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.