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Addressing #MeToo within Academia

I’ve been thinking a lot about a post that Nelson Flores posted on Facebook last week. I’m pasting it below with his permission:

Yesterday a poster was posted next to a picture of Dell Hymes, a former dean at Penn GSE and the founder of the Educational Lin

guistics Division where I currently work (credit to Kristina Lewis for posting this picture that originally brought the action to my attention).

This is not just a rumor. Jenn Phuong has tracked down archival material from the Daily Pennsylvanian that show that these allegations were well-documented at the time and the university even agreed to a settlement with some of the victims. Yet, somehow this documentation has been erased from the official narrative that has been associated with Dell Hymes….until now.

This public reminder has led to his portrait being taken down pending further investigation. This important symbolic gesture was made possible by the tireless effort of Penn GSE students along with the university-wide GET-UP organization. I admire their courage and am in awe of all that they have already accomplished.

As a Penn faculty member, especially one who in some ways has inherited the legacy of Dell Hymes by working in the program he founded, I feel compelled to amplify their voices on this important issue. Here is a link to the recommendations that the students are proposing to improve sexual harassment policies to prevent what Dell Hymes got away with from happening again in the future: https://docs.google.com/…/1g9Gb46-pYiKpGZAi-TJBKybAr91…/edit

In checking in with Nelson, he pointed me to articles about the issue that students researched and collected here.

Among the comments responding on Nelson’s page, my colleague Jonathan Rosa wrote (again, sharing with permission):

So…when do we get to the questions about how this misogyny and predatory behavior informs our inheritance of the logics and practices of linguistic anthropology and other fields Hymes helped to found? I’m thinking especially of the positivist gaze and narrow view of power and inequality that characterizes them. It’s one thing to take down a portrait, entirely another to indict and reimagine fields and the academy more broadly.

The #MeToo movement, of course has been shaping conversation within academia. The results of an anonymous survey only highlighted the unsurprising fact that misconduct runs rampant within this profession as it does across myriad others. 

Like nearly every profession that is confronting the long overdue reckoning of the #MeToo movement, academia is still reconciling–too slowly–with what’s to be done. In addition to the processes of healing, accountability, and action that must be taken up, I am wondering about some specific responsibilities that universities must face.  I am setting aside the most obvious issues of accountability and healing for the remainder of this post not because they are unimportant but because I think there is little ambiguity that action needs to be taken.

I am less certain about how our profession deals with the legacies of scholarship on which new work is produced. Bluntly, will we still cite scholarship from a publicly vetted case like Hymes? Does the foundational work he set in motion get taught in courses? Do we add an asterisk next to his name (and a growing list of others as they are made public)? Taking Hymes as a public example, I can imagine sociolinguistic scholarship being submitted to journals today that would be seen as suspect if it failed to properly cite Hymes. Unlike Hollywood, I think there are incidents where we cannot simply Christopher Plummer our scholarship with other studies waiting on the sidelines. At the time that I write this, Hymes’s Wikipedia entry does not mention any of his other lasting and damaging contributions to the field. 

The idea of citation at hand, I trust my friends, advisees, and mentors to understand why and how I define the scholarship I build from; however as I continue to write for an elusive “blinded” readership in order to progress within this profession, I am less confident about who I could exclude from my references. Within a profession that is obsessed with counting “impact” and measuring how ideas are taken up by others, each citation to a Hymes is immediately tallied on platforms like Google Scholar and Academia:

Taking down the portrait is an important first step and I am moved by the bravery of Penn graduate students and grateful for Nelson amplifying their voices. Removing the proverbial portraits within systems of peer review which may provide cover for complicity feels more complicated. I’m curious how others imagine we take this up.

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