Here’s the letter I wrote to ALA’s Executive Board and Administration, sent Monday, November 21, 2016:
Here’s the letter I wrote to ALA’s Executive Board and Administration, sent Monday, November 21, 2016:
This post will be of interest to only some of our readers. But we hope it will be very useful for them.
It is not easy to be both an academic and an activist. The values, the audiences and the constraints are different. Sitting down to write, you can feel yourself pulled in two different ways. The result is often muddled thinking and murky prose. There is too much ranting for an academic audience, and too much gobbledygook for the movement. In many cases, there is no prose at all, only silence, and pages crumpled in the wastebasket or erased on the screen.
The first half of this post offers some advice that can make writing easier, faster and more useful. The second half explains why universities make activists feel stupid, how they do it, and how you can cope.
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Yesterday, I guest-hosted a session of #radlibchat on my article about whiteness in the library profession. It was a fabulous discussion.
One of the more common threads that came out of the chat were the fears many white people have about screwing up when getting involved in race work. Several people expressed apprehension about doing the work and making a mess of things. So, I thought I’d take a moment to address some of those fears.
Fair warning: I’m going to say some encouraging things here. But I’m also going to share some hard truths. And it is vitally important that you absorb both if you’re serious about doing this work.
Another note: I’m going to focus on race work and the ways white allies get involved. But the fact is that all of this applies intersectionally, as well. I—as an ally to LGBTQ folks, to poor folks, to disabled…
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Intersectionality means that you can be a person with privilege and a person who is oppressed all at the same time. It means sometimes it’s your issue and sometimes it’s not. This can be difficult to grasp.
I see conversations like this all the time:
Person from Marginalized Group A: Thank you for joining this conversation about the struggle of Group A in society. It’s tough. I appreciate that we can talk in this space. Here are some things to know about Group A’s experiences . . . Here are some personal stories . . .Here is some more information about Group A . . . This is all vitally importan—
Person from Marginalized Group B: Yeah, but what about Group B? We’re oppressed, too.
A Person: Oh, yes, absolutely, it’s just that right now in this space—
B Person: Everything you said also applies to Group B. It’s so important…
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We are grateful to the many LIS professionals who have engaged with the University to discuss the reinstatement of Professor Salaita and to reiterate the principles of our profession to Chancellor Wise and others in the University’s administration. This gratitude extends to the many who feel the chilling effects of the University Board’s decision: professors, adjuncts, staff, students, and others who have signed petitions or taken other actions to protect the values of academic freedom at UIUC. Their actions shine light on the path we hope to take together, the path to maintaining a community environment that does not easily fall silent, succumb to uninformed opinions, and rush to reactionary decisions. We hope that other LIS professionals–students, professors, librarians, and more–will join us on the path toward resisting censorship and collusion by signing this open letter.
My fellow students and I publicly express our grief, disappointment, outrage, gratitude, empathy, and resolve. Most importantly, we show the strength of our commitment to intellectual freedom. We honor the communities of which we are part and the members who have raised their voices already. We write as ourselves, as individuals, as whole people. We do not claim to represent any established University institution, organization, or entity. Please share our open letter widely and join us.
“Incivility” is necessary for some voices to be heard, for the stakes of any particular debate to be apparent, for conversations to result in meaningful change. A colleague supportive of Salaita, who has served in administrative positions for several years now, posted this morning on Facebook, “People in upper admin with whom I’ve worked closely for years are now unwilling even to make eye contact with me. Inclusive Illinois.” That right there is the problem with making “civility” the boundary of conversation. “Civility” only works if both parties are already operating from a position of equality and already in mutual agreement on the need for the conversation. It doesn’t work if a powerful participant refuses to acknowledge that…the less powerful participant has an issue that needs to be discussed. It also doesn’t work when only the powerful participant gets to define where the outer bounds of civility lie. Civility commits us to a university where existing injustices remain entrenched and silenced voices stay that way.
“There is a subtext to this whole business. The firestorm of reactions to Salaita…is indicative of a continuing determination to police and regulate the nature of the resistance offered by those who speak up on behalf of the traditionally subjugated.”
In response to my post yesterday, which I crossposted over at the NewAPPS blog, a couple of readers there wondered about the analogy I had drawn between Professor F and Steven Salaita‘s cases. Reader Meir Alon suggested my comparison was ‘very wrong’, Darius Jedburgh said my comparison of Salaita was, indeed, ‘slanderous’, and yet another worthy wondered what the point of it all was.
