SAAllies 2020 Update
We’re excited to start gearing up once again for this year’s SAA annual conference in Denver! As a group, we want to acknowledge the hard work of all those who participated in the first year of the SAAllies initiative in Washington, D.C.—thank you. We also appreciate the feedback we received in our post-conference online survey, and we wanted to address some of that feedback as we kick off this year’s initiative. We received a lot of inspiring and positive feedback, and we also got overlapping feedback on two key issues of concern that warrant further attention:
1) One thread throughout the responses pertained to accessibility issues. We share those concerns, and so we have passed this feedback on to SAA leadership to contribute to an ongoing dialogue about accessibility at the conference. We encourage other SAAllies to likewise send their feedback and suggestions regarding these issues directly to the organization and the trustees who could implement concrete policy changes.
2) Another concern that was raised centered on the process by which SAAllies become SAAllies, especially when some individuals have themselves exhibited hurtful behavior towards graduate students, contingent scholars, independent scholars, early career scholars, people with disabilities, people of color, women, transgender individuals, and LGBTQ+ individuals. We hear this important concern and have been in continual conversation about this matter amongst ourselves as well as with SAA leadership.
In an organization as large as SAA, no one member or group of members can know every person in the organization or the SAAllies initiative. Equally troubling is the fact that, as we know, hurtful actions (such as ableist, racist, sexist, transphobic, homophobic language and behavior) are not always visible. As four untenured early career scholars who identify with varying levels of vulnerability, we understand these troubling realities well. We recognize that experiencing abusive behavior first-hand is traumatic, and seeing someone you personally know who has exhibited hurtful behavior wearing a green lanyard only worsens that experience.
While SAAllies is committed to supporting the voices of the organization’s most vulnerable members, it is a grassroots organization and, therefore, we are not in the position to deny someone the option to become an SAAlly. There are limitations to what we can do because this matter is a systemic issue, and something that our organization and respective fields must reckon with. But because we take these concerns very seriously—and share these concerns ourselves—we have forwarded your feedback to SAA leadership, and will continue to advocate for such structural changes as part of the SAAllies initiative in the following ways:
- We encourage you to get reacquainted with the SAA’s core policies (http://www.shakespeareassociation.org/about/saa-policies/) and to make your concerns known to senior leadership, especially if you have specific concerns that might affect the safety of individuals at the conference. If you feel uncomfortable going to senior leadership directly, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do what we can to support you.
- We strongly recommend attending the opening Town Hall on Wednesday from 5-6pm at this year’s SAA and voicing your concerns if your schedule permits. If you are uncomfortable voicing these concerns directly, we encourage you to fill out this anonymous Google form so that we can raise your concerns at the Town Hall.
- On Thursday April 16, Israela Brill-Cass will facilitate a session called “Ombuds Training” from 8-9:30am. This session is open to all registrants, and we all plan to attend so that we might become better equipped to receive your concerns.
- On Saturday, April 18 from 8-9am, there will be an SAA-sponsored “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Being an Effective Ally” Professionalization Session. This will be a great opportunity to connect with others and explore strategies for effective allyship.
Finally, as we look forward to this year’s conference and the second year of the SAAllies initiative, we want to continue working to promote a conference environment that is inclusive, particularly in the spirit of professionalization and mentorship. As such, we kindly ask that you think seriously about the commitment that being an SAAlly entails, and we encourage you to read our mission and strategies for engagement below. Please email us at email@example.com if you would like to join the initiative this year, or if you are no longer able to serve as an SAAlly. We also ask that those who served as an SAAlly last year remember to bring their lanyards with them to Denver; we are currently devising a more tenable plan for returning lanyards.
Please help spread the word about this initiative to anyone you think would be interested, as we don’t want anyone to feel left out. We hope you’ll join us in Denver and look forward to seeing you there.
The goal of SAAllies is to increase communication and collegiality among members at the Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting; to recognize we all belong to the same organization and have common literary and professional interests and a responsibility to ensure the sustainability of Shakespeare studies; and, on a fundamental level, to try to make everyone feel welcome, valued, and visible regardless of professional status, age, race, gender, ability, sexuality, class, ideological views, etc. We are particularly committed to ensuring that those individuals who are most vulnerable in our profession are especially supported throughout the conference. Below you will find “ShakesPeer” engagement strategies that offer a sense of the meaningful ways you can partake in SAAllyship. Your degree of participation is entirely up to you—there is no added pressure or responsibilities.
