Monthly Archives: January 2013

Diversity from the Margins

I’ll be writing more about this gem from bell hooks’ Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics for a brick and mortar publication. She offers a mindset worth holding tight to, regardless of where you are in your academic career. We get tugged in so many directions, by advice that, in myriad ways, tells us to somehow be different than who and what we are, just so we can become part of institutions that were designed to exclude us.

Don’t do too much service. Publish here not there. Specialize in this but also do this other new thing over here so you can get a job. Blend in but don’t sell out. Fit in but don’t compromise. Always professionalize. Be a role model but transcend whatever subject position makes those around you the most uneasy.  And that’s nothing compared to the demands we place on one another. Be Colored like this. Feminist like that. GLBandT in this particular space. Sign up; don’t sell out.

No wonder so many of us are making ourselves sick.

And maybe this advice comes from a good place, but mostly I think it comes from well-meaning folks trying to replicate themselves or validate their own experiences. Worse, it seems to want to make the people change instead of their institutions. It seems to start from the premise that being on the outside, on the margins is always bad.

bell hooks begs to differ:

Marginality [is] much more than a site of deprivation; in fact…it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance. It was this marginality that I was naming as a central location for the production of counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives. As such, I was not speaking of marginality one wishes to lose—to give up or surrender as part of moving into the center—but rather of a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.

Put more lyrically, Lucille Clifton asks in her poem “won’t you celebrate with me”

“what did i see to be except myself?”

The work, of course, is to know who that “self” actually is absent the destructive anxieties that plague all ambitious academics, but particularly academics of color.  What I see in hooks’ argument is a call for those of us on the margins to be funambulists, to be tightrope walkers who stay above the trials of marginalization, to work and write from that place and to embrace it.

*hooks is quoted in “Balancing the Passion for Activism with the Demands of Tenure: One Professional’s Story from Three Perspectives.” Few, et al. Feminist Formations 19 (3: 2007) 47-66.

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Lessons from the Collection; or, My 2013 Diversity To Do List

I don’t go in much for New Year’s resolutions (who does anymore?), but I do love making “To Do” lists. I read once that we are more likely to finish tasks if we write them down, and so here is my 2013 Diversity To Do List.

I’ve culled it from the conversations I had in 2012 with faculty and administrators from different parts of the country about diversity and tenure.   These discussions move beyond the challenges (and successes) in the personal narratives collected in the anthology and towards possible strategies and solutions.  They usually started with an invitation to give a talk about diversity and higher education and then meandered a bit as we discussed what such a talk might offer in practical terms (I want do more than preach to the choir or offer trite platitudes).

So, from time to time in the coming year, I’ll be taking up the issues listed below in this space.  I hope they will offer thoughts and suggestions along the lines of this post I wrote about double-diversity and Derrick Bell last year.  I certainly don’t have all of the answers (especially about geographic obstacles to diversity), but I list them now with the hopes that those with more experience and expertise will make recommendations about how to approach these topics, suggest relevant readings, or comment on my thoughts and suggestions:

• Improving the Post-Doc Diversity Fellowship

• How to prepare a search committee to (actually) hire for diversity

• What faculty of color want and need from their white colleagues

• Geographic obstacles—how to build diversity outside of cities where faculty of color tendcluster

• Most common mistakes departments make when hiring faculty of color

• What does good mentoring look like? Or, more specifically, what do junior faculty of color need?

• Diversity through curricular revision; or, the yeoman’s work of bringing in a specialist in ethnic studies (of any kind)

• How to use social media to bolster diversity (does Digital Humanities as a discipline offer a useful model to adapt?)

• How to start a conversation about diversity in your department

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Filed under Race, Race and Tenure Op-Ed, Race and Tenure Reporting