Why is our Geography Curriculum so White?

Many of us teach courses that are shaped by anti-colonial and antiracist scholarship. We include readings and topics in our classes that provide our students with frameworks for better understanding issues of inequality. We have compelling ‘how-to’ stories of what it means to incorporate race, ethnicity and anti-colonial perspectives into our classrooms.[1] We have monographs, edited collections, special issues, and a lengthy list of pertinent journal articles that explicitly and implicitly interrogate the social construction of race, black geographies, and anti-colonial struggles.[2] But I would argue that still, with all of this, for the most part, we are writing, teaching, and recreating white geographies: by ‘we’ I mean almost all of us (including me); by ‘white’ I mean ways of seeing, understanding, and interrogating the world that are based on racialized and colonial assumptions that are unremarked, normalized, and perpetuated.

T-shirts from the AAG Subconference For Black Lives Matter ‘T-shirt Book Bloc’ noted in Angela Last’s blog, “Mutable Matter.

I understand that what I am saying is provocative. According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, to provoke is, “to cause the occurrence of (a feeling or action): to make (something) happen,” and that is indeed what I hope this column will do. I want to raise the question of the whiteness of geography’s curriculum as part of the larger picture of geography’s whiteness, and to ask what we (as individuals, as geographers, as departments, as the AAG) have done about it and what we can do. As Audrey Kobayashi and Linda Peake noted 15 years ago, “no understanding of geography is complete, no understanding of place and landscape comprehensive, without recognizing that . . . geography, both as discipline and spatial expression . . . is racialized.”[3] I’m suggesting that we are still working with an incomplete and non-comprehensive understanding of geography, and I’m hoping to provoke us to change that.

I’ve borrowed the title of this column from an initiative based at University College London [4] that struck a deep chord with me for many reasons. First, we all know that demographically speaking geography is indeed a very white discipline,[5] and changing that fact – despite the whole-hearted and resourced efforts on the part of many folks through many years – has proven quite difficult.[6] As one of our AAG councillors noted at our recent meeting, there are many interlocking pieces that need to be addressed and it’s difficult to know where and how to intervene. But rethinking what we teach – an important piece of that puzzle – seems a very tangible and do-able thing; in fact, if we consider ourselves any good at all as teachers, this rethinking is something we do all the time. Second, the provocation of calling a curriculum ‘white’ works to shake up our notion of the purported objectivity of the scholarship we make and teach, of the unremarked and therefore normalizing assumptions built into our syllabi, and at least for me, serves to question how I’ve conceptualized my courses including my choice of topics and readings. And third, the timing is right; we now have a considerable body of scholarly literature within geography to draw on (in addition to literature in related fields), and, equally important, the energy and commitment to do the work from key parts of our discipline – from graduate students through academic leaders.

I’m certainly not the first person, of course, to raise this important issue. Drawing on an already active movement, the AAG diversity task force recommended in its 2006 report that “departments should review their curricula to determine the degree of commitment to diversity and, if necessary, create courses that make the curricula more relevant to today’s racially diverse society. Courses that address certain areas may be needed, for example:

  • Race and space in the maintenance of structures of domination, subordination, and inequality
  • Intersectionality and space (i.e. the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality)
  • The ideology of white supremacy and the use of space to maintain it
  • The spatialities of white privilege
  • Racial residential segregation and racial inequality: the causes and consequences
  • The ghetto, barrio and ethnic enclave: their origin, persistence, and consequences
  • The racialization of immigrants of color
  • Environmental racism
  • Critical race theory
  • Space-and race-based public policies
  • Race, concentrated poverty and economic restructuring”[7]

Following through on this recommendation, in conjunction with the others made in this important report, is vital to addressing the whiteness of geography and its curriculum. But since 2006, our departments and universities have faced severe financial and organizational challenges concomitant with the global recession and the increasing neoliberalization of academic life. As I’ve noted in previous columns, the pressures on us as teachers, scholars and mentors are often immense; academic success is counted in numbers of publications, not numbers of students that we’ve challenged.

And so we need help. We can start by sharing syllabi, readings, bibliographies, topics, relevant media, etc. But this alone won’t lead to change; we need assistance in learning to recognize our ‘white’ assumptions, and we need training in how to take those new understandings into the classroom. It’s been clear to me for a while that teaching/mentoring is by far the most political act – in the sense of enacting social change – that I can ever hope to accomplish. I will be able to accomplish more with a less ‘white’ geography curriculum. How should we proceed? I’m looking forward to hearing your responses.

DOI: 10.14433/2015.0015


How We Hurt Each Other Every Day, and What We Might Do About It

For those who do not experience their ill effects, it is difficult to recognize the ways in which a glance, a comment, something mentioned or overlooked, made invisible or hyper-visible, a seat not taken or a body too close, inflicts pain on others. For those who do experience these often subtle acts of othering, the visceral knowing-ness is immediate and the effects cumulative. And they take a large toll on our bodies and our psyches. As the poet Claudia Rankine says, “You can’t put the past behind you. It’s buried in you; it’s turned your flesh into its own cupboard.”¹ Overt acts of sexism, racism, and homophobia in Geography are far less apparent than they used to be, but not so their subtle, small, everyday enactments, what Chester Pierce called microaggressions, that serve to keep people in their place (and that oftentimes means out of Geography). The words that recognize and speak back to these microaggressions are difficult to conjure; a rebuke does little good since the insult wasn’t ‘intended,’ while a complaint raises the specter of the ‘sensitive and difficult person.’ What some have called death by a thousand cuts keeps cutting; perpetrators not recognizing the damage they cause, the victims still and again left silent.Mona-hurt-col-11r

And so what to do with the outrage felt and injustice committed when someone says or does something often unwittingly, perhaps unintentionally and unconsciously, that causes damage because of its insistence that one is less than/different from? I have started by asking fellow geographers to open the cupboards and tell me their stories.² Inspired by many,³ my goal here is to make everyday acts of racism, sexism and homophobia apparent to those who do not feel their effects; and to make the task of holding up those cupboards a little less difficult by sharing its heavy burden with others. Here, only slightly annotated, are some of those stories, collected between April 4 and April 28, 2015.

