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Preview: Comments on In the Middle: Arizona and the MAA

Comments on In the Middle: Arizona and the MAA

Updated: 2018-04-12T05:34:38.443-04:00


I was struck by Elizabeth Robertson's comment....


I was struck by Elizabeth Robertson's comment. The state of Colorado did not notice the cancellation of what to us medievalists is an important conference. And I know from my own experience that Bob Bjork (who surely did not ask to live in a racist state) has already put endless hours of unpaid work into this conference.

But practicalities: it is easy to ask the Academy to cancel the meeting, but there still has to be a meeting in 2011, under the by-laws, and I would suspect the Academy might be more willing to consider moving the meeting if it has an invitation from elsewhere. So can someone invite the Academy to hold the meeting outside of Arizona?

By the way, I hope everyone has written to the governor of Arizona to directly express their anger (e.g. through I explained that I refuse to travel to a state where I need to always carry my permanent residency-card in order to avoid harassment from the police.

Anders Winroth

Analogy and precedent. http://www.huffingtonpost....


Analogy and precedent.

Ruth Nisse Associate Professor of English and Medi...


Ruth Nisse
Associate Professor of English and Medieval Studies
Wesleyan University

I couldn't agree with this petition more, plus I think my family's internal passports from 1930s Europe have expired...

Claire suggests that the AHA: 1) Title the theme ...


Claire suggests that the AHA:

1) Title the theme as Jeffrey has proposed, making precise public statements about the practical and ethical reasons for holding the conference in Arizona; 2) organize workshops/ rallies/ speeches with local activists and community organizations that look at present political circumstance in light of historical event (We are medievalists! We learn from the past!); 3) Make it VISIBLE: contact local, state, and national media.

It seems to me that 1) is difficult, because of people possibly being harassed for papers on their way in, whereas the negative consequences of a boycott for the local medievalists are, as has been said, small, it's not as if AZ is closing the state line; and both 2) and 3) can as easily be done outside Arizona as within it. I mean, you're doing it now. You don't have to go to the state to write to papers, give speeches, make press statements etc. So why is the state itself a better location of protest?

Posted on behalf of Elizabeth Robertson. ---------...


Posted on behalf of Elizabeth Robertson.
This history may be useful.

In the 1990s I was asked to run the New Chaucer Society Meetings in Boulder. I spent a year planning the meeting. Then Colorado passed Amendment 2. Shortly after that, without notifying me, NCS polled its members and cancelled the meeting. The amendment was repealed before the planned meeting. We did hold the meeting in Boulder some years later.

First, I hope someone has asked Bob Bjork what he thinks because whatever the expense, he has already put in a lot of work for this meeting with no reward.

Second, the withdrawal of NCS made absolutely no difference to the state of Colorado--no-one noticed. It is possible that some members of NCS noticed.

I have often wondered if it might not have been more effective to hold the meeting and use it as an occasion to bring to the fore a discussion of the issues. I like the suggestion that sessions be added to the academy meeting dedicated to discussions of immigration and tolerance. Indeed, I would hope, if the conference is not cancelled, that we use our academic strength to speak out against these awful legal developments--and indeed to historicize them--and I would hope that the officers in the academy would take a particularly active and public role in speaking out.


Elizabeth Robertson
University of Glasgow

Hi, I'd like to share with you a letter some 5...


Hi, I'd like to share with you a letter some 50 of us Hispanomedievalists sent to the MAA, with a very similar response from Prof. Brown as the one cited above:

Dear Prof. Szarmach, Prof. Bjork, and members of the Program Committee for the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Medieval Academy of America,

We, the undersigned, would simply like to express our disappointment with The Medieval Academy’s insistence on holding its next meeting in Arizona. While we are aware the recent politics leading to questionable new laws requiring people of “suspicious appearance” in that state be prepared to show immigration documents happened long after the Academy made its decision to hold its meeting in Scottsdale, it is nevertheless dismaying to think that the Academy has not considered moving its conference elsewhere. It is alarming to verify that it has yet to express any concern with how its Hispanists in particular, but in general anyone working on minorities, ethnicity, or just with an “accent” or a sense of social justice might feel about attending a conference held there under the present circumstances. Hispanism not only as a discipline considered in your conferences and publications, but as representing past and present membership in your institution, would have welcomed at least an acknowledgment of the situation and its speaking to the Academy’s concerns. If bishops, basketball players and owners (the Phoenix Suns, now, the "Soles"), the mayor of Los Angeles, and the thousands that have protested these laws can speak to these matters, we believe our institutions should do so as well, if in different ways.
We are not explicitly calling for a boycott of the conference, for the appropriateness of that decision (or its potential risks) will be something each scholar must gauge by him or herself. We think that the Academy, instead of ignoring the matter altogether, could consider sponsoring sessions on Hispanism, on identities, borders, racism, notions of ethnicity and citizenship, migration, etc. directly addressing the matter at hand that could have the added benefit of linking our research to our lived present. We feel the open discussion of these issues might prove more relevant, inclusive, and engaged at this time.

