Introducing the Next Editor of ‘Conditionally Accepted’

Bertin M. Louis Jr., the new editor of Inside Higher Ed's column, describes his vision for it moving forward.

January 3, 2020
 
 

My name is Bertin M. Louis Jr., and my pronouns are he, him and his. This is my first essay as the new editor of “Conditionally Accepted.” Since its inception in July 2013, “Conditionally Accepted” has served as a home for the marginalized in academe. I have drawn a lot of excellent advice from this resource -- it has helped me navigate higher education and push myself to further develop an ethic of care in the classroom, associations, programs, departments and universities where I’ve served. Like other marginalized academics, I was drawn to academe due to the answers it provided for questions I had growing up about my own identity.

Personal Background

My research and teaching interests in race and racism, the Haitian diaspora, and human rights are an extension of my experiences growing up in Staten Island, N.Y., in a household of Haitians who migrated to the United States in the mid-1960s. Growing up in the Annadale area was very challenging due to the normative and relentless racial animus I experienced on a regular basis. Children of Italian, Irish, Jewish and Filipino descent teased and terrorized me for being black. I felt that I did not belong where I grew up, and I internalized the belief that I was actually inferior to my mostly white surroundings and lived firmly at the bottom of the local pecking order. I felt this way until I went off to Syracuse University (yes, that Syracuse University) and took classes about race, Haiti, Haitians and the African diaspora.

By the end of my sophomore year, I had to declare a major and had no clear idea of what I wanted to major in. A friend in my dorm recommended that I take an Introduction to Cultural Anthropology class, which I took and enjoyed immensely. The most provocative idea that stuck with me from the course and influenced my professional trajectory was that race was not rooted in biology and was actually a social construction with real-world implications.

After that class, I declared anthropology as my major. The following semester (the first semester of my junior year), I took a course called Caribbean Society Since Independence with Horace Campbell, a quirky Jamaican political scientist who opened a world of critical thinking to me through Africana studies. The first book we read was The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by Trinidadian historian C. L. R. James. It had a deep and indelible impact on me. To know that I was descended from enslaved Africans who led the world’s only successful slave revolt filled me with pride and helped combat my previous inferiority complex. It also gave me a thirst to learn more about Haitian history and culture and to understand what was wrong with the white people whom I grew up around and the forces behind the creation of a social order that was partly antiblack.

My education at Syracuse University (B.A. in anthropology), the New School (M.A. in anthropology) and Washington University in St. Louis (Ph.D. in anthropology), along with teaching black studies and anthropology courses at the University of Tennessee and now at the University of Kentucky, have helped me to realize that racism -- raw bigotry and institutional forms of racism -- was part of everyday life in Staten Island. The regularized raw bigotry on an almost daily basis, white supremacist interpretations of history and the world, and the introduction of blacks in my K-12 curriculum as slaves without any explanation of the lives of Africans before that reflected how racial hierarchy operates in the place where I grew up and elsewhere in the United States and the world.

Since those times, I have realized how important it is to influence, encourage and maintain diverse and inclusive spaces in academe when you are in a position of power -- to push for equitable academic environments. I have done that through leadership, leading diverse faculty hiring efforts, mentoring and creating diverse programming. And that is why I am especially proud and honored to be the new editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” a career advice column.

What ‘Conditionally Accepted’ Publishes

My overall goal for “Conditionally Accepted” is to maintain continuity for the column. The goals of the outgoing editor were to: 1) provide more coverage of current events, 2) promote the work of marginalized writers who use personal narrative to illuminate structural issues in academe, and 3) to publish work that connects personal experiences with broader disciplinary literatures. Through the course of my editorship, I plan to continue those goals while identifying a few new ones.

I encourage Inside Higher Ed readers to send me their work to publish. If you are unsure how to write effectively or what to write for the “Conditionally Accepted” audience, I highly recommend that you read some of our previous posts, which contain a wealth of knowledge. They include, among many others, the importance for writing for the public, tips for getting the most out of an academic conference, the challenges of teaching during the Trump era, what white faculty members can do to support diversity efforts, how to create affirming experiences for trans students, why faculty need to explain feminist pedagogy, questions marginalized students should ask when choosing a doctoral program and how to navigate joint Africana studies appointments. We will continue to publish essays that offer professional development advice, especially for marginalized scholars, and answer questions people should ask regarding diversity and inclusion in academe.

Finally, “Conditionally Accepted” was conceived of and serves as an “antiracist, pro-feminist, pro-queer, anti-transphobic, anti-fatphobic, anti-ableist, anti-ageist, anti-classist and anti-xenophobic online community,” so “marginalized” is conceived of in very broad and inclusive terms. This online community’s existence and continued success is extremely important to maintain and cultivate within a larger societal context of renewed fascism, “alternative facts” and overt white nationalism. I take this column and position very seriously.

In conclusion, I want to thank Eric Anthony Grollman, the original editor and founder, and Victor Ray, the outgoing editor -- two excellent scholars who have a proven track record of effective public writing from the margins of the academy -- for their vision and efforts to make this column an important venue for marginalized scholars. And to the readership of “Conditionally Accepted,” including those who paved this road before me, I ask you to please to continue to support, share, read and write.Send me your pitches and essays (1,000 to 1,500 words, please) to [email protected] for consideration.

Venues such as “Conditionally Accepted” will help us all through these challenging times, especially for any of us at institutions that are slow to attend to the needs of marginalized scholars.

Bio

Bertin M. Louis Jr. is an associate professor of anthropology and African American and Africana studies (AAAS) and the inaugural director of undergraduate studies for AAAS at the University of Kentucky. His research and teaching interests include religion, race and racism. He also studies human rights and statelessness among Haitians in the Bahamas and antiracist social movements in the U.S. South. In addition to My Soul Is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas and other academic publications, he has written for Inside Higher Ed, The Conversation, The North Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Social Science Research Council’s The Immanent Frame blog. He also served as a guest on the third season of Blackademics TV. You can follow him on Twitter @MySoulIsInHaiti.

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