I have just been asked by a senior male colleague, via email, to join a panel because I’m female, and he needs a female to balance the panel. Why does he not indicate that I have any other skills to offer to the process other than that I am female?

What I have found is that for many ‘critical’ thinkers these isms are wrapped up in a meritocratic veneer. Most recently a colleague who had asked me to work on a grant with her and on which I spent several weeks redid the grant structure and dropped me but kept a white female professor who had purportedly done nothing as yet for the grant. This was because having a white female professor would improve the chance of success for the grant. The desire to build upon the ‘success’ of the white body through association led to the appropriation of the efforts of a black woman.

Day on day, I find myself damning myself with gender by performing surplus emotional labors for my supervisors: ever so slightly inappropriate expressions of concern, admiration and sympathy; praising their outputs which they already know are great. My praise, like any criticism I might come up with, ultimately means nothing. None of this, perhaps, is reducible to gender. Yet it is gendered. The academy must yet be one of the most forgiving or survivable environments, nevertheless, my embodiment feels wrong within it and experiences friction and an alienating discipline.

At a recent grad student party, I noted to a male friend about the noticeable gender segregated activities (e.g. an all-male card game). He responded, “You know you’re one of the guys, right? You can join us any time. You’re cool.”

I heard more than one account from younger female master’s students in my department who were hit on/sexually propositioned by well-established “critical” male geographers at AAG parties. I believe it was clear to others (including other faculty) at the party what this man was doing and he was not called out on it.

Because I am raced, some of my students assumed that I wanted them to read an interview about race. I doubt that if I were a white professor they would have made this mistake. This is because people of color bear the burden of race while whites in the United States are unencumbered by it. Race exists for many whites only when they are in the presence of nonwhites—that is, the raced.

As a teaching assistant, the university’s internal studies are gobsmackingly clear: at ratios of 90:10, complaints will target me and not my male counterparts; will deploy concepts saturated with expectations of masculine authority and tropes of feminine hysteria. Students preponderantly respond to female PhD students, employed to deliver their undergraduate tuition, as though they were not legitimate sources of university level pedagogical value.

Everyday I notice that the lecturers, all of whom are women, teach more and are paid less. The senior lecturers, all of whom are men, teach less and are paid more.

A visiting prospective graduate student walks past the sign outside my door that says “Professor My Name,” sits down in my office and says: “What is your job here?” When I explain my job as a professor, he quickly sits up and explains that he had assumed that I was a member of the office clerical staff.

The disconnect between rhetoric and discourse of being progressive, liberal and inclusive with the actual practices of discrimination, silencing, and marginalizing could not be more glaring in my department. Faculty write about race, class, and other geographies of difference, but cannot seem to recognize, let alone account for, the racism and Othering that they perpetuate all the time, and the various ways it shows up in their behavior and actions. A few colleagues have not spoken with me nor acknowledged my presence in the same room for a number of years due to my calling out their problematic behavior.

Last week I mentioned my ‘partner’ in the classroom. I was way more cautious than I usually am not using the gender of my partner in any of my discussions around immigration and law. Yes, this was my own way of ‘closeting’ myself but it was something that, as a new faculty member, I have been working through in the classroom. Constantly thinking about how my queerness is perceived in the classroom.

After my AAG paper presentation, the only comment I received was: ‘Wow – you only cited women and black people! Was that on purpose?’ If citing ‘women and black people’ still manages to cause such a stir, that means that there is still a lot of work to be done.

When a colleague suggests that our faculty meetings be rescheduled for a time that would be easier for faculty members with school-aged children to attend, a senior male colleague proceeds — in said faculty meeting — to ask each faculty member with children if it is a problem for him or her personally to attend these meetings. Not surprisingly, no one says “yes.”

I am afraid to send this email, because I need my job and if word of this got out, I’m sure I would be let go.

I had this interview with a governmental authority. The interview went quite well and then we talked about this report that was important for me. So the guy said: “You know what, I could give this to you…” He stood up, and while walking over to me he said “But only if you keep this to yourself.” He leaned over, grabbed my boob and tried to kiss me (he only made it to my cheek). I was totally shocked, it took me some seconds to realize what just happened and then I immediately packed my stuff and rushed out of the office. Funny enough one of my research fellows knows that guy and he was talking of him (before that incident) as “good old XXXX.” So while they are having this fella-like male relationship, I’m the one that is being touched and harassed, because I’m a woman.

Otherness is also a question of language and academic context.

I try where possible to avoid ever being in a space where I have to interact or collaborate with my colleague; whenever I find myself in such spaces e.g. department meetings, I can rest assured that any comment/observation that I make, will be routinely discounted or devalued by my colleague, never directly but always by way of a generalized statement that articulates some ethical/moral high ground that positions me/my views as unethical, or naïve or unhelpful relative to their own.

I am constantly being told I don’t need ‘it’ — the ‘it’ being promotion, publication, progression, recognition, then often implicitly but sometimes explicitly reasoned through a familial logic of me not having family (reduced to not having children).