(some 50 signatures of doctoral students and all levels of faculty in six countries)

I love this conversation. It strikes me as an upd...


I love this conversation. It strikes me as an updated version of the Marx/Bernstein question--radical revolution or gradual reform.

By the by, I'd plunk down $30 to help offset the cost of moving/cancelling the conference (and I'm a grad student subsisting mostly on loans).

Thanks so much for this conversation--and the clar...


Thanks so much for this conversation--and the clarification on the stance on boycott. (I probably missed a few of the comments...) I will certainly sign the letter! I hope that whatever the outcome, the MAA makes choices that not only voice our disapproval of Arizona law, but also that make possible positive action affecting the material realities of those affected.

I'm delighted to have found this blog, and to ...


I'm delighted to have found this blog, and to discover this conversation. I see no reason why the many excellent ideas about how to approach this situation are mutually exclusive. It's possible to sign a letter to the MAA, not attend the meeting, and/or boycott the organization; send a letter to AZ papers; and use this as a teaching moment in classes.

Why not hold the meeting in Arizona and use the op...


Why not hold the meeting in Arizona and use the opportunity to speak out against the law by examining hatred and intolerance in a medieval context?
See the comments above.

The Medieval Academy is a comparatively small orga...


The Medieval Academy is a comparatively small organization and almost certainly can't afford to lose that 30K, even for such an important principle. Why should the MAA simply join a list of other organizations that are boycotting? Why not hold the meeting in Arizona and use the opportunity to speak out against the law by examining hatred and intolerance in a medieval context? That seems to me to be the most powerful statement we could make.

Claire: what Eileen said. We decided on a letter N...


Claire: what Eileen said. We decided on a letter NOT a petition. We request the MAA seriously consider not holding the meeting in Arizona despite financial repercussions. That's all, at this point.

Claire: thanks MUCH for your details comments and ...


Claire: thanks MUCH for your details comments and suggestions here, which several other commenters also raised in yesterday's discussion. If you look at the letter carefully, you'll see that no boycott whatsoever is implied [although some of us may choose to go that route if the MAA does not change the venue of the meeting]. The letter simply does 3 primary things:

1. voices condemnation of the actual Arizona law

2. respectfully requests that the MAA *consider* changing the venue of its meeting

3. asks that the MAA also add a theme on "Immigration and Tolerance" to its program

This letter does not constitute a call for a boycott. Signing it, therefore, does not constitute signing on to a boycott of the MAA meeting. I can't see what is objectionable at this point in writing a *group* letter simply asking the MAA: please consider moving the meeting.

See most recent post above this one.

Please don’t send that letter yet until you consid...


Please don’t send that letter yet until you consider this point: that while the political gesture of boycott may be an important symbolic response to legal oppression, we may be more effective in encouraging change through our roles as teachers, educators, and public voices by being present in the state. Some of my main concerns with boycotting are that it tends to affect those oppressed more than the system at large. A friend of mine has worked extensively with the Bangladeshi Women Workers Collective and has demonstrated to me on more than one occasion that boycott tends to affect the material realities of oppressed classes much more heavily than it affects business models and economic practices. My other concern is that boycotting really does not do much to make visible the realities of immigrants, illegal or otherwise: it puts out a message that we do not approve of current legal decisions, but then it cuts off conversation with the rest of the community affected. A better strategy would be to hold the conference in Arizona and 1) Title the theme as Jeffrey has proposed, making precise public statements about the practical and ethical reasons for holding the conference in Arizona; 2) organize workshops/ rallies/ speeches with local activists and community organizations that look at present political circumstance in light of historical event (We are medievalists! We learn from the past!); 3) Make it VISIBLE: contact local, state, and national media. The truth of the matter is that withdrawing ourselves from the epicenter of political and social prejudice is only a drop in the bucket to the state—-they’ll shrug their shoulders and say, “oh darn, the medievalist aren’t coming.” Big deal. Boston’s response and the possible response of the Major Leagues will get much more media coverage. But we have a very real opportunity to go in and raise some hackles with business owners and lawmakers while reaching out to the people who are affected by Arizona’s immigration laws and helping to make those people and their voices visible and heard. Any commentary or suggestions?

From Inside HigherEd: speaking up in Arizona.


From Inside HigherEd: speaking up in Arizona.

I appreciate the compromise position you've ar...


I appreciate the compromise position you've articulated, Jeffrey. I wasn't advocating meeting in AZ as much as I was just thinking through possibilities.

I'll sign as well.

As I said in my previous posted comment, I see the...


