Home » Public Scholarship
Category Archives: Public Scholarship
Academics, can we talk seriously about social media for a moment? Like much of the rest of the world, we use various social media platforms. Some of us use it strictly for personal reasons, some exclusively to share our scholarly work and perspective, and others for a mixture of these reasons. I have witnessed enough attacks on scholars by conservatives, bigots, trolls, and even other academics to conclude that no one is shielded from backlash. While our academic freedom is generally protected (though, that statement is debatable), we can no longer expect our colleagues, departments, universities, disciplines, and professional organizations to stand up for us when we come under attack.
The Times (And Attacks) Have Changed
The rules of engagement have changed. We now live in a time when a 20-year-old college sophomore, who writes for a student newspaper to expose “liberal bias and abuses at Texas colleges” (see bio at end), can spark a national conservative assault on a tenure-track professor at a different university over a few tweets critiquing racism. (They believe, however, that they are somehow protecting innocent, uneducated laypeople from the evils of brainy, radical professors in the liberal ivory tower.)
Indeed, this conservative student reporter did make Dr. Zandria F. Robinson “a thing” — both in the sense of a trend of attacking her, her appearance, her politics, her identity, and her research, and by making her an object of a larger, calculated conservative attack on critical and public scholars. With a mere tweet to the president of University of Memphis, this student reporter influenced an internal investigation on Dr. Robinson. Though unsuccessful with the first assault, the site along with another conservative college student site launched a second attack that caught the attention of national conservative media.
In essence, conservatives found success in launching a national assault on the scholarship and character of Dr. Saida Grundy, and were using the formula a second time on Dr. Robinson. They got their first taste of blood in not only dragging Dr. Grundy’s name and reputation through the mud, but also in influencing her university’s president to issue a statement essentially calling her a racist for critiquing racism. U Memphis never formally sanctioned or criticized Dr. Robinson, but their vague tweet disclosing her departure from the university is suspect — perhaps a passive way of quieting the conservatives who demanded her termination. (Fortunately, Dr. Robison had the last word.)
I was pleasantly surprised to see Dr. Robinson’s new academic home, Rhodes College, issued a statement to the press that not only sung her praises but affirmed her expertise and scholarship.
Dr. Robinson was hired for a faculty position in the Rhodes Anthropology & Sociology Department that calls for expertise in particular areas, specifically gender studies and social movements. Her expertise in these areas, her extensive understanding of the complex problems of race in American society, her deep roots in the Memphis area, and many years of successful teaching experience, made her an attractive candidate for the position…Dr. Robinson has an extensive and impressive body of scholarship that provides clarity and context to the sound bite world of social media. This situation ultimately shines a light on Rhodes as a place where intellectual engagement and the exchange of ideas are among our highest priorities.
For once, this wasn’t a passive commitment to tolerate a controversial scholar’s academic freedom; this was a proactive statement to say, “she knows what she’s talking about, so please take several seats.”
But, I worry Rhodes may be an outlier here. And, I am not entirely optimistic Rhodes would defend every scholar who comes under attack. Though I have been informally supported at my own institution, I’m not confident that I would be defended if donors threatened to withhold their financial support if I weren’t fired. Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, an expert on academic institutions, penned an excellent essay that substantiates my doubt:
What I really wanted to point out is how yet again we have an example of how woefully underprepared universities are to deal with the reality of public scholarship, public intellectuals, or public engagement. In this age of affective economies of attention, weak ties can turn a mild grievance into something that feels like political action. In this moment we should call for institutions to state explicitly what they owe those who venture into public waters… Basically, the scale of current media is so beyond anything academia can grasp that those with agendas get a leg up on pulling the levers of universities’ inherent conservativism.
Simply put, academia is behind the times. And, there’s far too much academic cowardice, rather than academic bravery, to entrust our protection to our universities. Controversy — the very thing that academic freedom is designed to protect us against (professionally) — is feared rather than embraced. What’s worse is that these attacks coincide with, or have even been made possible by, the decline of labor rights and protections for academics. Dr. Adia Harvey Wingfield argued this in an insightful essay, “Canaries in the Coal Mine? Saida Grundy, Zandria F. Robinson, and Why Calls for their Firing are a Problem for Everyone”:
As more institutions adopt a market-based model where students are consumers, teaching is pushed off onto poorly paid adjunct professors, and administrative bloat runs rampant, the conditions that tenure track faculty have enjoyed—and that have allowed us to do our best work—are becoming increasingly weaker. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker has moved to weaken tenure at state colleges and universities (with predictably bad results as noted faculty leave the flagship University of Wisconsin-Madison campus for less hostile climates). In this type of environment, it’s not really a wonder that faculty are at risk not for their scholarship, or their teaching, but because they made public statements that generated outcry and controversy.
