An Open Letter Regarding Diversity in AAAL

All News Items,

To: AAAL Membership
From: AAAL Executive Committee
Date: January 20, 2019

An Open Letter Regarding Diversity in AAAL

In April of 2013, AAAL passed a ‘Resolution Affirming Commitment to Promoting Diversity’. This resolution affirms that “diversity with respect to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, age, (dis)ability, and linguistic background is an asset within our community and a source of learning and opportunity,” and asserts the organization’s obligations to “make concerted efforts to promote diversity at all levels of the conference, the organization and in the field of applied linguistics." In April of 2017, a group of applied linguistics scholars sent a letter to the AAAL’s Executive Committee expressing their concern that the Association was not adequately upholding aspects of the resolution. The Executive Committee took these scholars’ concerns very seriously. We are fully committed to fostering diversity in the broadest sense, and see supporting equity, in particular with respect to the development of the next generation of applied linguistics scholars, as a crucial part of our mission.  This letter affirms our association’s commitment to honoring diversity and promoting inclusivity. Here we update our membership on the initiatives that we have implemented in recent years, and will continue to take in the years ahead, in line with the 2013 resolution.

As an initial step, in the summer of 2017, the Executive Committee (EC) appointed a task force led by Past-President Professor Kathi Bailey (Middlebury Institute of International Studies). Part of this task force’s work was to gather further input from the letter writers. Concurrently, AAAL conducted a survey of our entire membership regarding diversity, soliciting both ideas and opinions. Based largely on these task force recommendations and survey results, the EC then appointed an ad hoc committee, chaired by Professor Peter De Costa (Michigan State University), to examine how AAAL could implement specific programs to foster diversity and inclusion with an emphasis on growing and mentoring new scholars in the field. The EC took further actions as a result of the ad hoc committee’s recommendations at our October 2018 meeting. These ongoing initiatives are discussed in detailed below.

Issues of diversity within AAAL are enmeshed in broader inequalities and systematic inequities in our field, in academia, and in society. As one means to address these challenges, we have focused strategically on mentoring initiatives that will nurture, mentor and welcome graduate students and early career faculty from many backgrounds. As an example of such one effort to formalize these opportunities, in 2018, Professor Bailey instituted a “Conference Connections” mentoring program through which graduate students were paired with senior scholars to discuss their work and participate informally in social networks. More than 75 individuals participated in this program in Chicago, which emphasized pairing emergent and established researchers based on shared research interests. Based on the success of this program,  we have convened an ad hoc committee that will establish a mechanism to organize this event on a continuing basis. In addition, with the support of our outstanding and highly committed Graduate Student Council (GSC) volunteers, we have also instituted a Friday evening “meet and greet” event for graduate student attendees, which aims to welcome new participants and allow for informal networking. In December 2018 the GSC hosted a webinar on “Navigating Academia as a Minority Scholar,” and diversity will be a topic in their new YouTube channel. At the 2019 conference Jason Mizell (University of Georgia) and Professor Peter De Costa are piloting a social event specifically for graduate students from minority and underrepresented backgrounds. In addition, with the aim of allowing more graduate students to attend the annual conference, we have also changed Graduate Student Award funding so that awardee financial need is taken into account.  And finally, with the aim of growing the next generation of applied linguists, Mr. Mizell is also piloting an initiative in which high school students from minoritized and underrepresented backgrounds in the Atlanta area will attend the AAAL conference with the aim of sparking their interest in the field and academic research more broadly.

The EC has taken concrete changes to assure that our leadership is held accountable for considering diversity in all its activities. As one example, we have changed the language across our Standing Rules to require consideration of the Diversity Resolution in selecting nominees for leadership posts, including conference strand coordinators, conference proposal reviewers, and awards. In addition, as part of their semi-annual reports to the EC regarding upcoming conference plans, the 1st Vice President/Conference Chair and 2nd Vice President will be required to explain how their plans address the Diversity Resolution. In addition, at our October 2018 EC meeting, we created a new initiative to task AAAL’s Secretary, currently Professor Fabiola Ehlers-Zavala (Colorado State), with monitoring diversity in all association activities. Diversity initiatives will be a permanent agenda item at all future EC meetings and will be a standard feature in all AAAL newsletters to come; a special interactive area is also under development for our website.

The Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (ARAL), the official journal of AAAL, led by Editor in Chief Alison Mackey (Georgetown University), has also changed dramatically under her editorship since 2015. Important changes include significant updates and additions to the Editorial Board membership, where diversity was one of the factors considered, and the creation of two new types of articles: a short reports section, and a student contribution slot. These aim to better reflect the contributions of junior scholars, as well as the membership of AAAL and the interests of the field of applied linguistics in general. Current ARAL initiatives include reaching out to the editors of the applied linguistics journals and associations in other countries with the goal of including a web entry on interesting papers being published around the world to help our readers gain a more inclusive take on applied linguistics. ARAL content aims to both reflect and cultivate the increasing diversity in our field. For example, the 2018 issue on International Language Learning, includes contributions from scholars of color, from scholars based in/studying Muslim-majority countries, from African scholars, and from those studying ancestral languages, the Dominican Republic, and ethnic-minority (African-American) students in China. The 2019 issue on technology includes discussion of access to technology in the context of social justice. The 2020 anniversary issue will include a piece discussing the lack of representation and diversity in ARAL directly, and the challenges and promises of moving ahead. As some readers know, ARAL is owned and controlled by Cambridge University Press, not AAAL, and AAAL nominates only two of the Board’s ten editorial board members. However, Professor Mackey reports that Cambridge University Press has been very supportive of her efforts and those of the editorial board to make the journal more inclusive and to address concerns about diversity in our field.

AAAL’s goal of promoting diversity also encompasses the need to develop policies that are sensitive to geographic and socioeconomic inequities, especially in light of the changing structure of academia under regimes of neoliberal globalization. These shifts have lead to increased wealth inequalities between high- and low-income countries as well as income inequalities within and across U.S. universities as the number of tenure-track positions shrinks and non-tenured, adjunct and part-time faculty positions become the norm. Given these unfortunately widening geographic and socioeconomic gaps, in October 2018 the EC instituted a new income-based structure for conference registration, and will be proposing a change in our by-laws to institute similar changes in our membership dues. Under this new structure, scholars from many “global South” low-income countries and those who are in contingent or adjunct faculty positions will pay far less for membership and conference registration. Although roll-out is in initial stages, we are proud to have set in place this progressive fee structure.

AAAL is also establishing policies to more actively track and monitor racial and ethnic  diversity within its membership. This year we will begin eliciting demographic data from all new and renewing members.  The EC has had extensive discussion on how best to do this.   Given that conventional U.S.-based demographic categories such as “Black” or “Asian” have been justifiably critiqued as simplistic, essentializing and stereotyping, use of them by AAAL would reify, reinscribe and further normalize them. These categories are also confusing and inappropriate for the 25% of our membership who live and work in very different societal contexts outside the U.S. Moreover, we recognize that identities are intersectional, encompassing not only race and ethnicity, but also gender, social class, religion, among other dimensions. Accordingly, we will add an item to our membership form this year asking new and renewing members to self-define the categories they affiliate with.

Fostering diversity also includes making our conference more friendly to families and those with special needs. Based on member feedback, at the 2019 conference we will institute new policies to provide lactation space for nursing mothers and to make accommodations for conference participants with accompanying minors. We have also appointed a task force to explore additional family friendly policies in AAAL.  We are also exploring ways in which we can move beyond basic compliance with the ADA and ensure full and equal access and participation for individuals with disabilities.

Our entire membership has a role to play in nurturing a culture of diversity, inclusion and equity. We note that only approximately half of the original letter signatories were members of AAAL. We understand that this may be a chicken-and-egg conundrum; some might not currently be participating in AAAL because they do not feel welcomed or that the organization adequately addresses their professional needs. Nevertheless, we strongly urge all AAAL stakeholders to join the association. We can all have a more powerful voice and  be more effective change agents as active members, participants, and volunteers in the association. We emphasize that AAAL is led entirely by volunteer service of members on many different committees. The organization depends upon scholars at all stages being willing to take on some of the many opportunities for service, volunteering and leadership.

Again, we thank members who shared their concerns with us, and all of those who provided input to the Executive Committee. Of course, there is always more to be done, but we hope these actions show how seriously we take the commitment to fostering greater diversity and social equality within the organization and beyond. We are also hopeful that the many varied activities we have initiated over the past year and a half will lead to an association culture where diversity, inclusion, and transparency are always understood as central considerations in activities and leadership.

Executive Committee, American Association for Applied Linguistics
(Linda Harklau, Laura Collins, Kendall King, Tim McNamara, Fabiola Ehlers-Zavala, Glenn Martinez, Steven Thorne, Naoko Taguchi, Charlene Polio, Michael Amory)