While I was at THATCamp DHSoCal last weekend, I heard numerous attendees refer disparagingly to their “IT Guy” or “those guys at IT.” The references made me uncomfortable because I am an affiliate of IS&T at Chapman (and I’m not a “guy”) and because the term was generally used to indicate staff who are unhelpful and uninclined academically. The term “IT Guy” often appeared in the same sentence as “Blackboard” to compound the insult.
Apart from my concern that Chapman faculty might feel negatively about me or others from my Office because of our IT role, this trend of dissing IT staff is especially disconcerting for those of us who inhabit the Digital Humanities. Because, for our projects to be both attainable and sustainable we very much need IT support and resources. Disparaging (or dehumanizing) those who have technical roles at the university can only widen gaps that might already exist in the organizational structure of our campuses, and thereby reinforce barriers to team-building and project progress.
Perhaps I am particularly sensitive to this issue given that I’ve worked so hard over that past four years at Chapman to gain the trust of faculty and staff. That work has included my attempt to speak and write in ways that don’t alienate others by using technical jargon or assuming a certain level of academ-ese. Also, I purposefully refer to IT staff by their names, roles, and/or titles rather than as the generic “IT guy” (just as I do when I discuss faculty or administrators).*
Because, while the divides between “operations” and “academics” are undoubtedly deep at many campuses, that does not mean that there should not be efforts to effect change, and using inclusive language to describe our colleagues is one big step towards doing so.
*at Chapman we have a CIO who is a woman, about half of IT directors are women, and many of the affiliated technical staff are also women–I suspect that it is a rare IT division that does not include many women.
A few years ago, at THATCamp SoCal, a handful of us generated the idea for a regional Digital Humanities network. Since then, the idea has gained momentum and we now have affiliates from nearly every university campus in Southern California represented our group.
I made the Word Cloud, above, from the notes of our latest gathering at UCSD. As you can see from the Wordle, there are several key topics that emerged: teaching, projects, syllabus, students, data, funding, program. What struck me the most from this are the words “interested” and “sharing” which point to how each attendee came to the meeting seeking a better understanding about how DH is being taught and practiced at other institutions and is interested in sharing what they are doing at their own.
I’ve attended more THATCamps than I can keep track of now. THATCamp Prime and THATCampBayArea and THATCampSoCal are standard annual events for me, with a few others working out in conjunction with other conferences that I attend along the way. I’m used to the drill of TC and as a result I’ve even begun to wonder whether the familiarity of the unconference experience meant a loss of use-value for me. You see, I easily become weary of the conversations about the abysmal academic market or the lack of funding for graduate student projects or the lack of women in tech-fields. Not to say that these aren’t important conversations, I just don’t enjoy the repetition very much–I want to start the revolution, not just talk about what needs changing.
And while there was some repetition of some of those typical conversations at this THATCamp, I found it to to still be quite useful for me, and this is why:
- in the session about local DH collaboration, most of us who attended had been at the very first THATCampSoCal three years ago and had been involved in various local initiatives since then, including the now mostly-defunct DHSoCal website. We committed to updating the DHSoCal presence that we created so many years ago by migrating our activities to newer platforms like Google Hangouts and Twitter. This session had a very proactive feel to it and revved my enthusiasm for cross-campus collaborations.
- those of us who met to discuss the role of Academic Technology at our campuses share many of the same problems with encouraging technology use. The wide variety of suggestions for doing more (and doing better) made me feel good about what I have tried, as well as hopeful about future possibilities. The take-away message for me personally was the reminder that I need to listen to the various constituents on campus more, and consider their needs before I push the latest shiny-new tech-tools. Though this might not be true at every institution, at mine I believe that helping faculty to use a few tools very successfully is better than offering them with so many possibilities that they feel frustrated.
- And finally, what will probably be the very-most-important thing that emerged from my experience at THATCamp was the faculty-friend who sat me down and asked about the state of my career and then nudged me to do more publishing (knowing that I desperately need this for my cv). Actually, she didn’t just nudge me, she sent me her recent book proposal as a model and helped me to frame some rough ideas for how I could draft my own and then encouraged me to do so.
All of these bullet points have one thing in common, and that’s the value of attending a conference where others are invested in the DH community and are excited about sharing with they know with others. There’s a generosity at THATCamp conferences that is above and beyond what I’ve experienced at other academic venues. Attending this event today reminded me just how much I need the mentoring and examples of other scholars in this field, and also affirmed my hope that I can offer the same to others, too.