Like other employees in an increasingly neoliberal environment, academics are facing growing job insecurity and precariousness that stands to weaken and minimize the ways our jobs should allow us to contribute to understanding a changing society. If, as I suspect, Grundy and Robinson are just early indicators of what’s to come for all of us, then we should all be very concerned.
In this context, besides the real professional risks, we are also largely on our own to weather trolls, harassment, rape threats, death threats, and hate mail. And, that goes for those who are relatively uncensored and those who think they maintain their public presence the “right” way. Indeed, you don’t even have to engage the public outside of your classroom to find yourself under attack.
But, let’s be clear: the pattern of attacks on scholars appears to suggest that people of color, women, and other scholars of marginalized backgrounds are most vulnerable to these attacks. Women of color who publicly write about racism and white privilege seem to be overrepresented among the targets of these witch hunts for critical and public scholars. Academia continues to change around us. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand, telling ourselves our only goal is to “publish or perish.” There may not be a decent job left within which we can publish on the topics of our own interests and passions.
Supporting Scholars Who Come Under Attack
I have come across a fair amount of advice for targets of online (and off-line) harassment, and even offered my own. See Dr. Rebecca Schuman’s reflections on dealing with trolls, “Me & My Trolls: A Love Story” and “The Thickness of My Skin.” And, Joshunda Sanders’s, “Up to here with trolls? Tips for navigating online drama.” Also, see the science about online trolls [video], and a cute musical response to trolls [video].
But, I have not seen any advice for others to support scholars who come under attack. So, with what little experience I have, I’m proposing my own approach. In my proposed strategy, I draw from bystander intervention work, primarily used to prevent sexual violence and support victims of such violence. In the recent past, I created a report for a local rape crisis center/domestic violence shelter on existing bystander intervention curricula [PDF]. I wrote about bystander intervention for sexual violence when I blogged for the Kinsey Institute. And, I have written about using bystander intervention to fight racism and support victims of racism — a blog post that has been used as a major theme for an anti-racist group in Tennessee. I hesitate to claim expertise here, but I have referenced or heavily used the bystander intervention model enough to feel comfortable using it here.
Briefly, the bystander intervention model calls for others who are present for some problem or emergency situation to intervene in some way. The language of “bystanders” comes from the concept of the bystander effect, wherein witnesses to some crisis are less and less likely to intervene with more and more witnesses present. If you are the only bystander present, you are quite likely to help if possible; if you are one of one hundred people, the odds are extremely slim that you’ll do anything besides mind your business. Bystander intervention explicitly counters this tendency, instead demanding that bystanders intervene in whatever way possible. And, for social problems like sexual violence and racism, this approach conceptualizes of the problem as a community’s responsibility. To eliminate sexual violence, we are all responsible for fighting rape culture: challenging sexist jokes and comments; challenging victim-blaming; teaching and practicing sexual consent; intervening when we see sexual violence occurring; demanding justice for victims of sexual violence; and, so forth.
I want to apply bystander intervention, then, to supporting scholars who are targeted by bigots, trolls, conservatives, and hostile colleagues. First, we must conceptualize such attacks as a larger problem, one which affects all of us in some way, and which we are all responsible for addressing. A culmination of factors — the absence of academic freedom policies that reflect the existence and scholars’ use of social media, the decline of labor rights and protections in academia, ongoing conservative attacks on higher education (even tenure) — have produced an increasingly easy route to target and then take down public and critical scholars. And, these forces exist within the larger intersections of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and other systems of oppression, thus making marginalized scholars the most vulnerable to attack and the subsequent inaction of academic institutions and organizations.
As a social problem (at least among academics), it is thus our responsibility as a broad academic community to counter these attacks and support the victims of these attacks. This community responsibility exists at multiple levels, ranging from small acts to large policy changes.
A Bystander Intervention Approach To Support Attacked Scholars
We could adapt the above social-ecological model to fit academia, which should include the following levels: individual; department; university; discipline; and, the profession. Below, I offer specific ways to support scholars who are attacked, drawing from my own experiences and suggestions offered by colleagues on Twitter and Facebook (including those who have been subjected to attacks themselves). Please, offer additional suggestions in the comments section.
- Assume that the targeted scholar is already aware of the attack against them. While well-intentioned, “hey did you see this awful thing about you!” can do more harm than good, potentially re-triggering their negative response to the attack. I also recommend not tagging the targeted scholar on social media if and when you share links from the attack or stories about the attack. Unlike social media platforms such as Twitter, we have a choice over who we connect with on Facebook; don’t threaten one’s safe space/chosen community by bringing in the external attacks.
