When Being Queer Was My Little Secret

Source: PostSecret

Last weekend, my partner and I went to a thrift store run by the local LGBT community center.  As we had on previous visits, we perused the store’s library.  I followed my usual routine: LGBTQ books, sociology (mislabled, in my opinion), health and medicine, history — areas of personal and professional interest that I search at any bookstore.  I found myself hoping for that one book, that one queer book that I would secretly read and enjoy at home.

“Wait,” I thought.  It was an LGBT thrift store; there are several LGBTQ-themed books.  And, it is 2013 now, so LGBT issues are discussed and written about rather publicly these days.  I no longer have to find pictures of and stories about people like me in that one queer book in the store.  Those were the days of the closet — not just my own, but the collective closet all LGBTQ people stayed in until recently.  Obviously, much of the infinitely long road to full equality and acceptance lies ahead, but much progress has been made even in my three decades of life (and one decade out as a queer person).

But, I actually felt a little disappointed that queerness is no longer my little secret.  I felt the tiniest twinge of nostalgia.  I cannot really explain why, for being in the closet was an awful period to which I would rather die than return.  I suppose the only seemingly rationale explanation is that I miss the control I felt, or convinced myself I held, over the knowledge and visibility of my sexual identity.  At 17, finally unable to deny who I was any longer, I started coming out to certain friends and family — but, I decided whom to tell and when.  Of course, people talk, which I also factored into the coming out process.  And, aside from two male “friends” (who had a rather homoerotic friendship with one another), the reception was generally positive.  (Well, family took some time, but have come around completely.)

Out There, Everywhere

Now, I do not feel I have that control anymore.  By virtue of my research and the kinds of courses I teach, students and colleagues typically assume I am gay.  These aspects of my professional life that presumably reflect my personal life are publicly accessible, and even recorded through course history, and my publications and conference presentations.  Recently, when I printed out the midterm exam for the gender and sexualities course I am currently teaching, I felt exposed — any colleague could pick up the exam from the printer and assume it must be mine.  “Right, he’s the sexualities guy…” (read: he’s the gay guy).  With what I presume are few out LGBT faculty and/or professors who teach courses on sexualities at my university, it feels as though a spotlight is permanently directed on me.

Further, the introduction of institutions’ involvement in my romantic life has been a bit jarring for me.  By jointly signing a lease on our apartment, and opening various accounts jointly, my relationship with my partner is “official” — with various people at these institutions privy to it, and free to make whatever assumptions about us.  Each time maintenance or some sort of service person comes to our home, we have to worry what they will think and assume, and how they will react based on those assumptions.  And, now as my university moves forward in aligning with federal recognition of same-gender couples, but constrained by state law that prohibits same-gender marriage, I once again feel I have no control over my own sexuality.

While I want access to these various institutions and the associated benefits, and recognition as a committed couple with my partner, I also regularly fear assumptions, microaggressions, and other forms of hostility.  These are the very things I typically guard against by controlling who knows what and when about my sexuality and relationship.   I suspect other queer people may feel a bit unsettled by this patchwork of homophobic prejudice and discrimination interwoven with acceptance and recognition.  I feel I am hyper out at work, where my queer identity, relationship, and scholarship are recognized and affirmed, but my partner and I are vulnerable to intolerance off-campus and are reduced to “roommates” by state law.  This is a strange and unsettling liminal space for me as a queer person.

What Now?

As quickly as LGBT rights have been advanced in the last decade, it feels a bit out of our hands as queer people to predict what lies ahead.  I suspect the entire country will have marriage equality before 2020.  But, will LGBT people feel any safer in public, walking down the street hand in hand with their partner?  The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) will eventually be passed to protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, as well as trans* people, but transphobic, biphobic, and homophobic violence will remain a pervasive reality for us.  There will be greater acceptance for LGBT individuals (to varying degrees) and same-gender relationships, but a pretty solid disdain for queer sex.  And, my greatest fear of all is that we will begin hearing the retort to demands for LGBT rights — “but, you can get married now!”

Yeah, as sick as it may sound, I kinda miss being 17 and out to the chosen few.  Things were clearer, more consistent, predictable, and easily controlled.

Beyond Allies: A Call For Supportive Academic Communities

I am only one person.  A mere mortal.  So, I am keenly aware that I need the support of others to survive.  I need ever greater support to thrive.  And, in trying to make a difference in the world — to change it — I need even more support, particularly from allies.  At the start of my (hopefully long) career as an academic, I have been reminded immediately of the importance of academic allies.  But, allies sometimes get things wrong in their advocacy, or can even make matters worse.

In this post, I will articulate the the importance of allies, at least in my own life and career; and, I hope to convince you to be a better ally to other scholars (especially those on the margins of academe).  But, my larger plea is for academia communities to share the responsibility of support, inclusion, and equality.

The Problem

I have said plenty in conversations and in blog posts about the barriers to free speech in academia.  The culture of academia, as I perceive it, is one that celebrates individualism, status, competition, theory over praxis, and research over teaching.  The reward structure ensures that academics feel just anxious enough to stay focused on the carrot dangled before them.  Keeping one’s head down and mouth shut is demanded encouraged for the PhD, a tenure-track job, then for tenure, then promotion to full professors, then…  Do academics actually ever reach the promised land of “academic freedom”?

I raise this question with concern because those constraints stand at odds with the primary reason I pursued an academic career: to make a difference in the world.  I see no point to replicating the apolitical, quiet careers I see of others who have been touted as “academic greats.”  Doing so would produce yet another academic career that has no meaning to or influence on the world beyond the ivory tower.  (Let us agree to disagree that research in academic journals behind pay-walls is useful to the broader society.  That is why we invented impact factors and other ways to self-validate.)  Or worse, following the road too-often-traveled would reinforce inequality, at least within academia.

So, if I take the approach I had initially set out on, just staying silent long enough to “make it” and then start making changes, I would be waiting until retirement.  I have waited long enough, banking on days that are not promised to me, and success and “freedom” that might never come.  The expression, “well-behaved women seldom make herstory,” resonates with me.  I know I will regularly be faced with weighing success (or even job stability) with the power to make a difference; as I have noted before, I hope to forge some path between success and social justice, using each to advance the other.

As I noted in another post, I am exhausting myself by devoting energy toward being successful by traditional academic standards — a strategy that regularly feels inauthentic.  It is draining at a spiritual level to be something and someone I am not while pushing to create space for my authentic self and others like me.  I simply cannot do it alone, working toward the two big goals of keeping my job and creating change in academia and society.  Even if I chose not to go against the grain, I would still need support and guidance as a junior professor.

