It seems I can’t stick to posting just on weekends, so I’m going to post on Wednesdays as well.
This article reports that those professors of geography who are not white males find themselves excluded from conference sessions and panels at the meetings of the Association of American Geographers. Some of them wrote a letter of protest, and maybe it will actually do some good, but there is a better way: start your own conferences and shun those where you can’t get your foot in the door. There is enough freedom in academia that this can be done successfully. The article states that 140 of them signed this letter of protest, and it’s a good bet that there are others who were too afraid to do so for fear it would adversely affect their careers as junior scholars. But with that many people interested, another strategy comes to mind: drop your membership in this organization and start your own. If just one person drops her membership, that means nothing, but if more than 100 do, that will be a strong signal to the organization that it is doing something wrong.
I’m not speaking theoretically here. I watched my wife do this same thing, and it worked. As an art historian, she was a member of the College Art Association (CAA), but when she attempted to propose a session for one of their conferences, she ran up against the elites: they wanted eighteen copies of her session proposal and her CV (which is the academic version of a resume). It was turned down. Then she found that the Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo was much more relaxed about letting junior scholars from obscure schools run sessions; over the years she has organized many sessions with them. In addition, book publishers picked up on sessions that were successful and would ask the organizers if they wanted to publish a book with them on the topic. Eventually, my wife dropped her CAA membership, because they were doing nothing for her. Her whole career is based on the Kalamazoo conference, though with the rise of the Internet, she was also able to start her own journal.
Yes, she got lucky in that there was a very egalitarian conference she could turn to, but that conference was small at one time. It became big because so many young academics found that it worked for them, while the more established conferences and organizations kept them at arm’s length. My wife was also lucky because she watched me start a little regional Greek philosophy conference twenty years ago (and which is still going strong, though I haven’t had anything to do with it after having start it), but then I was inspired to do that by what she had told me of things she had organized when she was in college.
All of this requires a bent for organizing, it is true, and some people prefer not to do that or have no talent for it. But if someone has managed to get 140 people to write a letter of protest, I think they are well on their way to organizing their own conference.
Incidentally, the basic complaint of these people is that academia is not egalitarian in certain ways, namely regarding race and gender. But how do they feel about the inequality of academia with respect to the elite schools and non-elite schools? Are they willing to complain about that? If so, then why aren’t they doing so, and if not, why should anyone take their complaints seriously?