- Offer to take over keeping up with what is written about the targeted scholar so that they do not have to. Only inform them of positive responses and anything else that seems important; don’t let them know about the negative responses.
- Make an informed decision about whether to point out the attack to others. On the one hand, raising awareness and calling others to arms is useful to prevent a situation in which the attacked scholars is on her own to defend and support herself. We certainly can stand to be more aware of these attacks, to whom they are happening, and why they occur. But, on the other hand, you might empower the attackers more by giving their attack more attention and readership. In some cases, simply not feeding a troll could be effective in containing the situation.
- If you decide to raise awareness about an attack, be mindful that some colleagues (especially department colleagues and administrators at the targeted scholar’s institution) may be prompted to act in a way that harms the targeted scholar. You don’t want to be responsible for initiating professional consequences against the targeted scholar in your effort to support them.
- If you see that a colleague has come under attack, simply ask what they need and extend an offer of support. At a minimum, this is a reminder to the attacked scholar that they are not alone. I can say, from personal experience, sitting alone with only nasty and bigoted comments from strangers can feel very isolating; if the attacks are persistent, one might even begin to question whether their attackers’ claims are true.
- Say something more helpful or useful than “you must be doing something right!” Weathering an attack is already psychologically taxing enough; asking the targeted scholar to trick their mind into seeing the attacks and threats as a compliment isn’t helpful in the moment. It’s hard to appreciate the supposed badge of honor that is digging deep into your skin and drawing blood.
- Don’t say “just ignore it” or “just turn off the computer.” We live in an age where our online interactions are a real part of our lives. It’s not as simple as pretending the attack doesn’t exist when you turn the computer off. And, the professional consequences are real.
- Counter the attack with supportive notes and messages. Express your appreciation of the scholars’ efforts and their bravery for being a public voice. Start a campaign to encourage other friends and colleagues to send the targeted scholar kind notes and thanks. Or, take a moment to thank them using the #ThankAPublicScholar hashtag on Twitter.
- If you have been subjected to an attack in the past, reach out to an attacked scholar to let them know you have gone through it and that they are not alone. Offer advice for the best ways to weather the attack.
- Defend the attacked scholar. This can be as small as reporting offensive content from their attackers on social media or as big as writing your own blog post or op-ed to affirm the targeted scholar. Take screen shots of offensive comments as evidence. Fight the attackers’ ignorance with research if they get the targeted scholars’ words/scholarship twisted. If you can stomach it, contribute to the comments section to say you agree with, or at least appreciate, the scholars’ writing. (Note: These efforts may open you up to being attacked, too. I’m still blocking trolls who are giving me grief on Twitter for defending Dr. Zandria F. Robinson. And, there’s foolishness.)
- If an attacked scholar is harmed professionally — whether as minor as public sanctioning or as severe as termination — hold the institution accountable for protecting academic freedom. Start a petition. Employ the advice and services of AAUP and other professional organizations. Perhaps suggest that the targeted scholar seek legal counsel, and help them raise money if they cannot afford to.
- Challenge colleagues’ comments that blame attacked scholars for their own attacks. I have seen and heard scholars rationalize recent attacks, attributing blame to the targets because they used social media in a certain way, spoke/wrote in a certain tone, failed to give broader context and offer citations within the limits of a 140-character tweet, and so on. “They knew the risks!” I’ve even seen discussions that offer no sympathy for targets because they weren’t really engaging in public scholarship — just “popping off.” These sentiments suggest that there is a right way and a wrong way to engage the public. Even scholars who write more extensive op-eds, explicitly backed by research, have come under attack. As I argued in the previous section, these attacks reflect calculated assaults on higher education, liberalism, people of color, and women; and, we are all increasingly vulnerable as higher education becomes more corporatized and relies heavily on a poorly paid pool of adjunct laborers. If we conclude that the only safe way to avoid being targeted is to stop engaging the public and delete our social media accounts, we are deluding ourselves into thinking that silence will protect us. We do too little to make academia accessible, anyhow; we would only be making matters worse if we self-silence.
Department and University Level Strategies
- If the targeted scholar is receiving death threats, threats of sexual violence, and/or hate mail, contact campus (and perhaps local) police to investigate and offer a police escort. You or the police should take over checking your colleagues’ mail and answering their phone. Even if you don’t agree with their actions or comments, there is no excuse for leaving them vulnerable to physical, mental, or sexual violence.