The need for support is especially apparent when I directly challenge “the system” or more powerful members within it.  On a number of occasions, I have spoken out and, in the face of being the sole voice before a powerful giant, ended up backing down out of fear.  Yet, on other occasions, I have spoken out and then became one of a chorus of voices, standing strong in solidarity.  Sometimes, those voices are mere whispers from behind me — a private message on Facebook to thank me for speaking out, an appreciative comment shared in passing in the hallway.

A Few Examples

Stop Saying “Mulatto”!

My entree into blogging as a form of advocacy began around age 12 or 13, as I joined an online forum for multiracial and multiethnic people.  But, I had been outspoken about the existence and equal treatment of mixed-race/ethnicity since the age of 5.  (I am sure that comes as little surprise to some who know me well…)  The first instance was pointedly asking my kindergarten teacher why I could only self-identify as one race.  I do not recall her response, though.

In my junior year English class in high school, we had a long-term substitute while our regular teacher was out on maternity leave.  He had us spend a great deal of time focusing on race, ethnicity, and nativity — specifically the experiences of Black Americans and African immigrants in the US.  At some point, we read a novel about a multiracial person; it was an older text, so the term “mulatto” was used to describe Black-and-white people.  As we discussed the text in class, a classmate spoke up: “well, the mulattoes… and, mulattoes…”  Growing increasingly offended, I shouted out, “stop saying ‘mulattoes’!”  Too angry to further explain, I sat and stewed as the class looked at me in shock and confusion.  Without skipping a beat, the (sub) teacher clarified that the term is considered offensive by some because it suggests Blacks and whites are of different species, thus mixed individuals are like mules (the offspring of a horse and a donkey).  And, we carried on.

To my surprise, he did not keep the attention on my outburst, nor did he attempt to discipline me thereafter.  It was as though my anger was expected and understandable.  It provided a moment for him to educate us about the term, not one to punish me.  That moment sticks with me today.

National Coming Out Day

A few months after I came out mid-way through my senior year of high school, I jumped to organizing my school’s minimal attempt to celebrate National Coming Out Day.  What this actually entailed was printing cards on my personal computer that participants would wear to explain their silence, then handing these out on the day of the silent protest.  In essence, this was a one-person initiative that had no input or support from the school or any staff.

One of the Junior ROTC teachers called me over in his typically gruff voice.  (I was an officer in JROTC, and president of its honor society.)  When I approached, he very kindly asked for a view of the cards to hand out to other students.  HUH?  I had braced myself to either be reprimanded for handing out “unauthorized” material or even have the caused dismissed all together.  I did not have him pegged for an ally to the LGBTQ community.  Staying true to the silent protest, I obliged by handing him a few cards without saying a word, and then nodded to express my thanks.  People can surprise you.

Staff And Faculty Allies In College

The most impressive expression of support in my life has come from staff and faculty at my alma mater (UMBC).  Students who become involved on campus, be it within already formed student organizations or even engaging in advocacy and activism, will find a great deal of support, especially from the student affairs side of the college.  As my participation in LGBTQ activities shifted into LGBTQ activism, these mentors and allies supported me and provided me opportunities to advance my initiatives.  That work moved to a bigger stage, including the formation of a group of students, staff, faculty, and administrators, eventually capturing the attention of the university president.

Looking back, I am in awe of the level of support I received from staff and faculty who put their name on the line.  Many publicly signed their name to a petition we started calling for the creation of a campus resource center for LGBTQ students.  I still chuckle as I think about one of my faculty advisors turning to the vice president to pronounce, “I’m queer – I mean, in a political sense.  I am queer!”  When my then-boyfriend and I successfully ran for homecoming court, facing hostility in the form of graffiti on our flyers, the then-director of student life worked with us to report these acts of intolerance; she also quietly handled a call from an angry parent who complained that we kissed when we were crowned homecoming king and king.  My faculty advisors signaled their strong support by allowing me to devote my honors thesis research to advancing the LGBTQ activism in which I was engaged.

Now, I realize UMBC spoiled me.  It set pretty high expectations for the kind of mentorship and support, and commitment to social justice, that I should find in academic communities.  Let’s just say there are reasons why I keep looking back to those days so fondly…

A Call For Allies In Academia

On several occasions, I have spoken up to call out colleagues who made dangerous public statements about how the world works.  Each time, I run the risk of any professional consequences that come from pissing off potential journal editors or reviewers, grant reviewers, tenure-letter writers, etc.  And, I may also face backlash or be dismissed (i.e., “you uppity…”).

When I have had allies to chime in, or at least whisper an “amen!” or “thank you,” I feel greater support as I stand on my soapbox.  When I do not, I start to question whether it was wrong of me to speak, or that I am reading too much into something or even being overly sensitive, or maybe I just do not know what I am talking about.  I hate to feel that I am begging for attention or validation, but, as a “Tweep” pointed out, we need that sense of solidarity to keep us going in our fight for justice.

Unfortunately, both tradition and the academic punishment reward system keep many of us silent.  For example, I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the hostile response that Dr. Rachel Leventhal-Weiner received when she advanced the unpopular advice to look locally for jobs, that it is okay to set geographical parameters in one’s job search.  Of course, the hostile posts of disagreement came first, and eventually others chimed in to thank Dr. Leventhal-Weiner for her post, and to criticize the aforementioned  comments.  It is not fair to make assumptions about her response, but I imagine I would have felt discouraged by the kinds of opposition she received simply for offering advice (a free service for her colleagues, current and future!).

Besides that, what seems to be a new generation of more social justice-minded scholars is currently bound and gagged by job market and tenure-track concerns.  We are simply too few and far between, and too far down the totem pole to speak out against injustice in the academy.  In order to keep the jobs for which the odds are not in our favor, we keep our heads down and mouths shut.  So, that speaks even more to the need of allies who are in positions of power, be it in the academy (e.g., chairs, administrators, tenured faculty) and/or in society (e.g., white heterosexual cis men), to advocate for those without/with less power.  But, this has to be proactive.  Please, stop waiting for marginalized faculty to raise concerns and then reacting.  There is too much at stake to consider before complaining or asking for help.  And, do not ask us for the solutions to problems that have existed longer than we have been alive!