This kind of harassment by men — standing way too close in public and commenting on their consumption habits — certainly felt like a form of misogyny in the moment.

While it’s important to talk about (micro)aggression, I would also like to open a dialogue about what to do when you see it happening. This occurred to me when I was told about an incident when a male panelist made an excuse to leave the room when the women on the panel were being ignored by the audience. And other small, but significant interventions in a handful of cases of “whitesplaining” when people of color were being told about their experience by apparently clueless white people. It wasn’t much in the way of effort — just subtle maneuverings of conversations and body language to shut out/down the ‘splainer (usually a white dude).

I’ve ended with this last story because it reminds me that this (listening to each other) is just a first step. There’s a lot more work to do, including thinking through and sharing strategies with others about what and how to say something/intervene when microaggressions are directed at you or you witness this happening to someone else. I look forward to hearing your stories, strategies, and interventions.

DOI: 10.14433/2015.0014


The Costs (and Benefits?) of Constant Counting

I’m a 24; well, only on Google scholar (the more inclusive research “platform”). Otherwise, on Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science, I’m a 12. For those fluent in the language of academic metrics you will know immediately what I am referring to: my h-index, a number that is calculated based on the subset of my publications such that h publications have been cited h times. In other words, according to Google scholar, I have 24 publications that have been cited 24 times. The h-index, therefore, provides a shorthand metric of academic “success,” a way of combining an assessment of productivity and purported impact all in one number. Given that companies like Google and Thomson Reuters make these h-indices very easy to calculate online (in fact, they calculate them for you) and therefore very easy to compare yourself to your friends and colleagues, they are particularly seductive. But like all forms of seduction, our involvement in these comparisons brings both pleasure and pain, and can disguise truths as well as reveal them. In this column I reflect on the growing trend of using metrics to evaluate academic success, summarize what I learned from asking department chairs about the role of metrics within their departments, think through the costs of constant counting, and discuss ways of keeping metrics “in their place.”

Certainly using quantitative tools to measure research productivity and impact is nothing new. A recent Professional Geographer[1] article traces the first attempts to quantify rankings of departments and influence of individual faculty members to the 1960s; before that comparisons were based on reputations and judgments of scholars. Tracking citations of articles was originally a tool for understanding the history of ideas; it was only with the development of commercial online databases such as Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science in the late 20th century (and later Elsevier’s Scopus and Google Scholar) that these measures took on a salient currency within the global, neo-liberal, academic marketplace.[2] Much has been written about the ways these “platforms” differ (e.g. the Web of Science has only recently and very selectively started including books, hence the reason my h-index is considerably lower than on Google Scholar, a database that includes books and book chapters), their biases (e.g. limited if any inclusion of non-English language journals), and their inherent limitations (e.g. counting citations is only a measure of popularity, not necessarily impact). As geographers it is particularly important to understand these differences/biases/limitations, given that we inhabit a world that includes different forms of knowledge production and dissemination and different cultures of citation.

To begin to understand the impact of these metrics on Geography I sent out a message on the department chair’s listserv asking whether they had noticed an increased attention to metrics in their department and university, and if so, in what ways those metrics were impacting their department. I heard from 25 department chairs, and overwhelmingly (70%) the response to the first question was yes (a noticeable increase in attention to metrics); some smaller universities and/or more teaching-oriented universities were the only ones to respond no. For those who answered affirmatively, the impact of using these metrics varied considerably; most interesting was the ways in which they could be manipulated to support particular goals. Not surprisingly, some strong geography departments were happy to use measures like the h-index to promote their department vis-à-vis other less strong departments within their universities; while departments that are hoping to move into the ranks of the top-tier are using metrics to gain national attention by comparing their faculty and department to nationally-ranked departments. So it was the level at which these metrics were being used as forms of comparison and competition that was important. Many department chairs were vehement that the most detrimental form of comparison was intra-departmental; that is, using metrics to compare faculty with each other. The seduction of metrics like the h-index is the ease with which differences in citation cultures and forms of knowledge production can be flattened within a second, creating false comparisons – what one department chair referred to as “caustic” problems – and thereby undermining a key strength of geography, its intra-disciplinarity.

All department chairs mentioned the ways in which such metrics need to be “put in their place” and considered against and within other, more holistic and qualitative forms of judgment and comparison. Some questioned their use all together. Are there alternatives? Well, don’t be fooled by the interestingly named altmetrics, a fairly new term that refers to metrics based on, for example, the number of times an article has been viewed online, downloaded, tweeted about, mentioned in blogs or Google+ (for more see: http://chronicle.com/article/Rise-of-Altmetrics-Revives/139557/). These metrics certainly provide data much faster than citation indices, but the issue of what really is being measured is even harder to discern.

Some have questioned what living within an audit culture and the fast-paced neoliberal academy is doing to us as scholars and people. Sociologist Roger Burrows suggests that at the root of many feelings of discomfort about this constant counting and comparison is that we are all implicated in it. Even when we “attempt to resist,” Burrows argues, “we know that not playing the ‘numbers game’ will have implications for us and our colleagues: ‘play’ or ‘be played.’”[3] Geographers too have questioned the costs of counting in terms of the quality of scholarship that it produces and the potential harm it can cause to ourselves and our communities as metrics push us to work faster with instrumental goals (to publish a lot in high impact journals), and to be constantly comparing ourselves to our peers. Working and writing collectives have been formed to challenge the individualism and competitiveness built into metrics like the h-index by emphasizing how all scholarship is ultimately collaborative (see for example the SIGJ2 Writing Collective: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8330.2012.01011.x/full). And members of The Great Lakes Feminist Collective (http://gpow.org/collective/) have analyzed the sources and effects of living with constant counting, and put forward 11 strategies for slow scholarship as collective action in order to, in their words, “recalibrate and change academic culture.”[4]

As discussed in previous columns, we are a discipline that must always act strategically to be in the ‘game’ (and therefore we are compelled to keep counting), while understanding that our strengths lie in our differences. Some of us work individually, some in teams; some work on books that have relatively lengthy gestation periods, while others can produce articles within weeks. Some will compete for the highest impact, while others will challenge the system that creates the competition. As long as we avoid the “caustic” and invidious interpersonal and intra-departmental comparisons and as long as we understand and carefully weigh the costs and benefits of constant counting and comparing, we should be able to live and care for each other in this academic community we call geography.

