June 2, 2009

Day Two of the CSA

June 2, 2009

This morning, I left the house at about 8:30 am to make my way over to the conference. I am getting used to my 15 minute walk. The first time I walked over to the conference hotel, I was a bit nervous, as I wasn't sure what to expect along the way. Now that I've done it a few times, it is almost mundane. There are always a couple of people who ask for cash. So far, I haven't dished out any money. I am nervous about gettng out my wallet. I could carry some change in my pocket, but I have forgotten to do that.

The first panel I attended at the CSA this morning had interesting gender dynamics. There were only two speakers – a man and a woman. (Although there were four panelists, the other two hadn't shown up – a common pattern at this conference.) The female speaker went on for about 30 minutes. This was beyond her allocated time, but there were only two panelists. When her male co-panelist intervened to let her know she had gone over, there was a bit of tension at the panel, and she concluded. When it was time for questions, the first question was directed at her. As she was answering, he interrupted to put his two cents in, making sure he shared the stage. At academic conferences, there often is a contest over who has the floor. Academics tend to want to be heard. Once they have the stage, they often talk as long as they can keep going. Once they take a breath, someone can interrupt. In this case, the speakers verged on making false claims in the interest of keeping the stage. At another point, the male speaker indicated to the female speaker that she needed to let the audience speak. At least they did all of this smiling. Once I was at an activist meeting in Chicago, and two men practically got in a fist fight over who had the right to the microphone, the right to be heard.

The next panel was a mentoring panel, where junior faculty get tips from senior folks on how to make it in this business. The twenty-plus attendees at this crowded session were almost all women. This is pretty typical of mentoring meetings. I am not sure if this is because men are less likely to admit they need help or if they are already getting help because of the old-boy network. I suspect it is a combination of both.

The first speaker pointed out that scholars who study the Caribbean often have to defend their area of research as a serious area of scholarship, as people associate the Caribbean with sun, sex, and sand, and not with “real” social issues. This resonated with me, as whenever I tell people I am doing research in Jamaica, they question how much time I am really spending doing research. The next speaker carried over this theme of Sex and The Caribbean by pointing out that scholars really have to figure out what kind of ho they will be in order to get tenure. Admittedly, we all have to pimp ourselves a bit, especially in terms of getting our names out there and making sure people know who we are. Apparently, one of the worst things an external reviewer can say about your tenure file is “I am very pleased to become familiar with this person's work, who I had never heard of before.” Getting your name out there is crucial.

In my case, it doesn't help that I have just jumped from South America to the Caribbean in my research, with some detours in US immigration policy along the way. The panelists suggested I need to transcend geography by discussing the overarching questions that guide my research. One way to do this is to look at other people's tenure statements who have made similar intellectual journeys. I am glad I attended that panel, as I met several people who I have connections with – people who are colleagues of friends, people who went to grad school near me, and people who work near to where I work now. After that panel, I came home for lunch.

Having the family here definitely eases some of the tensions associated with being at an academic conference – especially one where I really don't know anyone. It is also nice to be in an apartment instead of a hotel room. All of this has cut down on those awkward moments when I am sitting in the lobby strategizing about who I might approach. Instead of feeling like an outcast, I came home, had some lunch, and did a load of laundry.

After lunch, I got the kids cleaned up and we headed back to the hotel, with the hopes that we could go to the pool as we did yesterday. On the way to the pool, Soraya, my eight-year-old daughter - pointed to a light-skinned man, and said: “Look, Mommy, a white person. Yesterday, at the pool, there were white people.”

I asked Soraya why she thought that was worth mentioning, and she said that sometimes black people stare at her. I asked her why she minded, and she said that sometimes she is shy. I reminded her that you can't tell if someone is mean or nice by looking at their color. She said she knows that already.

When we got to the pool, there was no one in the water. I conspicuously placed my conference bag on the table, signalling our right to be at the hotel. The kids got in the water. I went to a panel on migration, hoping no one would mind my family chilling at the pool. They didn't. But, I wondered if we should keep pushing our luck with our visits to the pool.

After attending all of my sessions, I found the kids happily playing in the pool. And, lucky for me, there was a woman I knew from before who began to introduce me to people. And, she has a daughter, who my children were playing with. So, I got in some networking and began to feel a bit less of an outcast. I also got to chill out in the shade underneath some palm trees by the pool. This conference is turning out to be alright!


  1. Man, your first panel strikes fear in my heart about being on this career path. Also the gender dynamics at your second panel... same deal. Thank goodness things were looking up by the end of your day. The conference venue swimming pool is going to be a saving grace.

  2. I was at a conference last week where a group of faculty development administrators agreed that if you say an event/panel is about "mentoring" then mostly women attend. If you describe it as "professional development," then you get a more even group of men and women. And, if you describe the same event as "leadership development" then you will find yourself with mostly men.I'm not sure how empirically true that is, but I thought it was interesting to see folks who do this for a living crack up at this as an obvious observation (so obvious it was funny).

  3. Thanks, Sophie and DivaProf! That is funny about the "leadership development." Thanks for reading! and commenting!