Bystander Intervention

Beyond Allies: A Bystander Intervention Approach

So, once again, I am calling for a bystander intervention approach.  Since many of the problems in academia are systemic and institutional in origin, we cannot rely alone on individuals — namely those impacted by these problems — to create change.  This means that we should all feel a sense of responsibility for improving academia, for making it a more humane and just place.

Listen With Respect And An Open-Mind

Tenure, She Wrote notes the following for men to be better allies to their women colleagues in academia:

Know when to listen. Don’t assume you understand what it’s like for women. Don’t interject with “but this happens to men, too!” Don’t try to dismiss or belittle women’s concerns. Remember that women are often reacting to  a long history of incidents, big and small.

Appreciate what (quantitative) data can tell us about larger patterns, but do not ignore personal narratives and anecdotes.  This may be more salient to me from the quantitative-biased field of sociology.  But, I have noticed a tendency to uncritically rely on data, sometimes to dismiss one person’s experiences or to conveniently to bolster one’s point in an argument.

Keep in mind that most reports of discrimination and harassment are not false reports, be it intentionally lying or being “overly sensitive.”  In fact, these manifestations of oppression are underreported because of the potential risk for retaliation or simply being dismissed by others.  Oppressed people actually go through quite a bit of processing before they label an act as discrimination or harassment; that is, there is a chance they will conclude shy of that, giving the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt.  So, by the time they are expressing this to another soul, they have already processed how likely it is they were the victim of unfair or hostile treatment, and weighed the costs of being wrong or dismissed.

Speak Up And Out, Often

Support others — in everyday matters, but especially when the stakes are high.  If it is dangerous to demonstrate this support publicly, do so privately.  Offer some sort of signal that you agree — and, even if you do not agree, that you appreciate someone’s bravery for speaking out when it might have been easier and safer to stay silent.  Take Dr. Chris Uggen’s advice to be nice and affirming of one’s colleagues in general.  Even when colleagues are not intentionally avoiding you, it is easy to feel isolated in academia; it would be nice to be the occasional recipient of random acts of kindness, not just the big department, university, and discipline awards and honors.  In my first semester, facing a few challenges outside of work, I really could have used more support at work to ease the emotional burden.

Make equality and inclusion a priority no matter who is present.  Please do not bring up racial inclusion only when people of color are present at a university or department meeting.  Yet, do not assume that marginalized scholars’ primary concern in life is their marginalized status.  (Yes, there are academics of color who do not study race and racism; there are white academics who do study race and racism.)  Also, do not leave it to marginalized scholars to be the one’s to bring this up, for there are numerous external and internal barriers to freely tell a predominantly-privileged room of people that inequality exists in that room.  We must stop leaving the burden of fighting oppression solely to the oppressed.

Act, When Appropriate

Assess the ways in which you are reproducing inequality and practicing discrimination or exclusion.  I really appreciated a post at Tenure, She Wrote, “Don’t be that dude: Handy tips for the male academic.”  This included being vigilant of practices that burden or devalue women, especially those that hinder their academic careers and create a hostile work environment.  I would add finding any opportunity to work inclusion and social justice into one’s classroom (and beyond it) — and, especially if one is of the relevant privileged group, and thus freed from concern about being evaluated by students as biased.

When possible, use your privileged status(es) to make space for others currently excluded from the room or conversation.  I do not mean to imply we should put marginalized people’s voice on a pedestal — especially if you only do so when it is about their experiences. But, I certainly emphasize that research expertise in absence of personal experience cannot stand in place of personal experience (with or without research expertise).  Whether it is about diversifying the faculty or designing a new major, any conversation is always incomplete if diversity is lacking.

Concluding Thoughts

What I am calling for here is a collective responsibility to be better colleagues in academia — which includes being an ally and advocate for others where possible.  Our colleagues, particularly those on the margins of academia, need to feel that their perspective, experiences, and contributions are valid and appreciated.  Sometimes, this means listening to affirm someone’s experiences (rather than defining someone else’s reality).  Other times, it means pushing to create space for those who are currently and historically excluded from certain spaces.  This shift has to be both collective (we are all responsible) and proactive (we actively seek for ways to advocate or to offer support); we cannot place the burden to make academia a more inclusive and humane place on the shoulders of scholars who are systematically excluded and victimized.

A few additional resources:

This Is Not A Pity Party

A week ago, a comment was posted on our Facebook page to express irritation with memes (like the one I posted, but later deleted) on the difficulties of graduate student life.  I replied to ask what should be highlighted instead — what would be a more appealing meme?  Lots of great things were offered, with a subtle nod to the privileged status of graduate students, professors, and adjuncts (who have health insurance and decent pay).

I followed up in a private conversation with the commenter to express my concern about implying academics are too privileged to complain about challenges they faced.  I felt the point was missed, and I did not have the energy to fight about it so I deleted the post and private conversation.  I suppose that is one (passive) way that I agree to disagree.

This Is Not A Pity Party

Let me be clear: Conditionally Accepted, blogs by marginalized scholars, and every other public expression of frustration and pain regarding academic life is no pity party.  The kinds of complaints that are raised — sexual harassment, discrimination, exclusion, social isolation, tokenism, stereotypes, lack of support, lack of guidance, lack of funding and resources, etc. — reflect a desire for something better that does not currently exist.

Most people who seriously pursue a scholarly career (be it in academia or beyond) simply want to do good, meaningful work with the necessary tools, resources, and support that it takes to excel.  I have met many jaded, burnt-out, self-doubting, depressed, anxious, and abused scholars — but,  I have not met a single scholar who throws themselves a pity party for the sake of misery.

To clarify, the commenter raised concern that too much attention is focused on the negatives or the downsides of being an academic.  What about how cushy our jobs are?  What about the great conversations we have with colleagues?  What about the autonomy?  Yes, what about them?!  Speaking for myself, many of the positive, unique features of academic careers are what led me to pursue one.

But, we must highlight the negative features that prevent some from entering academia (either by force or wearing people down to the point of leaving) or that constrain how successful academics can be.  This is how I justify devoting a great deal of time and energy to running a blog site for academics.  I aspire to highlight inequalities that exist within academia, hindering the potential of scholars of marginalized backgrounds.  Indirectly, these barriers rob the rest of society of the full, unconstrained contribution of LGBT, women, racial and ethnic minority, working-class, immigrant, disabled, fat, and religious minority teachers, researchers, and advocates.

This is not a pity party; this is about fighting for having an equal role in shaping and changing knowledge in society.