In the course of writing this column I found errors in my Google scholar list of publications; some articles were included that are not authored by me (my name was associated with the pieces, and somehow the name was re-formatted as an author). When I figure out how to edit it, I believe I will no longer be a 24. I can live with that, but then I’m an established scholar and I don’t have the weight of tenure or promotion hanging around my neck. For many others, the costs of constant counting are indeed very high. I’m interested in hearing your stories and your thoughts on this important matter.

DOI: 10.14433/2015.0009



Curating the AAG

Even more accurate than the first daffodil as a mark of spring’s approach is the onset of my recurring anxiety dream. It goes like this: I’m walking quickly through endless corridors, becoming more and more filled with dread as I just can’t seem to find the room in which I am about to present a paper. It is my “AAG” nightmare. About 15 years ago or so it replaced my “exam” nightmare, the one in which I’m in a room about to take an exam and realize that I know nothing about the subject. I’ve been told these types of anxiety dreams are common and “normal” and, at least for me, as our annual conference approaches, they are always tempered by the anticipation of connecting with old friends and the excitement of encountering new ideas. And Chicago 2015 promises to fulfill those expectations in spades. In this column I highlight some of the more unusual and creative events associated with the conference (what I referred to earlier as the more-than-conference events) and do my best to bring to the fore some of the sessions that are of particular interest since they relate to one or more of the conference themes and/or resonate with my own personal concerns. This, then, is an idiosyncratic, abridged, and highly curated whirlwind tour through AAG 2015 (and speaking of curation, see sessions 4443, 4543, 4643).¹


If I wasn’t on the AAG council I would be attending one of the pre-conferences: the 28th annual political geography pre-conference all day Monday April 20th at DePaul University or the Gendered Rights to the City: Intersections of Rights and Identity two-day (April 19th-20th) pre-conference at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee . As it is, I will be spending much of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday (the 19th-21st) locked inside a conference room with my fellow AAG councillors drinking copious amounts of coffee to keep us going as we work through a fairly long agenda. This year that agenda includes (but certainly isn’t limited to) discussions of the AAG’s long-range plan, the future of the AAG archives, our impending membership survey, new editors for some of our journals, and our ongoing and new initiatives around diversity. So if you run into some bleary-eyed geographers on Tuesday, when you’re fresh and ready-to-go, you’ll know who your councillors are.

I will do my best to be re-energized to start the ‘official’ part of the conference after our meeting ends Tuesday at noon, and will be rushing off to all the fabulous sessions, some already in progress (1291 on Illinois-based scholars and activists working to end mass criminalization and deportation), some just beginning (the subconference will be taking place in sessions 1444, 1544, 1644, while discussions of a more-than-verbal geography are in sessions 1419, 1519, 1619). I won’t want to miss feminists on the frontline of geography, sessions 1526 and 1626. With a short break for a double expresso, I will be heading to the Presidential Plenary, session 1723 (ta da!). With the theme of Radical Intra-disciplinarity, I have paired geographers from a broad range of subfields to speak/perform/create around five topics: Martin Doyle and Becky Mansfield on Nature, Patrick Bartlein and Stephen Daniels on Time, Harriet Hawkins and Sarah Elwood on Visuality, Josh Barkan and Laura Pulido on Justice, and Tariq Jazeel and Dan Friess on Landscape. You don’t want to miss it.

I hope to continue conversations around geography’s Radical Intra-disciplinarity on Wednesday with panel session 2229 that raises important questions about our discipline’s hybrid status (science-social science-humanities) and our engagement with global environmental change, while Cultural Geographies annual lecturer (2429) Katherine McKittrick will be employing poetry and literature to address enisle and black geographies, thus contributing also to the theme of GeoHumanities. And how could I not be intrigued by the combination of politics and art from the sci-fi feminists, Future Force Geo Speculators, in session 2129? A symposium on International Geospatial Health Research will be held in session 2238, conversations concerning the status and key challenges of Geography and Online Education will take place in sessions 2517 and 2617, while I don’t want to miss the dialogue on David Harvey’s new book (2522). And given all the events of the past several months I’m particularly looking forward to session 2615 in which a range of scholars/activists will be discussing Ferguson and other contemporary North American police states. I’m sure at this point I’ll be ready for a drink to discuss these issues and others with my wonderful international colleagues at a reception in their honor, before heading out to the GPOW reception at Open Books. And dinner of course!

