Community Engaged Scholars: Balancing Scholarship and Activism

The University of Chicago Center for the Study of Race and Gender recently held a workshop titled, “Community Engaged scholars: Balancing Scholarship and Activism.” As a graduate student, academic and someone who cares about justice in her community and beyond, this workshop was timely and beneficial. Four scholars presented and since I found their ideas helpful, I am reproducing them here:

  • Reframe the word “balance” to “struggle” and accept that striving and struggling are a part of life. As an American Muslim, this really resonated with me because the concept of jihad in Islam refers to the inner struggle that a person constantly undertakes in order to better him or herself. Furthermore, several qur’anic verses speak about human nature, such as Qur’an 90: 4 “We (royal we) have certainly created the human into hardship.” This is not an excuse to not work hard and do one’s best, but rather to accept that life is a struggle and we have to remember to just strive to do our best.
  • Prioritize choices.
  • Work back from a deadline and make it a daily practice.
  • Get your writing done in the morning, especially the “hard” or “painful” writing. For some who are writing about topics like colonialism and oppression, writing at night can be harder and less motivating than morning writing. Make morning writing a discipline.
  • Think of your long-term scholarship in the service of the community. You should remember that you seeking knowledge is good for your community, since the more knowledgeable you are, the more able you can contribute.
  • Get good at saying “no” sometimes. One of the panelists said she has started a hashtag #nonewprojects jokingly, but also seriously, to indicate that she needs to stay focused on what she is currently working on, fully finish that and then start something else.
  • Be a mentor or learn from a mentor: cultivate community and help each other out.
  • The book Demand the Impossible by Bill Ayers was mentioned because Ayers suggests that by looking at local power, such as in schools and places of worship, your focus on the local community is a form of federalism and without a doubt, justice.
  • Focus on what you can do and be aware of new developments (such as, lead in water at schools – I know, not cool, but the injustice is everywhere).
  • Clearly communicate to the public what scholars do. The panelists argued that we should increase the presence of subjectivity and ask if objectivity is truly a goal in scholarship. Objectivity is actually tied to whose position is in power to define their standards as neutral. Objectivity is socially constructed and it is incumbent on us as scholars to be transparent on positions.
  • There is no myth of scarcity! We should help our colleagues and not be insular, fearing that there is only an x number of jobs in our field, hence, deterring others from getting this job and potentially taking it from us.
  • You need to believe that your perspective is valuable. Tell the story you want to tell and show others why your story matters.
  • Make sure you get help outside of the ivory towers and find a cadre of people who can be there to support you.

With the inauguration of Donald Trump nearing soon, this workshop reminded me that separating scholarship from justice and activism is, for me at least, socially irresponsible. Nevertheless, I respect scholars who make their work one thing and their striving for justice another outside of the classroom.

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