Of Conferences, Communities, and Collectives
There is just so much to say I don't even know where to begin. There is also so much to say that I want to get out quickly because it hurts, but also know I need to get it out slowly because there's been enough lack of mindful reflection in this world. So I will start by saying this is going to be really long, because there is a lot, and I am sorry, so feel free to return to this when you can.
I spent the weekend in bed. I spent the weekend in bed because I spent the week at the POD conference pushing against systems that actively excluded conversations about accessibility in big and small ways and I was really exhausted. I spent the weekend first reading this amazing book by Hannah McGregor (opens in new tab), and being inspired by words she put on the page, and then writing 2 pages of notes of all the feelings I had to work through from the POD conference, and the residual feelings I did not give myself space to work through from the incredibly harmful COED Fall meeting. For those of you not in the field, both of these conferences/meetings are educational developer/faculty developer spaces. So what I will be sharing here with you are in some ways prompts for the field of educational developers, and in other ways prompts for those who find themselves in academic spaces in general.
POD spent a lot of time trying reinforce what a great community it is and how folk are "in community" yet as Nicole Lee Schroeder noted on Twitter this weekend: "I really wish academics didn't pose academia as a community. It's a job. We're not family. If we were a community, we would care about accessibility and plan for inclusion. "Community" doesn't design inaccessible events, and then make those same events core parts of our jobs." And as I have told many in the "new EDC" (a Canadian ed dev group which is what I will always call it no matter what name it decides to give itself), community is not declared, it is built. You cannot treat community like a performative speech act. And if you know anything about trauma-aware pedagogy you know that this is true. And if you know anything about the times we are living in right now trauma-awareness must be foundational to the work we do.
The etymology of community is from the French for "residence of the same locality" and there is nothing like a conference or meeting of folk who have the job titles to demonstrate that oh my goodness do we not reside in anywhere close to the same locality. But in reading her book, Hannah had me thinking of collectives, and the social justice history of collectives, and collective justice work. The etymology of collective is much closer to the ethos of what is found in some places; from the Latin for "to gather together" but also "a plurality of individuals." So we get together, individuals with a shared goal. There is a feeling of justice in the collective that is simply not there in a community, especially forced declared community. Communities can be temporary cliques, like the folk who could afford (financially or bodily) to be in Seattle for POD. Collectives are individuals, who can be in relation, as is reinforced in many Indigenous philosophies and pedagogies. Collectives remind us "we are who we care for, and who cares for us" (McGregor, 2022, 29). And the general lack of care in the POD space this week, allowed those who do care to find each other and build a new collective.
The POD conference started last Friday with a meeting that I want to believe meant well, but demonstrated how much lacking framing to facilitate conversations about equity and inclusion means positionality statements come off as statements of invisible disclosure, instead of authentic awareness. The same thing happened at the COED meeting. And this quickly becomes what Hannah amazingly notes in her book that the "care of white women, I have learned, can be a dangerous thing" (2). This is the same thing that happens in UDLChat, where all these white women try to out do themselves to find many different words for disability or disabled instead of the actual words disability or disabled because they think "I am helping" by focusing on "ability" and "possAbilities" (word actually used; if you don't believe me go on Twitter and search the #UDLChat hashtag, but don't say I didn't warn you). It is a perfect of example of when you "try to help" using your own ways and not the ways that community has asked for support many many times.
This is what happens in conference planning. People who actually have the knowledge, and lived experience to help are not part of the decisions from the beginning, and instead are brought in at the end, when someone has raised an issue, to retrofit a problem. Also the word retrofit was used in a session at POD and it was no where framed as something that is very common in accessibility work and disability scholarship which was also super telling of the gaps present in this space. So then you end up with two conferences that in no way really speak to each other "because we are helping, look at us helping." And instead of noting the gaps, instead of acknowledging how much work needs doing, and the incredible urgency needed for this work, we get "community" saying isn't this wonderful, look at how great this is "click" (snaps unmasked conference group selfie where no one is wearing a mask even though the conference guidelines asked people to wear masks). And it's not like they will ever apologize. And if they do apologize it will be one of those "thoughts and prayers" apologies that are absolutely meaningless because the praxis is inexistent. Because they know why they took that picture. sarah madoka currie spelled it all out with precision on Twitter this morning: "i think part of this is definitely status-bound:"i could afford to be here" shared with an in-group of people who could also afford it. then you add modern influencer culture intersecting with HE research and conf selfies seem like a natural extension of both." As I noted the other day, these selfies they signify privilege and elite community, but no where do these selfies actually signify they are part of the thought or justice collective I would want or need to be a part of. It is also not lost on me that it is usually the people who are the first to reject auto-ethnography as valuable in SoTL that are the first to embrace the cachet of the conference selfie and not see how that is so incredibly at odds.
I know how much work goes into conferences. I have organized conferences and international symposia. I am not denying that work, yay you did the work. But when you actively exclude folk, and the same folk, over and over and over again, it sends a message. It sends a message to those in educational development, that disability is not important. It sends a message that it is okay in 2022 that folk in educational development think that disability is only Down's Syndrome (an actual thing that was said to me this week). It sends a message that in educational development work it is okay to not take accessibility into consideration, and then the instructors we support in turn think it is okay to not take accessibility into consideration. And then we get nonsense like tech bans- shout out to Jenae Cohn and Lina Rincon with a great rage producing case study on tech bans in their session. And if you can't stop for moment to see the real harm exclusion and framing things in a way that values a group over another creates, can you please just look at the news out of Colorado Springs today, because I am writing this with hurting heart at just how much people refuse to acknowledge the interconnectedness. If disabled folk are not part of the conversation you are saying it is okay for disabled folk to not be part of the conversation. If Black or Indigenous or Latine or people of colour are not part of the conversation, you are saying it is okay for Black or Indigenous or Latine or people of colour to not be part of the conversation. If queer folk are not part of the conversation, you are saying...you are saying it is okay if we just disappear. Do you get it? Do you get it? Really, I am asking you with all my heart, do you get it?
And yet here we are, knee deep in people who like to throw out words like the ethics of inclusivity, or the pedagogy of care, when they actively misunderstand the last part to erase the first part. Their definitions of inclusion and care, are not ethical, are not pedagogy. This surface usage of terms, that empty meaning, that create unmeaning like it is the new ungrading, is a result of not thinking through things together, or only thinking through things in their very small elite privileged non-mask wearing, who cares about COVID, communities with Malvina Reynolds' "Little Boxes" playing in the background. Because the people who could have given another perspective have already been pushed out, have already been actively written out of any opportunity to participate, have already been told in big and small ways "this space is not for you." Have already died.
So we build our collectives, our small spaces, that grow larger in time. Spaces that are built on the trust lacking in those conferences and meetings. Spaces that listen to individual needs, who build from those needs, not quickly patch it later, or never at all. Spaces that grieve together, that care together. Spaces that understand the incredible urgency of this work. So I end this in tears, with my heart ripped in so many pieces because I am just not sure how many more people need to quit these associations and groups, how many more people need to die, for you to understand and do the work, and include people, and understand the real trickle down that active exclusion creates, that your lack of mindful and careful use of words creates. In solidarity with all the queer folk and the disabled folk, my friends, my people, my loved ones who are hurting so much right now. I see you; one day, maybe they will see us too.
McGregor, H. (2022). A Sentimental Education. Wilfrid Laurier University Press.