Monday, August 18, 2014

Diversity and #medievaltwitter

by MICHELLE R. WARREN [Guest Posting]

[Hello readers! This is the first in a series of blog postings on diversity and (medieval) academia that we will feature on this site. This posting comes to us from Michelle R. Warren (on twitter: @MichelleRWarren). Stay tuned for more perspectives. - The ITM co-bloggers]

[EDITED 24 August 2014: In this thread, note also Dorothy Kim (on twitter @dorothyk98), Helen Young (on twitter @heyouonline), and Jonathan Hsy; note Karl Steel in a related thread here and here.]

Diversity and #medievaltwitter

"When things break, make collage." I made this my Twitter motto when my students convinced me to branch out and open an account. Never could I have predicted that tweets would bring me to a blog post on this space, sharing some of thoughts on racial and ethnic diversity in the US academy. For the past four years, I've served as the faculty director of Dartmouth's Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program (MMUF), a research and mentoring program for students committed to diversity issues and curious about earning a PhD. The fellows pushed me to those first tweets. Almost immediately, a bunch of medievalists—friends, acquaintances, strangers—followed me. It was exciting. I ignored them. I had joined for other reasons.

Recently, those distinctions collapsed, and all for the best. In MMUF, I engage students (most of whom identify as minorities in one way or another) to consider the "hard choice" of an academic career. While I help demystify academia for them, they help me identify the structural barriers and individual concerns that make diversifying the professoriate difficult—time to degree, expectations from family, presumed incompetencestereotype threatemployment prospects, lack of mentorship, etc. Numerous programs, policies, and organizations are dedicated to countering these pressures, supporting individual success while working toward institutional change. So my ears perked up when a medievalists' conversation (as retweeted by Jonathan Hsy) turned to academic diversity. And instead of ignoring them, I chimed in. Then, in a reply to the thread, Adrienne Boyarin retweeted an announcement about the Faculty Diversity Program at SUNY: immediately I sent off a nomination for one of our MMUF alums. Now everything is connected.

"Lead from wherever you are." This is one of our mottos in MMUF. Many people feel helpless in the face of the numerous problems that plague the education system; few of us have direct influence on hiring practices. But everyone has influence on something. The potential to diversify the professoriate is affected by many things that happen well before anyone gets to college. Change seems slow and uneven at best. The pipeline is not flat. So just about anything can be a contribution (I'll leave aside why diversification matters). Transformation is possible—whether it's teaching something you don't know, speaking out against injustices, finishing that dissertation…or even just sharing a tweet.  

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