Breaking The Silence

And, the recent incidents of sexual harassment in the sciences — namely their public disclosure, the responses, and the outcomes of these events — affirm the importance of this work.  If you are unfamiliar with these events that occurred in mid-October, let me give a very brief run-down (full rundown provided elsewhere).

By naming these experiences of sexual harassment, particularly openly (i.e., not anonymous or pseudonymous), and by naming the perpetrators, the silence surrounding these acts is broken.  The myth that these incidents are likely misunderstandings or mere isolated incidents is shattered.  The powerless regain power by refusing to be silent about an oppressive experience faced by countless women in academia and beyond.

If anything, these kinds of conversations are not about pity — they are about power: reclaiming power and empowerment.  Why suffer in silence when the problems I face are systemic, faced by so many other marginalized scholars?

Besides — you can always change the channel if you do not like what I’m saying.

A King’s Dream, 50 Years Later

Today kicks off a week-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, best remembered by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,’s “I Have A Dream” speech.  For so many reasons, it is hard to believe fifty years have passed — some positive, some negative.

On Wednesday, the anniversary march will include presidents Carter, Clinton, and Barack Obama.  But, this anniversary celebration comes a couple of months after key policies aimed at redressing racial discrimination — Affirmative Action, the Voting Rights Act, and the Indian Child Welfare Act — have been significantly limited and compromised.  And, after George Zimmerman walks free after killing an innocent, unarmed young Black man — Trayvon Martin — among other persistent uses and misuses of the law to keep Blacks “in their place.”

A Broader Vision

In some ways, Dr. King’s dream has become reality; in other ways, the nightmares of the pre-Civil Rights era have returned.  One unique aspect of this anniversary march, as there were a few before (e.g., 20th, 30th, 37th, 40th), is a broader focus on discrimination, equal rights, and equal protections.  Specifically, the National Action Network (NAN) — a (younger [23 years]) civil rights organization led by Rev. Al Sharpton — has including the following items to their list of talking points for the anniversary celebration:

    • Jobs & the Economy (including unemployment among youth)
    • Voting Rights
    • Workers’ Rights
    • Criminal Justice Issues, Stand Your Ground Laws & Gun Violence
    • Women’s Rights (including right to make health-related decisions, and equal pay)
    • Immigration Reform
    • LGBT Equality (including marriage equality, and employment discrimination)
    • Environmental Justice (especially for low-income communities of color)
    • Youth (including unemployment, college debt)

It will be difficult to give due credit to each of these issues, and some are certainly left out all together.  But, I see this as an important direction as we move into the future.  Many of these issues are intertwined such that you cannot effectively address one without addressing another.

For example, the Supreme Court struck a blow to discrimination and harassment law this summer, which will make it more difficult to “prove” one has been targeted by someone other than a supervisor; this has consequences for people of color, women, LGBT people, working-class people, and other marginalized groups.  The Court’s decision to gut the part of the Voting Rights Act that calls for oversight in states with histories of blatant racist discrimination in elections also opens the door for heightened discrimination against trans* people.  Stand Your Ground laws, which made the murder of Trayvon Martin legal, mirror the “gay panic” defense that has been used to justify violence against LGBT people.

It is also important to remember that some individuals are directly affected by these issues in their everyday lives.  For example, a singular focus on race, ethnicity, racism, xenophobia, and immigration overlooks the additional realities of sexist discrimination, sexual violence, and sexual harassment in the lives of women of color.  It leads us to continue to ignore the unjust imprisonment of CeCe McDonald as an issue that impacts the lives of all people of color because her gender identity is not seen as a “Black issue.”

It is my hope that the awareness of these connections, and the genuine efforts to build coalitions across groups and causes, will lead us to a broader fight for justice and human rights.

A Family Legacy

My Grandmother — Barbara Cox — participated in the 1963 March on Washington.  (I have heard conflicting stories from family, but she may been fired from her job for missing work to do so.)  Sadly, she passed in 1990, when I was just five years old.  But, my mother and I participated in the 30th anniversary of the march, in her honor, in 1993:

Today, at the 50th anniversary march, my mother is now participating alongside her union, fighting for better working conditions and to eliminate workplace discrimination and harassment for federal workers.  Though my father will also be at some of the week’s events on the security side of things (in his capacity as law enforcement), he, too, has become increasingly involved with anti-racist and other social justice work over time.  As he noted in a talk on contemporary race relations at his local Unitarian Universalist church, there are relatives on both his and my mother’s sides of the family that participated in various anti-racist and civil rights efforts, as well.

I suppose you could say it’s “in the blood” — that inevitable commitment to social justice and activism.  Reflecting on the legacy of activism and advocacy in my family certainly puts me at ease about my own work; whatever the challenges I may face in my career, fighting for justice feels a bit like my destiny.  And, part of that charge is to keep fighting for the issues my Grandmother and other older relatives — and now my parents — fought for, but also to broaden that work to reflect social justice for the 21st century.

Though in some respects “destined” or “inevitable,” the work that my mother, father, and I are pursuing reflect change.  As pessimistic as we could be, and with good reason, about where we are at this 50th anniversary, there is so much to celebrate.  My parents’ marriage, as an interracial couple, faces no legal barriers and substantially less social opposition.  Today, I can look to the White House to see that the nation’s top leader is multiracial like me.  I can openly fight against homophobic and transphobic prejudice and discrimination; in doing so, I have influenced my parents to see the importance of fighting for LGBT rights, and the connections to other forms of inequality.  At the time of the 30th anniversary, none of us could have predicted who we are and what we are doing today, 20 years later.

Unfortunately, I am not feeling well and energized enough to attend this weekend’s events, and Monday’s start of classes prevents attending the week’s events (and I’m certain the latter matter is the cause of the former)!  But, I am there in spirit.  I remain committed to fighting for, but also broadening, Dr. King’s dream for life.

On “Teaching While Gay”

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently featured an interesting article by Domenick Scudera on “teaching while gay.”  Scudera raises the question (or concern, really) to queer professors how to navigate one’s own experiences and views and those of students who may “oppose” homosexuality:

If there are students who oppose homosexuality, those students should feel safe within the confines of our classroom to express their opinions in a respectful way. But how would that make me feel? Would I feel safe?

Further:

More important, am I harming my gay students? I believe it is helpful to them, in a safe environment, to hear the arguments against homosexuality. They will encounter those same arguments in the “real” world, as I have. I want them to be prepared. Polls tell us that homophobia persists in our country. It is reasonable to assume that some students in my classroom hold such negative beliefs about homosexuality. They might be reticent to express their feelings in the classroom. Do I have a responsibility to create an atmosphere to bring those thoughts forward?