As I said in my previous posted comment, I see the necessity of the open letter as simply a way to let the MAA know how some of us feel about the possibility of an Arizona meeting, so that, in short, a collective voice is raised on the point that, for some of us, anyway [those who would sign the letter], an MAA meeting in Arizona is troubling to our conscience, for exactly the points JJC raises here in his last set of comments. I in no way want to condemn or vilify or otherwise unfairly caricaturize those who hold offices in the MAA who have to deliberate, and perhaps painfully, over this decision. I just want to be able to say to them: I would not/could not go to Arizona if the meeting were held there. As Bruce H. himself points out in his own letter, the MAA would simply be joining a broad group of organizations who have already decided to do this as well as the very state, Massachusetts, where they are primarily based. So, yes, I'll sign that letter.

I'd support a boycott, and added a post here o...


I'd support a boycott, and added a post here on this:

Given the history of boycott in South Africa or in...


Given the history of boycott in South Africa or indeed in AZ during the MLK day crisis nearly 20 years ago, I think a boycott of AZ is the only action that has the slightest chance of effecting any kind of political change, either by compelling AZ to repeat its nasty laws or by warning other states off from trying to pass similar legislation. The content of an academic conference, particularly in the humanities, will make no difference to the powers-that-be; such content never registers with the mass media except for the annual anti-MLA hit piece or the occasional anti-Kzoo hit piece (see: Charlotte Allen). Sections on (im)migration at the MAA meeting might lead to interesting discussions, but they're likely to preach only to the converted. I should also say that my conscience could never be salved if I traveled as a tourist to AZ while these laws are still in place.

So: Jeffrey, great idea, and it has my full support. Consider me one of the undersigned.

Thank you, everyone, for these numerous and though...


Thank you, everyone, for these numerous and thoughtful comments. I am so happy that we are having this discussion and that it has been proceeding with caution and care. And also with heart.

I've been spending a fair amount of time this weekend mulling the MAA response to the situation in Arizona. I keep coming back to two things. (1) There has in fact been no public response so far: nothing on the website, no mention in the recent CFP that holding the meeting in Arizona is being given any special scrutiny. What we have is a business as usual call for papers. (2) President Brown has sent a form email to those who contacted the MAA with concerns about the location of the meeting, and that email says exactly what should be stated: that the situation is complex, that the MAA is deliberating, and the law is troubling (she rightly calls it "offending legislation"). But the email contains an unnecessary and puzzling line that comes across as a partial apology for some of the law, mentioning the (non-existent? partially existent?) "federal requirement that identity papers be carried (as is true in many countries)." I don't know what this means or why it was included; it certainly detracts from the rest of the message.

As a member of the MAA, and as a concerned medievalist, I would like to go a step further than my email and blog post. I want to ensure that what has been discussed here at ITM is truly heard by the MAA. Bruce assures us that it has been, but a blog post and a private email just don't have the weight of a more official collective action, I think. What I now suggest is an open public letter, signed by anyone who would like to sign it, whether an MAA member or not, urging that the situation in Arizona be given a public discussion and that moving or canceling the event be considered seriously, despite the financial impact.

I personally believe that holding the meeting in Arizona is not acceptable. I love the idea of a teach-in; I love the idea of strands on migration and tolerance; but I also believe in voting with one's feet as well as one's voice. Hold the meeting in a place where no presenter or attendee need worry about having papers demanded of them, and where we can as a group of scholars insist that a state which makes such demands of anyone has crossed a line that we hold inviolable.

So here is my suggested wording for a public, open letter to the MAA, based on the petition:

"We the undersigned condemn the immigration bill signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer as racist and inhumane. We urge its immediate repeal. To demonstrate our support to those in Arizona whom the law targets, we request that the Medieval Academy of America seriously consider not holding its planned annual meeting of April 2011 in the state if the law remains in place, even if this means canceling the meeting and a financial loss. We further urge that a theme on "Immigration and Tolerance" be added to the meeting's program no matter where it is held in order to place these recent events in a longer historical perspective."

What do you think?

My gut feeling is that a boycott would be more eff...


My gut feeling is that a boycott would be more effective than public protests and lectures, which may attract some attention but probably from people already sympathetic to the cause. Money sometimes speaks louder than words, particularly to people in power. The MAA may not bring in the same amount of money as K'zoo, but it does have an impact on the economy of the city/university hosting it. The fact that the MAA is talking about it potentially costing them $30 000 AT THIS EARLY STAGE suggests that the final amount of money spent in AZ won't be insignificant.

I should add that I grew up in apartheid South Africa. The international community's response to those racist, unjust laws was generally sanctions and boycotts. Those sanctions and boycotts affected ethical, liberal people who were fighting against the system too, but they realized they were in the name of a just cause and accepted them. I would hope that sympathetic academics in AZ would feel the same.

I've posted an outsider's view, from acros...