I’m dedicating most of Thursday to Physical Geography, with two important morning sessions on environmental reconstructions (3122, 3222) followed by Julie Winkler’s Past Presidential Address on how best to communicate the complexity and uncertainty of climate change (3324). Given my concerns over academic labor I want to spend time at sessions 3149 and 3249. I certainly will wander through the exhibit hall to see the robust Physical Geography (3470, 3570) poster session (over 90 presenters) that afternoon with topics that range from the affects of longleaf pine mast variations on climate reconstructions, to the change in the amount of CO2 absorbed by forest in Heilongjiang Province, to channel transformation in the Little Wabash River, to fire histories in Minnesota and Montana. I’ll make some forays out from the poster session to hear speakers address Marxist geographies (3257, 3457, 3557, 3657), green Chicago (3426), a forthcoming Atlas of Peace (3450, 3550), new directions in mapping (3444, 3544), the launch of the GeoHumanities journal (3433), and I better not forget my own session (3602)! With a quick stop for drinks with friends at the physical geography happy hour I’ll finally get some fresh air as I head to the Newberry Library for a reception celebrating the publication of the History of Cartography in the Twentieth Century. Then, I’m off to IronSheep to test my map/mashup skills.

An important panel session bringing to the fore issues surrounding Sexual Harassment in the Field and Laboratory Settings is Friday morning (4217), as is a screening of the documentary Rare Earth (4244), and questioning Geography’s ‘healthy subject’(4124, 4224, 4424); while in the afternoon I’m interested in learning more about deaf geographies (4401, 4501, 4601), geographies of John Muir (4519), and the complex relationships between health and environments (4141, 4241, 4341, 4441,4541,4641). Saturday I might sleep in until the AAG Awards Banquet at noon, and with that new energy make it to sessions on affective ecologies, living economies, and alternative ways of valuing nature (5154, 5254, 5454, 5554), consuming the Anthropocene (5180, 5280), anarchist geographies (5467), and will do my best to run between all of the 43 sessions scheduled in the last time frame of the conference (I feel your pain!).

Have I mentioned the parties? I don’t want to miss those, while touring our new on-site child care is high on my list. And what would a geography conference be without field trips organized by our local arrangements committee – everything from activism and activists in Chicago in the 1960s to Chicago Beer Geography. And, importantly, there are the spontaneous events: bumping into folks in the hallways, going for walks around town, meeting up for drinks with friends from graduate school. These often prove to be, as least for me, some of the most enriching personal, political, and intellectual encounters of the conference.

Whew, just thinking about it all is tiring, but exhilarating too. It is also, of course, a cause of anxiety, and for me particularly so: how, really, does a President act? What happens if I “really” can’t find the correct room? I guess I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’ll be busy doing what most of you are doing: preparing papers, panels, and parties. I can’t say I will make it to all of the events and sessions that I’ve highlighted but I will aim to. And I can’t say that I’ll be able to chat with all of my new and old friends but I will want to. If I don’t recognize you in the hallways it’s most likely because I’ve left my glasses in the previous room, or haven’t slept well the night before, or am having a senior moment. Please do me a giant favor and re-introduce yourself to me. I don’t want to miss anything.

¹ For those uninitiated, the numbering system for the sessions goes like this: the first digit refers to the day (1=Tuesday, 2=Wednesday, 3=Thursday, 4=Friday, 5=Saturday), the second to the time slot, and the last two to the actual session number. You can track these easily on the interactive calendar.

DOI: 10.14433/2015.0005


Keeping Track of Us and Keeping Us on Track

We know a lot about you. Not that we’re spying of course, but the AAG has been keeping track of its members for quite a long time. We collect data on the number and type of geography degree-granting programs, the gender, race and ethnicity of our members, the types of jobs filled by geographers, the various career paths we’ve taken, etc. But we know very little about other aspects of our discipline and our members that are critical to how we practice, teach, and communicate geography. Because of this the AAG has formed a task force and will be contracting with a firm in order to survey our members about a set of important issues including an assessment of the state of contingency within geography, and an evaluation of AAG members’ satisfaction with the organization’s services, conferences, and suite of publications. In this column I reflect on what we can learn (and infer) from historical survey data, review what and how we know particular things about you, suggest why we’ve decided that it’s important to know more, and urge you to participate in what we hope will be an ongoing assessment of our association and discipline.

You probably remember filling out a form with questions about your gender, “race,” and ethnicity when you became a member of the AAG. The information compiled from this form constitutes one of the most comprehensive databases we have about who we are: (http://www.aag.org/cs/projects_and_programs/disciplinary_data/aagcollected_individual_membership_data). These data are particularly interesting to me since they contain both quantitative and qualitative information about our changing demographics and our changing times. For example, from this online source one can track the increasing numbers of women members of the AAG, creeping upward each decade: 15.4% in 1975, 21.6% in 1985, 29% in 1995, 35% in 2005, and 46% in the most recent compiled data for 2012. Similarly, we can determine the shifting ethnic composition of our membership. In 1985 for example, only .7% of our members identified as Hispanic and 1.2% as African-Americans, while in 2012 the number is 4.38% identifying as Hispanic and 3.15% as African-American (and as we all know, these numbers are well below the national averages).

Of equal interest to me was what could be gleaned about us from the strategies and categories we used to collect this information. For example, apparently 1980 was the first year that the AAG specifically asked about “minority group representation” on membership forms. Before that, the numbers were estimated through various means – personal contacts, assessments based on whether one attended a historically-black university, and assumptions based on surnames and residence. This tells us a lot about the size of our discipline (our membership was considerably smaller than it is today), the assumed prevalence of whiteness, and the relative importance given to diversity issues. Equally interesting was seeing shifts in the words we used to categorize race and ethnicity. Between 1972 (the first year of online data) and 1975 we collected data on “Blacks” and “Spanish-Americans,” adding “Oriental-American” to the register in 1976. In 1980, when the categories were added to the membership form, the list included American Indian, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native Alaskan and Pacific Islander. In 2006 the category “Black” was replaced by “African-American.” No doubt this list will continue to evolve by adding, for example, “mixed race” to the inventory, and/or allowing members to choose more than one racial category (as the U.S. census now does).

