“Equality is not a credential. Equality is a task. It is what we have to do, because we are not there yet” - Sara Ahmed
”...universities often describe their missions by drawing on the languages of diversity as well as equality. But using the language does not translate into creating diverse or equal environments. This “not translation” is something we experience: it is a gap between a symbolic commitment and a lived reality.” - Sara Ahmed
I am currently reading a book entitled Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia. The title says it all. And while so far, the chapters I have read talk about experiences in academic departments, I would like to focus this article on changes in academic disciplines, research, journals, and conferences, because it is something I have been thinking about for some time now.
I just published a call to action for fellow global South scholars in Al-Fanar Media (an Arab higher education magazine) entitled Amplifying Voices of Global South Scholars. I think, especially in light of recent discussions on whether edtech should be a discipline (see here, here, here, here and lots of tweeting by myself and Kate Bowles especially on how disciplines can and often do discriminate and exclude), it made sense to write a companion piece for a more Western/global audience, with suggestions on how academia/academics (in journals, conferences and scholarship) could evaluate how permeable/inclusive they are, and consider ways of becoming more diverse/inclusive. Writing it here on Prof Hacker, I think it makes sense to offer some suggestions that may be particular to people of color, some to women, some to international non-English-speaking scholars - and there are other ways to be inclusive beyond these, such as considering disability, sexuality, class, etc, or any intersection of these. It’s a start, and much of what I suggest here can be widened beyond the particular examples. Here’s what I do, suggest, or have seen:
As an individual researcher/author/speaker
- How often do we read and cite people of color, women, international scholars? Not to tick the diversity box, but to truly broaden our thinking. It is not an easy task, as non-white/Western/male scholars tend to be cited less often, not considered canonical (except in certain fields like critical pedagogy or gender, postcolonial or race studies - I haven’t studied this formally, but I know it instinctively, and from trying to do it in my PhD dissertation; but it’s a good habit to develop)
- Collaborate on papers/projects with international scholars or people different from ourselves
- Make our work accessible to others (unaffiliated, or in developing countries) e.g. available via open access (search Sherpa Romeo for green open access options if you publish in a subscription-based journal).
As a journal editor or editorial board member or peer reviewer
- Advocate for having a more diverse editorial board
- Take a gentler stance with articles from non-native speakers of English. There’s research that Laura Czerniewicz shared (during an e/Merge Africa webinar we were co-facilitating last month) regarding how low the contributions of African residents/natives are to journals of African studies (Also see this research on Development journals). Not because of low rates of submissions, but low rates of acceptance. How can we remedy this? Especially keeping in mind some of the barriers I mention in my Al-Fanar article.
- Are we critical of our own standards and practices that may be making it more difficult for global South scholars to publish? e.g. some edtech journals require third-person, positivist, large-scale research as the standard of quality, to the exclusion of first-person accounts, and more participatory, qualitative research, case-study, local research approaches. Think about how the latter may be more accessible to third world scholars, but also how their local stories told in their own voices would enrich the literature in our fields.
- Advocate for open access in your journal (or at least waiving author processing fees for scholars from developing countries)
- Write a “Call for Papers” that is inviting to people of diverse geographical locations (there was a discussion on Twitter a couple of months ago where a Call for Papers assumed a US context by default, without ever actually stating it). Instead of the default of a majority of Western (read: American and British) author lists with a smattering of international scholars (and I don’t mean Canadian!), could we design a journal where an issue has a majority of scholars from different parts of the world and only a few American and British ones
- Recognize that English is not everyone’s first language:
- Consider bi- and multi-lingualism. Giving a journal responsibility to translate entire articles would probably be too expensive, but I know several that have French/English abstracts/titles and recently came across the Journal of Education and Self Development which has English/Russian abstracts/titles (more complex because orthographically different).
- Consider crowdsourcing translation, but is that sustainable long-term? Lee wrote about Annotran the other day).
- Be tolerant of poor English when reviewing an article by a non-native speaker and find ways to help them rewrite it into better English
- Be intentional about having keynote speakers who are women or people of color (shout out to Paul Prinsloo for ICDE UNISA 2015 and Digital Pedagogy Lab). We need more of that (see Rafranz Davis’ post on how edtech still doesn’t get this - I currently know multiple people of color involved in the upcoming ISTE conference, which also had the excellent keynote in 2016 by Ruha Benjamin where she talked of discriminatory design - how are our conferences discriminatory be design? Our journals?).
- Invite diverse people onto the organizing committee. That in itself should help keep issues of diversity at the forefront. April Hathcock has an excellent post on how to decolonize conferences and to create space for diverse others to participate in conferences on their own terms, rather than following agendas of the global North.
- How can conferences be more inviting to diverse participants overall? I remember how it felt to be an “only lonely” (to use Annemarie Perez’s term) at a conference, where like 90% of the people there were white. So beyond keynote speakers, how do we make our conferences more inviting to diverse people? See next
- Food choices! For example, I know of conferences that serve alcohol onsite, and while that seems like everyone’s right (kind of like it’s everyone’s right to eat meat even if I am vegetarian), I would actually feel extremely uncomfortable at an event where alcohol was served freely (please don’t be offended - it’s just a personal preference, like I would also be uncomfortable in a space where people smoked freely indoors). Back to vegetarians - some conferences do a really poor job of providing thoughtful food options for vegetarians, vegans, and people with food intolerances, such as gluten intolerance. There was one event where literally the only things I could possibly eat were coleslaw (and I even hate mayo!) and fruit. A big shout-out to AMICAL for recently changing their annual conference dates so it would not coincide with the Islamic month of Ramadan (where most Muslims observe fasting and an important conference in the middle of it would have been inconvenient for many).
- Consider holding conferences in different locations. Donald Nicolson wrote an article about lack of conferences in the southern hemisphere, and I’m thinking of broadening this to just beyond Europe and America. Yes, I know, it sounds expensive to you, right? Imagine how expensive the default is for people like me! And yes, I know, it would take you away from your family and job for longer. Imagine how it is for people from the rest of the world all the time, especially those who don’t have many good quality conferences locally? And yes, I know, some countries (like Egypt and South Africa) may seem unsafe to you, and I won’t underestimate that... but also remember how difficult it is for people from here to get visas and navigate airports where you are, how “unwelcome” we feel we are in your airports and sometimes in the street.
- Provide simultaneous translation when it makes sense. Shout out to eLearning Africa, which had presentations in French and English, and translation to English, French and Arabic, the commonly spoken languages across Africa.
- Consider being hospitable to virtual presenters to some extent, because there will sometimes be people whose voices you wish to hear, but who cannot be there in person for some reason (remember again that most good conferences happen in particular parts of the world).
- Offer daycare options onsite at conferences. I know, it’s a huge deal, but it’s also a huge deal for mothers or single parents to attend events while juggling parenting responsibilites. Think of all the people you’re missing! Shout out to AERA for offering child care (so many others worry about liability and don’t offer it).
This is by no means a comprehensive list. How can we make academia more permeable? Tell us in the comments
flickr photo by thotfulspot https://flickr.com/photos/thotfulspot/4062377614 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license