He suggests that, unlike racist, misogynistic, or anti-Semitic views that students may express — which he would shut down immediately, without question — he tends to entertain homophobic views expressed by students.  He even plays “devil’s advocate” when students raise pro-LGBT views in class discussions.  But, there are lingering questions of a responsibility to create a safe classroom environment, which seems to push against the responsibility to respect free speech (and thought).

My Take

My initial thought on this is when are there debates in college classrooms on homosexuality — I suppose simply on how students feel about it, the morality of same-sex sexuality and relationships, etc?  Because the debates are so wrapped up in religious doctrine, I cannot think of any non-theology classrooms where a comment such as, “well, I’m against homosexuality” is relevant to a class discussion.

If my read is accurate, then this should not be much of a dilemma.  Students’ comments that are either tangential or irrelevant to the class discussion, particularly that are simply expressions of prejudice or hatred, should not be tolerated.  We, as educators, have a responsibility to create classroom spaces that are free from intolerance.  Yes, even though students are exposed still in the “real world,” our responsibility is just the classroom; and, why not provide at least that one space as a place where students, queer and straight alike, do not have to hear, “the Bible says it’s a sin”?

My view is, in general, if it does not draw on course materials, or challenge them, the comment is a tangent at best.  This goes, too, for thinly veiled expressions of bias that give a passing reference to course materials.  For example, once, on an exam, a student of mine lost points and asked me why.  The provided answer briefly noted what an article covered, and then went on to oppose homosexuality.  The question, I believe, asked to draw on queer theory to either make sense of the article, or explain why it does not fit with the theory.   So, there was no room for students to weigh the merits of same-sex relationships!

A second question is why homosexuality is even addressed as something to be debated.  Why treat it as an issue by which no one is personally affected?  Why, in light of pro-LGBT views, play “devil’s advocate”?  (Again, simply saying, “I’m all for gay marriage,” is still likely tangential at best, unless professors are holding debates on whether to legalize it.)

This is a component of my larger concern of what is lost by approaching teaching from a distance, as though one is merely an “objective” professor with no personal ties to the course content.  What is missed by letting the course texts discuss the lives of LGBT people, but essentially keeping the professor’s sexual identity and experiences as a gay person in the closet?  Certainly, I am aware of the presumption of bias, that students tend to misread queer professors as advancing “the gay agenda” in the classroom; and “real” activism by LGB professors comes at a cost in academia in general.  And, it may be the case that they, like women and people of color, are assumed to be less competent by students, as well.  And, there may be concerns for one’s safety and job security.  This should not be read as encouragement to express one’s own ideology.  But, I still struggle with understanding why so many professors teach as though they are robots with no present, no future, no sort of personal history and experiences.

There are no easy answers.  And, of course, much of this varies based on the particular institution (especially religious vs. secular), type of course, and the professors own level of comfort.  But, even short of outing oneself, there are ways to minimize the expression of homophobia and transphobia in the classroom.  And, these strategies may even challenge students’ views in general.  Maybe “debates about homosexuality” should be avoid to get away from explicitly inviting opposition.  Offer, or create (with one’s students), a set of guidelines for classroom discussion that makes clear that prejudice and mean-spiritedness will not be tolerated.  Encourage students to exercise their skills to use, extend, or challenge course material, sprinkled with other forms of knowledge, in a way that their own personal opinion does not serve as their primary point in speaking during discussion.

Either way, I hope that Scudera is right in his hope for the future:

Fifty years in the future, this will no longer be an issue. If we believe the pundits, same-sex marriage in America is inevitable, and with it may come widespread acceptance of the LGBT community. In 2063, a professor like me, teaching a course like the “Common Intellectual Experience,” will not have to pause when preparing to teach a book like Fun Home to his students.

Protecting Science From Harm, And Against Harmful Science

sosThe activists are coming!  And, so they should.  A supposedly “debunkedstudy by Mark Regnerus that does not employ valid measures of lesbian couples worked its way right into a US Supreme Court case on marriage equality.

We, as sociologists, did all that we could: 1) petitioned the journal in which it was published, Social Science Research, 2) published critiques of his and Loren Marks‘s studies in the journal, 3) wrote to the media to point out the study’s flaws, 4) offered extensive methodological critiques (e.g., blogs), 5),  petitioned the leadership of the American Sociological Association (ASA) to make a public statement against the Regnerus study, 6) conducted an internal audit of the peer review process, and 7) submitted a brief to the Supreme Court as a discipline to make clear no evidence exists to worry about LGBT families.  And, there may have been other efforts of which I am unaware.

But it wasn’t enough.  Regnerus and other conservative scholars submitted their own amicus brief to the Court.  And, somehow, this one study counters all of the other studies enough that Supreme Court Justice Scalia noted:

If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must — you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there’s – there’s considerable disagreement among — among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a — in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not — do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason.

Aftershocks

The American Sociological Association released another statement thereafter to clarify that Regnerus’s study was flawed.  While imperfect, every other study suggests no evidence that children of same-gender families are worse off in terms of health, adjustment, academic performance, etc.  And, the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas-Austin held a mini-conference on LGBT families last week, featuring Gary Gates and other big names in LGBT research.  I assume this was part of the department’s effort (which started as soon as Regnerus’s study was published) to show that others in the department are doing great, pro-LGBT work.

But, it is too late.  We do not yet know the outcome of the Supreme Court cases.  And, it is unclear whether Regernus’s “debunked” study will be cited by other researchers, politicians, or in other court cases.  These are, indeed, real possibilities because his study has been “debunked,” but not retracted.  That means it still stands as a peer-reviewed, published academic article — albeit critiqued and discounted.

The lengths that these activists are going makes sense.  Though we got to the point where we felt comfortable with the “debunked” status of Regnerus’s paper, it still caused damage — on our watchDespite our intentions and efforts as a discipline, we did not do enough to prevent this study from having an impact in the fate of LGBT rights (in this case, marriage equality).  Whether it comes from religion, science, politics, education, or some other institution, threats to your rights are just that, so who wouldn’t shift into self-defense mode?

