Blog #7: Characteristics of a scholar activist

Dr. David Stovall teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is also originally from Chicago. Stovall’s scholarship is intimately tied to his activism. His scholarship focus is on critical race theory, and social justice issues. During his visit, Stovall, shared some serious knowledge in our class. He spoke about a variety of issues pertaining to his work as a scholar activist. A topic I found to be particularly relevant was his discussion on scholar expertise.

Stovall said that a part of being a scholar activist is being humble and letting go of the concept of expertise. Contrary to what other scholar activists have said, Stovall said that scholars are not experts on other people’s lives. Scholar activists need to be humble, reflect and listen. They need to suspend their notion of expertise, “you are not expert on somebody else’s condition, and because you are not you have to intentionally listen,” said Stovall. Scholar activists have to make sure they are not coming into communities with the idea that they are saving people, but are there to listen. Additionally, scholar activists have to be fully accountable and transparent with communities, and work towards building long lasting relationships rather than extracting knowledge and information.

What I found to be particularly useful in understanding my own scholarship is the reflection piece Stovall spoke about. Questions that I should be asking are: Is the articulation of my scholarship beneficial to the community? Is my work justice centered? Am I being transparent about what I am doing? As scholar activists are we challenging the traditions of traditional scholarship? David said we need to run right into the traditions of the academy, we cannot avoid them. So being reflective, centering communities, and challenging the notion of expertise in the academy is particularly difficult to do, but as seen through Stovall’s work — not impossible and can lead to so many possibilities of shared intellectual engagement between, within and outside the academy and communities. I love this because then (all) scholars are (/should be) held responsible to the communities that the academy has had a legacy of mining for knowledge.

Stovall’s comments on being held accountable to the community are particularly relevant — he is fully complicating the position of the academy in communities. I am often concerned about ways that scholarship can contribute negatively to popular notions of communities. I’m not talking about work that is coopted by conservative or liberal agendas, I’m talking about scholarship that may not even know that it is contributing negatively, what I would call, oblivious scholarship. This kind of scholarship is not intentional (in the way Stovall discusses intention) or reflective. This is what I learned from Stovall, these are characteristics that are super helpful to me moving forward as a (aspiring) reflective and intentional scholar.

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