Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reflections on NCA 2011: Justifying Diversity

As we embark upon another semester of teaching, research, and service, I would like to start our first post of 2012 with reflections from NCA 2011.

First, welcome to the new blog contributors stemming from ties forged at various NCA panels. Second, I would like to reiterate that this is meant to be a safe space for us as Latino/a academics to discuss issues pertaining to the big three of academic life: research, teaching, service.

The panels I participated on this past NCA in New Orleans were productive. I came away feeling energized to make the next move on my projects, and relieved to be in contact with other like-minded scholars. On the other hand, I heard about others' experiences in not-so-productive, even hostile panel sessions. Of course interpersonally we are all diverse and approach life from specific standpoints --- that's a given, academically and otherwise.

However, does that mean that we can't foster an academically free environment of respect and disagreement? Do the two have to be irreconcilable?

As Bernadette noted of her own experience with the late Nacho Cordova (R.I.P.), though we might not always agree theoretically (or methodologically) we can certainly still respect each others' work. I would say this is something worthy of striving towards - always be respectful but able to critique others (and accept such criticism yourself). I personally believe that criticism provides ample room for improving or clarifying one's own arguments. In fact, I regularly encourage my students to debate hot topic issues with the preface that they should not necessarily shy away from bringing forth a position that goes against the grain. After all, I can't imagine a better way to effectively argue than to be familiar with the opposition's take on your position!

Still, when one hears comments about others' work that are utterly disrespectful, though they may be made with *critical and scholarly* intentions, what is the best response? Where is such a fine line drawn? We all know that academia involves a good amount of rejection and criticism so perhaps the easiest response is to get over it and continue the conversation. However, what I'm more digging at is an underlying theme of disregard or disrespect for marginal minority work. For example, others who genuinely do not see the value in promoting diverse voices might easily disregard some body of work with even such a label of "diversity" or hint of the topic without the explicit label. What about when working on a controversial topic? A student of color recently told me he felt the best way to rid the world of racism is to just stop talking about it. Perhaps communication scholars feel the same way and this might account for shying away from touchy subjects.

The work of justifying minority (though not always controversial) scholarship can be a heavy, taxing burden. It's a fight worth fighting, in my eyes. I'm especially curious to hear what the more seasoned scholars have to say about this and strategies that are used to navigate these tensions at conferences and in routine academic life.

~ Amanda R. Martinez, Ph.D.