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News & Press: AAALetter

From the President--Questions of Diversity

Thursday, September 7, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Tim McNamara
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Fall greetings from Spring-like Melbourne! And best wishes for a seamless start to the new academic year commencing in the Northern Hemisphere. The 2018 Conference Chair, Linda Harklau, and AAAL staff have had a busy summer preparing for the August deadline for abstracts for the 2018 conference in Chicago in March. Some 2100 proposals were received, higher than the number received for the most recent conference in Portland, and in fact a record number. At a time of considerable turbulence in the US and in the world, this is a wonderful achievement, and congratulations go to Linda and her team, and the wonderful support staff in the AAAL office.

Our next face-to-face Executive Meeting will be held in Chicago at the end of September, and we already have a considerable agenda. One of the most important matters to be discussed will be the question of diversity within the organization, an issue which is prominent in discussions in many contexts in the United States this year, and an issue which has been raised in a recent letter to the Association signed by 30 members. The letter draws the attention of the Executive to the ‘Resolution Affirming Commitment to Promoting Diversity in AAAL’ adopted in 2013, and suggests that there has been insufficient follow-through on this in the organization and structuring of the annual conference, in the composition of the Association’s committees, in its award recipients, and in its representation on other boards. In particular, the signatories suggest a number of changes to the conference organization to address what they see as ‘an insufficient amount of conceptual, geographical, and human diversity reflected generally in AAAL conference programming over the years, particularly the selection of plenary and invited speakers and topics’.

The Association takes the issues raised by these members very seriously, and on receipt of the letter I asked the immediate Past President, Kathi Bailey, to head a small task force consisting of some members of the AAAL Executive and a representative of the signatories to prepare a short briefing document as a trigger for a full discussion of the issues at our meeting in Chicago. Without pre-empting the outcomes of that discussion, one of the options to be considered is the creation of an ad hoc committee, initially for one year, as permitted by the Bylaws, in order to monitor the implementation of the decisions of the Executive in relation to diversity.

At the level of individuals, the composition of the Executive itself is marked by far greater diversity than the composition of the Association as a whole, and in that sense might even be felt to be unrepresentative! The question of identity politics is a fraught one. On the one hand, in the plurality of our subjectivities, the identity that is most relevant to our membership of the Association is our identity as researchers; AAAL is primarily a research organization. On the other hand, it is important that the Association be inclusive, and allows opportunities for members’ research to reflect their diverse life experience and priorities. Getting this balance right is an important task, and I am committed to making this a priority during my term as President.

Another important aspect of our diversity is the international character of the Association. Our conference is widely acknowledged to be the leading annual international meeting for research in Applied Linguistics. The current political climate however continues to present challenges, if not insuperable barriers, for some members outside the United States, and many others have expressed disquiet about visiting the United States at this time, for a number of reasons. We propose to monitor this situation on an ongoing basis, and will do everything in our power to ensure that the international character of the organization is supported and encouraged.

Looking forward to seeing you in Chicago!


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