On Wednesday morning, with only a few hours until a lunch with Niko Pfund, President of Oxford University Press, I stared into the mirror debating what to wear: black, feminine, open-toed heels or silver power pumps? Watching myself, I felt the irony of my womanhood, encapsulated in the simultaneous pressure to performatively adhere to standards of feminine beauty while rejecting any potential signs of “weakness,” even in preparation for a luncheon where I knew the topic of conversation would be diversity and inclusion.
At lunch, I met with the group—comprised of two female deans, two black female Ph.D. students, and Niko Pfund. In our talks, I asked about Oxford University Press’ current and future initiatives regarding diversity and inclusion. Pfund offered three actions that OUP takes to build more inclusion: 1) Targeting representational gaps by publishing historically underrepresented persons, 2) Building inclusion in the workplace, and 3) Appointing a diverse group of field experts, “delegates,” to review and approve of the quality of each publication.
With every initiative, however, new challenges arise. Pfund noted that a lack of representative equality in academic fields affects the relative diversity of scholars seeking publication. In philosophy, for example, OUP may seek to publish an equal number of women to men, but the pool of women philosophers to publish is comparatively much smaller than that of male philosophers. In 2015, only 23.1 percent of professors in philosophy were women. The fact that the percentage of women (around 25 percent) granted doctoral degrees in philosophy has remained stagnant since 1985 signals a problem with deep structural roots that reach beyond publishing bias.
Later in the day, the Franklin Humanities Institute hosted a panel discussion on diversity in scholarly publishing that brought together Pfund and three roundtable speakers, who were all women of color. The women each brought a different perspective and vantage point on academic publishing. Gisela Fosado, editor at Duke University Press (DUP), spoke powerfully about concrete outcomes she was invested in seeing at DUP, where she started the Equality and Inclusion Task Force. She reiterated that it is not enough for institutions to look diverse; they must welcome a transformation which is only made possible when those once rejected are fully able to speak and be heard. Building a more inclusive and equitable workplace means welcoming diversity of thought, experience, and action, not merely diverse but silenced persons.
Anthropologist Kamela Hayward-Rotimi, drawing from her public scholarship and fieldwork in Nigeria, addressed the surprising disparities in access to academic journals and scholarship around the world. What, she asked, would it look like if scholars of non-Western countries had full access to the world of scholarly publishing and the resources to publish? Duke Professor of History Adriane Lentz-Smith raised another important question inspired by her own experience as a Ph.D. student fumbling through the publishing process for the first time. Are Ph.D. students—especially those from underrepresented populations—given the mentorship and support to prepare to publish as scholars?
Post-forum, I came away realizing that academic publishers, academic institutions, and grassroots activists must cooperatively recommit to a shared vision of inclusion, defining the shape it will take over the next 5, 10, and 15 years. This will require putting forth systematic plans to root out hate and bias, building frameworks to welcome all individuals into an equitable environment, and pledging resources (time, money, and people) for their realization. Above all, it has to be a bold, collaborative endeavor. The problems are too systematic and web-like to be solved by any one of us individually.
Inclusion starts with appreciating how we each arrived at this moment, in dissimilar ways, with dissimilar resources and experiences. Inclusion deepens when that knowledge becomes the power to act with empathy. The insightful discussions in the Duke community led me to revisit the moments in which I find myself cautiously managing my identity–age, race, and gender–that seem to pose an intrinsic threat to my success. Those moments, like small cracks in a foundation, need to be addressed before we can construct and reinforce guiding principles, like lighthouses in the night, to illuminate the path toward a more equitable future. A truly inclusive experience would allow all identities, without being dismissed or diminished, to occupy and benefit from that bright future together.
This event was organized by the Publishing Humanities Initiative of the Franklin Humanities Institute and co-sponsored by The Graduate School and Versatile Humanists at Duke.
Ph.D. student, Religion
Krishni Metivier is a Duke University Ph.D. student in the Graduate Program in Religion with a focus on South Asian Religions. She currently serves as the Chair of the Graduate and Professional Student Council’s Task Force on Hate and Bias. Her research looks at the networks that transnational religious organizations create in modernity. She is also fascinated by religious sound practices. You can listen to a podcast episode on her ethnographic research on communal chanting.
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