Meet the New Editor of ‘Conditionally Accepted’

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt introduces herself and shares her vision for the column going forward.

February 5, 2021
 
 

My name is Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt, and I am a faculty member at Linfield University. It is my honor to step into this position as the editor for “Conditionally Accepted.”

This is my first essay as the editor, and I write this essay at a time when the “free search for truth” and free speech -- under the guise of hate speech -- has once again reared its ugly head. I write this essay at a time when Donald Trump faces his second impeachment. I write this essay at a time when the U.S. Department of Labor has finally suspended Trump’s executive order on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” an draconian executive order that attacked diversity training, critical race theory and the "1619 Project," labeling them “divisive,” “destructive,” “un-American” and “malign ideologies.”

These are indeed precarious days marked by uncertainty due to the pandemic and a national crisis predicated upon the rise of white supremacy, fascism and racism. Unfortunately, for many marginalized faculty members, the national conditions mimic their workplaces. While racial injustice, gendered inequality, and discrimination and disenfranchisement have become pervasive features of higher education, we also cannot overlook the lack of accountability for those who perpetuate and instigate these egregious acts of differential treatments. To overlook would be “reprehensible,” in the words of late Edward Said. He once said, in Representations of the Intellectual, “Nothing is more reprehensible than those habits of mind of the intellectual that induce avoidance, the characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right of one, but which you decide not to take.”

A few years ago, when the first piece I wrote for “Conditionally Accepted,” “Are You Supporting White Supremacy?” was published, I learned firsthand that words have the power to resonate, provoke and agitate. While my words resonated with hundreds of BIPOC, GLBTQI+ and social justice-oriented colleagues, as well as diversity and equity committees across the country, I also became a target for the right wing’s digitized mobbing and received vitriolic messages. My university president, who has now retired, also received hundreds of emails and phone calls from angry and agitated folks. I remember him telling me in his office, “You know, these people want two people fired. You and me.”

While I will never forget that exchange I had with my president, I was also reminded that day the value of academic freedom to pursue the “common good” and how “the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” I was not fired.

On Jan. 6, we witnessed the reprehensible acts of the armed white nationalists and a violent takeover by self-declared patriots on the United States Capitol, terrorizing both the people who were present and those who were watching. Symbolically and figuratively, that attempted coup d'état wasn’t exceptional, new, or unfamiliar to BIPOC and GLBTQI people in higher education. Many of my colleagues have affirmed the deep anxiety and unrest they feel about being excluded or targeted as they embark upon a new semester. This fear is even more pronounced if they teach in a red state.

It is a fear of the hegemons. In 2019, the journal Departures in Critical Qualitative Research published a special issue on “Merit, Whiteness and Privilege.” In the introduction, the three editors observed, “Hegemons arise by smashing and terrorizing human diversity. They do so structurally, institutionally, and discursively -- that is, through logics, rationales, and schemes.”

So how do we protect ourselves from the hegemons? This is a question that I would like to see us explore more broadly as we critique the academy and our marginalized conditions within our institutions. The forces of white supremacy and austerity measures have also crippled programs that are instrumental in promoting critical diversity -- marginalizing, for instance, ethnic studies, Black studies, Chicano and Latino studies, Indigenous studies, and women's and gender studies.

Along with such crippling, we also have encountered negligence associated with a lack of enforceable policies against discrimination and harassment, macro-invalidation of many people’s scholarship and labor, and an imbalance of underrepresented faculty and staff members in predominantly white institutions. Taken together, they have created the larger problems of making us invisible and silencing our voices in institutional decision making.

“Conditionally Accepted” is a then a space for speaking truth to power -- to challenge the hegemons who uphold the status quo by protecting the gatekeepers. As the previous editors have already established, this is a space for our individual and collective voices, struggles and experiences to break silences by critiquing systemic gaps, failures, and injustices -- while remembering the words of Audre Lorde: “Your silence will not protect you.”

