- The Scholarly Network
Service is the rent we pay for a room on earth.—Unknown author
I instruct my students to answer the exam question directly. That is, they must answer the question as I wrote it and not as they wish to reformulate it. I also tell my students to do as I say and not as I do. The editor has asked me and others to offer “personal reflections on whether and how your own work has been affected by recent events (high-profile murders of black people, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Freddie Gray, as well as other black men, women, and children assaulted and murdered by law enforcement officials and others in the United States), including, if possible, one or two concrete examples of past, current, or future work.”
The editor asks “whether” my work has been affected by these events. This question presumes that my work and I are separate, but as I am a black woman academic, my work and life are intertwined. It is not possible for me to remain unaffected by the murders of black people. Although I do not personally know the individuals who have been murdered, they are my kin. Although I do not know their families, I grieve with them. My work includes more than the items detailed in my annual faculty productivity report. I do not judge my success or productivity solely by standard academic metrics. My work involves not only what I publish but how I operate in the world and in this academic discipline. In this personal essay, I reflect on my motivation and efforts to support black and other underrepresented scholars through networking and social media.
Data from the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) indicate that there are relatively few black biblical scholars in the United States. According to the 2015 SBL Society Report, “Presently, 85% of members who claim to be United States citizens are of European descent, 3.8% are multiethnic, and 3.4% are of African descent. Members of Asian descent account for 2.3%, Latina/o descent totals 1.7%, and [End Page 208] Native American, Alaska Native, or First Nation descent is 0.2%.”1 Furthermore, the Society Report acknowledges, “Members of African descent have the highest representation of contingent faculty at 9.5% and the lowest representation of fulltime tenured faculty at 47.4%.”2 As a group, black SBL members remain underrepresented and are least secure regarding tenure status.
Academia is not a warm, welcoming space, and it is much less so for underrepresented scholars.3 In many conversations with nonblack academics, I find that I may be one of the few black scholars they know. According to the 2013 American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), the social networks of whites are 91 percent white.4 Just as our neighborhoods and faith communities are segregated, so are our scholarly networks. Academics rely on a host of informal communication networks for a variety of reasons. We may contact our graduate school cohort at “feeder” schools to ask if they have promising students who are applying for doctoral programs. We may e-mail our colleagues seeking names to include on lists of potential job candidates or keynote speakers. “I have never heard of her” is one of the worst things that can be said about a scholar. People need to know that you exist in order to invite you to collaborate on projects, contribute to edited volumes, or apply for fellowships. Black scholars who are not part of those networks may miss out on vital opportunities.
I am fortunate to have a tenure-track position, encouraging departmental colleagues, a wonderful therapist, and a loving family. I want to help other scholars who may not have the same support. I do not consider myself an activist; for me, that term suggests someone who is strongly committed to a particular organization, cause, or action on a regular basis. I do not consider myself a protester, although my family and I attend local meetings, protests, and vigils, including those in support of the #SayHerName campaign.5 Instead, I feel an obligation to support others because my...