This past Wednesday, April 5, I was asked to say a few words about my concerns regarding US border policy and its effects on the Shakespeare Association of America. I thought I might share that speech below. I didn’t get to read it myself because the heavens were being hammered by Thor himself, sadly, though I want to thank SAA President Heather James for reading it into the record for me.
I would like to start off by acknowledging that this conference is taking place on the traditional territories of the Creek peoples, whose settlement, Standing Peachtree, lent its name to the street upon which this hotel stands. I mention this because such an acknowledgement highlights the empty seats that have always been among us, unrecognized.
The SAA has prided itself for years on its seminar model; it is what makes the SAA unique. For several decades now, the tables that we meet at have been growing larger as more scholars have been welcomed. Chairs have been taken by scholars of all sexualities, nationalities, religions, races, backgrounds. The constitutional amendment to Article III.3 exemplifies that commitment to diversity of membership and is a part of a series of initiatives, outlined in the President’s Letter of February 2017 but begun over the past few years, to bring more people to the table.
This year we can see that we have empty seats that should be filled. LGBTQ+ scholars, Muslim scholars, black, middle eastern, aboriginal and Asian scholars are absent.
As the project coordinator for the Canadian Shakespeare Association, I know there are Canadians who haven’t come this year and who might not come again. For many who did decide to come, like myself, it was an agonizing decision weighing access and professional duties against, in some cases, personal safety and continued isolation. The SAA must address itself to those who feel that this nation does not welcome them and the changes the SAA makes to bring those people to the table must be effective and permanent, implemented as soon as possible.
To that end, I suggest the following:
- An agile system of response to government initiatives. That is, as we only meet once a year, that means we have only one opportunity to engage in an open forum to discuss issues as a group and propose a statement that addresses the concerns of the members.
- An online forum for all members (even if it begins as a facebook group). We need a permanent online forum (or set of online spaces) that will allow for us to discuss policy issues as they come up.
- Podcasted/Vodcasted seminars and/or plenaries. Although electronic “presence” is never quite the same thing as physical presence, it can provide a much-needed bridge for those who have been excluded. In addition, making certain parts of the conference available publicly will help to reach out to a wider public and membership. These could also be useful for teaching and research purposes
- A new officer of the SAA or committee of the trustees specifically devoted to addressing membership inclusivity issues.
- A formal commitment to regularly hosting the annual meeting (say every three years) outside of the United States, be that in Canada, the Caribbean or somewhere else in the Americas.
These suggestions require, in some cases, constitutional change. As a part of a permanent process of inclusivity, however, they seem necessary. There have always been empty chairs at the table, but by making formal, permanent commitments online and in the constitution, we can hopefully supply those empty spaces.