All posts filed under “gender

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Rambling On About Representation, Public Scholarship, Digital Pedagogy, and Self-Protection

Before I even begin I’m going to ask you to hang in there with me. I’m a ball of messy thoughts this morning made even mushier by the old school Houston weather we’ve been having these past few days (so. much. rain.). I want to draw some connections between Joyce Gabiola’s scholarship on Internalized Symbolic Annihilation (ISA), April Hathcock’s latest article on who we leave behind, and conversations that happened at Digital Pedagogy Lab this summer, all of which have been swimming around in my brain and inspiring all kinds of reflection. So I’ll start with this no-brainer:

Conversations about representation and inclusion are complicated.

At the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium, Joyce introduced and explained ISA as the means by which people from marginalized communities protect themselves, but in doing so, erase themselves from archives and public records. These individuals are less likely to contribute to oral histories or donate documents to archives, in large part because they have had a lifetime of negotiating their identity and sense of self in order to mitigate the harm that heteronormativity and white supremacy inflicts on this world. Oppression has a direct impact on preservation and the ability to preserve and share the stories of marginalized communities. But at the same time, doesn’t everyone have the right to be forgotten? Or rather, don’t people have the right to determine what they share and when/where they share it?

It’s a tough question in the face of so much scholarship that has privileged white, western, male knowledge and experience.  April asks who we leave behind in our race to make scholarship open and publicly accessible, an important question that intersects with issues of diversity and representation. I bring this up not to hold April’s article in contrast to Joyce’s work, but to highlight the different sides to the issue of representation that they are both trying to address. April encourages us to consider “Whose voices are being heard?” in scholarship and “Who is privileged with access?” The first question, is I think, where ISA comes into play. On the one hand we want to highlight voices from those on the margins, but we need to recognize that the epistemological framework of academia embraces the same oppressive forces as our society at large. This of course can trigger a self-protection response. An impulse to say this space (academia, scholarship, etc.) is not for me, or this space can actively cause me harm. (This is largely true for scholars from marginalized communities/identities,  whose experiences in public scholarship often include extreme harassment and threats.). We want to encourage diverse voices and representation of those on the margins but are our spaces safe for them/us? Have we created scholarship systems and practices that include the values of and protections for those on the margins?

This is where the conversations at Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL)come into play. There is a strong push in critical digital pedagogical circles towards students engaging in open scholarship and open learning online. It’s a way to fully embrace students’ lived experiences and show that their learning and their production of knowledge matters. But when we take into account the work of Joyce and April, this open learning is also a risky situation for students on the margins. Jade Davis’ keynote at DPL acknowledges this risk and encourages instructors to mitigate harm in their assignments and learning environments. What can learners keep for themselves? Does it all really need to be public learning to be digital or critical learning? The emphasis on public learning wants to highlight the work of the learner, but we also need to acknowledge their agency and help them create their own boundaries. It’s essential for their safety (both creative and personal), and for the development of an inclusive space where learners feel welcome.

This is where everything sort of squishes together. We want representation and inclusion in open scholarship and education, but it can’t be on the dominant group’s terms. If it is then openness just equals oppression. Nicky Andrew’s excellent work on cultural humility and Roopika Risam’s scholarship on epistemic violence both highlight epistemic models built on the knowledge practices, values, and considerations of folks on the margins. In applying this thinking and, let’s call it what it is, work, to reimagining open education and scholarship, we can reduce the need for groups to self-protect, because we have taken their safety and protection seriously. We need to create a system of learning that encourages people to set their own limits and share what they feel comfortable sharing. In doing so we will help facilitate the kind of diversity and inclusion we want to see in our classrooms and scholarship.

 

[one person giving another person a bowl of cherry tomatoes] - Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash
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My Service is Not Selfless

This past Friday I attended the Gender and Sexuality in Information Studies Colloquium (GSISC18) at Simmons College in Boston, MA. It was an empowering, invigorating, and thoughtful conference that left my heart and mind so so full. Please forgive me as I spend the next few blog posts working through some of the thoughts and and feelings that surfaced during this day and have been percolating ever since.

I had the privilege of presenting at the end of the day with my colleagues Joanna Gadsby, Sofia Leung, and Jennifer Brown on Deconstructing Service: Identity and Expectations. We wanted to have an informal, semi-structured discussion on the idea of service in libraries, and the ways in which it is complicated by different facets of our identities and expectations surrounding people like us in libraries. I feel like I could listen to Jo, Sofia, and Jen talk for hours about anything and everything. They are brilliant women. One theme that kept resurfacing as I listened to them address different topics we raised during our presentation was something I mentioned early on in our panel session:

My service is not selfless.

I don’t see myself as selfless or giving to a fault. I do the work of helping and teaching in libraries because I gain satisfaction from this work. I enjoy facilitating learning in and out of the classroom because I want to help people recognize the critical thinkers and researchers inside themselves. I feel like in doing this, I am doing some good in the world. I am helping to build an educated, critical populace. In helping to empower others I am also empowering myself.

BUT (of course there is a “but”), I want to be valued for this work. I want to be paid adequately. I want to feel as though the relationships I engage in through my work are reciprocal and genuine, not exploitative. This is a job I enjoy, but it is still my job. I offer my care and good work at this job, and I expect care in return.

How does service play out in practice?

That was my ideal. This is my reality: I feel as though service is performative. The ethos of service in libraries makes it solely for the benefit of others. I have to actively work to prevent my service from becoming a drain. Maria Accardi and Megan Browndorf have both explored the phenomenon of librarian burnout, which is often rooted in a mismatch in affect (performative vs. genuine), job ambiguity, and overwork. Fobazi Ettarh’s groundbreaking article on vocational awe talks about the dangers of this selfless altruism, and the ways in which it is used to silence critique and further exploit library workers.

Jo, Jen, and Sofia all brought up the ways in which our service-oriented job culture contributes to the exploitation of librarian hidden labor, particularly for women of color. The effort behind our service remains hidden, because we don’t want to show, or, more likely, people don’t want to see, the hard work that goes into reproducing the work of libraries, scholarship, teaching, and learning. At one point, a conference participant stated that she often felt like The Giving Tree, giving of herself to others at work until there was nothing left! I don’t want to be that tree.

A feminist version of service

I want to reframe my service through a relational-cultural lens. I want my service to be rooted in empowerment for myself and others. I want libraries to value service when it comes time to promotion and pay increases, and not just traditional service on committees within the library, university/college, and profession. I think we need to value the emotional work we do as teachers, researchers, and librarians and compensate it accordingly. Just because we can’t quantify our relational work doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It is the bedrock of our profession.

I understand we are working within the confines of patriarchal academia, and that academic libraries often replicate that structure, but I also see opportunity–thanks to adrienne marie brown’s Emergent Strategy–to start small and begin a culture change within our libraries/departments/units. I want to be the start of a new fractal that replicates outward, replacing a harmful version of service with one that feeds and nurtures ourselves. I want to see libraries replicating the helping behavior we want to put our into the world within our own working structure. Our ethic of care should be ourselves as well as others.

More to come

As I mentioned at the start of this post, this is likely going to be the first of many reflections from GSISC18. I’d love to hear from other participants and continue conversations we started on Friday. Also, many thanks to the conference organizers:

Emily Drabinski, Long Island University, Brooklyn
Derrick Jefferson, American University
Allison Gofman, Tufts University
Rebecka Sheffield, Simmons College
Stacie Williams, Case Western Reserve University

If you didn’t get a chance to attend, you can also read through the live notes from the conference thanks to the many volunteer note-takers. Your service is appreciated and valued!