Breaking Up with Burnout Culture: Why I Am Taking Leave

TL;DR: I am taking a period of compassionate leave, enabled by University policy, with permission and support. This is because I have been designing and building EDI infrastructure at Loughborough University for the past 2+ years, on top of my day job as an academic, which has negatively affected my well-being. See you in October!

From mid-August to end of September 2022 I will be taking a period of extended leave from work. This leave is approved by line management under the terms of the compassionate leave policy for race-based trauma that I proposed and saw through to policy change at the University where I work, Loughborough University in the United Kingdom. During the height of the 2020 international Movement for Black Lives, I listened to innumerable Black scholars, mostly women and femmes, speak about how exhausted they were from having to pretend in professional settings, and especially with white colleagues, that ‘everything was fine.’ They explained how challenging it was to carry on with work as normal when, in the midst of a global pandemic, there was a revolutionary anti-racist movement taking place in the streets of nearly every major city around the world. I am grateful to the Black and mixed heritage Black scholars who hosted the online gathering that got us to slow down to reflect and connect, and to the senior leaders who took my proposal seriously and enabled the development of the new policy, the formalisation of which I advocated for in the year following and which has since been extended to apply to all protected characteristics. The text of the policy is available here.

I am an intersectional feminist researcher of digital entrepreneurship. Since the socio-cultural rupture of 2020, when the COVID19 pandemic and the Movement for Black Lives collided in what author Arundhati Roy has characterised as a portal, I have been invited to the table to advance the equity, diversity, and inclusion agenda at Loughborough University. To this task, I brought a lifetime of learnings in how to establish a fairer, more equal and less oppressive society to the Loughborough University community: from my youthful training in anti-racism and poetic and entrepreneurial apprenticeship in community building and art as activism, to my undergraduate liberal arts education enabling me to take ethnic and women’s studies classes as part of my double major in Mathematics and Creative Writing, to the affective pedagogy and embodied knowledge of how to create an anti-racist learning and working environment gleaned from my time as a member of the Building the Anti-Racist Classroom Collective.

I have put this extensive knowledge base and specialist expertise to great use at Loughborough University, first as an invited Chair of the Data and Surveys Working Group of the Race Equality Charter, for which we recently earned the Bronze Award. I conceptualised, co-organised and co-hosted the inaugural Race Equity Town Hall in October 2021, at which we charted the University’s progress in its race equity journey, launched two BAME student leadership groups I collaboratively designed, and shared the outcomes of the Race Equality Charter application with the university and local community. In response to the REC work, I recognised the need for an overarching strategic framework to guide the extensive list of REC actions, and thus proposed and designed the LU Race Equity Strategy (LURES). To ensure I was acknowledged for this work, I advocated to be formally known as its Strategic Architect, a strategic leadership role and a Grade 9 position that I occupy (Feb-Aug 2022) at .2FTE. In this capacity, I successfully bid for and steer the spend of a substantial and recurring budget to progress race equity related activities.

With the LURES on the table, I then realised that there was not yet an appropriate forum at LU to govern such a strategy; thus, I envisioned, proposed and steered the creation of the University’s first central governance structures for EDI: the EDI Subcommittee and the EDI Advisory Forum, a two-way communication channel between the EDI Subcommittee and the rest of the university that enables the committee to itself be demonstratively inclusive. At my suggestion, the Subcommittee is comprised of at least 50% BAME and 50% women – not a quota, but an aim. I have co-chaired the Advisory Forum in its first year, and recruited an excellent co-chair; together we brought together 130 members of staff from across the university to join and participate. Prompted by Forum members, we also conducted meaningful outreach activities for staff on Grades 1-5 who tend to have less organisational visibility and power. The Forum is now firmly established as a platform for the continuous learning on EDI issues that characterises good EDI practice, and has enabled the direct address of senior leaders including the VC, Chair of EDI Subcommittee, and Director of HR to the University’s EDI community at large. I proposed and collaboratively advanced the first policy paper establishing the strategic importance and recognition of including EDI work in staff workload and objectives, proposed and drafted initial job descriptions for two roles through which individuals have joined our growing central EDI team, and contributed to the recruitment of the University’s first Pro-Vice Chancellor for EDI.

As a member of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Staff Network, I have also held a variety of leadership roles though which I have initiated and led a range of activity to ameliorate the racial inequalities raised by the Network and evidenced through the Race Equality Charter process. As Advocacy Lead, in addition to the compassionate leave policy, I led the creation of a set of Race Equity Guiding Principles to facilitate good practice and harm reduction in race equity work, advocated for a recurring budget for BAME-specific counselling services, established the Collective Anti-Racist Efforts (CARE) project through which I have designed and led collective approaches to challenging institutional racism, such as the BAME Staff Network Advocacy Group and CARE x Citizens UK Anti-Racist Leadership Training and Listening Campaign (2021-22). I contributed to the Gender Project Management Board Promotions Working Group set up in response to the equalities issues brought to light by the UCU industrial dispute. During the long, locked down COVID19 winter of 2020-21, I proposed and organised a monthly guided online movement class for Network members to support our well-being, which was so positively received we carried on into 2022.

