>Guest Post: On the Medieval Academy’s meeting in Tempe, Arizona

>Now that I’m back from my brief Midwestern vacation, it’s time to get serious again. And for starters, I have a guest post from my friend The General on why she won’t be going to the Medieval Academy of America’s annual meeting in Tempe, Arizona, in April, and why she’s not renewing her membership.

But first, let me give a little background for my non-medievalist/non-academic readers who might want or need it. In May, Jeffrey Cohen at In the Middle started the discussion of whether or not the MAA should move the meeting out of Arizona. That post garnered 74 comments and ultimately led to an open letter to the MAA urging them to cancel or move the meeting, signed by 170 people. That letter, plus discussions elsewhere, spurred the MAA to poll its members by e-mail and a web-based poll. On August 3, the MAA executive committee came to its final decision to keep the meeting in Tempe, and sent to the membership an e-mail letter announcing that decision. Karl Steel at In the Middle posted the letter here. And Inside Higher Ed followed up with a story.

That’s the background. In response, The General wrote a letter to the Medieval Academy which she also posted as a note on Facebook and asked me to post here. It’s still in the form of an address to the Medieval Academy, but it’s been slightly edited since she sent it off to them. And although she’s happy to have her name attached to it, I decided to keep in the spirit of this blog and use her pseudonym.

So, without further ado, below is what The General had to say to the Medieval Academy.


Dear Medieval Academy,

I just read your recent announcement about your decision to proceed with the 2011 meeting in Arizona. I am deeply disappointed and rather stunned at your decision. As one of the few medievalists of color in the profession and on your membership roster, your decision means that anyone of color (or any shade other than white) will be under surveillance, put in the category of second-class citizen, and generally thought of as a person of suspicion if they even attend the Arizona meeting. As someone who has served for several years on a board of directors that managed a revenue stream of 70 million dollars, I understand the directive of fiduciary responsibility quite well. But I also would like to point out that your choice means that you have chosen monetary gain over human value for your organization. You have decided that diversity and encouraging students and faculty of color to go into Medieval Studies is not a core value of the Academy. Rather, the fiduciary bottom line of the endowment is more important.

Your letter states that you feel that you were not in a position to make a “collective political statement” for the entire group, but yet you have. Your decision means that a minority of your membership will be excluded, treated as alien others, and asked to constantly carry “papers” during their trip. You are asking me and every other member with a skin shade not deemed “American” or an accent not considered “standard” to accept this treatment and see it as just another political issue. When were basic civil rights a partisan political issue rather than an ethical and moral one? It would be one thing if you wanted not to hold a meeting in a state or location because it had voted Democrat or Republican; that would be a partisan “collective political statement.” But you are asking me and any person of color to walk into a state and pretend that being a second-class citizen is fine. When did basic civil rights become a partisan political statement? I was under the impression that all the members of the Medieval Academy believed in civil rights. Or had I and other members been wrong? Is the Medieval Academy still an ivory tower institution that excludes, women, people of color, and the disabled? Is the Academy not interested in supporting their members and equity? For me, these were the issues at stake in your decision. And your answer to these questions were shattering.

Your decision and letter tells me that I should find it acceptable to come to a professional academic meeting and wear a figurative star on my lapel and have my papers potentially checked at every turn. What you are saying to me and every scholar (domestic and international) of color is that discrimination is fine, that equitable treatment in our field is not a priority or an inalienable right. This is the very opposite of community building. You say in your letter that it is about the work that people have done, yet the meeting’s presence in Arizona is going to overshadow the work. I would be queasy discussing Lateran IV’s restrictions and injunctions against Jews and Saracens in a state that is enacting their own version of these laws. The conference will not be an exercise in political free speech; rather it will condone the behaviors that put members of the academy under scrutiny.

Several blog comments discussing this decision have said it would be OK to have the meeting and just organize for political action. I completely disagree because this is not “just” a political issue; you are asking people to be comfortable with other members of the Academy being stopped, asked for papers, possibly arrested, and held for questioning. You are asking that our personal rights be assaulted, abused, and trampled on all to attend a professional meeting.

You are asking too much and therefore I plan to boycott the Medieval Academy and encourage anyone else to do likewise. I do not want to be part of an organization that feels it is acceptable for me to be discriminated against.

The General