- When a colleague has come under attack, fight fire with fire — pressure your department and/or university to issue a public statement defending your colleague and affirming their expertise and value. Do not take Boston University’s approach, which suggested they tolerate Dr. Saida Grundy’s academic freedom, and also called her a racist and a bigot — in a statement that “denounces” her “racially charged tweets.” It would have been better for BU to say nothing at all because it only fueled her attackers’ taste for blood. DO take Rhodes College’s approach, which clarified Dr. Zandria F. Robinson’s expertise, affirmed that her tweets and blog posts are backed by her expertise, and explicitly stated her value to the institution.
- When people from outside of the university target a professor and demand their termination (or worse), do not readily accept their claims at face value. Use your critical skills as a scholar to assess the significance, source, and validity of these claims. I recommend being particularly suspicious of claims that a (minority) professor has somehow harmed a privileged group (e.g., whites, men, heterosexuals, middle-class and wealthy people). Stand firm in the distinction between public statements backed by research, especially that are critical of the status quo and inequality, and proclamations based solely on personal opinion. Remember that the public isn’t necessarily ready to hear what scholars have to say — and that’s no reason to panic. (How often do we encounter our own students’ [and even colleagues’] discomfort when we challenge their worldviews?)
- Demand that your university and, if relevant, your department, establish guidelines for academic freedom that reflect today’s forms of public scholarship and means of communicating with the public. Drawn on existing AAUP materials on academic freedom and social media. To be clear, I am suggesting that academic freedom policies include explicit protections for scholars’ use of social media, among other forms of engaging the public — not setting limits on what is considered “responsible” social media use like University of Kansas’s controversial policy. The major problem with KU’s policy is a stipulation that social media use that “is contrary to the best interests of the employer” may be grounds for termination. As universities have come more corporatized, it seems the quickest way to have a professor sanctioned or fired is to threaten the university’s bank account (i.e., donors’ financial contributions). In this vein, think about who has the most means to donate to a university; people of color (among other marginalized groups) will never have the same level of power to pressure a university to sanction/fire a controversial white professor. So, the power of the purse in academia will always loom larger for marginalized scholars.
- Related to the point above, demand that the university institute a formal means of lodging complains of inappropriate or offensive use of social media or other engagements with the public. (There is no reason why a university president should be taking requests from students, with a known agenda to target presumably liberal professors, to investigate one of their faculty — especially via Twitter.) Just as any internal offense (such as sexual harassment, academic dishonesty) must be officially reported before any action is taken, external charges, if investigated and acted upon, should first be formally reported with proper evidence.
- Pressure your university to employ lawyers who will aggressively fight on behalf of scholars’ academic freedom. (Several academics have speculated that BU’s public
statement aboutsanction of Dr. Grundy was written by cowardly lawyers who looked to protect the university, not her.)
- Demand that your department and/or university value community service (not just academic service) and public scholarship. Here, I explicitly mean that these efforts count in hiring, tenure, promotion, and pay raises. When university administrators praise or even demand public service, hold them accountable for actually counting and rewarding these efforts — and matching these rewards with professional protections against any backlash.
- Challenge the academic culture that demands that you “keep your head down” and “keep your mouth shut.” Question the implicit assumption underlying this advice that scholars, particularly at the junior level, will be reckless and irresponsible with regard to department and university politics, and engaging with the public. In light of the few rewards and great risks entailed in serving the community and engaging the public, these efforts should be rewarded, not punished or kept quiet.
- If you work in a graduate department, advocate for explicitly discussing academic freedom and public scholarship with graduate students — perhaps make these discussions a regular part of a professional seminar, preparing future faculty programs, or some other form of mandatory professional socialization. Also, discuss the changing nature of higher education: the decline of tenure-track positions, the increase in student debt, the decline in state funding, and the corporatization of universities.
- Train your graduate students how to effectively and safely use social media and work with the media.
- Rather than attempt to “beat the activist” out of your graduate students, recognize that activism or, at least a desire to make a difference, is what drives many people into graduate school and academia (especially those from marginalized backgrounds). Find ways to harness this passion in your graduate students’ careers.
Discipline And Profession Level Strategies
- Demand that your professional organizations, especially those to which you pay dues, actively defend scholars who come under attack. This can entail issuing public statements and press releases in their defense, offering financial support and help finding new employment for those who are unexpectedly fired, and offering access to legal counsel if necessary. (Sociologists, as far as I know, ASA only intervenes when scholars have been fired by their universities — and, even then, it may not be to defend them. The rest of us are on our own.)
- Create resources to support and build community among public scholars.
