by Shannon Lucky, Information Technology Librarian, University of Saskatchewan
Over the past week I had many conversations with colleagues about this upcoming conference season and what we, as Canadians, are going to do about travelling to the U.S. The response from universities and academics around the world has been swift and damning of the American administration’s decision to ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from travel to the U.S., but there isn’t much consensus about what else we can do. Back in the Fall, I was delighted to be accepted to speak at a large American conference at the end of March, but now I’m not so sure I want to go. I’m thinking twice about the politics and practicalities of my choice; whether or not I feel both safe and right to participate in academic conferences in the U.S.
The impact of this ban was immediately felt in academia where travel for conferences, teaching, workshops, and research is the norm. Post-secondary campuses are full of people from all over the world and limiting the ability to travel for work and personal reasons – either for fear they won’t be allowed into the U.S., or fear they won’t be able to get back to their American home if they leave, is chilling. The ban doesn’t affect my ability travel. I am a Canadian citizen, I am white, English is my first language – I am in a place of privilege. But I worry about my colleagues who are not.
Writing for a blog about evidence-based practice, it isn’t hard to see how engaging in any way with a U.S. administration that uses ‘alternative facts’, led by someone making decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had” (Fisher, 2016, July) is troubling. The fallout from this executive order is unpredictable and shifting day to day with little clarity about what it really means. As I am writing this, the ban has been temporarily halted (who knows what will have happened by the time you are reading) and it is this instability that is causing so much of my anxiety.
I have been weighing my options, reading everything I can find online, and asking colleagues what their plans are for traveling to the U.S. for work. For some people, there is no option – the risk of being blocked at the border (or not allowed back in if they leave) is too high. It’s fair to questions the intellectual integrity of events where Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded. Over the past week, more than 6000 academics have signed a pledge to boycott travel to international conferences in the U.S. until the travel ban is lifted. I have also read online comments proposing that academics petition international conference organizers to move their events outside of the U.S. in protest. Many of the people interviewed for a CBC story about the travel boycott found supporting it was a complicated decision, a feeling I am also struggling with.
My knee jerk reaction is to stay away, take a moral stance and protest with my dollars. But I also think about my colleagues who have no choice but to live and work in that climate – what message am I sending them by staying away? What about scholars from those six countries studying and working in the U.S. who cannot leave the country with confidence they can return home?
The impetus to DO SOMETHING is strong (and I will confess that I am a little afraid of what could happen while I am there), so I want to sign that pledge and boycott with all of the people on that list that I respect. However, I haven’t signed because I also believe that smothering academic discourse by refusing to participate isn’t the answer, and withholding my registration money from liberal institutions and cheating myself out of the experience of being at the conference (and the CV line for having presented) does no good either. I have thought about asking if I can teleconference in for my talk or pre-record it, but that isn’t entirely in the spirit of an academic conference and it might be more technology than the organizers are prepared to deal with. I don’t know what to do.
I sit solidly on the fence today as I write this, and so do many of the people I have asked about this question. I imagine there are Brainwork readers struggling with the same decisions and weighing their own options. Have you made a decision about what you are planning do in the next few months? Do you have any advice to offer? I would love to hear it.
Fisher, M. (2016, July 17). Donald Trump doesn’t read much. Being president probably wouldn’t change that. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://wpo.st/STj_2
This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.