SMFS statement in support of Dr Mary Rambaran-Olm
During her talk at the recent Race Before Race symposium in Washington D.C, Dr Mary Rambaran-Olm resigned from her position on the board of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS). The Advisory Board of Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship (SMFS) would like to add our voices to the Medievalists of Color, the Queerdievalists, the IONA conference organizers, and the MLA Old English Forum in supporting Dr Rambaran-Olm’s brave decision to resign and her continued efforts to advocate for change from outside ISAS. We unequivocally endorse Dr Rambaran-Olm’s recommendations for the future of the field, which stem from her expertise in the field as well as her lived understanding of how racism and misogyny operate within professional organisations.
SMFS, together with many other groups, is committed to building a capacious medieval studies, an inclusive intellectual and academic field where all persons are respected, where whiteness is not an automatic signal of elite status, and where all forms of discrimination are wholly rejected. We are committed to looking inward and acknowledging our own complicity in upholding structures of white supremacy. We resolve to ensure the safety and advancement of those among us who are the most vulnerable to combined oppressive systems of power (including race, religious or ethnic difference, gender, sexuality, class, disability, and professional or immigration status). Intellectual communities are constantly confronted with neoliberal, white supremacist, antisemitic, Islamophobic, and anti-intellectual backlash. It is even more urgent at the present moment to fight for inclusion, compassion, diversity, and the centrality of intersectional approaches to scholarship and activism.
During her time on the ISAS board, Dr. Rambaran-Olm pointed out a number of specific issues that needed to be addressed by that organization’s advisory council, including the urgent need for a change in the society’s name to address the harms that white supremacist communities enact by clinging to the term “Anglo-Saxon” and the historical and present racist ideologies that are intractably aligned with the term; the board’s protection of lifetime membership for a known sexual predator in the field; and the absence of a formal harassment and discrimination policy for ISAS members’ conduct both in the academy generally and at society events and conferences. Dr Rambaran-Olm has reiterated those problems since her resignation, pointing out that the advisory board for ISAS has not yet addressed these concerns despite assurances of its commitment to change in order to include and protect its most vulnerable constituents.
As an intersectional feminist community, we deeply respect and value Dr. Rambaran-Olm’s expertise and experience. We commend her integrity and courage in continuing to advocate for change from outside of ISAS, despite the threats of bodily harm and cyberbullying she has endured since her resignation. Dr. Rambaran-Olm cogently outlines concrete steps that an organization should take to address sexual harassment, commit to anti-racist work, respect indigenous groups, and materially support graduate students and early career scholars. Dr. Rambaran-Olm provides a productive model for transforming professional structures and practices, and we advise all of organizations in the field to take note. We applaud her deep intellectual and activist commitments to transforming the profession at large.
(Rev. 17 September, 2019)