The Times They Are A Changin’

This week we learned how Scholar Activists are working to leverage their talents to impact real world problems. Theda Skocpol, for instance, shared that the Scholars Strategy Network “is to build bridges between scholars in colleges and universities who research policy and social issues and the activists, journalists, and policymakers who might find their work relevant.” Jessie Daniels wrote about illuminating the shared interests between different groups. (In class she used the example of Venn diagrams to show overlaps between different groups.) She writes, “That is, you need to articulate a theme and produce work around it, and then connect with others doing related work via both online and in face-to-face meetings, typically at conferences.” Frances Fox Piven challenges us to think about where we situate ourselves. She writes, “There is a lot to be said for thinking carefully about where we place ourselves in a complex and variegated academic world, and choosing where we place ourselves with a mind not only to the prestige of the institution, but to how it will affect our ability to do the political work to which we are committed.” In a similar way during her conversation with our class, Jessie Daniels addresses where we place ourselves. She said, “You have to think about where you are and where you sit institutionally, socially, economically, and politically. Be aware of where your vulnerabilities are. Also, know what the rules of engagement are.” One of the most interesting comments this week was also made by Jessie Daniels, who studied with Patricia Hill Collins. She referred to “lived experience as an epistemology. A place where scholarship and activism must connect, collide, and converge.” Patricia Hill Collins defined epistemology as “The standards used to assess knowledge or why we believe what we believe to be true.” Also, “The ways in which power relations shape who is believed and why.” Lastly, speaking to the urgency of our work, Stefanie DeLuca said, “Scholar activism is about doing the work doing it well, publishing it, and busting your ass. This matters! This is not just about a talk. People’s lives are at stake!”

Given that the academy does not (yet) openly encourage Scholar Activism, it is particularly important for me to have met Scholar Activists like those in EPS 7803 early in the arc of my academic pathway. The speakers featured in this class have given me permission to think of an alternate pathway for the work I expect to do in resource-poor communities. I can tell you that I have experienced numerous times those “get serious” looks from professors when I shared that I am working to be a community researcher, not a faculty member. I’ve been told more than once that students on the pathway to get a Ph.D. shouldn’t tell professors they don’t intend to become faculty members. One scholar lowered her voice and glanced both ways before she told me that I should keep my community research ambitions a secret. What? Is Scholar Activism the new crack? Why do we need to lower our voices when talking about alternate careers at the academy? “People will help you more around here if you say you want to be a professor,” she said. I just can’t be insincere about who I am and what I feel. I am doing this because I feel charged to do with my talents and energy. Even some of my student colleagues seem disappointed when I tell them my career plans. As I consider the faculty at the School of Education at UW-Madison, Scholar Activists aren’t as common as one might think. The reactions I get when people ask the name of my advisor, a national thought leader and Scholar Activist, are sometimes irksome. I hear things like, “It’s just that idea is so controversial.” They seem to say these sorts of things in such a disapproving way. I used to really struggled with the idea that someone like my advisor could stand up and dare to challenge the status quo and others would not heed the battle cry. But, after this class, I am not worried. I am encouraged by people like our guest speakers, my fellow students, definitely our instructor, and other people like us across the world who are working for change. I believe our hard work and sacrifice will pay off. After all, as Stefanie DeLuca says, “This is not just about a talk. People’s lives are at stake!”