Multi-literate and Multi-discursive

I’ve been spending the last few days at the AERA 2017 annual meeting in San Antonio. Outside of exploring a new state and eating lots of Mexican food, I’ve also had the privilege of listening to some of my ‘academic heroes’ –scholars I aspire to emulate.

This morning I listened to Prudence Carter, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and Marc Lamont Hill. I was especially struck by Dr. Carter’s call for research to be “multi-literate and multi-discursive.” She talked about academia’s tendency to focus on certain places and people when conducting research: namely the urban, the minority, and the poor. We do so at the expense of examining those, like the huge voter-block that voted for Trump, who clearly have a voice, and a powerful one. It reminded me that academia has increasingly become a space for certain voices and opinions, there are dominant discourses that reject others without even acknowledging that those views exist for a reason.

We need scholars who bridge the divides, who are “multiliterate and multidiscursive.

I began thinking of my own research. It’s not new that I engage in politically charged topics. Behavior genetics is often viewed as a racist and classist endeavor. Figures like Murray instill what is akin to disgust in many academic circles. Dare I even say that behavior genetics could be seen by mainstream academia as the “deplorables” of research? When I engage with these researchers I find that they are all too aware of the ‘bad rep’ their field has. What is more troubling to me, however, as a PhD student trying to make her way in the world, is the fact that I am perceived to be complicit in this research–that by engaging with these researchers I am “part of the problem,” giving them too much legitimacy by sitting and listening to their views and arguments. I’ve been told that no doctoral student should undertake such a charged topic, that it’s too  much, that some career professionals wouldn’t even dare touch it. That’s certainly fair, and perhaps I am ‘shooting myself in the foot’ when it comes to my future in academia, but if that’s the case, I believe academia has a problem it needs to solve.

How can we truly expect to bring about change or to convince the other side that our views or worthy of being listened to when we do not give the other side the same common courtesy? How can we ridicule a field without understanding why there are those in it who continue their research despite going against common academic discourses? Do not get me wrong, I have a bone to pick with the field of behavior genetics, but I feel that the best way to pick this bone is by engaging with these researchers and understanding what they are doing and why.

Yesterday, I attended a business meeting of a Special Interest Group I’m affiliated with in AERA. One of the members raised the importance of considering what he called “adversarial collaboration.” This idea goes against human nature, we like to surround ourselves with those who agree with us, who think like us, who look like us. But, how can we ever enact change if we do not listen/engage with the other side? As uncomfortable as “adversarial collaboration” might be, it’s important for getting both sides of the argument to sit down and listen. It’s why I’m excited about a current project I’m working on that I can now use “adversarial collaboration” to describe. It also means I’ve experienced push back from individuals who think that this form of collaboration might be damaging for my career prospects or hold certain views that are troubling. What’s the purpose of academic research if it’s to be comfortable? If it’s to “stay in a lane.” I want to my work to be meaningful and to instill change, and I only think that’s possible if I do the exact opposite of “staying in my lane.” In fact, “staying in a lane” is the problem with academia as I see it. We stay in our lanes and conduct research and recommend policy that is in many ways undemocratic– it does not bring in the people and communities we are trying to help.

As Prudence Carter highlighted, we need scholars who bridge the divides, who are “multi-literate and multi-discursive.”

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