[As I did a couple years back, I wanted to start the fall semester by highlighting a few of the things I’m working on and looking forward to this fall. I’d love to hear about what you’ve got going on for the final few months of 2014 as well!]
On the community that’s working to advance a vital goal.
I’ve written a great deal in this space—including this week-long series—on the ideals, challenges, and complex realities of public scholarship. Producing such scholarship, becoming a public scholar, has become a central, lifelong goal of mine, but I recognize full well the obstacles and pitfalls that come with such a goal. And I don’t mean only the frightening kinds of attacks and punishments that have come the way of public scholars such as William Cronin and Steven Salaita in recent years, although those are worst-case scenarios to be sure. But there are also more mundane frustrations inherent to public scholarship, starting (and maybe ending) with this one: it’s incredibly difficult to know what, if anything, an individual can do to move toward such a goal.
I’m not going to pretend like I have any definite answers to that frustration, but I do believe this: as with most anything, a supportive community working together toward that goal goes a long way toward helping any individual get there. And I’m very proud and excited to say that I have recently joined precisely such a community of public scholars: the Scholars Strategy Network. SSN comprises nearly 500 scholars, spread out across a huge range of universities and institutions, all working toward the shared goal of “Research to Improve Policy and Enhance Democracy.” We do so through a similarly wide range of mechanisms: two-page Briefs, such as my first on diversity in American history; op-eds, placed in newspapers and other media; and panel discussions, workshops, and many other forms of conversation hosted by SSN’s regional networks.
I’ve just begun to get involved with SSN, through the Boston regional network, and look forward to a number of fall events and opportunities that will help me further develop both that communal connection and my individual work and voice. And that’s the key to an effort like SSN, I would argue: that there’s no distinction between the communal and individual goals, that instead the advancement of the former entails and depends on successes in the latter (and vice versa). Too much of the time, in academia as in every other facet of 21st century American life, individual success is framed as a competition with other individuals, as a zero-sum game. Of course realities like the job market contribute to such narratives, and I don’t mean to dismiss such realities or their effects. But on a larger scale, SSN embodies the Bruce Springsteen philosophy to which I still hold: “Remember, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.”
Next fall plan tomorrow,
PS. What's on your autumn agenda?
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