Committee on Language and Social Justice Meeting Report

The SLA Committee on Language and Social Justice (LSJ) aims to increase awareness, both within the AAA and among the general public, of the ways that language is implicated in social discrimination; and where appropriate, to respond to language-related injustice. To these ends, the committee seeks to collect and disseminate knowledge concerning language and social justice; to identify problems and issues in which linguistic anthropologists can effectively intervene, and to which linguistic anthropological knowledge can usefully be applied; to organize and facilitate such interventions and applications; and to advise the AAA Committee on Human Rights, the AAA Executive Board, and other AAA bodies on how the AAA should respond to issues concerning language and social justice.

LSJ is an open-membership committee comprised of faculty and students and is led by six core members; three cohorts of two people serve three-year terms. Lynnette Arnold and Judy Pine are the current co-chairs, Dominika Baran and Suzanne Mateus form the next cohort, and Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein and Paja Faudree have just been confirmed as the most recent cohort of core members. Two new cohort members are elected annually.

What role can linguistic anthropology have in social justice work? If language-as-action is a shared premise for linguistic anthropologists, how can we extend this to social justice efforts? These were the questions that structured the discussion at the widely-attended LSJ session at the inaugural SLA Meeting in March 2018. Breakout sessions, each led by an LSJ member, addressed:

  1. Right-wing attacks on faculty (Bonnie Urciuoli)
  2. Language and sexual violence (Katherine Martineau, Mariam Durrani)
  3. Mentoring in linguistic anthropology (Bernard Perley)
  4. Racialized discourse about immigration (Jonathan Rosa)
  5. Expanding our web and social media presence (Judy Pine)
  6. Teaching the “language gap” (Lynnette Arnold)

During the 2018 AAA Meetings, LSJ met to discuss prior, current, and planned business. The meeting began with a land acknowledgement, a linguistic practice that has been recognized as “a simple, powerful way of showing respect and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture and toward inviting and honoring the truth.”

LSJ efforts on campus

Perley and Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein are surveying the field on weaknesses in student mentoring and suggestions for improvement.

Language and sexual violence has been an ongoing LSJ focus. At 2018 SLA Meeting, Durrani gave a talk about #MeToo and published an article on this topic in AN. Urciuoli is collecting campus data on sexual harassment and Durrani provided recommendations of responding to harassment or trolling on campus.

Language discrimination affects academic hiring processes and evaluation of student work on campuses. Edwin Everhart is developing union contract language to prohibit accent discrimination; contact Evenhart at [email protected] with related ideas. CATESOL has a position paper on rejecting discrimination based on English teachers’ “nativeness,” which addresses promotion discrimination and inclusive job advertising and LSJ encourages additional work on this topic. Providing trainings or workshops for students at campus community engagement service-learning centers, which undergraduates frequently use to do language work (e.g., tutoring, interpreting, ESL teaching) but at which students are rarely offered relevant training (e.g., in linguistics, anthropology), can be effective. Course assignments can also be designed to train students to bring course content to bear on current social justice issues (e.g., final papers turned into “pitch” to legislators; funding proposals for practical interventions).

LSJ efforts beyond campus

Hilary Dick is leading efforts to increase awareness about the importance of access to professional translation/interpretation, especially given current migration to the United States. On this topic, see also Sonya Rao’s column, “Communicating in Times of Crisis.”

2019 is UNESCO’s International Year of Indigenous Languages, and the AAA is making this a theme for 2019 projects. Contact Perley to get involved: [email protected].

Pine is leading LSJ efforts to reach broader audiences, including conveying complex ideas accessibly via social media and addressing issues of who uses social media.

Social justice and the production of academics and academic work

The LSJ released its first member-authored book: Language and Social Justice in Practice, by N. Avineri, L.R. Graham, E.J. Johnson, R.C. Riner, and J. Rosa (Eds.), Routledge, 2019. It contains 24 case-study chapters and is designed for an undergraduate audience. Among the issues discussed in the book are the need to reframe merit within the academy and how to create a central place for social justice in academic work.

LSJ is working on making conferences more accessible to all members, with efforts planned for SLA 2020. This includes considering alternative models and modes of participation (e.g., webinars, Zoom/Skype, partial/total telepresence). Clear session-chair guidelines could help address accessibility as well as working closely with the AAA Disability Research Interest Group, which prepared guidelines for creating accessible presentations.  LSJ encourages members to familiarize themselves with and follow these guidelines.

A group at UCSB, including Kendra Calhoun, Joyhanna Yoo Garzam, and Jamaal Muwwakkil, is studying the experiences of underrepresented people in academia. The study will discuss academic recruitment and retention and offer concrete strategies for both.

LSJ also discussed language discrimination as it pertains to peer review for publication and is considering creating a resource for journals to help them avoid rejecting non-native-English writers.

Gender equity is a key LSJ theme, including recognizing and confronting women’s under-representation amongst tenured faculty and biases in hiring processes and tenure decisions.

The AAAL study on diversity and job placements, summarized here, can be a resource. Gender inequity can also be addressed through citational practices in who we credit in what we write and who and what we teach.

LSJ is also engaged in outreach beyond conventional academic writing, such as sharing experiences with social justice issues and responses to these on the listserv; engaging the Op-Ed Project; circulating the AAA’s document on “Guidelines for Tenure and Promotion Review: Communicating Public Scholarship in Anthropology” involving students in the design and teaching of anthropology (e.g., through Wenner-Gren-funded program, “Anthropology is Elemental,” led by Pritzker); sponsoring films/talks on key social justice issues, such as institutionalized racism (e.g., Walt Wolfram’s film “Talking Black in America”—contact Wolfram or Pritzker for a copy—and John Jackson’s talk on the ethnographic development of critical race theory, hosted at U. Alabama).

Teaching language and social justice

Arnold has created a database with resources about the “word gap.” To contribute, contact [email protected].

LSJ is also revamping the online curation of materials for teaching social justice through linguistic anthropology.

This is a report of minutes from a meeting held on November 15, 2018. To join the LSJ listserv, contact [email protected]; on Twitter @LangSocJustice.

Catherine R. Rhodes ([email protected]) is a contributing editor for the Society for Linguistic Anthropology.

Cite as: Rhodes, Catherine R. 2019. “Committee on Language and Social Justice Meeting Report.” Anthropology News website, May 16, 2019. DOI: 10.1111/AN.1162

Post a Comment

Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approved. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.

Commenting Disclaimer

Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approve. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.