Actions people can take
This is a living resource describing actions people can take in order to mitigate harassment and make a positive change in their sphere(s) of influence. The content of this document is based on suggestions from the respondents to the Survey of Linguists and Language Researchers (Namboodiripad, Occhino, & Hou forthcoming), the LSA Statement on Race (Charity Hudley & Mallinson forthcoming), research on harassment, inclusion, and diversity in academia (various sources, cited in situ), and suggestions from the greater community of linguists and language researchers.
Most of these suggestions are not applicable in all contexts, and issues and terms relevant to North America are over-represented. We are working to correct this, and we especially welcome collaboration and suggestions in this domain.
We welcome comments and suggestions; please direct them to email@example.com or use this link to a google form to submit anonymously. The document will be updated periodically in response to suggestions.
A note to less-marginalized folks, in whatever context
- If you witness harassment and discrimination, whether online or in person, and you have more power, comfort, or privilege than the target of the harassment, say something. Make a plan ahead of time of what you might say so that it is easier to say in the moment. Call out vitriol at conferences.
- Make it your default to believe marginalized people when they say they have been harassed. Hold space for them to tell their stories and listen to them without passing judgment.
- Most of these recommendations are for you. Inaction hurts the field, and more importantly, other people.
Instructors (Including faculty, graduate students, etc.)
- Who is on your syllabus? (From Liberated Genius: Show Don’t Tell: Decolonize your classroom, syllabus, rules, and practices)
- If you’re talking about a particular language, have you made the effort to include authors who are from a community in which that language is used?
- Does your syllabus represent a range of scholars (such as Native/Indigenous, Black/African-American, queer, non-binary, trans, etc.) and cite their work?
- Do not merely dedicate one day or one week to the works of underrepresented and marginalized scholars (women, people of color, disabled people, and/or trans and queer people). Center their perspectives by incorporating them in every topic discussed on the syllabus, and discuss whatever gaps in certain topics, especially if there is minimal representation of these scholars.
- Introduce students to ‘alternative’ resources that are found in non-scholarly domains of publication such as social media (YouTube, Twitter, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, etc.) and zines (self-published works by an individual author or a small group of authors and are usually circulated among themselves and their readers) by underrepresented and marginalized scholars.
- Do not just put an institutional boilerplate policy about harassment and bias on your syllabus, website, departmental handbook, etc. Customize the policy to show that you take the problem seriously, and you (and other faculty members) can and will take interventionist measures, you will address them and engage in an open dialogue.
- Make time in your classroom to discuss the harassing and/or bigoted ways of authors and the problematic effects of linguistic research. Best case is to not assign these people, but if you must, use this as an opportunity. There are lots of places that you can do this, not just in a class that is about language and discrimination or sociolinguistics, etc. This practice shows students that people with more power relative to them notice and denounce bad behavior, normalizes the discussion of such behavior.
- Find out who is publicly bullying junior scholars (including misgendering, “punching down”, etc.), and discuss this as a problem in academia, if you discuss their research in class. If you know these people personally/professionally and feel safe to do so, confront your colleagues.
- Intro to Semantics/Pragmatics
- John Searle has been accused of serial harassment. If you assign his work, take time in class to address the issue of harassment in general, signal unequivocally to students that the type of behavior he is accused of is not okay, and direct them to relevant reporting and mental health resources on campus. If possible, follow this by moving on to more contemporary authors.
- Historical linguistics
- It is relevant to discuss the role of neogrammarians in inspiring Hitler’s racist hierarchies, especially since this type of racial theory is still used by fascist/authoritarian groups to radicalize globally.
- Language acquisition/syntax
- Writings about innateness of language have been hailed by the US alt-right and folks who have essentialist theories about race. You can address the problematic and dangerous interpretations of this work when discussing these topics.
- Language acquisition and development
- Address bias in research. A classic example is the “word gap” study as documented in Hart & Risley (1995), which demonstrates bias (as argued in recent literature elsewhere) against social groups in the U.S. This study demonstrated how English-speaking children of different socio-economic (SES) groups differ considerably in the amount of linguistic input they receive, namely, the amount of words they hear in their lives: children from lower SES backgrounds receive a much lower lexical input than children from higher SES backgrounds. The implications of such findings have led subsequent studies about significant correlations between child-directed input and the child’s lexical development, and also proposed and actual interventions for closing the word gap. Researchers are divided over this issue due to the biased approach and framing of the variation of language development in children of different SES groups, since children of lower SES groups are also people of color. Whether you agree with the findings of the word gap study and interventional practices is not the issue per se, but rather the issue is how the study represents underrepresented and marginalized populations, namely children from working-class, racialized backgrounds, in a deficient framework, and how that hurts these children with potential stereotype threats. (HERE is a podcast with Dr. Megan Figueroa and Dr. Carrie Gillon interviewing Dr. Nelson Flores on his research about this, but take note, there is no transcript available yet.)
