DERAIL Debrief

The third annual Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility, and Identity in LIS (DERAIL) Forum took place at Simmons College this past weekend. This student-led, student-centered conference was a joy to be a part of last year, and this year was a fantastic experience as well. It definitely presented new challenges, though. Unlike previous years, the majority of those who presented at DERAIL were actually non-Simmons students. When I heard this news, I was ecstatic that so many people from outside of my program were becoming motivated to participate. The wide reach of DERAIL turned out to be a blessing and a curse, however. The day before the Forum, severe weather complicated travel for many of our out-of-town attendees. Although the weather certainly hurt our attendance numbers, it turned out to be an exercise in flexibility. Only one presentation ended up being canceled outright, and we were able to live stream the sessions of those who who unexpectedly could not make it to Boston.

To me, this year’s DERAIL Forum felt particularly emotional. To illustrate this point, the presentation that immediately comes to mind is that of Joyce Gabiola, entitled “Field Notes: A Student’s Perspective on WhitnessHarmDiversity in LIS.” Their presentation was deeply personal, and it dealt with their experience as a PhD student at the University of California, Los Angeles serving on diversity committees. They coined the compound term whitnessharmdiversity specifically to highlight the linkages between all three of those words. Their argument was that, more often than not, diversity initiatives serve the purpose of making a particular institution look good, rather than addressing inequities and uplifting those with marginalized identities. Interestingly, their call to action was that people of color should stop participating in diversity committees for this very reason.

The honesty that Joyce shared with us was echoed throughout the Forum. One such example is the presentation of University of Wisconsin student Laura Schmidt. Her talk detailed her ongoing difficulty in navigating the life of a master’s student while suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not only was I touched by the struggles that Schmidt dealt with, but I was struck by her point that academia normalizes a need to sacrifice mental and physical wellbeing just to be able to participate. As such, it treats a particular ability level as the standard, to the detriment of those who have the potential to make great contributions to the field but who cannot consistently meet that arbitrary standard.

This year’s crop of DERAIL presentations was a reminder to me of how powerful it can be to include one’s own perspectives, one’s own self into research. Academia and professionalism often demand that we compartmentalize ourselves, that we be apolitical, impersonal, and compliant. What if, instead of this tendency, we—to borrow the wording of Simmons PhD student Farraj Alsaeedi’s DERAIL presentation title—found ways to enter this field and act within it as whole people?

Ayoola White is in her second to last semester at Simmons College and served as the communications chair for this year’s DERAIL Forum

The cover photo is the logo for the DERAIL Forum.

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