Monthly Archives: March 2019

Fault Lines

At least 49 people are dead following a terrorist attack on two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The attack took place during Friday prayer and was live-streamed by one of the gunmen.

At least 49 people are dead.

Words fail me on days like today. The horror is simply too much to process; the hate too much to fathom. It seems unbelievable that such a thing could happen; yet the news is sadly unsurprising given the global rise of vicious and xenophobic rhetoric. Perhaps it was only a matter of time.

Nothing I can say or do will bring them back; nothing can undo what has been done. This isn’t some shining Hollywood movie; there’s no loophole to undo the past. This is, I’m afraid, simply the world we all live in now.

All I can do — all any of us can do — is to bear witness and to…to try to do better for tomorrow than we have done for today. To not use this moment of shock and grief to comfort ourselves before moving on with our lives, but to really think deeply and carefully about how our daily actions, inactions, and interactions shape this shared world we all live in.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been reading N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Series, but I can’t help thinking that these violent eruptions of horror should not be taken as isolated, random incidents, but are better interpreted as periodic expressions of the hate that’s been steadily building all along.

These attacks don’t come from nowhere and they aren’t the product of a single, deranged mind. Rather, the hate, anger, and fear which drive such violence have been growing steadily just below the surface.

It’s a privilege, in a way, to be able to describe these sentiments as “just below the surface.” By that, I mean many of us have the privilege in our daily lives to ignore the constant build-up of hate; many of us are only forced to confront this reality when it erupts in a particularly violent, horrific, and public way.

Many others, of course, are not so fortunate. They are forced to live anxious, guarded lives knowing full well such hate is thriving all around them. They experience its tremors every day.

It is hard to see what we don’t experience directly. It is hard to know what to do when our problems are so overwhelming. It is hard to find words in the face of such horror. It is hard to accept that this violence has occurred and nothing any of us can do will undo it.

It is hard. But this is the work we have ahead of us.

I am still processing the news coming out of New Zealand this morning. I am still trying to make sense of such senseless violence. I am still gasping for air, trying to find my footing on this rocky ground. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say, I don’t know how to repair this broken world.

But I do know that there is a role for each of us in this work. Today’s violence may have been half a world away, but it could have just as easily been in my own backyard. Every single one of us — even a nobody like me — has a responsibility to quell our local tremors; to do everything in our power to make tomorrow better than today.

This doesn’t happen as some grand, dramatic scene in which we get to play the hero. No. No will ever likely ever know or recognize this work. But this is the work to be done. Acts of love, acts of humanity, acts of peace and kindness; embracing a mode everyday existence that actively seeks to quell this hate and to subtly prevent such violence by never letting it get that far.

It is, perhaps, a small comfort on days like today. It feels too small, too insufficient. And in many ways it is. There is much more work to do. There is always more work to do.

But the question we should be asking ourselves this morning isn’t how we let ourselves get here; how such violent hate continues to exist in the world. Rather, we should be examining the ways in which we, individually, have been complicit in allowing such hate to fester. We should be asking ourselves what we, individually, will do differently tomorrow; what we will do differently every day after that. We should be asking ourselves what specific steps we will take to make this world better, to actively work everyday towards building a world of love.

Gender and Academia

In recognition of International Women’s Day, SAGE Ocean — an initiative from Sage Publishing which supports computational social scientists — asked me to contribute to a blog post discussing challenges facing women in academia and reflecting on strategies for improvement.

I encourage you to read the full post here, featuring comments from Laura K. Nelson, Megan Squire, Lily Fesler, Diyi Yang, Kimberly A. Houser, Aleksandra Berditchevskaia and myself.

I’ve included my own answers below:

How do we nurture an academic landscape that is more accessible to women?

The challenges faced by women and gender minorities in academia goes beyond a “pipeline problem.” In many cases, good scholars are actively forced from the academy by cultures of harassment and systems designed for people with power and privilege. Nurturing a more accessible academic landscape, then, means critically evaluating and rebuilding these systems; working to make academia more inclusive for all. In a practical sense, this means genuinely listening to concerns that are raised, learning from other people’s perspectives, and working collaboratively to make our antiquated systems better. This work goes beyond the dimension of gender, and seeks to make space for all who have traditionally been barred from academic life. The key thing to realize here is that “the way it has always been” is — by definition – imperfect, since those past strategies were developed around a relatively narrow sub-sample of the population and cannot be expected to generalize. As we get more data, as we learn from different types of academic experiences, we ought to adjust our thinking and our systems to ensure that no one’s scholarship is being systematically excluded. 

What are the key challenges facing women in academia?

As an academic, I expect to be regularly critiqued for the substance of my ideas and the quality of my methods. This is good for science and it is how we all learn and improve. However, far too often, the possibility that I have the capacity to contribute intellectually is simply dismissed out of hand or the harshness of the criticism I receive exceeds what is conducive to scholarly debate. On numerous occasions I have had men yell over me while I try to explain my work, I’ve had men simply walk away when I introduce myself, I have been told that my presence indicates a lowering of the bar, and I have been sexually harassed in academic spaces. These are the things that make me want to leave academia. To be clear, there are many things I love about the ethos of academic pursuits: I love getting feedback, I love learning from people who are smarter than me, and, if I’m being honest with myself, I even love the stress and neuroses that come with trying to be successful in academic life. But to be constantly harassed and degraded, to have it made it so perfectly clear that a significant portion of the community will never even consider me to have intellectual potential – that is the most disappointing challenge of all.

I share these experiences because they are not just mine – these stories are endemic amongst women in the academy. Non-binary and genderqueer people often face even worse harassment and regularly have their very existence questioned. Furthermore, gender is but one dimension along which people may experience exclusion and discrimination within academic communities. When academia protects and even rewards the scholars who perpetuate such harassment, it only further emphasizes the narrative of intellectual inferiority: we mourn the careers of abusive scholars more than we mourn the loss of the many people they push out.

What do you envisage the impact of increased gender diversity in academia be?

While increased gender diversity is a good in its own right – representing increased diversity in perspectives and giving future scholars more opportunities to see themselves in academia – it can, perhaps, be better understood as an indicator rather as an outcome in itself. Existing gender disparities in academia are indicative of a system in which people are regularly bullied and harassed out of the field; they are indicative of a system in which anyone who falls outside a perceived cis, white, male norm is put at tremendous disadvantage. They are indicative of patterns of abusive and dismissive behavior which serve to keep a broken status quo in place and systematically silence some voices. This is why I suggest that levels gender diversity can be seen as an indicator rather than an outcome: a world in which academia has more gender diversity would be a world in which academia is less toxic. A world in which, quite simply — scholars are assessed by the quality of their scholarship.


Don’t forget to visit SAGE Ocean’s post to read other people’s responses as well!