Sarah Fuller received her M.A. from the University of New Mexico in 2015. She dedicated much of her graduate work to studying how motherhood is discussed, navigated, and culturally enacted in university professoriate networks. The product of a strong working mother, Sarah aspires to bring awareness to how North American business culture treats mothers. Sarah dreams that one day the word ‘mother’ in the workplace will no longer be a taboo.
This study revealed the interpersonal networks and communication resources available to women who are both mothers and professors in a large university. The current study was an inquiry using approaches from the ethnography of communication (EOC), which holds that culture and communication are inseparable and synonymous (Carbaugh, 2007; Covarrubias, 2002; Philipsen, 1997). In addition to the EOC, this study used border theory (Clark, 2000; Desrochers & Sargent, 2004; Nippert-Eng, 1996) and double bind theory (Bateson et al., 1956) as theoretical frameworks. Border theory operationalizes the experiences of individuals into domains, or spaces and places which govern specific behavior, rules of conduct, and cultural expectations. This study found that women who are mother professors engaged their lives in two separate domains: the professoriate and motherhood; domains that are at odds with one another from an occupational standpoint. Oftentimes, the borders of the two roles overlap and even collide, affecting the mother professor’s cultural enactment and communication resources in each domain. The nature of the border often forced mother professors to divide their roles into parceled-out enactments: that of mother at home, and that of professor in the workplace. Mother professors cope with this communication border crossing and role enactment in two ways: by hiding the fact that they are a mother when in the professoriate domain and self-censoring their communication about motherhood, or by seeking mentors and colleagues in the professoriate who are also mothers to gain interpersonal network support, in particular to serving as sounding boards.