If you see something, say something: On academic representation

A couple years ago, I was invited to contribute to a reference volume. I was honored to be included and eager to have the chance to demonstrate my expertise on the topic. Yet as I looked at the proposed table of contents, I noticed a problem: no women. I told the editor that I did not feel comfortable contributing to a volume with such a lack of diversity.

I have never mentioned this incident publicly, out of fear that I would come across as boasting about what a Nice Guy I was. Yet as I was talking about writing up one of the pieces, The Girlfriend insisted that I must say something, because what happened next may surprise you: the editor admitted it was a problem but said that he simply didn’t know where to begin in fixing it. I didn’t know anyone personally who would be a good fit, but I recommended he look at a very diverse edited volume on the topic and contact the editor. Within a few months, the entire contributor roster had been revised.

If the story had stopped with the first paragraph, it would be hard to recommend my course of action — a pointless act of martyrdom that would only lead to a “worse person” (someone unconcerned with such matters!) being invited to take my place. Yet it doesn’t seem to be a likely outcome. Even people who are not “directly” concerned with diversity are surely aware that a conspicuous lack of it will cause protest and embarrassment. The earlier they’re able to correct the problem, the less inclusion will look like a patronizing “tokenism.”

Those of us white guys who are in dialogue with women and minorities in our scholarly work know that it’s not a matter of “eating your vegetables” so that you can get the dessert of all the exciting white dudes — a more diverse set of interlocutors makes academic dialogue more interesting and improves our own work. We shouldn’t selfishly keep that goodness to ourselves, nor should we allow academic publications and conferences in which we play a part to be mired in monochrome mediocrity. In an ideal future, of course, this kind of inclusiveness would be the normal course of events — but in the meantime, it’s regretably often the case that white guys more easily gain a seat at the table, and they need to use their power for good.

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3 Responses to “If you see something, say something: On academic representation”

  1. Katie Grimes Says:

    Thanks for this. I also think this should be expanded to white women. We too often think that the presence of one white women (or even two or three) somehow makes a panel or project “diverse.” Without denying the sexism that white women face, we should keep in mind that white women typically have greater access to corridors of power than people of color of any gender. So I think white women should follow this same policy when they are called to participate in an all white panel or book.

  2. Kate Says:

    Adam, this is really excellent, and gives me hope!

  3. Rory O'Connor Says:

    Lemme say, I was in a terrible mood a couple of months ago, and wrote impatiently about my indifference to (speaking loosely) gender/racial politics on this blog. Of course these things are important, and I apologise to Adam for being a pain.


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