Pedagogy of Complicity
I am writing this in a state of incredible exhaustion, but I have to get this down because I have been carrying these words in my soul for the last 3 or 4 days. In HigherEd so many articles have been written about burnout, and a "return to normal" and how both students and instructors are being actively excluded in spaces. It is also conference season, especially for education conferences, and I have watched this exclusion happen real time, and I have heard of the experiences of exclusion from folk at those conferences, people who reach out to tell me what is going on because they know I will get it. They also reach out because they are often shocked at the lack of awareness in spaces, and how people just seem to be okay with perpetuating the exclusionary models that HigherEd is known for.
So here's the thing, I know people are tired, I know people have nothing left to give. I also know that of course the systems being systemy, the people who are tired and have nothing left to give are the people who are invested in justice work, the people who want to make places accessible and inclusive. Those are the people who burnout quickly because there is just so much to change, and just so much to do, that when we try to do all of it, we just can't.
I am writing this now because I know that tomorrow I am going to spend all day in bed. I can feel it. I have slept poorly all week. My appetite is gone. I have had a bad headache for days and I have other pain flares happening. I know why this is happening- it is because I am stressed, and it is because I have spent a lot of energy these last few weeks trying to keep education folk accountable for the exclusionary expensive inaccessible conferences they are attending.
I have been thinking deeply this week of pedagogies of complicity. I see so many folk willingly being "in partnership with wrong doing" at these conferences and saying nothing about it. If you are at a conference that cost $600 to attend and there is no wifi, why are you not saying something? Just because you have an expensed data plan on your phone, doesn't mean everyone does. If you post pictures of your glamorous food, or glamorous location and don't take a moment to think about who is missing in that space exactly because they cannot afford the glamorous food or location, what does that say about what conferences are and do? Because a pedagogy of complicity trickles down. If you are absolutely okay with being complicit in these exclusive spaces of knowledge exchange, how can you say you are committed to inclusive pedagogy when you teach? How are you fighting against the systems where so many immunocompromised folk have been at home for over 2.5 years and you are posting your unmasked large room photos in all their glory with no alt text of course? The short answer is, you are not. You are being complicit in the systems that exclude folk by going to those conferences, by posting pictures to normalize things that shouldn't be normalized. And you are probably okay with that because you have the privilege already that allows you to be in that room in the first place.
The lack of reflection within conference educational spaces right now is really upsetting. No one is really asking who is missing from those spaces, because if they did, the spaces would not look like the conference spaces we are given to engage in. What kind of message does that send students? I am tired folks. I am tired of people not getting it. I am tired of being that person who has to say the things and remind the people and educate about a thing even though I have educated many times but it's just not foundational so they go back to exclusionary systems and posts the very next day. I am particularly tired when it is people who really really should get it. The people with the DEI branding in their bios, the people whose practice does not match the marketing speak.
So I am asking you this week, think about how deeply complicit you are in these conference systems and academic associations (in particular academic association leadership structures) and what is one thing you can do to stop upholding the systems that exclude so many people. I am so worried about the future of HigherEd because all I see is exclusion and I know that many people, first gen students, first gen educators, disabled learners, disabled educators, Indigenous students, Indigenous educators, Black students, Black educators, immigrant students, immigrant educators, graduate students, early career researchers, independent scholars, queer students, queer educators, so many people whose lived experience spans so much of these identities, and so many people I have not listed here because there are really is just so many people, are tired of the small cadre of folk upholding these spaces and practicing their pedagogy of complicity at conferences. I am sure this does not read as nice, I am not trying to be nice. As Cate Denial says "niceness lies; niceness will do anything to paper over cracks in relationships, in institutions, in classroom dynamics." It is time to reflect and to act and stop the complicity.