mason is pretty liberal and open-minded, so I think the vaccine is a welcome thing for the Mason community,” Roberson said.

Mason plans to offer at least 75% of instruction on campus and to expand residence hall capacity to “near normal levels.” Masks and testing will still be required until public health guidance changes.

Forty percent of Virginians have been vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

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