As Student Liaison, I initiated the BAME Student Council and Doctoral Consortium, recruited an attendant Advisory Team, and proposed and delivered the pilot and design of the first LU Freedom School in June-July 2022 in collaboration with Ladders4Action, recruiting and managing BAME doctoral research interns to enable meaningful paid development opportunities. As Interim Co-Chair, I initiated and hosted the first Network career development session, recruited a set of School-level Network leads and a new co-Chair, and proposed and coordinated a Community Leadership Award and financial bonus for 20 Network members with more than 10 years’ of service. I now look after the website and contribute EDI-related input, advice, proposals and training to the university’s leadership team, Vice Chancellor’s Office, Human Resources and Organisational Development, Marketing and Advancement, Student Services, Enhanced Academic Practice, Access and Participation Subcommittee, Legal Team, Security, Doctoral College and Loughborough Students’ Union, as well as my own and other Schools. As a result, I have won the Loughborough Academic Award for EDI Champion, and been named by the MAIA Network as an Inspirational Woman two years in a row (2021-22 & 2022-23).

All of the work I have described is in addition to my day job as an entrepreneurship researcher and educator, which have their own separate sets of objectives and requirements. At the same time, these intrapreneurial projects, while fulfilling, have required of me the intense investment of energy, attention and nurturing required of any good thing being born. It is also true that activism, with EDI and social justice work perhaps epitomising this, is the kind of job that is never done. In addressing even a single situation of injustice, you tend to uncover causal chains; following them requires increasing amounts of effort, investigation, and advocacy, as well as the development of collaborative solutions that often lie in the challenging realm of ‘doing something we have never done before’, experimenting with ways to achieve policy, practice and cultural change. Moreover, visibility as an EDI leader brings a range of people who have had negative experiences with discrimination or exclusion to your (virtual) door, so the number of people sharing stories of their or others’ suffering and harm, usually seeking your help to address it, multiplies with every exposure, causing stress and taking a significant emotional, mental and even physical toll.

As a human in the robot-obsessed 21st century, it is no wonder that my life has been punctuated with the episodic burnout that is characteristic of our contemporary, always-on society. Yet, this time, I can clearly trace it to the cumulative trauma associated with the past two years of anti-racist and EDI leadership at Loughborough, which are rooted in my identity as a woman of colour who has responded to invitations to advocate for those like me, and through this gained the trust of Loughborough students and staff alike as someone who strives to make our working and learning conditions less harmful and more equitable. This trust is precious and I hope to honour it by filling my cup first so I can continue to do this work in the future. EDI and anti-racism work at the University itself was never in my job description; I do not do it out of passion, as a life purpose or special interest. Instead, it is better framed as a vocation, a commitment, a service to my community.

I have done none of this by myself and am thankful for all the support, encouragement, collaboration and expressions of appreciation from friends, staff and students across the institution as well as external partners. I am truly heartened about what we have been able to achieve at Loughborough, EDI efforts that have never been seen before at our institution, and in many cases the sector. Nonetheless, the work has left me exhausted, and there is still a long way to go, so rest is required. Inspired by radical self-care ideology and rest as resistance practices, I am taking this period of compassionate leave in light of all I have given to the University. I know that my commitments to my work and my community are exemplary. I am breaking up with burnout culture in order to demonstrate that same level of commitment to myself.


  1. EDI at Loughborough: Creating a Compelling Vision for Organisational Change
  2. Race Equity Guiding Principles
  3. Dismantling Hostile Environments for PhD supervision (LU staff and students only)
  4. Race Equity Town Hall webpage and recording
  5. LU Race Equality Charter summary
  6. Learning from OneTech: Recommendations for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Initiatives in Tech and Start-Up

Reflections on the COVID-19 Rupture: Towards Transformation

Repost of my article written last year in early COVID and recently published in The European Sociologist.

In Spring 2020, we who are located within the geographic borders, and in the metaphorical borderlands, of the declining Anglo-American empire, witnessed a rupture. The Covid-19 crisis appeared in our societies, striking down first elders and middle-aged people, and then appearing in people much younger, causing inexplicable fevers, chills, coughs, body aches and fatigue, and a sudden and simultaneous grappling with our collective mortality [1].

