“Diversity” has become a managerial directive for the twenty-first
century university in the United States. In its endless pursuit of
diversity, the contemporary academy has required faculty, staff, and
administrators to perform diversity work, marshaling the labor of
employees to undertake diversity initiatives, often in addition to their
stated job descriptions.
Participating in diversity work is a trap into
which those whose work is guided by an ethical commitment to
communities underrepresented in academia and those who belong to these
communities risk falling.
This phenomenon has a long history, reflecting
a tradition of activism performed by people of color, women, and LGBTQ
scholars who have demanded that the scholarship of their communities be
taken seriously as “academic.” Yet, the advent of social media has added
new dimensions to this labor.
This trend is not unique to digital humanities alone. It plays out in
departments, units, schools, and professional organizations across
higher education. This has been evident, for example, in the ample
social media conversations about the International Medieval Congress
(IMC) at the University of Leeds, which engendered racist backlash
against medievalists of color and their allies who critiqued the
whiteness of plenary sessions and panels discussing otherness
(Medievalists of Color, 2017).
For those in the Medievalists of Color
group, managing this situation required significant digital carework
around diversity. This included both the production of social media
texts in response to the affective challenges of IMC, as well as digital
carework provided to each other through social media to navigate the
negative affects that emerged. As the experiences of Medievalists of
Color suggest, this diversity-related digital carework reflects endless
demand for labor from communities that have already been othered across
fields and disciplines.
This essay is about how academics who are marginalized have an added burden on them, often magnified by demands at their institution, to perform “diversity work” in addition to the usual work required for their positions, and how this affects their lives and careers.
note: “affective labor” here means emotional labor