(Also, I love the reminder that food motivates people. Oh, yes, it's true! I'll bring the bean dip!)
Have you been thinking about starting up a group to support the academic women on your campus?
Yes, you’ll be busy as the school year starts in earnest. Overwhelmed. But, at least in my experience, having a community to meet and talk about gender in the academy can be one of the most invigorating and sustaining aspects of academic life. Since the late 1990s, I’ve been involved in groups that support women in my discipline of Geography. (For example, see C-SWIG). Our monthly meetings are part-professional development and part emotional support. Here are a few tidbits that I’ve gleaned along the way to get a group going and keep it going:
- Start your group at the beginning of fall term. You think, “We’ll start something after the rush at the beginning of term.” But the truth is, life only gets more hectic. Get the ball rolling early and establish the group as part of everyone’s regular schedule.
- Decide on membership. Who will be in this group? Undergrads, graduate students, post-docs, faculty? Is your group exclusive to women? It’s important to have space exclusively for those who self-identify as women, but you must weigh the political ramifications of doing so. Also, with people coming and going from institutions, consider how the group’s membership will be sustained from year to year.
- Consider affiliating your group with your university. Funding may be sparse these days, but if your group can be considered an official student group, you may be able to apply for university funding. Use those dollars to fund guest speakers or to help fund members’ travel for conferences.
- Share the responsibilities. Women are often assigned time-sucking social responsibilities in their departments and at their institutions. Make an agreement about how responsibilities (facilitating a meeting, choosing readings, organizing an event, etc.) will be shared amongst group members.
- Establish a website and a listserv. Agree upon a mission statement and sets of goals. Also, when is your next meeting? What is the topic? What resources do you want to share? The website will serve as the group’s public face as well as the group’s archive of meetings and activities.
- Meet regularly and vary when you meet. Meeting once a month has worked well for our group, and, in order to accommodate so many schedules, we vary the weeknight when we meet. Keep meetings from being a burden by having a set meeting-end time. Be diligent and unapologetic about ending the meeting. Also, have each member bring a snack to share. Food = attendance.
- Have focused meeting topics and consider assigned readings. Have one topic per meeting and pair it with a short reading or two (as in: you can read them on the bus on the way to the meeting). Readings help to ground the group in that discussion and help to connect personal experiences to larger sets of practices. Read about academic mentoring, gender & race in academe, work-life, and classroom dynamics. Keep in mind that once the group gets going that returning members need new dialogue. Readings along with different topics help with keeping ideas and strategies fresh.
- Teach members about creating online presence and emerging online technologies. Remember: who learns new online technologies is uneven. Teach each other and seek out university resource staff who may be willing to guide your group in these endeavors. Also, share knowledge about appropriate software, such as Omeka and Zotero.
- Discuss confidentiality. Depending on the kinds of discussion your group is having, you may want to open your meetings with a reminder about building trust. “Safe” spaces and supportive environments are different.
- Activist activities. My group has primarily focused on small interventions in our everyday lives as academics. Small interventions can make a huge impact. At the same time, what about working together to influence a change in policy at the departmental or university level? Or making a change at the disciplinary level by connecting with other like-minded groups within your discipline’s national or international organization. Having formal impact can help to sustain a group.