Of course this isn’t the only type of membership data collected by the AAG. We collect additional demographic data on those membership forms such as job categories and highest degree attained. Through various initiatives taken by AAG research staff over the years, we have gained very useful insights into the numerous educational and career paths followed by our members and the broader impacts of geography on society. We have also dedicated a good deal of resources to understanding how to become a more diverse and inclusive discipline (see http://www.aag.org/cs/diversity, and in particular the results of our ALIGN program).

So, and I am not saying anything new here, the type of information we collect and how we go about collecting it tell us interesting things about ourselves and our shifting socio-political-cultural contexts. Those shifting contexts, in addition to the “nudges” of several AAG committees, councillors, and staff, have placed several issues front and center that we want to address, and we need information to start. For example, as I suggested in last month’s column we know very little about how many of our members hold contingent positions, making it difficult to (among other things) advise graduate students on career tracks and devise strategies for improving contingent faculty’s lives. We are very proud of our well-attended and open annual conference, but are aware that it is more welcoming to some than to others. In order to change this we need more information about the ‘climate’ of our conferences, and about which strategies that we’ve tried are working and what new ones we might need (see for example our diversity ambassadors). And while we are excited to expand our suite of publications with the soon-to-be-launched new journal GeoHumanities, we are concerned about the relative lack of published physical geography pieces within our journals and wonder how to act strategically in order to maintain the physical sciences at the heart of our discipline. We also want to raise the quality of our journals (measured by citation indices) and are looking for suggestions in this regard.

Everyone seems to be surveying us. Like you, I receive innumerable surveys online wanting to know everything from how satisfied I was with my airline check-in service to whether or not I approve of our new university reimbursement plan. I ignore these emails. Please don’t ignore the one from the AAG that will be coming to your inbox soon. What you say will help determine the future of the AAG.

DOI: 10.14433/2015.0004


The Not-So-Silent Majority

The numbers are staggering: the majority (according to the AAUP, 56 percent) of academics teaching in American universities and colleges are contingent faculty, defined as either full-time non-tenure-track (NTT) or part-time faculty; adding graduate student teachers into the mix increases the percentage to 76 percent. The impact on higher education and on peoples’ lives is also staggering. Most people employed in the academic labor force are living precarious lives, and the fate of higher education might very well dangle in the balance. Even the U.S. House of Representatives has weighed in, recently filing a committee report whose conclusion minces no words “In today’s lean era, schools have often chosen to balance their budgets on the backs of adjuncts.”¹ In order to better hear what the not-so-silent majority is telling us, I asked AAG council members to discuss with their colleagues and reflect on the impact of contingency within geography, and we had a robust conversation about this at our Fall council meeting (contingency was also the subject of one of Ken Foote’s presidential columns). In this column I review what we know and don’t know about contingency within Geography, summarize the points made at the council meeting, and present some ideas (most of which are not my own!) of what the AAG and the discipline might do to ameliorate some of the negative impacts of contingency. I also add my own voice to the stories of the not-so-silent majority.

Although we know that the number of contingent faculty teaching in higher education in general has been rising since at least 1975, we have very little data about contingency within geography per se (although we are hoping to conduct a survey in the near future that would include questions about contingency). Two very good recent surveys of contingent faculty in the U.S. provide some contours of the situation. We know that there are more part-timers teaching in the humanities than in the social sciences or sciences. According to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce’s recent survey² (more than 10,000 part-time faculty members responded to this 2010 survey), 42 percent of part-time faculty teaching in universities and colleges were in the humanities, compared to 13.8 percent in the social sciences and 14 percent in the sciences (the rest are teaching in professional or “other” fields). And we know that women make up a disproportionate percentage of contingent faculty. The AAUP’s survey of all instructional types indicates that more women than men are part-time or NTT faculty; the data are not as clear-cut in terms of race and ethnicity. We also know from these surveys that by far the majority of contingent faculty (almost 75 percent) are “waiting” for a tenure-track job, i.e. contingency is not a choice for most but considered a step along the tenured career path. The executive summary of the part-time faculty report was sobering: the average pay per course was $2,700, faculty rarely received professional support outside the classroom, and they were given little or no reward for years of experience or credentialization. In other words, for the most part, part-time faculty live in poverty and work in demoralizing conditions.

While not denying these realities, our free-flowing council meeting discussion added nuance and important details. Because our councillors come from a broad range of departments and institutions, I was able to get a sense of the diversity contained within the category “contingent faculty.” For example, we discussed how some contingent faculty in geography fit into a different category, what some have called “faculty of practice,” people who bring their experiences as lawyers or urban planners or GIS specialists to the classroom. These are often win-win scenarios: for these folks, being asked to teach a course is often a compliment and/or status symbol, and their expertise is usually a very welcome addition to the curriculum. In addition, for some geographers engaging as full-time teaching faculty without research requirements is a desired career path, and some (but seemingly few) universities are recognizing this path by structuring career ladders in terms of merit pay increases and professional support. I also became aware of different strategies for ameliorating some of the negative impacts of contingency. We discussed how the usually positive strategy of bundling together adjunct courses in order to create a full-time NTT position can have unintended consequences such as limiting the number of courses available for graduate students to teach. We also considered the ways that unionization can both help with the contingent situation (by setting pay standards for example) but can also work against it (through particular mandates that, for example, limit the number of courses a faculty member can teach).

