Author Archive for jkhope

Why am I here?

The prompt for this week’s blog and readings have compelled me to do some reflecting on my trajectory and everything that I have done to get to this point.
I first knew I wanted to be a historian while in the 10th grade. I had the opportunity to take classes at my local community college—Contra Costa College—and was greatly influenced by several faculty of color in the History and African American Studies departments. I saw them not only challenging their students and being exemplary educators in the classroom, but also committed to serving their communities, locally and transnationally. I was drawn to the ways in which they entangled the two—community and academia. For the next 10+ years I’ve found myself working to emulate their level of activist-scholarship.

In conducting research on radical social movements and organizations, I’ve never formally thought of the work that I do as being a form of “public scholarship” but just the nature of my research and positionally as a Black woman activist-scholar. I am here, at UC Davis in the Mellon Public Scholars program, because of my commitment to creating scholarship that serves radical and progressive social movements. I am here because education, knowledge of self, consciousness raising, and history are paramount within movement work, and why I am enthused to be working with the California Department of Education (CDE) on their Ethnic Studies curriculum and standards. I see this as an opportunity to not only influence Education policy, but also a means to help shape a new generation of future activist-scholars, organizers, and public servants from the margins.

However, the readings from this week, especially those around women of color and the tenure process, have me thinking, how do I stay here? How do I work to ensure that I, like far too many WoC scholars that have come before me, am not pushed out of academia? Many of the readings from this week spoke to the need for the academy and institutions to re-examine its policies and standards regarding tenure promotion. It was refreshing to see scholars and administration from UNC calling for the inclusion of public scholarship and service in the tenure review process, a change that would certainly validate the tireless work many WoC scholars undertake with little to no recognition. While this report was exciting to read, as someone that would like to one day land a tenure-track job, I also began to think back on my first blog entry where I began sharing some of my apprehension around the institutionalizing, gatekeeping, and appropriating happening with “public scholarship.” How do we work to ensure that the work of WoC is not excluded from this burgeoning field and new policies? As we’ve seen traditional fields and neoliberal institutions co-opting ideas and using them against the very communities that they were created for and/or by.

When and Where I Enter: Navigating the Academy, Community, Public, and Social Movements

“We define activist scholarship as the production of knowledge and pedagogical practices through the active engagements with the service of progressive social movements”

The aforementioned quote comes from the Okazawa-Rey and Sudbury reading, “Activist Scholarship and the Neoliberal university after 9/11.” They succinctly define activist-scholarship as being in constant service to the public and radical progressive social movements. As someone that identifies as an activist scholar, what Okazawa-Rey and Sudbury put forth is in essence the trajectory I aspire my for my work. In their article Okazawa-Rey and Sudbury posit: activist scholarship occurs both on and off college campuses; activism isn’t something that is to be done “on the side,” but an integral feature and mission of activist-scholars’ work; activist scholarship is a means to connect the academy with community; knowledge production must be emancipated and made accessible; and we must begin to reckon with the gendered and radicalized dynamics within activist scholarship.

The article (and other readings from this week) affirmed much of what I’ve observed, experienced, and taken action on. However, the final section of the piece, “Living with Contradictions,” strongly resonated with me as I continue to grapple with how exactly do I navigate the academy, the public, my various communities, and activist circles simultaneously? This year I have been appointed and asked to step into several leadership roles within community, grassroots organizing spaces, and on the university level— positions that are arguably odds. Okazawa-Rey’s discussion around ethics and when do activist-scholars draw their “ethical lines” without imploding one’s career or being dismissed as inauthentic by comrades has been at the forefront of my thinking for the past few months. How can we go about delineating our politics and trying to ensure that they meet the needs of the academy, community, and grassroots organizing? Is this even possible, especially working within neoliberal institutions?

Another observation that I recognized in this week’s readings was the various ways in which “public,” “community,” and “activist” were used seemingly interchangeably. While I do not perceive these three terms to be the same, why are they deployed in a similar fashion? It is important that we safeguard (without policing or gatekeeping) what it means to do community-based and activist-scholarship as we’ve begin to witness the appropriation, privatization, and commodification of “public scholarship.” Moreover, many forms of “public scholarship” are also very conservative and do not necessarily help to advance the good of the public nor social movements. I think a good example of this is evidenced in the recent discussions around the #sciencemarch. While many scientists have come to the forefront to highlight why science researchers and organizations should continue to be funded, many also hold the belief that science is a-political, while ignoring the troubling past science has had with regards to issues around race, gender, sexuality, etc. Thus, while it is great to see scientists taking a stand, many are engaging in this form of public scholarship, via marches, twitter and social media discussions with the public, articles on mainstream outlets, etc., for the supposed good of public, but often for the good of their own livelihood and welfare. It is only now when science is threatened that we see such “public scholarship” coming from the academic elite. Thus, what constitutes public scholarship?

Public Scholarship, Why Now?

As a budding Black scholar, public and community-based scholarship, is not something that I think about, but more or less just do. While completing my M.A. thesis I had a critical moment in my development where I asked myself, “if my Nana can’t understand my work and its purpose, what am I doing?” Moreover, my entry into academia has been greatly influenced by radical social movements. Huey P. Newton’s assertion that his work (both organizing and academic) was for the “brothers on the block” propelled me to keep researching and producing scholarship for those in struggle. 

For me, being a Black queer scholar is inextricably linked to the public and community. Because of my multiple marginalized identities, I never feel as if I am in a position to produce knowledge and scholarship that is void of a purpose or that is inaccessible. What good is knowledge and scholarship that is not grounded in societal advancement and justice? And while I’ve read my fair share of “high theory,” cutting edge research, and can cite some of the most acclaimed scholars in my fields, it is often the work of “public scholars and intellectuals” that I find myself fawning over and seeking to emulate. 

I remember being introduced to the works of Cornell West and Micahel Eric Dyson early in high school. Race Matters was my “go to” book and West was the first public intellectual that I was able to recognize whenever he came on television. Since then, my recognition of public scholars and intellectuals has moved beyond those that have simply reached academic celebrity status, to associating the recently popularized term with those that consider themselves activist-scholars, those that organize within their locales, those that center social justice within their work, and are committed decolonizing the academy. 

I now turn to the work of Stacey Patton, Brittney Cooper, Bettina Love, Tricia Rose, Melina Abdullah, Rosa Clemente, Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor, Donna Murch, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, and others for direction on how to conduct community-based and social justice centered research for those on the margins of the margins. Their work illustrates how to navigate commitments to the public, community, and academia, while maintaining critical anti-hegemonic, anti-capitalist, and anti-oppressive messages. And simultaneously using their platform to call attention to current social movements and issues within their communities. 

These scholars rarely outright call themselves “public scholars.” But we have come to know that this type of work is expected of us as Black women. So there has never been a question of whether or not if my work is engaging the public or community, but how? Dwight Giles, “Understanding an Emerging Field of Scholarship: Toward a Research Agenda for Engaged, Public Scholarship,” is both insightful (in that public scholarship is being studied as a field) and concerning. While Giles argues that public scholarship existed prior to the recent interest in the field—more so as a form of “service learning,”a term akin to community service and does not fully capture the nature of public scholarship—they also begin to force the “field” to be beholden of the same rigid academic structures as traditional fields. What does it mean for public scholarship to be a field especially when scholars on the margins have been doing this work within traditional and interdisciplinary fields for decades, if not longer? What does it mean to now subject this “field” to some of the same hegemonic structures that govern existing fields? And finally, why now? Why now is this work being applauded, deemed interesting or even scholarship?