“ShakesPeer” Engagement Strategies
A more modest approach might include that you commit to saying hello and introducing yourself to people throughout the conference; that wearing the lanyard opens you up to others saying hello to you, and that you are warm and receptive to this initiation; that you will (at least once) try to sit next to someone you do not know and to strike up a conversation; that you are willing to field questions about navigating the SAA; that you kindly acknowledge others who are wearing SAA name tags.
A more involved approach might include inviting someone you do not know to breakfast, lunch or dinner, or to have coffee or a drink; encouraging someone you do not know (particularly from an underrepresented minority group to speak up in a conversation—e.g. I really liked XYZ's idea, can you tell us more about that?); introducing a first-time SAAer to someone you know in order to help them begin their networking journey.
A more assertive approach might include stepping in when you see an injustice; actively advocating for an identity category that you do not belong to, whether in a more formal capacity such as during a panel Q&A or during informal encounters such as conversations during the reception, between sessions, etc.; creating physical and ideological space for those often silenced or ignored; holding people accountable for unprofessional behavior; acknowledging, if necessary, the official SAA policies and guidelines outlined in the Bulletin and on the SAA website.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly does “mutual mentoring” mean?
The idea behind “mutual mentoring” is to first and foremost recognize that we can all learn from one another, regardless of rank or experience. Rather than think of mentoring as “top-down” where senior members mentor junior members, SAAllies approaches mentorship as a two-way process. For example, senior members might help junior members learn more about the profession or offer opportunities for presenting their research, while junior members could provide insight about their recent experiences as early career scholars or answer questions about emerging tools and trends in academia. Ultimately, our goal is to foster empowering, inclusive, and even more welcoming environment for all SAA members, and mutual mentoring is one important strategy for doing so.
What are my responsibilities as an SAAlly?
Rather than thinking about specific responsibilities, we encourage you to think about opportunities to act out of responsibility to new or marginalized members of the SAA, to your peers, and to the profession more broadly. The act of signing up to be an SAAlly is a commitment to make intentional and mindful efforts to be inclusive, supportive, collegial and available when wearing your SAAlly lanyard.
How do I say SAAlly/SAAllies?
The name for the initiative combines “SAA” and “Ally” into SAAlly/SAAllies, which should be pronounced “SAA Ally” or “SAA Allies.”
Where do I pick up my lanyard?
When you visit the registration table to collect your nametag, please tell the registration staff that you have signed up as an SAAlly. They will check your name off on their list and hand you your bright green SAAlly lanyard!
What should I do with my lanyard when the conference is done?
To reduce both cost and waste, we plan to reuse these lanyards at future SAA conferences. Before you leave the conference, please return your lanyard to the registration table.
What does it mean when I have my lanyard on?
When you have your SAAlly lanyard on, it is an indication that you are actively working to make SAA a more welcoming and inclusive experience for all. Having your lanyard on signals that you are open and willing to talk with other members, help answer questions, and serve as an SAAlly in the ways you are comfortable.
Do I always have to wear my SAAlly lanyard during the conference?
No! We recognize that everyone is different and that conferences can be hectic, stressful experiences. If at any point you’re feeling overwhelmed and aren’t up to being an SAAlly in any given moment, feel free to take off your lanyard and recharge. Once you’re ready, put it back on and you’re good to go!
Can I be an SAAlly if I’m new to SAA this year?
In many ways, the answer to this question is yes. One need not wear a lanyard to participate actively in ensuring that SAA is an inclusive environment for all participants, and we encourage everyone to consider how they fit into the proposed “ShakesPeer Engagement Strategies.” We also encourage all members to engage directly with us or other SAAllies about ideas or concerns that we can consider as this initiative grows.
To wear the official SAAlly lanyard, however, we do ask that SAAllies have at least one year of conference experience in order to ensure that each SAAlly feels truly prepared to step into the role of mentor. While wearing this lanyard does not suggest that one is an “expert” in all things SAA, it does suggest that the individual feels comfortable navigating conference-related questions and knows who to contact for further information. We hope you will consider becoming an SAAlly for our future meetings!
What if I meet someone who wants to know more about the SAAllies initiative?
You should definitely tell them about how and why you got involved, and then you can either refer them to our website (tinyurl.com/SAAllies) or to one of the organizers—Nedda Mehdizadeh, Katie Vomero Santos, or Geoff Way—who will have informational postcards and contact information available during the conference. These postcards will also be available at the registration desk. Finally, you can also encourage them to email us at SAA.Allies@gmail.com and/or follow the #SAAllies hashtag on Twitter.