This pandemic has been predicted by epidemiologists worldwide: I was made aware of its possibility via, of all things, Netflix, in an eponymous documentary series, and an episode of a Vox-produced pop-science programme called “Explained.” Whether others saw red flags in these drops in their content oceans, I am unsure. However, we know now that the US and UK governments had similar advance warning of such a phenomenon but irresponsibly chose to ignore it – to our great peril. Nonetheless, for those of us without experience of recent epidemics, or unfamiliar with the realms of virology and/or science fiction, the notion that an outbreak would compel us to cease visiting our friends and family, abandon our offices, favourite coffee shops, restaurants, co-working spaces and other gathering places, remain in our homes and six feet away from strangers, was, until recently, simply unimaginable.

I am a Filipinx-American woman in my late thirties, with Chinese, Spanish, and indigenous Malay ethnic roots and heritage. To this genetic mix I bring an American cultural sensibility – a laid back, nerdy-hippie, queer of colour West Coast vibe in particular – a product of my hometown of Seattle, an early pandemic epicentre. Once an immigrant graduate student, I am now an academic, reasonably secure on a permanent contract, taking a realist, sociological, engaged approach to critical digital entrepreneurship studies, and collaboratively developing anti-racist, decolonial, intersectional cyberfeminist philosophy and practice with international collectives like Building the Anti-Racist Classroom and the Decolonising Alliance. I maintain close interpersonal and online connections to American activists, especially artists, musicians, queers and crips of colour. The diverse scholar-activist-artist communities to which I belong, and the liminal cultural spaces I inhabit, enable me to view this unfolding crisis from multiple perspectives: my social media timelines have a split screen focus on both the US and UK/European dramas, with a picture-in-picture feature on the Asian origins and containment strategies around the virus, and the equally virulent Sino/xenophobia it has unleashed on people who look like me, in both my home and my host countries.

Black feminist Afro-futurist writers have warned us of these times. The ground-breaking science fiction writer Octavia Butler, and scholars of her work, such as authors and activists adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha [2], and Alexis Pauline Gumbs [3], have used the art of visionary fiction to explore themes of human vulnerability and Earthling interdependency, through crafting post-apocalyptic imaginaries in which, during times of fascist resurgence and environmental catastrophe, the radical leadership and collectivist ethos of Black women protagonists enable another way of interrelating. Queer and crip communities of colour, who share important intersections with the above, have through necessity designed and utilised mutual aid and preparedness practices for their individual and collective survival [4]. As this crisis reared its head, politically engaged and socially radical artists, scientists, scholars, cultural critics, and healers snapped into action, producing cartoons, commentary, Twitter threads and memes reminding us that it’s ok to be human, scared and uncertain, and to prioritise our self and collective care practices, offering accessible suggestions for how to do so. These are the communities to whom I am now turning for advice on how to look after ourselves and each other. Their rapidly and collaboratively produced guides are the resources that I am copying into my WhatsApp chat groups and Padlets and Google Docs and Facebook groups where I am sharing information, commiserating, and communing. From them we have quickly learned important new terms: pod-mapping. Immunocompromised. Flattening the curve. I am heartened at the social solidarity that has arisen from this crisis, called for by everyone from the most ardent activists to the World Health Organisation.

This crisis is taking place at the crossroads of at least three eras in the Anglo-American imperial timeline: First, the digital gift [5], offering us instant access to the concepts and the language of this moment, making legible what we can ask of each other and demand from those in power. Second, the ‘needs must’ resurrection of a socialistic ethos, after more than a decade of austerity since the 2008 financial crisis. The UK Labour party manifesto ripped to shreds last autumn held promises – universal basic income, rent freezing – that are now being called upon to keep societies stable. These ideas are also espoused on the American left, epitomised by socialist Bernie Sanders as the US Democratic Party prepares for a critical election year. Finally, it is the era of peak meme, in which content is seemingly limitless and intertexuality and referentiality know no bounds. When US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke with prison abolitionist activist Mariame Kaba at a webinar on mutual aid, the infographic posted to illustrate the event quoted the anarcho-communist Kropotkin, an early theorist of the evolutionary significance of cooperation. The replies in the thread were meme heaven.

Yet, the occurrence of such a rupture does not necessarily precipitate transformation. Another stream of content – from chambers of commerce, the business community, academic institutions and entrepreneurs – is focused on maintaining productivity while working from home. I see this approach mocked in a self-deprecating way in another Tweet: Day 1 of quarantine – daily schedule, tidy workspace, nourishing meals; Day 4 – pyjamas, cereal and two hours of work constitutes a full day’s work. For many in the societies we live in, the neoliberal model of a quantified self with automaton-like focus and maximised productivity is all-consuming, such that this biological rupture threatening our basic respiratory functions and by extension all we hold dear is not enough of a disturbance to slow down and set aside ‘business as usual,’ simply a quantum leap in the direction we were already headed: full and seamless migration to online platforms and services.

