Workshop Co-Organizer Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh wrote this piece for In the Middle reflecting on the process of organizing an event like the Whiteness Workshop.
What have you learned from this workshop and discussion?
As a medievalist of color, it was useful to hear that the things I've felt and encountered are not unique to me. I often second-guess myself and wonder if I'm overreacting or overanalyzing things, so I felt very validated and less alone.
I learned that there is much greater concern in the field about this issue than I had imagined. The room was packed. There's now a critical mass of people that care about this issue and that want change. I was heartened by this, although of course I realize that this concern arises out of the woeful inadequacy with which whiteness in medieval studies has been addressed within the discipline. It is time to change this. The workshop made me aware that I need to do a lot more reading and thinking (thank you for the invaluable readings), and work to address inclusivity at a much more fundamental level than I have been doing. And that I cannot let medievalists of color do all the work.
I think two of the most moving elements of the hour were the graduate students who framed and introduced the discussion that followed, and the sheer number of people in the room, including their questions, interested to engage the issues.
Thank you for organizing this! These are important issues, and it was great to see such a big crowd. My biggest takeaway was just how difficult it is to articulate meaningful further action, or to outline concrete strategies for how to move the field forward. A lot of the workshop boiled down to platitudes like "Inclusiveness comes first!," which left me wanting to say absolutely, but what specific steps can I/we take to integrate a spirit of inclusivity into our day-to-day work?
The most important points for me (from the readings and discussion) were: 1. Whiteness as a structural and institutional issue that's separate from "particular bodies" in the room or even in the absence of certain bodies; 2. Inclusivity vs. diversity: inclusion *leads to* diversity, not the other way around. I think this principle applies to many other issues broader than race (I'm thinking about the queer-inclusive nametags and the session on accessibility). There were a lot of everyday examples that the speakers gave that really made me rethink some the assumptions I make without even realizing.
I greatly appreciated the readings; they mostly gave ideas I'd encountered in other places but articulated in clear and clever ways - very useful resources to pass on to others who sense the importance of these question but don't know where to start. I heard there was a long-list of readings from which these were the final selection - would you be willing to share the long list? From the discussion itself, the greatest take-away for me was diversity vs inclusivity. It tied in very well with discussions about universal access in the BABEL access in the academy roundtable.
I was pleased by the strong turnout, which seemed to indicate awareness that this is an issue in need of attention (which might seem obvious to some of us, but still). I was dismayed by some of the comments during discussion, which seemed to be telling organizers (and attendees) things rather than pursuing information and experiences that could help them better understand complexities. I learned that I myself have a lot of thinking to do, and that that thinking is best done through the experiences and ideas of others (as with the readings you supplied before and after the workshop).
That we have *finally* achieved an important critical mass, not only of medievalists of color, but of white allies who are listening to those MOC voices.
That Medievalists of Color have extraordinary levels of patience and grace, not just in dealing with racism, but also virtue-signaling. That double-blind reviewing has a point and purpose. That I need to read a good deal more: thank you for the readings.
Among many other things, that when given a chance to reflect on racial inequity, white people generally can't help talking about how they're doing the best they can.
How extensive the pushback against diversity and inclusion are from top to bottom in the academy.
I have learned that there are a lot of people worried about these important issues in our field. I was also appreciative to be reminded of the importance of inclusivity over diversity.
While I consider myself to be an anti-racism activist, as a mixed-race member of minority groups, I certainly learned from the workshop. Some key questions which I will take into my daily work are "For whom are we "saving" medieval studies from white nationalist appropriation?" "How am I IMPACTING students, peers, and colleagues who don't experience academic and social white privilege?" "What extra homework can I do to address the problem of addressability?" "What is the IMPACT of my actions/words/assumptions, regardless of their INTENTION?"
I was reminded that white supremacist assumptions inhabit the Western collective subconscious, and that my anti-racist intentions and actions don't necessarily mean that I've rooted out problematic unconscious ideas.
As a graduate student, I realize that one day I may have the power to make significant changes in the structures of our fields and programs. At the moment, I feel rather powerless to do anything besides work to foster inclusion in the way I teach undergraduates. After this session, I realize I need to start preparing to change the field now--so that if/when I have institutional power I am prepared.
