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.
It was hard for me to tweet this weekend for a variety of reasons, one of those being that I misplaced my phone charger cord (ack!), and another being that I was participating in an “unconference” called THATCamp Bay Area that required a great deal of attentiveness. But probably the most significant reason that I wasn’t tweeting was that I felt uncomfortable with being a part of a select group of attendees at this event, knowing that many qualified people weren’t able to attend. That took a great deal of the pleasure out of advertising my own presence. I know that’s a bit ridiculous, and if anything is counter-intuitive because I ought to be tweeting precisely because it would include non-attendees in the conversation. But I didn’t over-analyze my resistance–instead I immersed myself more wholly in being present. While at the conference I talked quite a bit about my work with One Week | One Tool, but I felt awkward about advertising the fact that I was part of this project too loudly, again knowing how many scholars vied for positions on the team and feeling somewhat self-conscious about my own good fortune in winning one of the golden tickets to participate.
Digital Humanities tends to be quite an inclusive community (as some have said, it is a “big tent”). At my core, I believe in open-source, freely-shared tools and content. I don’t like cliques and in-groups and members-only clubs. I feel everyone has a place at the table and I’ll undoubtedly continue to struggle with those moments when some are excluded because there aren’t enough chairs for everyone who wants to join the feast.
Perhaps I’m feeling overly self-conscious about my own good fortune in attending these events. Or perhaps I’m concerned that I’ll be labeled as a member of a particular inner-circle of DHers that I don’t really feel a part of. Or perhaps I’m simply insecure about my own place in the field. It’s probably a combination of all-of-the-above, as well as a recognition of how much I still have yet to learn from those around me.
And speaking of that….I’ll be in the Bay Area for the next few days meeting with scholars and friends. If you’d like to see if we can connect, drop me a note in a comment or via twitter.