Saturday, April 8, 2017
April 8-9, 2017: My Five Years on the NeMLA Board
[The recent NeMLA Convention also marked my final one as a member of the Executive Board (I was Past President for this convention). So I wanted to take this moment to reflect a bit more broadly on my years as a governing member of this amazing organization.]
On five takeaways from my five wonderful years with NeMLA.
1) The People: I could write many, many posts about the amazing folks with whom I’ve worked on the NeMLA Executive Board over these years. From Elizabeth Abele, who helped bring me on board and single-handedly kept NeMLA going for many years; to Carine Mardorossian and Brandi So, who have taken up Elizabeth’s mantle and brought NeMLA into a new phase; to Ellen Dolgin, Daniela Antonucci, Hilda Chacón, and Maria DiFrancesco, without all of whom the last few conventions would have been shadows of the successes they became; to all of the other Board members who have been models of collegiality and collaboration. That last note is really the point I want to drive home: in the words of a phrase from the past year that we should all better remember than we currently seem to be, NeMLA’s leadership has truly been “stronger together,” and I’ve been blessed to work with each and all of these folks.
2) The Process: Throughout that work, and most especially in the couple years of planning for my 2016 presidential convention in Hartford, I got to experience in the most intimate and extended way imaginable all that goes into making a convention and an organization like NeMLA as successful as they so consistently are. The cliché is that you never want to see how the sausage is made (and as a sausage fan I take that point); but when it comes to NeMLA, seeing all the stages and steps of this multi-year process has helped me enjoy and engage with academic conferences, and indeed many other kinds of events, at a far deeper level than had previously been the case. I don’t know that I’ll ever quite match the feeling of introducing Jelani Cobb’s keynote address in Hartford, a moment that culminated so many years and so many small moments of planning and preparation; but I know that that feeling can and does help me imagine and appreciate similar moments at many other conferences and events as well.
3) The Problem: “Problem” isn’t really the word for what I’m highlighting here (I just couldn’t resist the alliteration); I mean instead the limitations, the things that even a great organization like NeMLA can’t necessarily do or affect. Throughout my time with NeMLA, I’ve worked to figure out how the organization can intervene in and possibly impact the frustrating and untenable situations facing adjunct and contingent faculty across the world of higher education. As those posts reflect, we’ve talked about this issue a great deal, both at our conventions and before and after them; but I can’t say with any certainty that we’ve been able to do anything other than talk, or that our conversations have made a tangible difference for adjunct and contingent faculty or higher education. There’s only so much an organization can do, of course, but I still have felt and continue to feel this limitation quite acutely when it comes to these vital and troubling issues.
4) The Public Schools: You could say the same thing about the issues facing America’s public schools, of course; what can any organization, much less an academic and scholarly one, do in response to such issues? But here I would say the opposite: that even though only a few of our 2016 convention attendees and speakers visited Hartford public schools, I believe that those visits were potent on both practical and symbolic levels: practically because the students, teachers, and communities there had the chance to learn from interesting and inspiring scholars and writers (and vice versa); and symbolically because the visits reflected the inescapable fact that we are all connected, that the work of public schools and universities, of teachers and professors, of professional and student writers, of all these communities on so many levels, depend on one another far more than they diverge. May we continue to work to find and nurture such connections in the conventions and years to come.
5) The Pleasures: Last, but far from least, are the pleasures I have found in these five years of conventions and conversations and collaboration and community. My life has turned upside-down and sideways multiple times over that span (usually by my own doing, to be clear), and NeMLA has been one of the most consistent and consistently positive parts of it. From wonderful roundtables and panels and creative readings and addresses, to dinners and meetings (yes, meetings!) with my colleagues, to unexpected encounters with the cities and settings for each convention, to opportunities for scholarly work I’ve found through the conventions, and in many other ways too, NeMLA has made my life better, richer, and more meaningful. While my time on the Executive Board may be ending, you can be sure I’ll find ways to keep that connection going—and I encourage you all to do the same, with NeMLA specifically or with whatever organizations and communities can offer such pleasures for you.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Any NeMLA memories or connections you’d share?