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Editorial: Harassment in Scholarship is Unacceptable–and Requires Action

Something is rotten in the state of online scholarship. We here at Lead Pipe have noticed a significant uptick in commenting and other behaviors across multiple social platforms that constitute harassment—comments, subtweets, and actions meant to intimidate, cause anxiety in, personally discredit, and silence scholars who share their research and arguments through publication and in public fora. While we’ve noticed this increasing harassment in the context of Lead Pipe, our platforms, and our published authors, it is an issue by no means limited to our sphere. ((http://miscellanynews.org/2017/09/27/news/vassar-medievalist-harassed-for-advocating-diversity/)),  ((https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/27/trinity-college-connecticut-puts-johnny-eric-williams-leave-over-controversial)),  ((http://www.chronicle.com/article/Academic-Ethics-Defending/239510)) Harassment is becoming rife to the point that those who observe it no longer register when it happens; and when it is noticed, inaction follows for any number of reasons. The harassment may feel so commonplace that it seems not to merit a response. Observers may believe inaction is acceptable because the harassment doesn’t directly affect them. Observers may fear that pushing back against the harassment will have negative consequences for them personally. ((Privilege factors heavily into inaction resulting from fear. For people of color, women, and other typically marginalized groups who act, fear of speaking out is rooted in the potentiality of becoming the next victim of harassment and trolling. For individuals with societal and academic privilege—white people in particular—the fear is that calling out harassment will result in being considered mean or humorless. There is a magnitude of difference between the potential damages of these consequences.)) The resulting effect: inaction and a lack of response demonstrate an acceptance of increased harassment as the status quo.

We the Editorial Board of In the Library with the Lead Pipe assert otherwise. We stand firmly in defense of the following:

  1. Harassment as a new norm in scholarly discourse is unacceptable.
  2. It is the responsibility of those who observe harassment to condemn it—not the recipients or victims of said harassment. Observers have the power and responsibility to name harassing behavior, to call out or call in those who perpetrate it, and to report abusive comments to site administrators. Observers who feel personally unsafe calling out harassment publicly can report it anonymously by using the growing number of tools for flagging harassment for site administrators.
  3. There is a difference between criticism of a scholar’s work and a personal attack on that scholar. Criticism of a scholar’s work serves to further discussion, knowledge, and thinking on the topic of the work, while personal attacks serve only to intimidate, threaten, and discredit the scholar as a person.
  4. Scholarship, specifically online scholarship, requires a commitment on the part of editors, journals, and institutions to stand against censorship, bullying, abusive and incendiary comments, and harassment of all kinds. That means clearly articulating a standard for conduct and discourse, then holding all contributors and commenters accountable to these standards.

The Lead Pipe editors aim to be allies for scholars and scholarship. We have long had our journal’s values and code of conduct accessible for both contributors and readers, but it’s clear to us in this current landscape that simply sharing those documents within tabs on our journal site, while good, is insufficient. We must also assert our values loudly and consistently.

The Editorial Board of In the Library with the Lead Pipe stands firmly against harassment of any kind. In the realm of library scholarship, we support the sharing of ideas, scholarly discourse, and academic critique, and we defend those who engage in these types of interactions. For those who step outside of scholarship and deal in personal attacks, character smears, and other harassing behaviors rooted in a person’s race, national origin, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, religion, or economic status, we will delete comments, flag content as inappropriate, and report conduct inconsistent with collegial scholarly communication. We are committed to these values and actions.

As we assert where we stand as an editorial board and journal, we encourage all readers and scholars to consider where you fall in this landscape. We encourage you to consider whether you’ve intentionally or unintentionally perpetrated bullying or harassing behavior against a fellow scholar, critiquing them instead of critiquing their work. We invite you to contemplate whether you are passively or actively anti-harassment—do you shake your head and lament the state of scholarship when you see harassment, or do you speak publicly against it and report it? ((One of the reasons we’ve seen the increase in harassment with reference to Lead Pipe publications is because readers have alerted us when they see it. We are grateful to these readers who reach out to us to report harassment.))

The space between passive anti-harassment and active anti-harassment is all the difference. Without a community of readers, scholars, editors, journals, and institutions willing to both engage in scholarly discourse and actively condemn harassment, online scholarship may be in for a tragic final act.

2 Responses

  1. My sincere thanks to the editorial board for this strong statement. You have taken the lead in the profession when it comes to speaking out about this issue, and it is truly appreciated by those of us who have experienced harassment. I hope others will follow your lead! We need to support one another in the important work that we’re doing.

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