- Intro to Linguistics
- When you talk about Native American and Indigenous languages in U.S. and Canada, talk about systematic attempts to oppress and eradicate them through federal policies and practices. Introduce your students to the literature on the history of forced removal of children from their homes and enrolling them in boarding schools for cultural and linguistic assimilation in the white society.
- When you talk about Native American and Indigenous languages in U.S. and Canada, talk about systematic efforts to eradicate and eliminate them through federal policies. Introduce your students to the literature on the history of children being forcibly removed from their homes and enrolling them in boarding schools for cultural and linguistic assimilation in the white society. They were prohibited from speaking their languages and got punished for doing so.
- When you talk about American Sign Language (ASL) or another natural sign language, talk about eugenics and systematic attempts to eradicate the language through educational, medical, and policy interventions. Introduce your students to the literature on the history of oppression and devaluation of sign languages and signing communities.
- Other topics of interest
- The statement that language constitutes an essential property of humans is used to dehumanize non-verbal people. This is an ableist statement (and a bias in linguistics). Consider how non-verbal people express themselves in their own ways and how that may be language.
- Be mindful of how you refer to minoritized, marginalized, and special populations and use their preferred labels. For example, many disabled people do not use the “People-first language” (PFL) approach such as “people with autism” and instead prefer “Identity-first language” (IFL) like “autistic people.” The literature on which labels people use is complex, nuanced, and political. Do your research.
- Intro to Semantics/Pragmatics
- Include in your curriculum and courses opportunities for grad students and senior undergrads to practice and get evaluated on “soft skills”, such as collaboration, project management, giving feedback on papers and at conferences, and mentoring. Treat collegiality as a valued, learnable skill.
Check your syllabus 101
- Disability access statements. Do not put an institutional boilerplate policy about accommodations, customize it to show students that you are serious about creating and maintaining an accessible environment: https://anthrodendum.org/2018/08/13/check-your-syllabus-101-disability-access-statements/
Linguists who experiment
- Take the time to make inclusive research designs which allow for non-WEIRD participants.
- Include multilinguals. The notion of an idealized monolingual native speaker is discriminatory; who gets to be monolingual is political.
- Check if your constructed examples and stimuli reinforce harmful stereotypes about individuals and/or groups of people.
- Cultivate sensitivity and awareness about collaborating with underrepresented and marginalized groups as potential participants, and treat them as human beings than as “data.”
Senior faculty to junior faculty
- Research which engages with the community and which is about diversity, inclusion, and justice is research. Treat it as a valuable and equal part of a scholar’s research profile when it comes to hiring, tenure/promotion, and other evaluations.
- Expect all of your faculty members to engage in work on inclusion, equity, and justice. Do not put the burden on marginalized faculty. Include questions about this in annual reviews, when you ask faculty about their teaching, service, and research activities for the year. (Think about how NOT having this for tenured or full professors disproportionately burdens young researchers who have to prove their contribution to diversity effort to get hired or to get tenure, vs. those who have been grandfathered in).
- Read Dr. Lal Zimman’s blog about how faculty can support trans students
- Consider Bhopal & Henderson on the interaction of multiple systems of oppression in the workplace.
- Advocate for family-friendly scheduling, as modeled at Brown.
- Take active steps to affirm the faculty who are hired via diversity or opportunity lines. Show them that you value them and their research. Ask about and make provisions for the extra labor that falls upon marginalized faculty.
- Example: an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department at Michigan State gives a lower courseload to a faculty of color who takes on more mentoring than her colleagues do.
- How are teaching evaluations used as part of hiring, tenure, and promotion? Take into account the research which shows that more minoritized teachers are rated lower, and are more likely to receive bigoted comments. If there is a low rating, look at the comments if they are available. You might be able to tell if there were students in the course who were.
- As a department come up with a diversity and inclusion statement and give it it’s own prominent position on your website. Link to campus/community resources (including faculty allies) and showcase the work your faculty is doing in these areas to create a department that overtly values this work and show prospective and current students this work is ‘as valued’ as labs who get their own space and links on department web pages. http://ling.unm.edu/about/diversity-.html ; https://lsa.umich.edu/linguistics/about-us/values-statement.html ;
- https://linguistics.arizona.edu/diversity-and-equity includes “ Located as we are in the traditional lands of the Tohono O’odham nation, one among twenty-two indigenous nations in the State of Arizona, we are historically rich in linguistic and cultural diversity – a diversity that is only enhanced by the many other communities that now call Tucson home.”
