It’s not okay to control coworkers’ pronouns.

Some reading suggestions: “On Intersectionality: Essential Writings” by Kimberlé Crenshaw; “Feminism is for everyone” by bell hooks; “Women, Race and Class” by Angela Y. Davis; and “Neighborhood Feminism: Notes from the Women a Movement Forgot” by Mikki Kendall.

Working with a Debbie Downer

My co-worker is a real disappointment. It’s impossible to have a conversation with her without hearing how the world is going to burn down in 20 years, how humans are essentially rotten to the core, and how anyone who thinks otherwise is incredibly stupid. I can’t avoid this woman because twice a week we work alone in our small office. She is also my supervisor and 20 years older than me. I’ve tried to lighten the conversations or steer away from dark topics, but she snorts derisively and cites her sources.

I’m on anxiety medication and find myself in a bad mood every time we work together. I have spent years in therapy and have a hopeful view of life and my role in trying to make the world a better place. I resent your implication that optimism is for the weak-minded. She responds poorly to boundaries and has a quick temper. How can I protect myself from her cynicism?


You are in a delicate position but you are still allowed to have boundaries. For some reason, this woman is mired in hopelessness. Some people are like that. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism. Maybe it’s poor social skills. Maybe it’s a symptom of depression. Who knows? The next time she starts dragging you down the path of broken dreams, simply tell her that while she is entitled to her opinion, you have personally worked hard to develop a more positive outlook. Tell him that part of that job is to avoid conversations that don’t allow for the possibility of hope and that you would prefer not to continue the discussion. She may respond badly and lose her temper, but you can’t spend that much of your work life listening to someone who affects your mood so much, and you can’t suffer in silence simply to avoid her lack of emotional self-control.

It won’t finance you

As an emergency specialist, I communicate with my coworkers 24/7 via WhatsApp. Urgent notifications, such as unscheduled absences from work, are handled as soon as the sick staff member calls.

However, our WhatsApp periodically transforms into a polarizing social forum. There are requests for birthday funds, gossip about an abusive colleague who wasn’t promoted to director after serving in that role, and, most recently, a constantly complaining crybaby grieving for an elderly parent. It turns out that I am not in love with the aforementioned group, due to interpersonal conflicts.

The problem is that if I leave the conversation, I am easily identifiable as the person leaving these chats. He would be seen as an outsider who refuses to be a team player. But I don’t want to be a hypocrite who transfers funds to coworkers I don’t like or respect. Your thoughts?


Social pressure to contribute financially to various peer-related ventures can be intense. I’m all for collective efforts in support of the community, but these fundraising requests take on a lot. Not everyone has the means or the will to contribute. While that may invite prosecution, it is not a crime. If you don’t want to be a hypocrite, don’t be a hypocrite. If they ask you why you left the conversation, simply say, “I have nothing to contribute, financially or otherwise.” If you’re feeling nice, you can add something polite acknowledging the birthday or untimely death. Your colleagues may notice you leaving group chats about these fundraisers and may judge your behavior, but you have every right to opt out. You just have to decide how much of their judgment you can tolerate.

Greetings from the dungeon

I work for a large university in a major city. This university is considered one of the best in the country and has a stellar reputation. Many of the buildings on the main campus are almost 100 years old. All of the buildings seem to have problems that you would expect due to their age: old pipes, drainage problems, heating and cooling problems, and on several occasions in my building/office: mold, flooding, and a visit from an opossum. I work on the lower level of one of these old buildings – the windows are below ground level and are often a source of leaks.

Just a few days ago the office flooded again. The last time this happened they told me there was no mold. The facilities team passes the responsibility to building management, who passes it back to the facilities. No one, from my boss to the vice president of our department, will take these matters seriously. Now is the rainy season. There will soon be more leaks and flooding in my office and I am expected to continue working – no fresh air, high humidity and possible visits from rodents. I’m at my wit’s end. Should I continue to raise this issue?


I’ve had more than one teaching job where the English department was located in a decrepit, vermin-infested building that was supposedly scheduled for a renovation that never happened. Sometimes universities allow their facilities to fall into such disrepair because there is never enough money for infrastructure. Sometimes they just don’t care.

Still, it’s unpleasant at best to work in moldy, vermin-infested spaces, and it’s not okay. You may have to take your complaints beyond the university. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for example, has guidelines on pest control that specify that “a continuous and effective extermination program shall be instituted when its presence is detected.” The agency also has standards for mold, air quality and really everything that comprises a safe and healthy work environment. If the university wants to kick the can down the road internally in perpetuity, it’s time to pay the can to a higher authority. I’d also like to point out that college newspapers tend to do a very good job with stories about dilapidated facilities and indifferent administrations. I hope there is some relief on the horizon.

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