On June 4th, 2021, Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) Political Science Professor Amanda Bittner took to Twitter to call out the university for sending a sexist Wellness newsletter to employees.
Bittner states that she does not all out her employer often because she likes her job and colleagues. However, the newsletter she received was a tipping point, and she says that it is awful. Bittner says that it is sexist and does not address the problems the workers at MUN have. Bittner asks for the implementation of a fix.
Student Holly Fox states regarding MUN, “they will truly suggest anything besides improved working conditions.”
Professor Sonja Boon states to Bittner, “you are breaking one of the rules on the first page: you’re passing judgement, and that just doesn’t make you likeable. Be more open-minded. Smile. And have a carrot.”
Bittner responds, “I know. The irony wasn’t lost on me. There is no question that questioning things make you less likeable. This has been true for a while now, though; I think I am a lost cause.”
Professor Sarah J Martin states, “As employees, we are sent out newsletters with stories on how to buy the right bed, and students are sent out newsletters on how to cook oatmeal.”
Sarah J Martin had also tweeted about the issue on May 11th, 2021; Martin says, “our May’ Wellness Zone’ Newsletter from HR focuses on individual fixes and reports that laughing is good for us.” Martin states that it is breathless reporting of common sense with no citations. Martin then asks, “Why are we sent these “wellness” newsletters that claim to improve our quality of life?”
Martin suggests the cancellation of the newsletter and the money to be used to create a grant for students that improves wellness.
Martin then asks why the university is outsourcing and why they are paying for “shitty, offensive information.”
Martin states that she did a search, and the exact same wellness newsletters are being used at universities across North America. She says that the only difference is the logo on the top right-hand side.
Dr. Julia M Wright states, “the first page… just reminds me of the worst peer pressure in high school–be like this or else. And then they jump on the women=dieting bandwagon that’s been so damaging…”
“Can we put the money MUN spent on this letter towards actual wellness initiatives?”Katie Crane
Katie Crane states, “This newsletter decreased my wellness just by having read it. Can we put the money MUN spent on this letter towards actual wellness initiatives run by people at MUN who know what they’re doing?”
Dr. Karine Levasseur states regarding the wellness newsletter’s advice not to pass judgement, “We are political scientists; I pass judgement five times before lunch because it is my job… I call out poor policies, governance structures, etc… not to mention that this is highly sexist reinforcing women as polite, quiet…”
The link was taken down, and the whole wellness page on MUN’s website went offline a few hours after Bittner’s initial post.
Karen F (@AtlanticKaren) states that “The ‘tips’ are so bad and made worse when mgmt cite them to staff. Enforces a culture where critical thinking and trying to improve is squashed… flies in the face of the purpose of a higher ed institution.”
Natasha S (@natashamcg) states, “Holy crap, was this written in the ’80s? This isn’t wellness. This is advice on how to be thin and likeable. I can not believe this was approved. You don’t need to be likeable to do your job. You just need to be professional. My mind is blown reading this.”
“Holy crap, was this written in the ’80s?”Natasha S
Professor Sarah Rotz states, “York does the same. It borders on absurd at times. Meanwhile, admin still doesn’t acknowledge or clarify how they will address pressures and inequities, and they still lack coherent mental health supports (e.g., we don’t get benefits for psychotherapy, only psychologists).”
Professor Mark D. Berry states, “Just read the depression section. It’s factually incorrect. ‘The vast majority of people with depression will overcome it.’ That is just plain wrong. Depression and schizophrenia are very well established to be refractory to treatment and high risk of relapse.”
Jessica McCormick states, “MUN has a Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research, and this is the kind of garbage they’re sending to staff? At a time when folks are worried about the impacts of massive funding cuts for the institution! Yikes.”
Dr. Lisa Daly states, “I worked at a job like that. Smile, ask questions that reaffirm my boss’s authority, do not challenge, and act flattered when the boss makes comments on my appearance (wait, that last one isn’t there). I happily no longer work in that soul-crushing place.”
MUN sent out a tweet stating, “We appreciate and value the feedback from our employees regarding the Wellness Zone Newsletter. Having heard these valid concerns, Human Resources has directed its Employee Wellness division to cancel the subscription immediately.”
Matt Barter is a third-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.