Note: this blog post was originally published on our career advice column on Inside Higher Ed (here). Dr. Victor Ray is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His research examines race and gender discrimination in organizations. His commentary has appeared at Newsweek, Boston Review, and Gawker. He is the new editor of Conditionally Accepted. You can follow him on Twitter at @victorerikray.
This essay is my first as the new editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” a career advice column on Inside Higher Ed for marginalized academics. I’ve been a reader and contributor since before “Conditionally Accepted” became a part of Inside Higher Ed in 2016, and I am happy and honored to be taking over editorial duties for “Conditionally Accepted,” a continual source of advice and affirmation.
I’ve supported the vision of Eric Anthony Grollman, the founder and outgoing editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” from the start as a behind-the-scenes confidant, occasional adviser and scholar-activist fellow traveler. In 2016, Eric asked me to become a regular contributor for “Conditionally Accepted,” where I’ve written about the racial landscape of funding in higher education, the inherent whiteness of “mesearch” and attacks on free speech from the right. I’m generally committed to public scholarship, publishing in other outlets like Boston Review and Newsweek.
Eric and the column’s contributors have created a remarkable and rare intellectual space where writers from the margins regularly challenge the status quo in and beyond academe. Eric made their own lane right out of graduate school. They eschewed the safe, docile path that graduate students are taught leads to academic success and eventually tenure. Instead, Eric centered the traumatic experiences that many marginalized scholars face in spaces that were never made for us. Eric created a model — risky though it is — of committed resistance and scholar-activism. By doing that, they opened up a national platform for scholars who remain underrepresented. I’m humbled that Eric trusts me to edit “Conditionally Accepted,” because this space is an important, meaningful outlet for marginalized scholars like myself.
Over the past four years, contributors to “Conditionally Accepted” have regularly subverted comfortable thinking about higher education. The writers frequently featured in this space — people of color, queer and trans folks, and women — face barriers at every stage of their academic careers. At (sometimes considerable) personal risk, the bloggers at “Conditionally Accepted” have laid bare higher education’s inequalities through deeply personal narratives. This format helped make “Conditionally Accepted” a high-profile institutionalized space that remains ahead of the curve in national debates on diversity and racial inclusion, white supremacy in higher education, free speech, and sexual assault, among others.
Reading the column, I often think about a famous quip from W. E. B. Du Bois. According to Taylor Branch, upon becoming the first black person to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Du Bois said, “The honor, I assure you, was Harvard’s.” Du Bois deftly inverted the white supremacist narrative of racial belonging that assumed people of color were incapable of intellectual excellence. “Conditionally Accepted” — in this Du Boisian tradition — continually reminds us that despite claims that we are only here because of affirmative action or are “presumed incompetent,” the truth is that the honor is the academy’s. To remain legitimate, the academy needs us more than ever.
So, Eric, thank you for creating this space and entrusting me to continue the work. (Be sure to read Eric’s farewell essay as outgoing editor of “Conditionally Accepted.”)
My Goals As Editor
Because I have so much respect for the space here, I don’t plan on making big changes. I will continue to feature a diverse array of writers and topics. But I do anticipate two slight adjustments.
My first goal is to provide more coverage of current events from committed experts. The political environment in the country at large, and in higher education in particular, has become increasingly hostile to people of color in a number of ways. Republicans are doubtful about the importance of higher education generally. Attacks on the free speech of faculty of color, the promotion of so-called alt-right speakers, cuts to funding, changes in immigration law and assaults on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the rollback of protections for LGBTQ folks, the weakening or eradicating of tenure protections, and the vast and growing precariousness of the labor force are just some of the present threats to higher education. These trends will tend to disproportionately hurt marginalized people; thus, marginalized folks should be at the forefront of the debates about them. I hope to recruit public scholar-experts for commentary when new legislation or case law appears on the educational landscape. At a moment when the very notion of truth is threatened, our scholarly expertise — communicated through clear, accessible writing — is needed more than ever.
Second, I will be looking for writers who use personal narrative to illuminate structural issues in academe. So, for instance, a discussion of personal experiences with microaggressions, which are typically thought of as individual slights, could expand into a description of how organizational forms and institutional histories facilitate or hinder negative racialized and gendered interactions. Too often, the work of marginalized people is seen as overly personal or anecdote. This framing is belied by the huge body of research that shows discrimination and harassment against marginalized folks in the academy (and elsewhere) are not aberrant or surprising. Rather, such hostile treatment is common and mundane — although no less damaging for its mundanity.
I hope to publish work that connects personal experiences to broader disciplinary literatures. For example, Adia Harvey Wingfield’s contribution to our 2017 sexual violence series showed how the gendered nature of universities contributes to the perpetuation of sexual assault on campus, as high-status male professors are often protected at women’s expense. Of course, as this is a career advice column, I will also continue to feature writers who offer valuable advice on how to survive and thrive in academe as an underrepresented scholar.
I’m excited about this and look forward to writers trusting me with their words, just as Eric and Inside Higher Ed have trusted me with this space. “Conditionally Accepted” published some of my earliest public work, helping me to gain the confidence to write for other venues. I hope to provide the same opportunity for other writers. So please send me bold, fearless, truth-telling pitches at firstname.lastname@example.org.