Blog Implications of the #MeToo Movement for Academia

#MeToo, the Academy and Responsibility

woman with me too written on her shoulder
by Sean McCandless:

Since the #MeToo movement was founded to combat sexual harassment and assault, millions of women have identified and discussed their own experiences of assault. A perusal of “Academic Twitter” reveals that the academy, including public administration, has not been immune to the issues to which #MeToo points.

Advisors, colleagues, and friends tweet the hashtag, which prompt me to reflect on how workplaces can be hostile to differentness, including along lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and more. The academy has work to do. As an academic who identifies as male, there are things that I can do to help combat the hostile environments pointed to by #MeToo. To make another (and rather “meta”) point, I rely on sources written primarily by women and/or persons of color:

Be diverse and inclusive in syllabi. There are gender disparities in terms of who is assigned in course readings (see here and here). Readings by and about women (or, indeed, readings by and about persons part of any historically underrepresented group) need to be assigned more. Under-assigning readings by and about women could send the incorrect message that women are not important to the field. And a lack of possible publications to include in syllabi is not due to a lack of women writing. Recognizing the unique contributions of women in classroom syllabi is one powerful way to make a difference, particularly to acknowledge unsung heroes of the field, such as Frances Harriet WilliamsLaverne Burchfield, and many more. Being more diverse and inclusive in syllabi is also important for today’s doctoral students, who are tomorrow’s professors. Students, after all, are more likely to assign a reading in their own courses if they had once been assigned that reading. 

Make diversity, inclusion, and equity cornerstones of teaching. For decades, many students might have considered themselves lucky if issues of diversity, inclusion, and social equity were discussed in their courses, and academic programs can helpimprove coverage of diversity in the literature. There are lingering questionsas to whether these topics are assigned in some curricula at all. It is encouraging to see several texts (see hereand hereas two examples) that make these topics cornerstones rather than subjects discussed in passing. To be equitable administrators, students should be taught ways to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity and to learn counter narratives to hegemony. 

Embrace nervousness. Both instructors and students should become more proficient in understanding how injustices come about, how they are defined (and who defines them and power dynamics therein), and how to address them. Difficult discussions need to be had in classrooms about what causes prejudice. Nervousness about any issue of equity has to be overcome in order for new possibilities to be realized. As Mary Parker Follett once noted, conflict is necessary and should be creative so that multiple voices, recognizing the other’s interests as their own, forge new and more inclusive realities. 

Query ourselves. To me, public administration is about improving lives. From birth to death, public administration can improve the quality of life in ways that would not be possible if public administration were not present. Despite these goals, public administration has been culpablein creating and perpetuating injustices by treating some lives as less worthy than others. This is unacceptable, and public administration needs to admit wrong and take active stepsto promote justice. If we want change, we must directly counter prejudice to create true communities. But most of all, we need to query ourselves. We are not neutral social actors. We have to examine ourselves about our roles in creating safe workplaces. Querying (or even queering) our own privilege is a starting point. 

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About the author:

Sean McCandless
Assistant Professor of Public Administration at the 
University of Illinois 
Twitter: @seanmcc_pa

Sean McCandless works as an assistant professor of public administration at the University of Illinois at Springfield. His current research focuses on the roles played by LGBTQ campus center directors as frontline bureaucrats combatting youth homelessness. Sean serves as the chair elect of the Section on Democracy and Social Justice (DSJ) of the American Society for Public Administration; is completing a elected term as board member of the Public Administration Theory Network; and was twice an ASPA Founders’ Fellow (2016 and 2017) and also an ASPA International Young Scholar (2016). Along with Dr. Rashmi Chordiya (Seattle University) and Dr. Nicole Elias (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY), he has helped convene workshops on issues of social justice at ASPA-affiliated conferences. Finally, he and his mentor, Dr. Mary Guy, are currently working on an edited book on social equity, scheduled to be released by Melvin & Leigh in 2020.