Faculty to students
- Disseminate internal funding in a timely way; making students have to get reimbursed stops people from attending conferences and doing research. Don’t assume that students will be able to pay for anything out of pocket.
- According to the survey, mental health is an unresolved issue. Direct students to resources. Allow flexibility. Work against the cult of acting miserable, which makes it difficult for students to know if they should be seeking mental health resources or not.
- Mentors are more likely to come from less marginalized communities than younger scholars. Be mindful of this when dispensing professional development advice. If available, seek training on mentoring across differences (there is a program about this at UMich).
- Create processes for harassment and bias to be reported, believe students, take action. Do not prioritize your colleagues over your students.
- Proactively ask students if they’ve experienced harassment/derogatory behavior rather than waiting for students to come to you.
If possible, get involved with:
- your union
- student groups on campus
- student groups in your professional organizations
- organize and agitate for change as much as possible.
- WIGL (Women in Generative Linguistics)
- Don’t send papers out for review to people who are toxic and who abuse their power. Keep a list. Don’t make affected scholars have to relive their experiences when they have to ask for their paper not to be sent to their harassers every time they send a paper to be published.
- Check reviews for bias, harassment, and excessive vitriol.
- Send those reviews back to the reviewer, let them know why, and give them a chance to fix it.
- If that doesn’t work, take that person off of your review list and let the author(s) know so they can make sure to ask that person is not a reviewer on their subsequent papers at different journals.
- Don’t send the biased/vitriolic review to the author(s).
- Double-blind reviewing reduces gender bias (Verhoef & Roberts 2016 for EvoLang)
Conference program committees
- Don’t send papers out for review to people who are toxic and who abuse their power. Don’t accept single-author papers from known abusers; you’re exposing vulnerable people to abusers.
- Who is on your invited speaker list? Is it someone who is under investigation for harassment? Don’t invite them. Make sure that your invited speakers include a range of folks at different stages of academia, who represent the demography of the field.
- Have funding for sign language interpretation and/or captioning. Allow signed abstracts; since they are not anonymous, make written submissions non-anonymous too.
- In your funding requests, ask for resources to livestream talks as much as possible so that scholars who are not able to attend may participate.
- Have resources for scholars traveling with children.
- Have a progressive scale for conference registration; don’t make underemployed/contingent faculty pay the same rate as faculty who are on the tenure track and/or have access to travel funds.
- During registration, ask for preferred pronouns, and include on badges.
- Check to see whether the less visible work is being done by minoritized individuals, either correct or make their contributions more visible.
- Check to see whether the less visible organizational work is being done by minoritized individuals, either correct or make their contributions more visible.
- During registration, include a space for including name pronunciations; make sure that session chairs have access to this information.
- If you receive accommodation requests, honor them as soon as possible and treat them as a human interaction, not as a logistical one. Do not delay in arranging the accommodations (they take time) and do not pass the entire responsibility to an administrative unit like the Office for Students with Disabilities or Office of Human Resources. Ideally, there would be an accommodations representative or committee who can dedicate themselves to this kind of responsibility, so there’s more control over the process. If you are unsure how to proceed with arranging the accommodations, ask around, including the persons who made the requests, and get reliable references.
- Implement guidelines for an accessible presentation so the conference can be more accessible to everyone. The Disability Research Interest Group , a special interest group of Society for Medical Anthropology, has some useful guidelines: http://www.medanthro.net/academic-resources/guidelines-for-an-accessible-presentation/
- Avoid saying things like “edit with a native speaker,” as colleagues who might have a variety of English other than yours as their main language.
Sign language conferences
- Make sure that your invited speakers include or are dominated by Deaf scholars.
- Support multiple signed languages.
- Make sign languages the default languages of the conference.
- Make sure that your program committee includes Deaf scholars.
- Reference best practices for planning professional meetings: http://slls.eu/events/best-practice-for-professional-meetings/
- Reckon and engage with the racist, colonialist, and ableist past/present of linguistics in your teaching and scholarship.
- 42% of all survey respondents have been told that they are not linguists and/or that their research is not linguistics. Several people mentioned how damaging this has been to them, and how it has changed their research trajectory. Be aware of this.
- Avoid exoticizing languages used by minoritized individuals, in class, at conferences, at Word of the Year, etc.
- Don’t use linguistic examples from a minoritized community to a community of linguists for laughs.
- (In settler-colonized countries) Acknowledge and include the native people on whose land your institution is and research is conducted.
- Join affinity groups! R-Ladies is a great example.