Note: This essay was originally published as the inaugural blog post for our Inside Higher Ed career advice column for marginalized scholars
In July 2013, I launched a blog called Conditionally Accepted — an online space for scholars on the margins of academe. At the time, I was beginning my new position as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Richmond and had just finished the six-year chapter of graduate school at Indiana University. The blog reflected the growing rage I felt about the reality of injustice and inhumanity in the academy. After six years of microaggressions, undermining my career choices and activism, and the resultant mental health problems of these experiences, I decided to break my silence. I wanted to begin writing the stories and advice that were not available to me as I struggled to navigate graduate school and the academic job market.
When I first created Conditionally Accepted, I defined its scope as a space for marginalized scholars in academe, including women scholars, scholars of color, immigrant scholars, LGBTQ scholars, working-class scholars, first-gen scholars, fat scholars, scholars with disabilities, and scholars who are religious and nonreligious minorities. Today, members of these groups are subject to regular bias, discrimination, harassment, violence, isolation and exclusion — regardless of their discipline or career stage. Some experience an additional kind of devaluation and exclusion: intellectual oppression. That is, scholarship on these communities is devalued, either treated as inferior to “mainstream” research or even seen as suspect (biased or “activist” research). This is particularly strong in fields (like my own, sociology) in which it seems that the majority of scholars buy into the myth of objectivity or “value-free” science.
The phrase “Conditionally Accepted” is more than play on words familiar to academics who publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. It reflects the feeling of being accepted in the academy on the condition that one does little to challenge the academic status quo. One might just barely get ahead with few challenges as a black scholar on the condition that one avoids research on black people or other people of color — especially any work using a critical race framework — not to mention any sort of service or advocacy that threatens the racist status quo in higher education.
In my graduate training, I learned that being queer was a supposedly a nonissue in sociology — and I should keep it that way when deciding which kinds of topics to pursue in my research. White, middle-class, heterosexual, “normal weight,” cis men without disabilities who do research on people who look just like themselves (but, of course, under the guise of “mainstream” research) are not accused of doing “me-search” or being biased. Nor do they struggle to the extent that marginalized scholars do to get published in their discipline’s top journals or to secure grant dollars or obtain tenure-track jobs. These are privileges not readily afforded to marginalized scholars, especially those who conduct marginalized research, and especially if it appears to threaten the status quo in academe.
In the two years since its creation, Conditionally Accepted has grown in scope, readership and visibility. The original concerns of discrimination, harassment, violence, bias, and limited and exclusive professional standards continue to regularly appear in blog posts. New topics have emerged: service, particularly serving one’s own and local communities; alternative and devalued career paths (e.g., liberal arts, #altac); pressing labor issues in the academe, including the overreliance on poorly paid and exploited adjunct faculty; self-care, health and work-life balance; professional development and career advice; growing threats to academic freedom; and, making academe accessible (e.g., open access, blogging, intellectual activism).
Some of these issues disproportionately affect marginalized scholars. For example, recent challenges to academic freedom have mostly targeted women scholars of color who write publicly about racism, sexism and classism. Other issues are pertinent to all academics but reflect disenchantment with academic standards and traditions that no longer reflect their needs, experiences, values and opportunities. Some of Conditionally Accepted‘s growth reflects the reality that most academics are not actually “inside higher ed” in the traditional sense — that is, on the tenure track or tenured.
One of the best things to happen for Conditionally Accepted is its move to Inside Higher Ed. This change affords the blog a much wider readership, among other opportunities (like the ability to compensate guest bloggers). However, I must acknowledge that moving an unapologetically radical blog to a mainstream website is also scary. I’ve been assured that Inside Higher Ed does not expect a change in the content or tone of Conditionally Accepted and, more important, that Inside Higher Ed will not censor its bloggers. (I would have immediately declined the offer if strings were attached.) But I’d be lying if I said the change in my imagined audience won’t at least indirectly influence a change in the blog’s content. The very academics whom the blog regularly criticizes and implicates in injustice may now begin reading. I can already envision the kinds of comments we’ll probably be receiving from now on!
Mainstream home or not, Conditionally Accepted remains radical, even by its very existence. It continues to serve as a reminder that meritocracy and objectivity are, for the most part, myths in the academy. The column will regularly offer personal narratives of experiences of injustice and inhumanity in academe, letting other marginalized scholars know that they aren’t alone and providing tips on how to survive and thrive. It lets grad students and junior scholars know that there is more than one way to be a successful academic and that fulfilling and flourishing careers exist outside of academe, too. It challenges unhealthy, exclusive and oppressive traditions and norms in higher ed.
Most radical of all, Conditionally Accepted affirms that being accepted by mainstream academe as a marginalized scholar is overrated. Like embracing black feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins’s “outsider-within” status, the only effective path to liberation isn’t to be accepted by privileged academics, appeasing their conditions. It is to define one’s academic career on one’s own terms and envision a new way to be an academic in the 21st century.
We’re movin’ on up. Conditionally Accepted is now officially a biweekly career advice column on Inside Higher Ed. We hope our loyal readers will continue to read, comment on and share our blog posts and that we will gain more readers through the transition. Many (hopefully most) of our guest bloggers will continue to contribute.
We are also pleased to welcome new bloggers. If you have an idea for a post that fits within our vision and mission — in particular, advancing the careers and well-being of marginalized scholars and, in so doing, elevating oppressed communities inside and outside the ivory tower — please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing and sharing the narratives of the “conditionally accepted” inside (and outside) of academe.