Protecting Against Harmful Science

My primary concern, which I have voiced in the discussions among sociologists, is what are we doing to prevent further harm to the community that has been affected by this study?  On our watch, a study that should never have reached publication ended up reaching the Supreme Court.  We alerted others, “watch out!”; we critiqued Regnerus’s actions, “he’s not even measuring it right!; and even issued a formal statement saying, “we’re not with this guy, he’s crazy.”  But, all while we watched Regnerus set up a very calculated assault on LGBT Americans.  Since fellow sociologists have so vehemently opposed releasing the names of the peer reviewers of the study, and do not feel compelled to push for retraction, I continue to ask, so now what?

I cannot believe I have to raise this question.  But, it seems some are more concerned about protecting science than protecting people from science.  There are general principles regarding ethical scientific practice (including discipline specific guidelines), and the universality of Institutional Review Boards to ensure researchers at universities are not causing harm to their participants.  Unfortunately, these guidelines were developed as a response to very unethical and harmful research in the past:

  • During the Holocaust, the Nazis conducted many experiments on Jews (including children)
  • The “Tuskegee syphilis experiment” (1932-1972), in which poor African American men were infected with syphilis without their knowledge nor with treatment: “The 40-year study was controversial for reasons related to ethical standards; primarily because researchers knowingly failed to treat patients appropriately after the 1940s validation of penicillin as an effective cure for the disease they were studying.”
  • Similar experiments were conducted in Guatemala from 1946-1948.  Over 80 people died as a result.
  • The use of Henrietta Lacks‘s cells without her or her family’s permission or knowledge in 1951.
  • Stanley Milgram’s 1961 psychological experiments on obedience, in which he deceived subjects into thinking they were delivering shocks (sometimes deadly) as punishment to a person completing a faux task.  Ethical concerns have been raised about the Stanford prison experiment, as well.
  • Tearoom Trade (1970) — Laud Humphreys’s study of same-sex sexual encounters in public spaces without their knowledge or consent; after observing the men, he used their license plate numbers on their cars to track down their home addresses to interview them (sometimes in front of their families).

For all of the positive things that have come from science (even from some of the awful exploitative, dangerous experiments above), science is sometimes used for evil.  Too often, marginalized communities are the targets of harmful science.  Of course, in this case, Regnerus and his colleagues did not have any direct contact with their participants; and, there is little reason to suspect that Knowledge Networks (which carried out the survey) caused any harm.

However, I argue that we have an obligation to ensure that harm is not caused in the activities that come after research is conducted: how the research is used and for what purposes.  Some argue that, even when studies are carried out for good, we owe it to our participants to give something in return — immediate and tangible, not just “thanks for advancing science!” — for opening up about their experiences, backgrounds, thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

So, now what are we doing to protect this marginalized community that has been further harmed by science?  What can we do?  Below are some things that have been suggested, and my thoughts on them.

Speaking Out, In General

It is important that we speak out about this scandal, in general.  Unfortunately, it feels as though some sociologists feel they have done all that they could and just want this to go away already.

But, who speaks for us?  I may be wrong, but many of those — “some sociologists” — do not appear to either be LGBT themselves nor do they study LGBT communities (I’m including here bloggers and those who have left comments).  So, maybe it is simple to walk away from this when you can return home to your legally-recognized spouse after a day’s work.  Unfortunately, it appears that the sociology bloggers at orgtheory and scatterplot are serving as The Voice for the entire discipline, and the LGBT activists are in direct dialogue with them.  I wonder what LGBT sociologists and sociologist of sexualities have to say about this scandal, and whether they feel that we have done enough.

I worry, as I have before: who gets to speak?  The subfield of sexualities in sociology is relatively new and disproportionately young.  We must tread lightly.  And, it is likely that many have remained silent on this issue because they are soon to be or are currently on the job market; or, they are on the tenure-track; or, even with tenure, they are at the margins of their department and the discipline as a whole.  Or, just like other fields, maybe some sexualities scholars see their work as irrelevant to activism.  And, even for those of us who do pursue activism, we risk professional consequences.  But, even those who are not explicitly involved in activism may be the target of political witch hunts or other external threats, or lack of support from the academy to do our research.

silenced

Retract It Already

The retraction of published studies is more common than I realized.  But, it looks like there is no movement to retract the Regnerus study.  There is a lot of shadiness, omission of important details, and conflict of interest sprinkled throughout this entire scandal.  But, within conservative standards of “when to retract,” Regnerus’s study is safe.  It was the peer review process that is problematic.  Specifically:

[T]he paper was submitted for publication 20 days before the end of the data collection, and 23 days before the data were delivered to the University of Texas! That’s fast.

There must be some post-hoc excuse Regnerus or the journal could give to clear this up.

That is in addition to the serious methodological problems that the reviewers should have caught.  That is more than enough for some to call for the study’s retraction.  Okay, so, since this is not Regnerus’s fault, per se (short of questionable political motivations and funding sources), retract the study and then invite him to go through the peer review process again — this time with different reviewers who are not his colleagues.

“Out The Reviewers!”

LGBT activist John M. Becker has moved forward in demanding records from Social Science Research, namely to out the reviewers of the Regnerus study.  Some of my fellow sociologists have been talking about this — I’m sure informally, but in this case publicly on blogs.  Some have taken issue with Becker’s efforts, suggesting that it subverts the sanctity of the peer review system for academic publishing; to reveal the identities of anonymous reviewers is a threat to the entire scientific enterprise.   Oh, and does it get ugly when sociologists and activists go head to head.  But, understandably, when outside forces threaten science (e.g., forced oversight, taking away funding), we necessarily lash out in self-defense.

But, I wonder what would happen if we did reveal the names of those scholars who reviewed Regnerus’s study.  Recently, while reading one article about the source of whites’ attitudes toward race-based attitudes, I noticed that the reviewers were explicitly named, right on the first page:

Editor’s note: The reviewers were Lawrence Bobo, Warren E. Miller, David O. Sears, and Susan Welch (p.723).

I decided to search Google for “editor’s note: the reviewers” to see if this was a fluke.  I came across two other journals that have, or at least used to, explicitly name the reviewers of a published article, Teaching Sociology and Sociological Inquiry.  In the case of the former, I thought maybe as it has become more popular, and moved toward publishing more empirically-based articles, the editorial board might have dropped this practice along the way.  But, even a recent article, by sociologist Janice McCabe, dawns the editor’s note, naming each reviewer.  It looks as though Sociological Inquiry published the names of authors just for a few years in the early 1990s.  These are not the top journals of the discipline, but this discovery leaves me wondering what the harm would be to reveal the names of the publishers in this instance — in this case in which the peer review system was abused, misused, or underused (depending on your perspective).