In constructing the analogy I noted Professor F, like Salaita, had a distinguished academic record, that she worked in a field which often featured polemically charged debates, many of which for her, because of her personal standing and situation–Professor F has very likely experienced considerable sexism in her time–were likely to be charged emotionally, and that a few hyperbolic, intemperate responses, made in a medium not eminently suited to reasonable discourse, and featuring many crucial limitations in its…
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The New York Times has weighed in with a strong piece on the Salaita affair. This is significant for two reasons. First, while we in academia and on social media or the blogosphere have been debating and pushing this story for weeks, it hasn’t really broken into the mainstream. With a few exceptions, no major newspaper has covered it.
The New York Times has weighed in with a strong piece on the Salaita affair. This is significant for two reasons. First, while we in academia and on social media or the blogosphere have been debating and pushing this story for weeks, it hasn’t really broken into the mainstream. With afew exceptions, no major newspaper has covered it. Now that the Times has, I’m hoping Salaita’s story will get even more attention, possibly from the networks as well. Second, in addition to covering the basics of the case, the piece shows just how divisive and controversial Chancellor Wise’s decision has been, and how it has isolated the University of Illinois.
The decision, which raised questions about contractual loopholes and academic freedom, almost immediately drew pushback from the academic community. Thousands of scholars in a variety of disciplines signed petitions pledging to avoid the campus unless it reversed its…
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I have always been a nervous, anxious sort of person. When I was an undergrad, I helped myself and mitigated my inclination by reciting the Bene Gesserit litany from Frank Herbert’s Dune. It helped tremendously with exams and deadlines. The image above states the litany in its entirety. Here it is again:
I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Lately, I have much to be fearful and anxious about. I imagine things will be all right. Eventually. At this moment, I’ve also come to fear taking a stand, claiming an opinion, having feelings. Speaking is definitely risky. But, as the Bene Gesserit order wisely described, silence motivated by fear brings total obliteration. Speaking, choosing a side, having feelings. These are all costly. So is remaining silent. Choosing not to choose, while it can be defended, also exacts a price. And allows others to choose sides on our behalf. The Bene Gesserit litany reminds us to face our fears. Great sentiments, but still, they are easier said than done. Ultimately, the choice comes down to this: of all the consequences before me, which ones can I live with? And which ones will annihilate the best parts of me? The answers to these questions are often the ones that lead me to what I do. Friends and family who know me best understand and witness first-hand the agony I go through.
In the spirit of courageous action despite fearfulness, I have some questions about the Salaita affair that I’ve been thinking about these last few days. From my vantage point as a distance education graduate student, and one who very much cares about equity and inclusion, I am wondering about the politics that must be going on at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s upper administration. The identity of Chancellor Wise as an Asian American woman in a position of great power at an R1 academic institution in the United States has not slipped my notice. In fact, it has given me pause when expressing my dismay and any criticism of the damaging decision to un-hire Dr. Salaita. Is there a particular reason why Chancellor Wise is carrying the burden of this unpopular decision? Why isn’t UIUC President Dr. Bob Easter, who is a step higher in the UIUC organization chart, the bearer of this news? Is this a simple matter of the decision and burden belonging solely to the Chancellor’s Office? Even so, does the UIUC President’s Office have a say? Or is something else going on? If the Office of the UIUC President does hold an official opinion, what could that be? Is it something we could expect to be revealed soon?
In thinking through how one could use a critical race theory lens on these events at UIUC, the identity politics of the actors involved are crucial for greater understanding and illumination. And it seems that there are more actors at play in the Salaita affair than we first realize.
I do think that the events surrounding Salaita and UIUC’s upper administration are inciting fear and anxiety among academics, students, and higher education staff. Those feelings are making many of us do things that are not in keeping with our better selves. I do hope we find a way beyond the fear and silence. No matter what you may think of the politics surrounding the events at UIUC, I urge you, dear friends, to be brave. Find and use your voice. Remember: Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
“As Library and Information Science (LIS) practitioners, students and scholars, we are committed to the principles of our field: to the free access to and flow of information and to the intellectual freedom of all. We are shocked and dismayed by the unilateral decision on the part of Chancellor Phyllis Wise and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Board of Trustees to rescind the employment of Dr. Steven Salaita based on his speech in social media.”