This session made me realize that I unconsciously expect scholars with non-Anglo names to do work with race/ethnicity/nationality/multilinguilism. I must work on changing this outlook.
One issue which I am still grappling with is how to foster diversity and inclusion without automatically expecting scholars of color to represent "diversity." As a teacher I try to allow students of color a place to speak to their experiences without assuming/expecting them to come forward in that way.
Very little that I did not already know. I believe that the planned small groups were actually necessary for real work. I got much more out of talking with friends who had also attended over dinner afterwards.
This workshop helped me think about the ways in which academics (and probably students) of color reflect on their own successes and "failures."
Strategies for engaging with denial of racism, or how it is so difficult to diversify academia, the classroom, life. Some concrete steps I, as a white woman, can take to listen, act, and support colleagues and students of color.
As a junior scholar, just starting on my career, I think the most helpful part of this was the discussion of inclusivity with respect to edited collections. I'm already familiar with the diversity v inclusivity question, so I didn't learn much on that score. I think that was partly determined by the participants in the workshop, since not everyone is as familiar with these issues. But when inclusivity/diversity was discussed with respect to how people are selected or not selected for edited collections, and what that means for their careers, suddenly we got to ask really important questions such as, Is inclusivity fostered more by expanding the network of scholars in the edited collection to include marginalized voices, or by encouraging scholars of color to get peer-reviewed journal articles rather than publications in an edited collection? Does the network provided by being a part of the edited collection help more than the CV line of the journal article? Is it better to be 'inclusive' within the relatively small sphere of the edited collection, or is it better to try to change the academic structures that make edited collections and other kinds of publications less valuable than the peer-reviewed journal? To address this survey question more specifically, I didn't 'learn' the answer to any of these questions, but I did gain more insight into how all of these questions play out within the profession, and that was really helpful for me. So I especially valued the practical side of the discussion we had.
The thread of the workshop that I learned the most from centered around the difference between inclusivity and diversity-- from the readings, to Jonathan and Seeta's conversation, to the discussion afterwords, the workshop gave me a lot of information on this front, and helped me to see in new ways where I and my institution often fail at inclusiveness, even when we're explicitly aiming for diversity.
I learned a great deal, but one thing that sticks with me is the need to recognize the whiteness of medieval studies and make active steps to make it more inclusive, starting, perhaps, with decisions about what we teach.
We all need to work on making our syllabi, our classes, and our institutions more inclusive.
I'm a medievalist of color, and mostly I appreciated the articulation of issues I've faced over the course of my career. It's always nice to know you're not alone.
I'm determined to be more attentive to seeking out the scholars of colour in my field, to thinking about making representing a diverse medieval studies a priority in eg. invited speaker series, to planning syllabi from the ground up that interrogate the perceived whiteness of the middle ages.
I will be more proactive about reaching out to scholars of color for inclusion in panels that I organize.
I'll be looking more closely for to add more sources than before that represent nonwhite voices and identities in the medieval world. And I will encourage colleagues in my university and in academic organizations in which I participate to foreground inclusiveness and diversity.
I now want to find out if my institution actually has implicit bias trainings or workshops for white faculty about race-related issues. If it doesn't, I want to try and make such things happen in my department (and across departments). I would also like to find data on minorities as students/faculty (recruitment and retention). As for medieval studies, do any of our professional organizations track demographics regarding race in particular?
I'll give a great deal of thought to my future syllabi and my classroom practice, so that non-white perspectives are always included. I'll work to make sure there are panels and individual speakers that address the whiteness of medieval studies in my own organization, the New Chaucer Society, and in the conferences organized by my home institution. I'll work to include non-European and non-white perspectives in my published research and conference presentations. I'll continue to attend panels on the whiteness of medieval studies at conferences in my field. I'l work on my rhetoric.