We closed our discussion with thinking through some concrete ways that the AAG might respond to the situation. One of our councilors, Tom Maraffa, circulated a document that he had prepared and his recommendations for what the AAG might do were very welcome:

1. Provide opportunities for contingent faculty to share strategies for coping with the contingent faculty life, engaging in scholarly activity, and marketing themselves to the non- academic world.

2. Provide training and examples of best practices for full time faculty and department chairs on how to engage contingent faculty in department and university life.

3. Serve as a clearing house that matches available contingent faculty with departments having opportunities particularly at the regional or metropolitan level.

4. Provide training on how to work with university administrators to improve the conditions of contingent faculty or how to convert the contingent faculty budget to full time positions.

5. Include questions directed about and directed toward contingent faculty in future AAG climate surveys.

Some of these ideas have already been taken up by the AAG (I particularly recommend two books published by our association, Aspiring Academics and Practicing Geography, that provide extremely useful information about alternative career paths and coping strategies for faculty development); some of these ideas will be taken up (our upcoming climate survey, and the establishment of a knowledge community for contingent faculty); and some of these ideas need people and resources behind them to get started. They are all fantastic ideas.

Would these recommendations have made a difference in my life? After receiving my Ph.D., I had five NTT positions in different places all over the country. The answer is yes; if fellow faculty members had treated me equitably through my 5 ½ years of contingent faculty status, I would have maintained a better sense of self and worth; if there had been a clearing house that matched faculty with potential jobs I may have gotten a tenure-track job sooner than I did; and I certainly would have benefitted in terms of gaining valuable advice, if I could have shared strategies with other contingent faculty.

Having lived through contingency and come out ok (damaged but wiser) in the end, I have a very personal and emotional stake in the situation, and feel strongly that there is work to be done. One of the keys to my contingency “survival” was the extremely supportive geography community that I was lucky enough to be a part of. I had several informal mentors, “famous” senior geographers, who had heard me give a talk or had read a paper that I had written and introduced themselves to me and told me that my work mattered. I was a member of GPOW (http://www.spatiallyinclined.org/gpow/) and at each meeting like-minded women who understood my experiences were there to commiserate and provide words of encouragement. I knew that there were geographers working within university administrations — one of the key sites for instituting substantive changes — fighting for more full-time positions and decent pay for contingent faculty. And though there were difficult moments for me within some departmental cultures, I always felt supported and welcome at the AAG conferences where my ideas were listened to and my career given full consideration. This supportive intellectual and emotional community kept me going (some would say foolishly!) through almost 6 years; I am very grateful.

It’s now my (and our) job to pay it forward, working at the interpersonal level and also within our departments, universities and associations to create and sustain formal and informal mechanisms that support our colleagues who are often living precarious lives. We also need to work within our institutional structures to find ways of shifting the “burden” of balanced budgets off the backs of contingent faculty. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

— Mona Domosh

DOI: 10.14433/2015.0001

¹ House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Democratic Staff, The Just-in-Time Professor, January 2014, p. 32, http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/publication/just-time-professor-staff-report-summarizing-eforum-responses-working-conditions

² The Coalition on an Academic Workforce, A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members, June 2012, http://www.academicworkforce.org/survey.html.


Caregiving and Conference-Going

I sense what many of you are thinking: the title of this column is a contradiction in terms. Caregiving almost always means staying close to home, while conferences are about being away. For most of us, therefore, it’s difficult if not impossible to do both, or is it? Over the years the AAG and voluntary groups of geographers have tried to accommodate child care needs at our annual conference (and recently at our regional conferences) with varying degrees of success. We’re hoping that this year in Chicago we can come close to being both caregivers and conference-goers by supporting the best sort of compromise available between ‘being home’ and ‘being away’: on-site, professional, child care services. In this column I summarize the various child care strategies we have adopted over the past 15 years or so, discuss why these strategies have been less than perfect, and ask how best to move forward as a discipline that requires conference-going and as a group of people who only thrive through caregiving.

I recall my first (or was it my second?) council meeting, back in 1997 in Ft. Worth when the (then) AAG executive director Ron Abler and the executive committee were able to get onto the agenda a motion for the AAG to provide funds to support child care services at the next conference. I don’t think it was easy but nonetheless the agenda item moved forward and the following year in Boston the AAG arranged onsite childcare through a third-party company. The AAG rented two hotel rooms for the duration of the conference, as well as all of the necessary equipment (and those with children know exactly what is involved in that!), and paid for two staff members from the contracting company to be on duty the entire time. As Ron tells me, the costs were very high and the usage very low. To help solve some of the problems, the following year the AAG asked for folks to reserve in advance for child care needs that were then contracted out, but again few families did so and the costs to the AAG were high; over the next several years that ‘system’ petered away.

The issue, however, did not go away. Spurred on by suggestions of specialty group and committee chairs, AAG council members, and AAG staff, the council voted in 2005 to begin a new system of child care support. The new system provided reimbursement for child care services up to a set amount per family, while the ‘work’ of finding professional child care shifted to the AAG, with individual families selecting from a list of licensed and insured childcare providers compiled by the AAG. The results of a survey conducted by the AAG in 2008 of families who had received reimbursements suggested that the ‘system’ was working well: 75 percent of those who answered the survey said they were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the service. Importantly, however, at that point in time only 18 folks had actually used the service and of those only 8 responded to the survey. Six years later this is basically still where we are, though prompted by members’ input the dollar amount has been increased, and recently funds were made available to support child care at regional meetings.