I've posted an outsider's view, from across the Atlantic, on my own blog:

I, too, have heard a bit of insider news that MIGH...


I, too, have heard a bit of insider news that MIGHT suggest that MAA is deliberating moving the conference, and I sincerely hope this is the case. I hold the Academy is the highest regard, and think that, as in national politics, dissent is patriotic.

I also think that, if the MAA does decide to move or cancel, we should all be just as active in our PRAISE and appreciation.

I therefore suggest that we wait a few more days before we post the petition, to give MAA more time to clarify their position. I am incensed about this law, but I should be careful myself to not confuse my anger about this law with my hopes for positive, collective action by MAA, MAP and their supporters and communities.

I do have some info to supply for the discussion, in an effort to clarify the issue of the the need to carry papers. I contacted a friend who is a lawyer for the ACLU (which has filed a law suit over this legislation). He writes:

(1) There is no federal law requiring United States citizens to carry proof of citizenship with them at all times.

(2) For approximately the past seventy years, non-citizens aged fourteen and over who have been in the United States for more than thirty days have been required to register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which, upon registration, will issue the person with identifying documents. Non-citizens aged eighteen and older who willfully fail to carry those documents with them may be punished with thirty days imprisonment and/or fines. 8 U.S.C. § 1304(e). Where the
story gets very complicated is the question of enforcement; the short
version is that state and municipal police officers only rarely possess
the authority to enforce immigration law, and as a matter of
practicality would be completely unable to determine which of the
dizzying array of INS documents is properly carried by which type of

(3) States do not possess the authority to require anyone to carry proof of citizenship, because the federal constitution explicitly vests the power to regulate aliens and nationality to the national government. No state has been foolish enough to try legislating on the topic until Arizona's recent folly. My organization has filed suit to enjoin enforcement of the statute in question just this week:

(4) Generally speaking, one need not carry any identification documents when not driving a car, operating a boat, or conducting some other activity requiring a license. Some states have so-called "stop and identify" statutes requiring a person to identify himself to a police
officer when asked, but truthfully stating one's name and address
fulfills the query. Not being licensed to practice in Arizona, I can't tell you what that jurisdiction's law on stop-and-identify is.

For the full picture, see the ACLU's handy reference guide to dealing with police encounters:

This information is boiled down to a printable, wallet-sized bust card:

Just to throw another couple of considerations int...


Just to throw another couple of considerations into the mix. I find myself agreeing with Bruce in regard to letting the internal processes work and to seeing how the issue develops. The meeting is 10 months away, and a lot can happen in the interim, and another suitable venue can be found if that's the will of the organization.

Another possibility for active engagement - and this would require some additional coordination but would not necessarily need to be sponsored by the MAA - would be for a public forum (or series) on an issue/issues related to the controversy, headed by medievalists (many of which I'd say are taking up this conversation here and other places).

We could start be brainstorming something along the lines of 'medieval race and power' and related possibilities and throw it open to the public. You know, 'teach the controversy' kind of stuff. It'd be a terrific chance, I think, to highlight some of the great work medievalists are doing in this area *and* demonstrate again how the academy is engaged in the issues of the day.

Boycotting, petitioning, and marching all have place, but so does pedagogy, in the broadest sense, to confront and engage. I find myself wondering if a boycott by the MAA wouldn't get lost in bigger going's on but a group of academics who explicitly raise the issue of the abuse of race, privilege, and power right in the backyard of those abusing such power seems to offer different kinds of possibilities.

Boycotting, it seems to me, immediately puts us in an either/or position, which actually plays into the opposition's hands. Their ability to piss off 'liberals' is a mark of their bona fides.

What if we didn't take the bait? What if we turned it into a nonviolent confrontation with power?

Wouldn't that be cool?

I hadn't planned to attend and haven't been a member for a few years, but I might be convinced to help pull off a pedagogically subversive action like the one I'm envisioning.

Just more grist for the mill,


I'd just like to comment on one point. J.J. C...


I'd just like to comment on one point.

J.J. Cohen said : there the scholars possess mobility and intellectual freedom (and live without the fear that some of their fellow inhabitants of the state will have with this law in effect).

I don't live in AZ and I am glad I don't. It is hard to judge what scholars there do fear and how much mobility and intellectual freedom they do possess.

I do think that were I there I would be extremely nervous. I know my family members could very easily be targeted by AZ's new legislation. My mother would have to carry her passport at all times as would anyone who were to visit me.

For two years I, a Colombian-American, lived in Spain teaching at the University. Despite being a visiting professor there I was harassed by people everywhere I went including within the university. People on the street do not know you are a professor, as I told my incredulous students.

I look forward to the MAA's announcement that they will be changing the venue and paying for the cost of travel for all Arizona students and faculty who had planned on attending.

Valerie M. Wilhite