I'm really trying to diversify my syllabi, but my biggest challenge is that I don't know what's out there. That's one topic I would really like to hear more about, perhaps on this website or in a future workshop. Is there a good resource for, say, an introduction to the global Middle Ages? Or for integrating critical race theory into a Chaucer course, or a Beowulf seminar? I know asking these questions risks slipping into the realm of the "pedagogical burden," but it would have been helpful to me to have a space to brainstorm possible readings, texts, approaches, etc. with the crowd. Like many (probably most?) medievalists, I don't have anyone I can ask these questions of at my home institution.
At my home institution, I hope to help support medieval studies which are non-European. I think I have a responsibility to become more vocal/visible as a scholar of mdvl studies who works on race, although I am only a graduate student. As a scholar, I will continue to educate myself on modern racism in the academy and in the world in order to better work against overt and covert prejudices.
As a white/ish feminist scholar, I am realizing that it may be my responsibility to work in white feminist circles against the institution of white feminism itself.
As a white person, I've been too hesitant to risk myself when it was time to amplify the voices of students of color in my program (the program has no faculty of color), because I'm a grad student and have little power. I need to be bolder in conversations with my white mentors about why they need to consider what students of color need from them, to show up to every damn thing that my colleagues of color are doing and take up whatever they need done.
I want to learn more about how to do the work to help make our field as inclusive as possible. I plan to take some of these ideas back to my college to see how we can do better.
I'm eager to shift the goals of our policies and culture away from "diversity" and toward "inclusivity." That simple distinction is really valuable and gave me a lot to work with back at my institution. The workshop increased my resolve to work in ways I do have access to, to aggressively against institutional structures that sustain structures of white supremacy (and male supremacy).
Oh jesus. Many. I work at a very hegemonic institution that--to its credit--means well, but often fails to create more inclusive spaces because it cannot understand how it has institutionalized racism and sexism and heteronormativity.
I am working on creating better syllabi for my medieval classes, ones that work against the whitewashed image of the Western European Middle Ages.
My department is already very conscious of its whiteness, particularly at UG, and we are trying to work out how we might address it. We haven't had any bright ideas yet.
Actively seek out academics of color; talk honestly about the issue and persistence of white privilege with students, colleagues, and administration.
Perhaps organizing mini-seminars about medieval POC to raise students' (and colleagues') awareness and interest; actively "courting" students of color toward the research/medieval path.
If we're trying to make structural changes, we need to think about who we hire and how we tenure them. So I will pay very close attention to the hiring process, and in particular how job applicants for academic jobs (for any period, not just medieval jobs) write their teaching statements. I suspect that one could learn a lot about a future colleague's attitudes towards race, access, and inclusivity by paying attention to how they talk about these issues in relationship to their pedagogy. Do they bring up these questions, or just ignore them? How do they talk about students from non-traditional backgrounds, such as first-generation students? What kinds of larger issues do they hope their teaching will address? In my experience, faculty tend to treat their students and their colleagues in the same way, and if we want to be able to make structural changes in our institutions, we need to make sure we hire colleagues that also strive towards the same goals that we do. And while we as medievalists certainly have a responsibility to make sure our students aren't misled by white nationalist agendas, we also need to make sure our colleagues aren't casually treating the Middle Ages as a 'white' field as well. To borrow the workshop description's words, building racial consciousness in medieval studies is going to require non-medievalist allies too. And that's particularly true when it comes to structural changes in academia - because most of us are up for tenure at places where the majority or the entirety of the tenure review committee is made up of non-medievalists. There's only so much that medievalists can do in the tenure process, because all the tenure letters of support in the world won't make up for a tenure review committee that simply refuses to acknowledge the work of faculty of color. So we can't just think of medieval studies as an entity unrelated to the rest of academia, because medievalists of color have to contend not just with medieval studies, but with academia as a whole. Again, that's not to say that medievalists don't have a unique responsibility to support our colleagues and to counteract the appropriation of our field. I'm just pointing out that accomplishing these goals is going to need non-medievalists. So we need to make sure we're engaging with everyone in academia, not just each other; and we need to make sure we make hiring decisions that will benefit academia more broadly.
