Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Reflections on Feminist Activism within Two Distinct Universities: Timing and Location for Transformational Activities. (Reports/Rapports)

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Reflections on Feminist Activism within Two Distinct Universities: Timing and Location for Transformational Activities. (Reports/Rapports)

Article excerpt

Constance Backhause (1)

This text is a slightly revised, written version of remarks delivered on September 29, 2000 at York University; on the occasion of the launch of York Stories: Women in Higher Education, edited by The York Stories Collective, and published in Toronto by TSAR Publications, 2000.


It is a great honour to help mark the momentous launching of York Stories: Women in Higher Education, edited by The York Stories Collective. (2) This wonderful occasion takes me back, poignantly, to the launch of Breaking Anonymity: The Chilly Climate for Women Faculty, some five years ago on November 4, 1995. (3) It was on that date, at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, that a group of the authors, publishers and members of The Chilly Climate Collective gathered together to celebrate the publication of our collection of essays and stories.

At that time, we expressed our thanks to all of the brave women who spoke about their oppressive experiences in the academy. We thanked all the courageous members of the editorial collective who banded together to put their names on a volume that we feared might inspire backlash and defamation litigation. We even expressed our thanks to the heterosexual, white, male administrators and faculty members who created the chilly climate that inspired our writing. Without them, there would be no such books to write. In the apt words of Kathryn Morgan, we reminded ourselves that we must never forget to acknowledge the "rutting struggles of the antlered species." (4)

On a much more serious note, we also spoke that night of the many, many women and men whose accounts were not included in the Breaking Anonymity publication. We spoke of those who were unable yet to speak or write about their experiences of discrimination within the academy. We lamented the stories that were not included in our collection out of fear of the legal sanctions that would flow forth from those whose battle cry is "freedom of speech."

That evening I closed with an expression of hope that our book would do some small bit to break the silence, to begin to redress the shocking imbalances in our academic institutions, and to inspire many others to go far beyond our preliminary efforts. The spectacular efforts to break the silence and preserve the historical record of women's experiences at York University have gone way beyond what we hoped for and imagined might come in the future. The contributions in York Stories take my breath away.

The Breadth and Scope of York Stories

This marvelous collection of edited transcripts and submissions goes well past what The Chilly Collective accomplished in Breaking Anonymity. Far more than we were able to do, York Stories confronts issues of intersectionality. The book brings a much-needed testament to a far broader range of oppressions -- race, gender, class, disability, age, sexual identity, anti-Semitism. More than we did, these accounts have also moved well beyond anonymity. Many of the women students and faculty have bravely identified their "stories" with their full names.

York Stories also takes us a step further towards articulating what we are demanding from our universities in the way of concrete change. We dwelled more on the devastation wrought by institutional failure. This book has itemized what would move the academy forward:

* lower tuition, and more financial support for students;

* recognition that students with families, disabilities, and lives outside the academy need specialized, flexible programming;

* more meaningful courses that engage social justice issues more deeply;

* smaller classes;

* affirmative action programs that bring concrete results, measured by quantifiable numbers;

* more faculty who embody diversity in their person as well as their teaching and research;

* more safe spaces for meaningful dialogue, so that we create a university where the only silences that reign embody "productive listening" not fear;

* intellectual openness towards feminist, marxist, and anti-racist faculty members, in terms of teaching evaluations, tenure and promotion, and a supportive climate for their scholarly work;

* awareness of the appallingly high rates of cancer and immune disorders that overtake outsiders in academe as they suffer, in Nancy Nicol's words, "the humiliation of clamouring at the gate;" (5)

* efforts to correct the tragic divisions between anti-sexist and antiracist activists;

* complete debunking and rethinking of the concept of "academic freedom," that now uncritically and arrogantly parades itself through university corridors as a mere "cloak for abusive practice. …

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