Higher education welcomes tattoos in the workplace


Julie Setele has three black lines tattooed on her right arm. The tattoo is there to remind her of when she used to harm herself.

Setele teaches anthropology and sociology at Webster University. She said she made the tattoo easily visible so she could remind herself and others that self harming is not okay.

“I know a lot of students at Webster who have experienced self harm, who have practiced self harm and who struggle with the scars that have resulted,” Setele said.“I wanted folks to know that they’re not alone, that you can have such issues and still get a Ph.D. and become a professor and move on from that behavior.”

Setele said she looked at the tattoo as a way to alter her body in a healthy way rather than harming herself. Students often ask about the three black lines but she usually keeps it private, Setele said.

Setele has three other tattoos on her body.

A Celtic-like tattoo on her back represents her time living abroad in Ireland. The woman giving birth to herself on Setele’s hip describes her feminism empowerment. The heart and tree on her left arm represents regrowth after heartbreak.

Setele said she attaches sociology to tattoos by the meanings assigned to them.

Tattoos in the Workplace

Andrea Miller, a sociology professor at Webster, has seven tattoos on her body. Miller said she feels academia is very accepting toward tattoos.

Before she had any tattoos, Miller attended a sociology conference. Miller said the first person she saw at the conference had two full sleeves of tattoos on their arms. That is when Miller said she decided sociology was the right career choice.

Setele said she received advice from the American Sociological Association to not let employers see her tattoos.

“An older white woman who was leading the discussion told all of us in the room that we needed to cover up our tattoos when we go to interview places,” Setele said.

Setele’s first interaction with Webster University went a little differently.

Sociology and criminology professor Dr. Remy Cross interviewed Setele in a “speed dating” interview setup. Setele saw a tattoo on Cross’s right forearm and said she thought Webster might be a good fit for her.

When he was in college, Cross said one of his professors told a student they would never get a job because they had tattoos. Almost every student in the class already had tattoos, according to Cross.

Cross said he tells his students to be smart when getting tattoos so it will not interfere with their careers.

“What I tell students typically, if you’re going to get tattoos, get them where they could be covered up,” Cross said.

At his old warehouse job at Anheuser Busch, Cross said he had to cover up his tattoos. Cross said he felt academia was much more comfortable with tattoos.

Photography professor David Moore said he has never experienced a problem with tattoos in the workplace. Moore spent many years of his life in the restaurant business along with teaching photography at Webster and Forest Park Community College.

Moore said the restaurant business did not used to be as accepting of tattoos as it is now. He said he had to cover up his tattoos while working. While teaching, Moore said he never had to worry about covering up the squid and bee tattoos visible on his arms


Webster University does not have a policy regarding tattoos for employees.

Missouri is an at-will employment state, which means employers can fire employees for almost any or no reason at all.

All states in the U.S. recognize at-will employment. According to John Moffitt, employment lawyer at Hollingshead and Dudley Trial Lawyers, employees fired for having tattoos would probably not be able to file a lawsuit because of Missouri’s at-will employment status.

Moffitt said he has only received about five calls concerning tattoos in the workplace over the past three years. Moffitt said he simply tells those people they do not have a chance to fight their termination because of Missouri’s at-will employment status.

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