This is not a question of whether sociology or any other academic discipline should maintain anonymous peer review for publishing.  While imperfect, it strengthens science and minimizes (some) concerns about bias.  If anything, I see room to strengthen the peer-review system further.  And, let’s set aside the potential harms of the overwhelming pressure to publish for jobs, tenure, promotion, etc. as well.  The question here is what harm would be caused to the peer review system, or even the entire scientific enterprise, if the reviewers of this one “debunked” study were revealed?

That some journals have revealed the names of reviewers — including articles that are ethically and politically sound — leads me to suggest that the sky will not fall if Becker is successful in his demand for the SSR records.  Science will still exist the following day.  But, I do agree that this may not actually get us any further in squashing Regnerus’s study or the harm caused by it.

Fight Fire With Fire: More Research!

As Fabio Rojas suggested in response to my plea to do something to take this study down, another possibility is to simply beat Regnerus at his own game.  Do more, better research.  Indeed, sociologists Andrew Perrin, Philip Cohen, and Neal Caren have done just that in a forthcoming article in Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health — even using the New Family Structures Study data. (Of course, they find that Regnerus’s conclusions were bogus and methodologically flawed.)  I do hope, however, that awareness of their new study spreads, as JGLMH is a psychiatry journal and has a so-so impact factor.   But, Perrin makes clear that this journal was chosen because of the speedy turn around, and it actually sent out a call for papers to address the Regnerus scandal.

As Michael Bader notes, this scandal has sparked even better work, and maybe science will be even stronger in the first place.  But, shouldn’t we be getting it right the first time?  Isn’t that what peer review is for?  Sure, with time, maybe we will set the record straight.  But, for now, the damage has been done for LGBT people.  With so much that we have yet to study about LGBT families, it also warrants asking whether we should be worried about having to spend time, energy, and resource on redoing research.

Other Suggestions

Fabio also suggested:

  • [Realize] that that history is on our side. Increasingly, public opinion polls show greater and greater majorities favor LBGT equality. So if we are winning already, I wouldn’t go and ruin one of academia’s most valuable assets – blind review.
  • [R]elentlessly critique garbage and draw attention to the body of research.
  • I would engage the other side with sincerity and fervor. I would show people how to maintain the high ground.

In other words, don’t worry, keep blogging, and be the bigger person.  As gay people, my partner and I still cannot get married, not in the state in which we currently live nor the one we are moving to this summer.  I am pretty worried about the outcome of the Supreme Court case.  And, I am worried how easily this one study breezed through the peer review process, to publication, to press, to the courts.  Shouldn’t more sociologists be worried about this, too?  And, I am not sure what to say about maintaining “the high ground”.  It seems, for the oppressed, playing nice and playing by the rules does little to protect your rights being debated and denied on a daily basis — and my colleagues seem less concerned with my well-being as a human than with the well-being of science.

A Final Plea

“You don’t know what the heck you’re talking about!”  Exactly.  I am just days away from receiving my PhD, and have little experience publishing and providing reviews for journals compared to the sociologists at the fore of these debates.  What do I know?

That is a problem, in my opinion.  A systemic problem.  With a few research scandals going on these days, I am surprised that my colleagues and I are not in dialogue about science and research ethics.  In fact, all that I recall is one week in my research methods course devoted to ethics.  We read ASA’s code of ethics, Van Maanen’s (1983) “The Moral Fix: On the Ethics of Fieldwork,” Allen’s (1997) “Spies Like Us: When Sociologists Deceive their Subjects,” and Simonds’s (2001) “Talking with Strangers: A Researcher’s Tale.”  

I read Tearoom Trade for another course, though we did not discuss Humprhey’s unethical methods.  My knowledge of the Milgram experiment comes from a brief coverage of ethics in my undergraduate psychology and sociology methods courses.  And, much of my knowledge about eugenics, the Tuskegee experiments, and other exploitative practices on communities of color comes from my knowledge of Black history rather than science.

In speaking with other LGBT sociologists, I know that I am not alone in my anger, disappointment, and frustration — and, my ignorance about what I can do.  This is partly due to our relative lack of power, as a subfield in general (soc of sexualities) and as individuals (pre-tenure).  But, it is also due to our lack of access to memories of prior scandals of this sort.  For example, while I did read Richard Udry’s “Biological Limits of Gender Construction” (ASR 2000), and even Barbara Risman’s and otherscritical responses in a class, we never talked about the broader context.  What happened after the article and the responses were published?

seminar

Why don’t we talk about these types of events in our graduate courses?  Why does our training on research ethics only cover the stages leading to submitting an article for publication, ignoring ethical and professional practices that follow publication?  In general, I think we could benefit from a bit more reflection on science as an institution.  It would be nice (I would even say crucial) to discuss the contexts behind published articles and books.  A sociology of sociology, if you will.  Why are the authors in certain journals overwhelmingly women, while the top sociology journals are about two-thirds men authors, and the most male-dominated journals are on methods and mathematics?  Why are broken barriers in publishing somehow undermined as “affirmative action in publishing” or “trendy, but not really important” (yes, I have heard scholars say this).

If anything, I ask that we stop trying to make this scandal go away in hopes that history will stop repeating itself.  Just 12 years after the scandal surrounding Udry’s study, we are faced with a similar problem.  And, my generation of sociologists barely knows about it.  How can we learn from the mistakes of our discipline if we are not teaching new members about them — what happened and how we resolved it?  C’mon colleagues — we have got to do better, for the future of our discipline, but also for society as a whole.

UPDATE (05/02/13):  And, now we have an example of the potential impact Regnerus’s study can have outside of the courtroom: the everyday harassment of LGBT people.

On Sexism And Sociology: Who Is Dorothy Swaine Thomas?

Most sociologists know the adage that is fundamental to (much of) sociological thought — “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” — the Thomas theorem.  It is so widely known and used that few actually cite the original source, noting simply, “according to W. I. Thomas…”

I looked to formally cite this notion in my dissertation, which meant having to search for the source.  So easily found: The Child in America: Behavior Problems and Programs (1928) by William Issac Thomas and Dorothy Swaine Thomas.

Who Is Dorothy Swaine Thomas?

Wait – what?  Never in my life had I heard of Dorothy Swaine Thomas.  It seemed odd that the second of only two others is rarely, if ever, cited when referencing the Thomas theorem.  Is it really that hard to say “Thomas and Thomas” or “Thomas et al.” or “the Thomases”?  I figured the mystery surrounding author number two had something to do with her being a woman academic in the early twentieth century.

