August 12, 2009

Networking, Race and Gender in the Academy

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I can't believe I just finished my third major academic conference in less than three months. The American Sociological Association meetings are finally over, and I will not be attending any conferences for an entire year.

Once my year-long Fulbright-Hays grant starts on August 13, 2009, I am not allowed to travel outside of the country where I am doing research for the purpose of giving a paper or attending a conference. This is actually good for me, as I think I might attend too many conferences, if that is possible for an Assistant Professor. Each time I attend a conference I lose about a week's worth of writing. I suppose that's not much in the grand scheme of things, especially since I tend to do quite a bit of networking.

This year, networking for me consisted more of solidifying ties with people I already know. That is a lot more fun than meeting brand-new people, although I did a bit of that as well. I had lots of fantastic conversations about professional development, with junior and senior colleagues, and have quite a bit to ponder.

For example, my colleage Sylvia told me about the importance of junior facuty “reality-testing” their goals. This consists of telling a new faculty member what they need to publish in order to secure tenure – for example, three articles and a book. Then, you ask the new faculty member to lay out how they will accomplish this. This allows the new faculty member to take a pro-active position, and own their own plan. Of course, they might need guidance in terms of developing a plan that is detailed enough. Simply saying one article each year and starting to write a book in the fourth year, for example, is not nearly detailed enough. The plan needs to be broken down at least by month, and into manageable parts.

The panel I presented on was also fantastic, I think. All of the papers were developed with a vison of activism, social justice, and change, in addition to being based on solid research. It is heartening to know that other sociologists are invested in making the world a better place, and not simply quantifying the amount of oppression that exists. Notably, all of the presenters were relatively young women. I am not sure what the gender dynamics are that made this the case. However, I noticed that another excellent panel I attended on race and Latinos was also exclusively composed of young women. In contrast, a thematic session on race around the world was mostly senior men.

In my case, nearly all of the people I networked with this year were other female junior faculty. Although it was an absolute pleasure to hang out with these women, it does make me wonder if male faculy have other social circles, and if we women might be excluded in some ways from those circles. Given the history of gender inequality, I may have something to worry about. Next year, I will have to make more of an effort to figure out what the men are up to.

I wonder what the experiences of other junior faculty women are. Do you also mostly network with women at conferences? Who do you have meals with at conferences? Who do you present with? Who do you have drinks with? Who do you chat with in the corridors? Who comes up and asks you questions after you give a talk? Who comes to your sessions?

In addition to the gender dynamics, I would point out that there is also a racial and ethnic division of labor within sociology that leads to relatively racially homogenous social networks. The field, of course, is predominated by whites. However, there are a number of sections within the overall organization where there is a preponderance of people of color.

I belong to three sections of ASA - the international migration section, the race and ethnic minorties section, and the Latino/a sociology section. The ethnic makeup of these three sections is quite distinct. In particular, the Latino/a sociology section is almost exclusively Latino/a. On the one hand, this relative segregation creates a safe space for Latino and Latina sociologists. On the other hand, it places limits on the networking opportunities of people who only participate in that section.

For these reasons, it is important, especially for newer scholars, to participate in activities in a variety of sections. At the same time, it could be beneficial if more established scholars who are invested in the success of people of color would also become involved in those sections where many graduate students and junior faculty of color are concentrated.

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