One thing that I noticed at the workshop was that grad students and early career people made up much of the audience-- it would be wonderful to have some sort of exchange for syllabi and other teaching materials for folks who are committed to making medieval studies a more inclusive field *and* in the process of developing new courses and/or teaching for the first time. I've benefited tremendously from my own scholarly networks when trying expand the scope of the primary and secondary materials I teach in my classes, but not everyone comes from a context where they have those connections or receive much institutional support. I'd love to be involved in developing a set of discoverable resources for folks interested in rethinking the way they teach based on the issues discussed in the workshop.
I would like to make race a central component of medieval studies curricula at my home institution, and not allow it to be treated as a "modern issue" to be approached only in courses on modern and contemporary literature and culture. This seems to be a norm in institutional divisions of labor that ought to change.
Working to push my pre-modernist colleagues to make their syllabi more inclusive and thoughtful.
I'm an independent scholar so I have no home institution, but I am doing what I can to be more inclusive in the collections I edit and the panels that I organize for conferences. I mean to continue speaking up for scholars of color where I can, and I hope other attendees do the same.
Aim for inclusion, especially on the peer-to-peer mentoring level.
The organizers were gracious, generous, thoughtful, brilliant. Thank you for organizing this. I would love to attend too the workshop you envisioned: smaller, more time, break-out groups for discussion of the readings. I think that might have attenuated some of the white apologism that took up most of the audience discussion period.
I would have loved to hear more discussion of whiteness and how it functions in the field. I was heartened by the robust attendance at the session. The facilitators were masterful, deft, and gracious. I think this was a wonderful start, and I look forward to seeing where this conversation goes in future congresses.
Thank you. Many of the issues you brought up are things that were on my radar, so my excitement is over seeing those things reach a larger audience and seeing MOC carving out institutional spaces in our discipline.
This should be an annual workshop at the ICMS.
Thanks so much to all of you who organized this. I found it incredibly helpful and would love to see much more in future Kalamazoos and elsewhere. Mind you, I realize everyone needs to be involved in making that happen, not simply medievalist POCs.
I'd like to share that I did not see overt racism within the academy until recently, when I began to network more broadly. Explicit identification of the types of racism lurking in the corners of our field would be helpful for younger scholars. I hope to find guidance on how to deal with overt/covert prejudice as a young woman graduate student, since I currently have little influence over the field as it is (and may not have much influence for a long time, if ever). Change is needed RIGHT NOW and I hope to find ways to encourage this change. Lastly, a resounding THANK YOU to the organizers and participants of this workshop. It was highly necessary to have this session (and all the conversations it amplified/inspired). I really appreciate the generosity of the scholars of color who undertook the extra labor to educate and intervene in medieval studies.
I would like more of these. I hope to see future sessions that do have time for breakout discussions as well as the large-group conversation.
One idea that has come from a project at my institution about women's career progression, is to think less about mentoring and more about sponsorship. Mentoring tends to put the work on to the mentee ('This is how to do this', or more usually, 'This is how I did this.'), whereas sponsorship requires the more senior person actively to look out for opportunities and recommend particular people, and stand up for them and their talents. This happens anyway, but more active sponsoring and more active consideration of potential candidates might make a difference.
Thank you. The readings, presenters, discussion leaders, and discussion was very helpful and illuminating.
It was surprisingly top-down; discussion based around pre-decided questions; faculty leading the workshop while grad students distributed handouts, etc.
THANK YOU! This was so fabulous. <3 you all.
I hope this continues to be a highly visible conversation in medieval studies that leads to real changes in the field. To that end, perhaps future workshops, conference roundtables, etc. could address issues of professional status. How many of those present at this most recent workshop were tenured faculty? How many were on the tenure track but new at their jobs? How many were grad students? Adjuncts? Post-docs? I don't think there should be a census of attendees or anything. These are rhetorical questions meant to raise the issue of who has the security to push for change. In other words, a will to make change at a home institution can be affected by one's professional security and job status. How can those with "flexible," precarious labor arrangements be empowered and supported in pushing for institutional change?
Small groups would have been great. We need more such opportunities--and ones where everyone's done the reading beforehand. THANK YOU for those readings!
Thank you to the organizers of this event. It was a desperately needed first step to make our field a better place for everyone.
I'd actually like to see the small breakout-session format as was originally envisioned. I hope ICMS makes this an official session next year; it really should be a regular thing.