Wednesday, September 20, 2017

4 thoughts about vulnerability and community

by J J Cohen

1. Regarding our co-authored Statement of Support for Dorothy Kim, you may find some background to what unfolded via Quod She, as well as the account published yesterday by Insider HigherEd (there is also a piece in yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education but it's behind a paywall). Here too is a Statement of Commitment from some medievalists at the University of Chicago. But to really understand the stakes of what unfolded -- and to take some wind out of the "but both sides!" argument that would posit a tenured professor is being attacked rather than an untenured scholar is being supported -- read this piece by David Perry on the actual content of Milo Y's "livelier style" and this piece by Bryan William Van Norden on what unfolded, the power imbalance, how race matters, and the potential harassment being incited against Professor Kim. That her friend Milo Y was repeatedly tagged in her Facebook posts and that Professor Fulton Brown placed an article about herself on his website are of consequence here -- and it has become clear to me that some people do not understand why.

2. Did you not the sign the various letters of support for Dorothy Kim? Did you refrain from making any public statements at all? That's ok. No one ever should feel pressured to place themselves in a position of vulnerability: as the links above make clear, the risks are real. Scholars work to bring about a better field in different ways, and many of those modes are not publicly visible. Each person commits to doing the work that they can as they can, knowing their own limits and vulnerabilities. That's how community works: some of us step in to support those who need help, and know that the situation changes over time. And note that you are likely a member of a group that advocated on your behalf: New Chaucer Society, Medieval Academy of America (the trustees of which also wrote a personal letter to Professor Kim), the International Piers Plowman Society, the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship. That's a powerful commitment on their part to speak out for members who may be in too vulnerable a position to do so themselves. Onwards.

3. Let me share something I posted on Facebook yesterday. It's disappointing to hear that Professor Fulton Brown is now identifying me as the "mastermind" (her term) behind Dorothy Kim's writing and actions. This maneuver deprives Professor Kim of her agency, intellect, and accomplishments, and sets me up as the Jewish Svengali behind her actions, mobilizing (intentionally or not) another alt-right as well as a medieval narrative. I have never met Professor Fulton Brown and I bear her no animus (even if she will never have my respect for the actions she has undertaken against an untenured scholar of color). Everything that I have written has been not to attack Professor Fulton Brown but to support Professor Kim. Everything Dorothy Kim has written and posted and urged is hers. No one requested that she research and write what she did, and should be attributed to her genius alone. To make of Professor Kim a puppet or a pawn is demeaning. It also mistakes my own interest in Professor Fulton Brown and her career, which is zero, except when she uses her position against the vulnerable. And let me also make clear that neither I nor any other member of "In the Middle" ever contacted (and have no influence over) the New Chaucer Society, the Medieval Academy of America, the Society for Medieval Feminist Studies, or the International Piers Plowman Society. We did not compose or have any input into the the letter sent in support of Professor Kim to the U Chicago History Department (though I did share links). I also want to make clear that I did not ask anyone in any social media to post anything about Dorothy Kim or Professor Fulton Brown. But let me also state: I remain grateful to anyone who did. You make me proud to be your colleague.

4. What has unfolded over the past few days has been frequently reported as exposing a rift or divide in medieval studies (if not the humanities writ large). What I take away from these events is just opposite: the IPPS statement has garnered 1136 signatures, the open letter to the U Chicago history had something like 1300. The Medieval Academy and NCS and SMFS and many other organizations have demonstrated exemplary leadership and made clear that they support Dorothy Kim. This sense of community is wonderful to behold: I have never witnessed the field so united in an effort to bring about a better future. That is what I am holding onto from these terrible past few days.


Anonymous said...

I am really curious as to why Milo Yiannopoulos is referred to here as Milo Y? Is it to obscure his racial hybridity (Greek/Irish/Jewish)? Or in the elitist world of ITM where Milo's book *Dangerous* does not count as scholarship or thought or writing does a non-scholar (by your lights, not mine, I've read his book) not deserve his full name/title?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, stupid question. Could you guys delete the post above? Of course I know that Mr Yiannopoulos has branded himself as 'Milo', as is apparent, not insignificantly, on his very own Youtube channel. And of course now that I've given it a tiny bit of thought, I realize that what's possibly a ghost-written book published by a trade press is not at all equivalent in scholarship to peer-reviewed work produced by trained experts!

Stupid me! I'm so embarrassed.

Karl Steel said...

More seriously, this is Karl here, posting because I suspect the crowd that wants to comment here is too stupid to know how the joke above functions. If you're looking for someone to be mad at--as is your pathetic hobby--here's a hint: look for my most popular tweet.