I decided to do some digging to see who Dorothy Swaine Thomas is, and whether others had taken note on the conspicuous absence of her contribution to this important sociological theorem.  I thought others may have been wary of her contribution because she was seen as an assisting author, particularly as William’s wife, than a “legitimate” co-author.  Maybe she is otherwise irrelevant in terms of sociological research, theory, and knowledge.

Simply clicking her name on the Amazon page for The Child in America, I saw that she published upwards to 30 books.  Okay, so she is hardly irrelevant, even by the least generous standards.  (By all means, even co-publishing one pivotal book counts as relevant in my mind, but others may have higher standards of “relevance” to the discipline.)

Digging deeper, I saw that she was actually quite influential in sociology, as well as demography.  She began publishing research as early as age 22, and had her PhD by age 25.  She was the first woman professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  And, she served as the first woman President (and, earlier, Vice President) of the American Sociological Association, and also served as President of the Population Association of American.

Let’s call it what it is: she was an academic badass.  Of special personal interest: “Although Thomas considered herself a social activist, [her adviser William] Ogburn persuaded her to become a ‘scientist,’ which in sociology meant a quantitative, preferably statistical approach to social issues” (from the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology online).

So, I am left wondering why I had never heard or read about Thomas prior to my own search.  Especially because:

Thomas’s contributions to sociology were nonetheless substantial. Her high standards and clear thinking helped professionalize a discipline criticized for its armchair theorizing, jargon, and do-goodism. Despite the controversy that surrounded the Evacuation and Resettlement study, the Supreme Court later accepted it as a major resource in documenting a national wrong perpetrated by the government against its citizens.

The quantitative work Thomas pioneered helped gain sociology foundation support and provided a beachhead for women who might otherwise have been excluded from university positions. For her contributions to demography the University of Pennsylvania awarded Thomas an honorary degree in 1970 (from Blackwell).

On Sexism And Sociology

A good guess would be sexism.  Though she was successful, her career was not without the constraints of sexism:

Job prospects were also not encouraging. Although women of Thomas’s generation were earning doctorates in sociology in increasing, if still relatively small numbers through the late 1920s, these graduates were effectively excluded from jobs in university sociology departments through a pattern of formal rules and informal understandings.

Unfortunately, some of her success came with the dilemma that many women scholars continue to face – the tension between authenticity and success/relevance:

Thomas experienced the pressures of being scrutinized by members of an overwhelming majority, however kindly disposed. As a result, she not only shared the outlook, the professional ethos, and the passion for objectivity of Ogburn and other male objectivists, but was one of the most ardent practitioners of their brand of sociology. Otherwise, she would almost certainly not have realized the success she did.

At the same time, had she not had so constantly to prove her professionalism and objectivity, she might not have remained wedded to so narrow a conception of her discipline, might have produced richer and more valuable insights into human behavior and perhaps even a body of theoretical work more to modern taste. Viewed in this way, Thomas’s sex exacted a toll for the very reasons that she was so eminently successful in overcoming the limitations it imposed.

The Erasure Of Thomas’s Contributions

These constraints aside — blocked job opportunities, and the way “trading power for patronage” shaped her career — there appears to be some erasure of Thomas’s contribution to sociology.  In a review 244 introductory sociology textbooks (1945-1994) to assess citations of The Child in America, particularly for the Thomas’ theorem, R. S. Smith (1995) noted:

There  I was surprised to discover that W. I. Thomas was not the sole author of [The Child in America]; rather it was co-authored by Dorothy Swaine Thomas..  It was this experience that started me thinking about all the times I had seen [the theorem] quoted but had never once come across Dorothy Swaine Thomas’s name (p12-3).

Most of the textbooks that cited the “Thomas theorem” merely credited W. I. Thomas.  So, why is Dorothy’s work ignored?  Apparently, she was primarily responsible for the book’s data collection and analyses.  But, those parts are central to the book.  While she later penned a letter that suggested William was the “brains” behind the theorem, the letter’s 1991 publication in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences fails to explain why she was rarely credited for the theorem from 1928 through the mid-1970s.

Unfortunately, the erasure of her contributions, as well as those of other women scholars, has a “ripple effect.”  I seriously doubt that my professors fail to credit Dorothy Swaine Thomas intentionally; rather, they failed to teach me about her because they never learned about her.  Her invisibility is further spread through introductory textbooks.  If it were not for accidentally “discovering” her, I, too, would likely perpetuate her erasure by overlooking her work in my classes.

A(nother) Call For The Sociology of Sociology

As I have written in earlier posts, sociology, and academia in general, is not immune to the biases of society.  But, what may have been intentional exclusion or erasure nearly a century ago (and, to be honest, even more recently) continues on as innocent ignorance.  This is inexcusable.

The erasure of “people like us” does marginalized scholars a disservice because it paints the picture that we have had little role in shaping academia and knowledge.  And, many of the names and legacies that have survived efforts to exclude and erase, as well as innocent “amnesia,” are often stripped of personhood.  For example, some sociological “greats” like W. E. B. DuBois are stripped of their activism and radical politics, characterized, instead, as cooperative, mainstream (apolitical) sociologists.

But, for all of academia, this supposed “amnesia” seems like a detriment to the advancement of knowledge.  Whole scholarly contributions have either been outright blocked, or eventually lost over time.  Who knows whether we are “reinventing the wheel,” missing crucial insights that had once been put forth and lost?

Again, I call for a sociology of sociology, where we turn our critical lens back on our field.  In many ways, exclusion and discrimination are still at play.  And, there are whole careers and specific studies, theories, and insights that are lost in the past.  Besides liberating these scholars and their work from academic “amnesia,” it may also be worth revisiting other “classic” work through a contemporary lens.  (Full disclosure, I remain wary of giving full credit to handful of dead middle-class white men to pen the theories of society.)

To be fair, this line of work would still be a bit too “navel-gazey” for my tastes to pursue as my primary research.  But, I remain intrigued enough to do my own homework in my free time (and, obviously blog about it).  If anything, I would like to know the herstory of the field I love, with specific attention to the stories that are not told, and to those scholars who are not celebrated as the “fathers of sociology.”

I certainly encourage others to reflect more on the past (and present) of our discipline and the academy as a whole.  At a minimum, I hope others take from this inspiration to credit the other Thomas (i.e., Dorothy Swaine) for the Thomas theorem.