- Host conferences on academic freedom, public scholarship, and intellectual activism, with at least some focus on the inherent risks of engaging the public.
- Host conference workshops on using social media and working with the media.
- Work to reverse the adjunctification of higher education.
- Demand that your local and state politicians stop making efforts to undermine academic freedom (including tenure), and start making more efforts to protect it.
UPDATE [7-9-2015, 4:27pm EST]: I have been informed of two additional resources that are relevant to this post. One is a map of threats to academic freedom and other barriers in academia in the US: “Scholars Under Attack.” Another is a well-written essay by Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, “‘Who Do You Think You Are?’: When Marginality Meets Academic Microcelebrity.”
Let’s set aside the debate over whether one can, or even should, be an activist in academia. If you recognize that inequality and other problems exist within academia, then I do not need to convince you that someone should be working to make change. But, some scholars are skeptical of “rocking the boat,” either because of fear of professional harm or the assumption that one does not have the time. Making academia a more equitable and humane place is not an easy, quick, risk-free task; if that were the case, we would probably see a lot more progress by now! But, I believe we can all make small (and big) changes, whether an activist, advocate, or simply a concerned scholar.
Here are 101 ideas of ways to make a difference in academia that I have come up with, either from experience, observation, or wishful thinking. Please add your own ideas in the comments section!
- Educate yourself about the state of higher education, particularly in terms of inequality, increasing student debt, and the growing reliance on contingent faculty. Learn about the leaky pipelines for women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.
- Let go of the myth of meritocracy in academia once and for all. Do not perpetuate the myth by claiming or assuming that things are fair and equal. Speak openly and honestly with colleagues and students about inequality in academia.
- Recognize community service as a form of service for yourself and others.
- Learn more about open access and other ways of making academic research and knowledge publicly accessible.
- Redefine “impact” to move beyond impact factors and citation rates. Consider the impact your work has outside of the ivory tower. Allow yourself to determine the value of your scholarship, rather than relying exclusively on what departments, universities, and disciplines value as important and meaningful.
- Stay true to your goals and values. Do not let tradition limit your imagination. Thinking outside of the box is good for science and higher education.
- Be brave.
- Speak up when you feel safe to do so.
- Empower your students and colleagues to speak up.
- Ask questions. If a conversation or meeting raises concern, ask for further clarification. This allows you to appear curious or possibly confused without automatically challenging someone else.
- Prioritize self-care. Encourage others to do so, as well, or at least respect others’ need to make certain decisions at work based on personal and family needs.
- Talk to your students and junior colleagues about what academic careers entail for marginalized scholars. Be clear that you are not attempting to scare them, rather you are preparing them for challenges that may lie ahead in their careers.
- Support graduate students no matter their career plans after graduation. Begin a mentoring relationship with a conversation about their plans, and be sure to revisit this conversation every year or every other year.
- Educate yourself about alternative career paths for PhDs, or at least find resources to offer to students considering them.
- Be aware of the artificial hierarchies and rankings in academia and higher education, but do not let them influence how you interact with colleagues.
- Check your biases, stereotypes, and assumptions. If you find that you hold them, find out how to eliminate them, or at least to suspend them in interacting with and evaluating others. Ask trusted colleagues to call you out if you demonstrate bias; when they do, listen without getting defensive or feeling guilty.
- Check your privilege. Avoid dismissing another person’s experiences or perspective just because it does not mirror yours. Never tell a marginalized student or colleague about their own experience. Figure out ways to use your privileged status to make a difference and to make space for marginalized people.
- Ask your students and colleagues for their preferred name and pronoun, and give your own. Work to make these seem like a normal practice, rather than a special event when a transgender or gender non-conforming person is present.
- Blog and use other forms of social media. Allow yourself to appear as an imperfect, evolving, thinking, and feeling human — not simply the static, perfectly-put together researcher reflected in articles and books. Make yourself available outside of the ivory tower.
- Share your own narrative with colleagues and students, whether it is one of privilege (which you acknowledge), serendipity, or adversity. Let’s stop pretending that there is one, clear, linear path toward becoming a professor, and that it is the only possible path after graduate school.
- Let go of the myth of color-blindness, gender-blindness, and other forms of “blindness” to others’ identities and experiences. Rather, be conscious of difference and inequality, and find ways to proactively work against systemic discrimination and exclusion.
- Without resorting to tokenizing, be sure to include diverse voices and perspectives on conference panels, course syllabi, references, edited volumes, guest blog posts, etc.
- Get comfortable with self-promotion, especially if you are a member of one or more marginalized groups. And, respect others efforts to promote their work, particularly because it is necessary to be successful in academia.