My Background, Vision and What ‘Conditionally Accepted’ Publishes

I was born in India, and 2021 marks my 31st year in the United States. During this time, I have navigated my hybrid status and lived experience as a South Asian American -- as well as the trajectory of my research, teaching, and professional activities -- by challenging the dominant cultural status quo. That has involved reflecting on the sociopolitical realities and geopolitics of location that mark, erase, dramatize, and complicate one’s relationship to the history of race, nation, gender, class, sexuality, and identity. My academic training in postcolonial and cultural studies, critical race, and migration and diaspora studies, as well as my creative writing -- along with their various intersections with transnational feminist and ethnic studies -- allow me the luxury to dwell within multiple disciplines and modes of inquiry. The above intersections and methodological commitments are the basis for many of my research interests and publications, teaching, and activism.

I consider myself a teacher, scholar, activist and public intellectual. I use those various subject positions, sometimes singularly and sometimes intersectionally, to register the multiple interlocking dialogues about oppressions -- racial, gendered, cultural, political, class, caste, sexuality, disability, and others -- within and outside the humanities and the university to explore broadly what is termed as “the human experience.”

My goal for “Conditionally Accepted” is to maintain continuity in publishing issues that are important, urgent, gutsy and often timely to the lives of the marginalized in higher education. From its inception, the mission of this column has been to provide a space for “antiracist, pro-feminist, pro-queer, anti-transphobic, anti-fatphobic, anti-ableist, anti-ageist, anti-classist and anti-xenophobic online community.” In this current cultural and sociopolitical moment when people on the margins of our society are attacked, as well as threatened in the imperial and neoliberal university, it is even more urgent that we use this space to make our voices heard and resist various forms of hegemonic maneuvering.

I want to provide both a safe and a brave space for marginalized scholars, teachers, graduate students, activists, administrators, chief diversity officers and support staff in higher education to call out the elephant in the room. I also want to actively encourage submissions from a wide variety of disciplines and institutions -- not only from academics in the humanities and the social sciences but also those working in the fields of medicine, sciences and engineering, law, business, and other professional areas.

In conclusion, I want to thank Eric Anthony Grollman, the original editor and founder; Victor Ray, their successor as editor; and Bertin M. Louis Jr., the outgoing editor -- all astute scholar-activists after my own heart who have encouraged and empowered those whose public writings from the margins of the academy have benefited our large readership. I ask you to please continue to support, share, read and write. Send your pitches and essays (800 to 1,200 words, please) to [email protected] for consideration.

Bio

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt (@Reshmi777) is a professor of English. She co-coordinates the gender studies program at Linfield University, where she holds the Edith Green Distinguished Professorship. Her areas of expertise are postcolonial literatures and theory, decoloniality, critical race theory and transnational ethnic studies, South Asian American literatures, transnational feminisms, creative writing, and migrations in the 20th century. She is the author of a scholarly monograph, “The Postcolonial Citizen: An Intellectual Migrant,” and has published widely in journals such as The Asian American Renaissance Journal, South Asian Review, Saranac Review, The Rocky Mountain Review, ARIEL, Departures in Critical Qualitative Research, Entropy, Academe and Journal of Academic Freedom, among others. As a public intellectual, she frequently writes about the state of marginalized faculty and the stakes of being racialized in higher education, and she holds an active interest in debates on free speech and civility. Her articles and op-eds have been published in CounterPunch, Truthout, Buzzflash and Inside Higher Ed. Dutt-Ballerstadt is also the recipient of Marvin and Laurie Henberg International Scholar Award. She serves as the lead editor of a forthcoming co-edited book with Kakali Bhattacharya, Civility, Free-Speech, Academic Freedom: Faculty on the Margins, to be published in 2021. She is also completing a book project on post-Sept. 11 literatures and curating a segment on the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 for the South Asian Review, along with revising for publication a poetry manuscript, Discontinuities.

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