In her book Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown draws on Octavia Butler’s ouvre, alongside her personal history of social justice movement facilitation, to advocate intentional adaptation, or the power to shape the future through small, directed efforts underpinned by principles of interdependency, collectivity and mutuality [6]. In this crisis we see that people whose work embodies such principles – health care workers, carers, teachers, farmers, bus drivers, street cleaners and supermarket clerks – rather than the financiers, hypercapitalist billionaires, or politicians – are, in fact, the ‘key workers’, those without whom the social fabric disintegrates. The refusal of those in power to prioritise these people is criminal. I sign with horror a petition on from a junior doctor pleading with the government to test NHS workers for Covid-19. I read threads from other health care workers who are expected to work, some even coming out of retirement to do so, and are both exposed to the virus and likely infecting others, and who have not been tested. Both American and British celebrity and sportspeople announce on social media that they have tested positive, sending staunch messages of hope to their fans and the public, seemingly oblivious to the ways in which their wealth and status has allowed them, as usual, to blatantly jump the queue.

There are other reminders that the world is still full of fear, greed, scapegoating and hatemongering. At the grocery stores, the shelves have been raided by panic buyers. The last time I was out in public, a middle aged white British man shouted at a young Chinese man wearing a mask: “No use wearing a mask now, you should have worn them before, then we wouldn’t have this problem”. The media has irresponsibly, at best, and intentionally, at worst, drummed up the Sinophobia that has led to Chinese students being assaulted across the UK – nearly every article I read online about the virus is accompanied by a stock photo of Chinese people with masks. To cap off the unconscionable decisions being made in the vacuum of a viral crisis without precedent, the powers of the police state have been significantly ramped up, with both the UK and US, as well as Canada who acts, for all intents and purposes, as a bit of both, all announcing harder border controls and permission to arrest and isolation of anyone suspected to be infectious. The Kleinean moment of disaster capitalism [7] we are currently facing will be officially accompanied by its equally terrible twin, disaster racism.

In this historical moment, labour of vastly divergent kinds is being negatively affected, and the effects of globalization on the information capitalist superstructure, interlinked with the various other institutions, from legal to political to educational, that allow for the day-to-day reproduction of society, are being brought into stark relief. Artists have had gigs cancelled, service workers have lost jobs and wages, lawyers report that prosecutors are protected behind glass but defendants and defence attorneys are side by side in the courtrooms. A project to collect anonymous voicemails about how people are being affected by the virus captures a message from a worker in California processing a raft of dead bodies whose cause of death is listed as acute respiratory failure; they are not provided with masks or other protective gear, and the dead were not tested for Covid-19. In this mayhem, no worker is left untouched, no boss will escape unscathed, but the UK measures to address this being brought in by the Conservative government can be expected to, as always, benefit the elite.

Critical sociologists, especially anti-racist, decolonial and intersectional feminists, have built a body of knowledge that allows us to theorise, with great certainty, what has led to this moment: the history and ongoing legacy of white supremacist colonization, patriarchy, and racial capitalism, which are wholly destructive, damaging, and exploitative to the masses, while enriching the few. Contrary to popular soundbites claiming that Covid-19 is a great leveller, emerging evidence demonstrates that instead, existing inequalities have been rapidly exacerbated. Poor and marginalised populations of colour, especially Black, Latinx and Asian people, are made more vulnerable through greater exposure to the virus combined with historic legacies of inequality, such that they are now critically ill and dying at dramatically higher rates. Critical legal scholar Anamika Misra encapsulates the international situation thusly: “Segregation, discrimination and dehumanisation are all baked in to the practice of structural social distancing that further exposes racialised, indigenous, queer, and Dalit communities to polluters, insecure housing, lack of sanitation, economic peril, and reduced access to healthcare.” In an online teach-in hosted by The Rising Majority, lifetime anti-racist, anti-capitalist feminist activists Angela Davis and Naomi Klein emphasised that it is only by intentionally dismantling these unequal and unjust systems, and building new, better structures in place of the old, that it will become possible to relate to each other and to our planet differently. Careless social reproduction is no longer an option. This rupture must lead to transformation.


[1] This reflective commentary was written in April 2020, prior to the most recent international popular uprisings for Black Lives. Although outside the timeline of this piece, they are undoubtedly informed by and interconnected with the issues of social and especially racial inequality, and the activist responses to them, explored here.
[2] Brown, A.M., Imarisha, W. (eds) (2015) Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. Oakland: AK Press.
[3] Gumbs, A.P. (2018) M Archive: After the End of The World. Durham: Duke University Press.
[4] Piepzna-Samarasinha, L. (2018) Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.
[5] Elder-Vass, D. (2016) Profit and Gift in the Digital Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[6] Brown, A.M. Emergent Strategy (2017). Oakland: AK Press.
[7] Klein, N. (2007) The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. London: Penguin.