- Promote your colleagues’ and students’ work, particularly those from marginalized groups.
- Go beyond telling junior colleagues and grad students to “be careful” — and never say “shut up”/”be quiet.” If you actually have a reason to worry about a particular individual (that is, stop automatically assuming junior scholars will be reckless anarchists), offer specific advice on navigating departmental, university, and disciplinary politics. Explain why you are giving that advice, namely that you care about their success, well-being, and livelihood.
- When possible, make every effort to ensure that students or junior colleagues do not fall through the cracks or bear some burden because others could not be bothered.
- At least say hello to familiar faces — students, new colleagues, contingent faculty, administrative staff, etc.
- Avoid viewing colleagues as potential competition, even if you are applying for the same opportunity.
- Have lunch with students and junior colleagues, and make an effort to talk about something other than work or classes (if you/they are comfortable doing so). It can be incredibly reassuring to see that one’s professors/senior colleagues are human, too.
- Don’t be an asshole. Period.
- Learn how to disagree with someone without attacking them as a person. If it is not really a right-or-wrong issue, find a way to offer a different, rather than “better,” view.
- Step up and step back in meetings. Avoid dominating the conversation. If you are chairing it, make an effort to allow everyone to speak. Pay attention to see if junior scholars have remained silent or were silenced. But, find a way to gently nudge if someone needs encouragement; avoid putting someone on the spot who may really not have anything to contribute.
- Learn about your department’s and university’s policies and practices regarding contingent faculty. Find out whether there is anything you can do to improve the situation.
- Do not treat contingent faculty like servants, outsiders, or somehow inferior. Treat them like humans first, and colleagues second. Understand that their circumstances may be shitty, if not outright exploitative.
- Serve on important departmental, university, and disciplinary committees.
- Serve as department chair or a higher level administrator.
- Keep an eye on the balance of service in your department. Definitely watch for disproportionate service falling on women faculty, either assigned or volunteered (especially as men faculty avoid it).
- When accounting for and advancing diversity, avoid nominal diversity — that is, simply counting “women and minorities.” Find ways to embrace and celebrate diversity in the department/university culture. Once marginalized students/scholars are in the door, make sure that they feel equally supported and included, and are making good progress in their work.
- Move beyond considering only race and gender as diversity. Broaden race to race, ethnicity, nativity, and immigrant status. Broaden gender to consider the inclusion of women and transgender and gender non-conforming people. Begin to recognize and advance sexual identity, disability, social class, weight, religion, age, and family structure as other important dimensions of diversity.
- Move beyond a single-identity conceptualization of diversity. Begin attending to the intersections among identities. This will help to avoid systematically hiring the most privileged members of oppressed groups (e.g., white women, Black men). This will also help to understand each individual’s lives holistically; for example, be careful not to view Black women simply as women or Black.
- Support working parents. Educate yourself about your university’s family leave and other policies. If possible, be willing to offer additional support using the (likely conservative) university policies as a minimum level of support.
- Go beyond being “not prejudiced.” Be aware that oppressed groups, as a matter of survival, must be wary of intolerance or even violence. Do not assume that not intentionally discriminating is enough for others to feel welcomed and included.
- Challenge biased comments and microaggressions in your classes. Do not wait for students to speak up, as they may not feel comfortable doing so, or may even fail to see the problem — you are the instructor. If you do not want to alienate the student who made the comment, foster dialogue about it rather than silencing or chastising them.
- Allow yourself to view your class as somewhat flexible and organic. If something relevant or important is going on it the world or on campus, spend a few minutes at the start or end of class discussing it. Having an honest, intelligent conversation about racism on campus, for example, may be more important in the long run than sticking rigidly to the syllabus.
- Let go of the myth of objectivity in research and the classroom. Or, at least acknowledge that some cling to “objectivity” without noting that such a perspective is conflated with (or only afforded to) the view of white middle-class heterosexual cis men in the West.
- Where possible, include overlooked and marginalized topics in your courses. For example, cover transgender health in a course on health/medicine to demonstrate the relevance and importance of the topic (and trans communities in general).
- If you (must) use a textbook that excludes or distorts the lives of oppressed communities, explicitly point this out to your students and consider adding additional readings by and/or about members of these communities.
- Consider countering the systemic invisibility of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and other oppressed communities in academia with the systemic exclusion of white middle-class heterosexual cis men without disabilities. Start with oppressed voices, and only include those of the privileged if they are a useful complement. Unfortunately, I must also advise being ready to defend this system against charges of “reverse discrimination.”
