Inclusion and exclusion are keywords in many current discussions about seeking justice and resisting injustice in scholarship and scholarly communities. The manel, or all-male panel, is derided in many circles, a meme on academic social media and a topic for professional association boards as they prepare for annual meetings—and rightly so. Derided alongside it stand the all-male table of contents, the all-white bibliography, and the mostly-male and mostly-white syllabus, with its one week on “women” and one week on “race.” Some institutions, though not all, are targeting the all-male list of job search finalists, and many are drafting “inclusion and diversity” plans. These efforts, however, often focus on only the most obvious and visible offenses to inclusivity.
Others wonder whether sexual harassers and assailants, racists, misogynists, and others ought to be excluded from our scholarship and scholarly communities. (See, for example, the controversy around philosopher Thomas Pogge.) The worst offenses to inclusivity must be punished somehow, and it is tempting to start with exclusion. That these offenses to inclusivity can be much more than that—violations, horrific acts, and life-altering traumas—makes the exclusion of their perpetrators even more urgent. Community safety seems, and often is, at stake. Exclusion from a syllabus seems like light punishment and light protection, but the least we can do.
But these categories, inclusion and exclusion, often lead to attempted fixes that are ineffective, incoherent, or simply bizarre. Can we “find a woman” for a panel on a topic from which women’s voices have been intentionally and meaningfully excluded for centuries? What is the aim of such “inclusion”? Should we exclude John Howard Yoder from a Christian ethics syllabus given his history of sexual assault? What goal would including or excluding achieve? And are the relevant concerns about justice best framed in terms of inclusion and exclusion?
To answer these questions well, concerns about inclusion and exclusion need to be situated in broader contexts of accountability-holding. Inclusion on a list of participants is meaningless, and often more destructive, if the list doesn’t represent and form a community invested in holding itself and its members accountable to projects of inclusion and resistance to unjust exclusion, among other justice-seeking aims. The woman who sits on the panel to save its conference agenda entry from social media infamy is not being included in the conversation. The panel, and the community that organized it and that it represents, must be engaged in a larger project of holding itself to account for past exclusions and redeveloping its practices of accountability such that the significant exclusions of which it is now embarrassed are no longer acceptable, for reasons of justice and not just embarrassment. Being embarrassed is a decent motivation for change, but the change cannot be superficial. It requires communities and classrooms in which practices of accountability-holding are robust, ongoing, and restorative. Where those don’t yet exist, we are going to need to build them.
We have a few ideas, and a lot of questions, about what this involves: building collaborative and noncompetitive relationships with other scholars committed to feminist, anti-racist, intersectional, and justice-seeking research and teaching; cultivating gratitude toward those who hold us to account; using our resources to support the work and amplify the voices of scholars who are marginalized; building institutions to support these communities and networks; and making lists, workshopping papers, and sharing CFPs that propose, create, and represent such communities. Inclusion returns in many of these practices, but in a different form: a premise for the constitution of communities that do the ongoing work of grappling with our responsibility to and for one another and our shared inquiry.
As scholars, teachers, and citizens, we inherit past failures of accountability. We are likely to perpetuate these failures unless and until we create new relationships and practices. The questions we should ask, then, are not only whether to include or exclude someone on a syllabus or as an interlocutor in our research, but whether and how we can hold them, and each other, to account for past and potential injustices.