Friday, May 06, 2016
Conviviality and Conferencing, Alcohol and Academia
[Read Karl! Peruse the Kzoo BABEL events!]
Yesterday I took part in a conversation on Twitter about alcohol and academia, with a special emphasis on ensuring access to community at conferences without making the price of entry spaces where all socializing is structured around alcohol consumption. You can read the Storify of the conversation here.
I want to emphasize from the start that I am not against alcohol at conferences or anywhere else -- those of you who are my friends know that I enjoy good beer, wine, cocktails. I sometimes even feature my favorites on social media. As a medievalist I know what gebeorscipe is. But just as Caedmon could not stay at the poetry party when the harp approached, it's worth thinking about who is excluded when we found our conviviality on drink. One of the reasons some of us started the Medieval Donut event at an annual conference in Kalamazoo last year was to ensure that not every moment of community was structured around drinking. If you are attending #Kzoo2016, I hope that you will join us around 8 PM in the Radisson Lobby for this year's version. I will bring many dozens from Sweetwater's Donut Mill (their donuts are superb, take my word for it). We encourage you to contribute your own favorites for comparison and community purposes -- and if you are vegan, abide by a gluten free diet, are kosher, diabetic or have any other dietary preferences or requirements, know that there are likely others in attendance who share the same restrictions and please feel free to bring along something to share.
I began thinking seriously about conferences, alcohol consumption and unintentional exclusion a few years ago, when I organized a GW MEMSI sponsored "Rogue Session" at a brewery (information on the session here; a reflection on what this para-conference happening might have achieved here). The session was wonderful -- so moving that I thought about never organizing anything again, because how could that be topped? Yet I also found myself haunted by an email I received after I announced the Rogue Session's location. The note pointed out that by setting the session in a brewery some people who would like to attend would not have access to its community (in this case, someone trying to maintain sobriety and unwilling to put themselves in jeopardy by entering a space structured around drinking). If you read through the Storify above, you will see how many potential members a community of drinkers quietly excludes: people who might abstain for religious reasons (Muslims and Mormons, to name just two groups); those with allergies and medical conditions; people who are pregnant; those who have successfully overcome a struggle with substance abuse and do not want to be placed where things have in the past gone wrong; those who know that spaces formed around drinking can be dangerous, especially to women (increasing the chances of assault and unwanted attention); those in a precarious academic position who know that unprofessional activities, questions, and remarks can sometimes be spurred by alcohol; those who simply do not want to drink. I am not saying that receptions and events should not include alcohol (though they should always include good alternatives to alcohol). But I do want to urge those who arrange such events to ensure that they are not the sole access provided to conference conviviality. And during such events, we all need to watch out for each other.
So I am headed to a conference in Kalamazoo next week. If you attend the conference and drop by Bell's Brewery, you may well see me there, because I love that place. But I will also arrive at the Radisson with at least four dozen donuts in the trunk of my rental car, because we all need to proliferate options for access. Some conviviality centered around devouring rings of cake seems to me at least a small start.