- Speak truth to power. Do research that challenges others’ exclusive, biased, or distorted research. Embrace your unique perspective (if you are marginalized) to influence a new way of viewing the world.
- Let’s be honest about pervasive mental health problems in academia. Find out what resources exist on campus, in the local community, and online. Recognize that many campus health centers fail to effectively address the needs of graduate students. Be careful not to fall into the trap of viewing others’ well-being as “not my problem.”
- If you use images in your lectures or presentations, take a little extra time to ensure that you reflect diverse people and interests. If you lazily choose one of the first images that comes up, you may end up exclusively with pictures of white men. (For example, do a Google image search of “professor.”) Make an effort to counter the stereotypical images that many students will carry.
- Educate yourself about universal design for learning. From the start of developing a course, make efforts to make the material and discussion accessible to all students. Avoid the pattern of simply accommodating students with disabilities when they are in your courses.
- Become critical of standard measures of academic ability and achievement, including the SAT, GRE, and other tests, grade point average, etc. Educate yourself about the bias inherent in these exams that likely contribute to inequality in admission, retention, graduation, and funding.
- Acknowledge the high rate of sexual violence on college campuses — targeted against students and staff and faculty. Learn about your university’s practices for handling reports of violence, and realize that few incidents are reported, and even fewer yield justice for the victims. Educate yourself about ways to support survivors of violence. Consider advocating for improving how sexual violence is reported and prosecuted.
- Respect or even encourage your students’ and colleagues’ activist efforts. Avoid telling them activism is akin to bias, or cannot co-exist with academia, or is a waste of time.
- Be authentic. Let students and colleagues see diversity in academia. If you are marginalized, do your best to avoid sending the message that one must sell-out in order to succeed in the academy.
- Investigate whether your campus offers gender-neutral bathrooms. If it does not, pressure campus administration to create gender-neutral bathrooms that are of the same quality and are as conveniently accessed as sex-segregated bathrooms. If it only has one or a few gender-neutral bathrooms, push for the creation of more. Create a map of campus that pinpoints where these restrooms can be found to publicize their existence and location.
- Educate yourself about the conditions for staff on your campus. Are wages fair and equitable? Are working conditions safe? Are staff given a voice in administrative affairs?
- Attend your university’s safe zone/safe space training program. Encourage your colleagues to do so, as well. If they reply, “but, I am already so LGBT-friendly, I don’t need extra training,” explain that taking that extra step to demonstrate friendliness is necessary because many LGBT people assume the absence of it may mean hostility. (It is a matter of survival in a homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic world!) If your university does not have a safe zone/space program, consider starting one.
- Explicitly tell your students that you want them to do well in your courses — and mean it. (I have always done this, and was told just recently that most professors don’t and, as such, students’ don’t assume it.)
- Encourage your students to meet with you during office hours. It may help to offer an incentive, but I hesitate to encourage that it be required. Be sure you have explained the purpose of office hours when you mention them. If there are students whose performance concerns you, do not hesitate to (privately) ask them to meet with you — but, make clear that they are not being punished.
- Avoid trivializing students’ health concerns, including (and maybe especially) mental health problems. Refer them to the proper health professional if necessary. Do not attempt to assess the problem, how severe it is, or how to “cure” it if you are not a qualified health professional.
- When you give advice, still respect that others may ignore it. Allow them to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Do not pressure a student or junior colleague to do what you think is “best,” especially if you do not know them beyond a professional relationship.
- Be mindful of power dynamics, particularly where you are in the higher position. Students, junior colleagues, and others in the subordinate position may feel that your suggestions are demands. They may hesitate to challenge you, correct your assumptions about them, and even to share certain (personal) details with you for fear of harm to their grades/job.
- If you are a mentor, encourage your mentees to consider having additional mentors. Avoid presenting your perspective and advice as the only way. If time allows and mentees are comfortable with it, consider holding joint meetings with their other mentors; this may save them the time of holding individual meetings about one issue, and then having to navigate potentially conflicting advice.
- Learn about contrapower sexual harassment. If you teach about sexual violence, include this topic in your courses.
- Write op-eds and letters to the editor to the school’s newspaper about issues on campus or in the local community. You may even offer a scholarly perspective to demonstrate how our everyday lives are actually connected to what we learn in the classroom.
- Make some concept or trend in your discipline accessible by writing op-eds and letters to the editor to local, national, or international media. Or, write about your own research.
- Just as you ensure that working parents are not burdened by work, make sure that colleagues who do not have children are not asked to pick up additional work. No matter one’s family situation, or reason for needing to leave work by 6pm, every worker’s personal life should be respected (especially if they are not officially paid for extra hours).
