DH Reads

DH Read: “Recap: Scholars for Social Justice Twitter Chat”

On HASTAC, Linda Luu posted a recap of the first Scholars for Social Justice (SSJ) Twitter chat. Taking on the subject of “Racism, Resistance, and Free Speech,” the February 13th chat included invited participants Charlene Carruthers, Cathy Cohen, Alvaro Huerta, Barbara Ransby, C. Riley Snorton, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and was moderated by Jenn Jackson. As Luu explains in the recap:

Academia has long struggled with how to position itself in solidarity with communities on the front lines. Its “ivory tower” reputation speaks to those who choose to make the issues facing marginalized communities the subject of academic scholarship but would rather not engage in activist organizing, but also to the structures of higher education which often make commitments to social justice praxis difficult to maintain and carry out. However, the punishing of dissenting voices within academia, the defunding of public education (in particular of the arts and humanities), the exploitation of university staff and contingent faculty labor, and rising student tuition and debt ought to remind us that these issues are not far beyond university walls and of our responsibilities to act. Therefore, part of SSJ’s work is also to “reimagine the academy”- expanding who it serves, who has access to it, and who shapes its mission. The chat was an exciting conversation- a glimpse into the current landscape of issues we are fighting on our individual campuses and of the possibilities that can emerge from a coalition of scholars for social justice.

The Q&A recap provided by Luu is well worth reading, as the invited scholars made a lot of great points about the inequities of how people employ the ideology of free speech. I am just as interested, though, in the Twitter chat format itself. Twitter enables scholars to engage the public (or at least engage in the public realm) in a way that would have been unimaginable not that long ago. This gives scholars a great venue for demonstrating the value of humanities training and research, for showing that these disciplines are important for their own sake and incredibly useful for making sense of the world around us through deep contextualization. But for all of the opportunities that social media presents, it also opens scholars up to public controversy and criticism (in uneven and unfair ways, which cannot be emphasized enough). Not all universities have been as supportive as they could or should be of scholars who find themselves embroiled in difficult situations or subjected to trolling and harassment, which is enough to give anyone lacking secure employment (and even those with) pause about how they conduct themselves in these spaces.

I have so far hesitated to create my own Twitter account because I still have so many questions about how to operate as a scholar in the public sphere of social media. As a graduate student living in this current political moment, how do I decide what to like, share, and post when I have to keep in mind that my actions may have an impact on future employment opportunities and relationships with colleagues or students? On the other hand, as someone who studies history and digital humanities from a decolonizing perspective, how could I sit back and say that politically charged issues are not my concern, not a burden that I am willing to take up? From discussions I’ve had with other grad students, most of us feel like there is a balance to be struck but have little sense of how to walk that line. I also have to wonder how much risk there really is when anything I tweet, in all likelihood, will not actually end up reaching that large of an audience. There is so much work to be done and only so much that tweets from grad students can do. That doesn’t mean I think these efforts have no place, but it’s important to keep it in perspective. Even if I’m still trying to sort through these questions, I firmly believe that scholars can and should bring their critical insight to the activism that occurs in digital spaces, and this Twitter chat is an excellent example of that.

Read the original post here.

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