The Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship has always advocated for a methodologically and demographically diverse medieval studies. Inclusivity, capaciousness, and variation are, we think, essential for the continuing intellectual vitality of the field. The IMCs recent failure to responsibly engage notions of Otherness and the resistance of the congress organizers, represented by Axel Mller, to implicate their own decision processes in the choosing of plenary speakers, is therefore dismaying to this body. In August 2016, nearly a year before the 2017 Congress, SMFS President Liz Herbert McAvoy wrote to the organizers of the IMC at Leeds to question their choice of overwhelmingly white, middle-aged, and male plenary speakers in a congress supposedly devoted to Otherness and to suggest options for a more inclusive panel of speakers. Her letter was politely acknowledged but her concerns and suggestions were dismissed. Instead, the organizers persisted in promoting a regressive and tired notion of medieval studies as western-, white-, and male-focused. When confronted, the organizers then lapsed into disturbing, indeed reprehensible, displays of tone-deafness from the dais: the mockery of legitimate concerns regarding the slate of speakers, racial jokes, and the pert refusal to respectfully introduce one of the speakers. The offense of these events was exacerbated by the IMCs initial failure to accept responsibility for the resulting debacle. The ensuing outcry from a host of different groups and individuals, however, seems to have been a useful prompt to the IMC, in that the organization has initiated a number of steps and has suggested new policies that might address the worst of the lapses that were identified by officers from SMFS, Medievalists of Color (MoC), Gender and Medieval Studies (GMS), BABEL Working Group, and others. We are gratified and optimistic that the IMC has taken the decision to begin working toward a more inclusive and diverse Medieval Congress and we encourage the organization and its members to continue to reach out to other groups for advice and innovative ideas. We suggest, however, that systemic changes need to be made in order to achieve the goal of inclusion and equity and that these changes should be implemented with alacrity.
The Advisory Board of SMFS places the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the center of medieval studies, and suggests the following to all conference organizers:
- Organizing committees must be diverse as to age, gender identification, sexuality, range of abilities, ethnicity/race, religion, and subject field with a consensus system rather than rule from the top
- Organizing committees must be willing to exchange traditional topics for nontraditional and discursively challenging topics for plenary sessions, conference themes, and panel sessions
- Organizing committees must be committed to parity in plenary speakers as to age, gender identification, sexuality, range of abilities, ethnicity/race, religion, and subject field
- Abuse online as well as public of nontraditional colleagues who challenge traditional perspectives must not be tolerated. Abuse can include off-color jokes intended to embarrass members of the audience
- Organizing committees should be willing to consult with other bodies such as SMFS, MoC, GMS, BABEL, and other groups and societies dedicated to promoting diversity, inclusivity, and equity in our disciplines in order to ensure that the principles of inclusivity and diversity are being adhered to
Intellectual communities are constantly confronted with neoliberal, white supremacist, and anti-intellectual backlash. This is not the time to step away from the fight for inclusion, compassion, diversity, and intersectionality. SMFSand many other groups that share our values and with which we frequently coordinateis building a capacious medieval studies, not one merely for the middle-aged white men whose careers at elite institutions have placed them in positions of power. If we are going to confront the forces that seek to destroy intellectual and academic integrity, we must do so openly, mindfully, and vigorously.