- On Twitter, participate in #SaturdaySchool, and then help build academic online communities by participating in #ScholarSunday.
- Work with your department and university — or demand of them — that standards for tenure and promotion be stated as explicitly as possible. Ask that the rates of successful promotions be provided, including a comparison by race and ethnicity, gender, and other important statuses.
- Teach community-based learning courses. Or, find less intensive ways to encourage working with the community.
- Start a scholarship.
- Commit to recycling and cutting waste. Start a recycling program if your university does not already have one. If you must print documents, use double-sided printing. Encourage (or even require) students to email assignments. If you scan documents that will be printed, take the time to eliminate dark areas to reduce wasted ink.
- Participate in your department or university’s Dr. Martin Luther King day celebrations. If your school is closed, take a second to explain the significance of the day — don’t just call it a holiday. If it is not closed, advocate for closing to observe MLK day or at least hold a meaningful ceremony to honor his legacy.
- Participate in Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, LGBT Pride month/week (varies by school), Disability Awareness Month, National Transgender Day of Remembrance, and other national and regional celebrations. If these celebrations are not recognized, start a committee to plan events for them.
- Participate in Take Back the Night and other Sexual Assault Awareness Month events.
- Invite graduate students to participate on important departmental committees. Consider encouraging the graduate students to create and elect a representative position — or even multiple positions — and give them a vote. When they vote or otherwise participate in discussion, genuinely listen and consider their input. (Grad students are not dumb. They will sense that you have only included them out of obligation or to appease them, but do not seriously consider what they have to say.)
- Take a developmental, rather than destructive, approach to the peer-review process. View your role as a reviewer as one to advance a paper, which will ultimately advance science, rather than one of a gate-keeper or critic. Avoid looking for ways to advance your own research or agenda.
- Put extra copies of books that you assign on reserve at the library and announce that you have done so in your classes (twice). Some students will attempt to find ways around buying expensive textbooks, including some who will never obtain a copy and thus suffer in the course. Do your best to find cheaper or free options in the first place.
- Investigate whether every building on campus is accessible. Pressure or even work with university administration to renovate buildings that are currently inaccessible to all people, regardless of ability.
- Check your own and others’ classist beliefs. Assume class diversity. Do not assume that anyone in academia, whether student or faculty, comes from a middle-class or upper-class family. Where possible, try to minimize out-of-pocket costs for classes, extracurricular activities, conferences, and professional development. In evaluating students or colleagues, be mindful that some simply cannot afford special, or even some basic, opportunities. Avoid confusing lack of resources with lack of commitment, motivation, or aptitude.
- Advocate for needs-blind admission into your university.
- Refrain from criticizing the ways in which oppressed people survive in oppressive institutions and societies. If you are unwilling to support others’ survival, at least avoid adding to their plight with your judgement, criticism, or questioning their identity and politics.
- Teach your marginalized students how to survive in oppressive institutions and societies.
- Organize a fair or event with information and resources for maintaining healthy relationships.
- Investigate whether racial profiling occurs on/near your campus by campus or local police. If it does, work to raise awareness about it, and with law enforcement to eliminate unfair and discriminatory practices.
- If you serve as an academic advisor, be proactive in reaching out to your marginalized and first-generation students, especially during their first year. Encourage them to get involved with at least one group on campus or in the local community, and to meet with career services as early as possible.
- Honor the work of administrative staff in your department and elsewhere on campus by celebrating Administrative Professionals’ Day. But, be sure to thank them for their work throughout the year, as well.
- Propose a conference panel on professional development tips for marginalized academics or on public scholarship.
- Practice random acts of kindness.
- Organize a social event for your department to get your colleagues out of their offices.
- Propose a newspaper program that provides local and national newspapers free to all students, staff, and faculty.
- Serve as a faculty or staff advisor for a student organization related to social justice.
- Conduct a campus-wide needs assessment for all or particular communities of marginalized students. Make recommendations for change based on their needs and the campus climate.
- Stage a rally or protest about an issue about which your college has remained unresponsive or ignored completely.
- Create a campus resource center for women, LGBTQ people, people of color, international students and scholars, people with disabilities, first-generation students, or another disadvantaged group.
- Advocate for the creation of accessible, clean, and private spaces for breastfeeding and other needs of parents with young children.
- Challenge yourself to be more educated about social justice, more empathetic, kinder, and open to difference and change.
- Create an academic program or department that focuses on marginalized communities (e.g., racial and ethnic studies, women’s studies).
- Join the fight to minimize or eliminate the growing problem of college student debt.
Please add your own big and small ideas in the comments section.