So, maybe professors won’t sing and dance and do tricks with their fellow professors/ candlesticks, but this week’s reading, “Intentionally Equitable Hospitality in Hybrid Video Dialogue: The Context of Virtually Connecting,” brought Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast to the forefront of my mind. So, let’s put on “Be Our Guest,” set a smile on our faces, and journey into the article and some of the finer points that are not only concerning, but something that needs to be tackled as a community of scholars, both learners, and teachers, with compassion and care in mind!
To give you a quick summary of the article, Maha Bali, et al. describe the various ways in which scholars who use a specific digital academic-oriented platform, VConnecting, can bring together the in-person participants of academic conferences with virtual learners, or provide a video that can be streamed asynchronously. (Decolonize time!) This form of intentional equitable hospitality weaves a number of implications, three of which are my main focus and of great interest; firstly, the idea of what it means to be part of academic discourse, the idea of who gets to be a part of academic discourse, and above all else, how to evaluate the equitable characteristics of conversation set against a virtual backdrop.
Regarding the issue of what it means to be a part of academic discourse, the point that Bonnie Stewart raises early on regarding the fact that there have always been gatekeeping measures in place and “scholarship has never been particularly open to the public” is straight to the point and highlights the critical issue of what a jarring, out-of-tune chorus the monolithic voice of academia past has left us with in the present day. A few weeks ago, I attended a conference hosted by Socially Just Academia and the Knowledge Equity Lab, and while the name of the particular participant escapes me, she made a very poignant statement regarding her simple existence in this sorts of conversations; even with the shift to being virtual, and the ability to attend events in other countries on her own time, there was still an inherent hesitation and her mere appearance in certain spaces while certain topics were being discussed made other participants somewhat uncomfortable, even if none of her views were ultimately communicated. This was not stated in the emotional manner that I received the words; much to my shock, it was a very matter-of-fact, up-front acknowledgment that this is the reality for her in everyday spaces. If this is what someone who is already established in academia feels, how can someone trying to make a foray in, or just observing from the outside with a casual interest possibly have a positive angle or experience?
After hearing this comment, and realizing I’m that person on the cusp of seriously entering the conversation as an active participant, I thought about my own experiences and the gatekeeping hoops I’d personally experienced. Horrifically, I’d rationalized some of hostile, inequitable practices that had been used to keep gatekeeping traditions going. It wasn’t that I had no deep thoughts on the subject matter of a webinar, it was just that fact that surely, if I, the graduate student could think it, one of the established professors in the room could as well, and I’m sure they could articulate it far better. The lack of a formal title in front of my name was just further proof that I had everything to learn and not much to contribute. Bali et al. also brought up a valid point regarding the equity issues that surround the accessibility that folks have to working and capable technology, and that’s also a concern at the forefront of my mind at times. My worst rationalizing offense, which I will never forgive myself for is the fact that I really believed this is all OK because it’s probably just a test of whether or not I really belong in this space. It’s sort of like a hazing tradition; if you can take the discomfort and all the inferiority for a while, you get to join the club.
But, that was me a few months ago. I pledged to myself that I would hold others to the same standards that I hold myself to when it comes to respect, and in turn, offering hospitality; it’s something that we’re all inherently deserving of, and don’t need to earn. There’s no point in making someone have to dig a well where there isn’t any water. And in turn, I found that this change was already beginning to occur. While the sentiments that another colleague shared were less than ideal, the fact that everyone else in the conference was able to not only acknowledge, but address the severity of the issue proved that the gatekeeping lines I thought were so permanent are really just lines in the sand, and every day a tide of change washes them away. Part of intentionally equitable hospitality, when it comes to considering what needs to be part of the conversation is not only recognizing and allowing a space for the marginalized voices and concerns of those who speak out but a reflection of how we, as individuals, haven’t always been hospitable to even ourselves. After all, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s only fair to pose the question; how can you extend genuine warmth and care to others if you’re unwilling to do so for yourself?
We’ve gotten a bit into who is part of academic discourse, but when it comes to intentionally equitable hospitality, examining it from this angle requires a deeper dive. More specifically, I’m thinking along the lines of what it means to be in the position of power, and of being the first hand in a virtual setting to extend that warmth, as I’ve decided to call it since a warm feeling is what I generally feel upon receiving some sort of validation. The mention of tools that would have been previously disregarded by academia, such as Twitter, being used to reach out to individuals who the authors realized may feel like a face in the crowd fills me with a sense of hope. It may come across as a bit corny, but given the apprehension that comes with venturing into the digital world, seeing someone speak to you personally, and not just tag you in a mass automated message speaks volumes. (Pun fully intended.) I also think there is a lot to be said, and praised, when it comes to the discussion of the limitations that VConnecting faces. For instance, there is a real issue for those who are remote participants that may be hard-of-hearing or deaf if there is no live closed captioning or transcript. There is also the realization that it is impossible to practice intentionally equitable hospitality literally every moment of a VConnecting event. I’m going to cap this here.
We’re getting close to the end here, so bear with me! In a moment of vulnerability, I will confess that the reckless optimist in me, that thinks that things can indeed change, is jumping for joy at the moment. Those who know me know I always wear my heart on my sleeve, and it’s for good reason. Sure, it leads to getting hurt occasionally, but it also lets me envision where ideas such as intentionally equitable hospitality can lead us to! Hybrid instruction may not be the future we pictured a year ago, and sure, it has hurdles when it comes to access to technology and logistical planning across time-zones that may not make it ideal for anyone, but it’s at least a step in the right direction! There’s more social capital to go around, as the authors mentioned, and there is something inherently different, in a good way. I think the warmth is spreading, and I’m starting to thaw out.
My last note before I forget is to check out my Twitter, @SunKScribbles for my (in my humble opinion) entertaining six-word stories that serve as my daily creates! My favorite from this week is linked below!
Now, it’s about the time for our household to come alive, and I can feel my legs just itching for a run, so I’ll leave you here with the upbeat “There She Goes” by The La’s, and see ya on the other side!