Academic warriors for social justice

Many academics love to champion underdog causes, especially those in different time zones. In their own workplaces, academics are extremely conservative, preserving of the status quo, and preferring glacial rates of change. I would like to caution fellow junior academics who are under the impression that all academic fighters for social justice walk the talk in their everyday lives.

Academic fighters for social justice are frequently just that – academic fighters. As long as it is pure talk and no skin off one’s nose, it has little relationship with the everyday reality of the workplace. It is a rare academic who will stand with the underdog against injustice in, say, tenure and reappointment cases, or the everyday negotiation of small perks, course allotment and course schedules.

As a young woman, I found myself completely inept in the cut-throat world of women’s social politics. I simply couldn’t simper, smile, serve food, dish out sarcasm and get my way at the same time. I thought that once I had my Ph.D., I could commence speaking my mind. I have learned, however, that the same skills I observed in Pakistani women’s social lives are at play in academic workplaces. No one need truly speak their minds. What concerns me deeply is the disconnect between what people are and what they project. I suppose I am still an idealistic academic at heart, when I yearn for people of the mind to be opposed to that disconnect. I still want academics to walk the talk, and to have one face.

As an academic in a set of fields which, by and large, have a rather explicit commitment to social justice, I’ve been fortunate to know individuals who have been unafraid to be the same persons in their everyday lives as they are in their rhetoric and publication. But for new academics, I want to caution them not to expect too much from their academic idols and from authors of fiery journal articles who “represent” downtrodden women and wronged ethnic groups. The liberal, the conservative and the radical are often quite congenial bedfellows, and will amiably band together against the underdog, unfazed by the fact that the drama of injustice is playing out under their very noses. As long as there isn’t a grant or a publication in it, it can go hang.

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