Final Blog/ Going forward with devotion and progress

Left: Taken outside Memorial Union’s construction site/ Right: “Forward” by Jean Pond Miner Coburn, Hammered copper with cast bronze base

Every single time I walk past the Memorial Union construction site I chuckle at all the promotional signage. The Wisconsin Idea needs a firm foundation. Okay, yes please. If you continue walking past the construction site and make your way into the Wisconsin Historical Society building you will be greeted by Jean Pond Miner Coburn’s sculpture Forward. Oh, the irony. It is only appropriate that I sit here writing my last blog post for our Scholar Activism class perched two floors above Miner’s sculpture. A plaque explains that Miner created Forward as:

“An allegory of devotion and progress, qualities she felt Wisconsin embodied.”

[Another interesting fact: the plaque states that Wisconsin women raised the necessary funds in 1893 for the creation of Miner’s sculpture. It was also women who later helped raise funds for the sculpture’s long-term preservation after it weathered many seasons outside the Wisconsin State Capitol building.]

So, how can we go forward with devotion and progress? How can we, as scholar-activists, carry this into tomorrow? Throughout the semester our class has been privileged to listen — first-hand — to the stories and the personal reflections from many trailblazing scholar-activists. We’ve been made privy to the trials and tribulations of their tightrope journeys as they navigate and negotiate the tensions inherent in the identity of scholar activists. All of their stories have challenged me to think critically about my positionality and beliefs as I patch together my own iterative scholar-activist identity. I’m leaving plenty of room for error, figuratively and literally. Above all, I have learned how to listen with more than just my ears. I have learned to listen more deeply and with greater patience when I deeply disagree with someone’s activist motivation or personal beliefs. I have learned to appreciate and welcome feeling uncomfortable, to embrace discomfort as a reminder to dissect and examine why I am feeling that way.

This week I was inspired by our two guests’ humility and candor. Brilliant and incisive, I was in awe of Stefanie DeLuca, associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins and Jessie Daniels, professor of public heath, sociology, critical psychology at CUNY. Something that stuck with me after class was how DeLuca first began by saying she has a passion for the active part of activism, encouraging us to get outside our comfort zones and ask questions of others (college that gorilla data!) but to also listen and observe. She wholeheartedly advised us to do so with open hearts and modest minds and to embrace empathetic discourse. In a complimentary vein, Jessie Daniels encouraged us to proactively reflect on the kind of difference we want to make in the world with our scholarship. Daniels explained that “it means re-thinking the kinds of questions you are asking with your research [and] which you audience you want to reach with it.” Yes, I can do just that.

To take it one step further, might we then agree with David S. Meyer’s notion that “useful scholarship comes from placing activist questions at the center of research projects” and that “we should try to answer critical questions where we are animated by a passionate concern for finding truth”? Meyers concludes his chapter “Scholarship That Might Matter” with this incredibly poignant thought, one that I thought encapsulates so much of what we have investigated and interrogated these last few months as a class:

“By opening that space for activists within the academy, we can afford them a place to reflect on their own efforts and make use of whatever scholarly wisdom is available, writing in language that is accessible to nonspecialists. We can benefit from an approach that treats academic research as a means to answer questions that are important outside the academy. If we do so, we can reasonably assume it will improve not only our scholarship, but also our citizenship” (p. 203–204).

To come full circle: I believe that if we remain fueled by devotion and progress, and open hearts and modest minds, we can then go forward with whatever assemblage of scholar-activism we pursue. So let’s open that space up and build a guest house.