Has this system enabled conference-going and caregiving? For some families it certainly has helped. Since 2005, 56 reimbursements have been processed averaging $222 each. But given that our annual conference attendance often exceeds 7,000, it is clear that the system is not working for most. As geographers who understand the importance of place and place-based networks we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Finding the right people to take care of our children is an emotionally-fraught job that requires familiarity with people and places. We need to know a lot about the people to whom we entrust our children, information that is only gained through personal networking and local knowledge both of which are in scant supply when attending conferences away from home. And even with the scouting and vetting work complete, where is the place of child care? A hotel room? The lobby? Let’s face it: unless you’re Eloise and you’re staying at the Plaza, hotels are not child-friendly spaces. All of this creates a far-from-ideal situation; in fact, for most families it is a non-starter.

So, armed with information from several of our peer organizations, and prodded by many of our members and committees, we are trying something new: full-time, on-site, professionally-run, child care. We also will be providing a lactation room in a convenient location. The costs to the Association are sizeable but do-able; some of those costs will be off-set by fees paid by geographers who register their kids, and we are considering in the future encouraging all geographers who can afford it to make small donations when they register for the conference. We know it’s not perfect, we know that there are issues about timing and money that need to be discussed and the system tweaked, and we know that there are an enormous array of other caregiving commitments that this new ‘compromise’ doesn’t even begin to address. A proposed new Caregiving Affinity Group is thinking creatively about possible collective solutions to some of these issues, important work that needs to continue in order for the Association to reckon fully with the professional demands of conference-going and the personal commitments of caregiving.

We urge all those interested to read the AAG updates about how and when to register for child care, and to take advantage of this opportunity if possible. We also invite everyone to visit the child care facilities in Chicago. If your conference-going experiences are anything like mine, I suspect it will be a real treat to step out of the intense and often anxiety-inducing world of conference talks and hallway encounters and enter the playful, imaginative, and in-the-moment space of children’s worlds. I’m looking forward to it.

— Mona Domosh

DOI: 10.14433/2014.0023


Geography and STEM

I knew that I had put my finger on something important when I sent out a message on a listserv and received multiple responses almost immediately and continuously for the next few days. As I’m sure most of us have experienced, our inboxes can fill up overnight with seemingly unimportant messages that are left unread. But clearly the title of my message – Geography and STEM — caught people’s attention. What’s even more impressive about the responses I received is that the message was being sent to chairs of geography departments, a group of people who most likely already receive tons of annoying messages from everyone wanting something. I tried to keep my email short and to the point, asking for two responses: was geography considered a STEM discipline at their institution, and in what ways did the STEM designation matter, leaving open an option of addressing ‘other’ related concerns about geography and STEM. I received over 40 responses, most at least a couple of paragraphs long. Impressive by all counts. In this column I want to review why this is such an important, ambiguous, and anxiety-inducing topic, summarize what many of my respondents said in regard to STEM, and suggest some ways to be “strategic opportunists.”

For those uninitiated or not from the United States, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, fields that many academic and political leaders in the United States have assessed as important for the present and future growth of our economy, and fields in which American students are not excelling. Strengthening the teaching of STEM fields in K-12 and higher education, therefore, has been heralded as essential to our global competitiveness by key figures in American education and politics, from the President of the United States, to provosts of major research universities, to principals and superintendents of school systems. As a result, funding at all levels has been increased for STEM, often at the cost of support for other disciplines. We could certainly contest why these particular disciplines and ways of knowing the world have been singled out for attention and funding (as many, particularly in the humanities, have done) but for the sake of this short column I want to focus on the realities most of us are facing right now as we try to maneuver with and through STEM.

The status of Geography vis-à-vis STEM is ambiguous for two primary reasons. First, there is no one agreed upon national definition of what specific fields of study STEM refers to. The Department of Homeland Security includes Geographic Information Science and Cartography as a STEM discipline (this is important in terms of international student recruitment), while the National Science Foundation includes geography in its list of disciplines eligible for STEM funding for most of its graduate educational competitions. The field of Geosciences (and therefore most of physical geography) is included in both definitions. Second, geography is a broadly interdisciplinary discipline, what I referred to in my first column as radically intra-disciplinary. Prodded by the AAG, the National Research Council now includes four subfields within Geography and Regional Science, two of which (Physical and Environmental Geography, Geographic Information Science) are clearly STEM fields by all counts (the other two are Human and Cultural Geography and Nature and Society Relations). And according to a study completed in 2005, 28 percent of all geography faculty teaching in graduate programs identify with one of those two STEM fields. More recently, a study of the types of degrees offered by geography bachelor and masters programs in the United States found that more than 50 percent of those programs offered a BS/MS with emphases on Physical Geography and/or Geographical Information Sciences.[1] Given the ambiguity caused by geography’s intra-disciplinarity and the lack of one agreed upon definition of STEM, and because so much is at stake, there is indeed cause for anxiety.

And that ambiguity and latent anxiety is reflected in my not scientific (and therefore not STEM!) but very informative survey of geography department chairs. The responses to the first question were almost evenly divided between those whose universities had deemed geography a STEM discipline, those that had not, and those that had split the difference (some courses considered STEM, some not). One of the more interesting insights from the responses that I received is that some of the designations had clearly hinged on the school/college that housed geography: whether a college of science or a college of liberal arts/social sciences. Some geography departments that had merged with (or re-branded themselves, see Julie Winkler’s recent column) departments of geosciences, for example, were then clearly placed within schools/colleges of science and considered STEM. Most illuminating, of course, were the responses to my second query: in what ways did this designation matter. The two primary responses were in regard to funding and student enrollment. And again my responses were almost evenly split between those departments that were experiencing increases in funding and enrollment because geography was considered STEM, and those that were just the opposite.

The most passionate responses came from two sources. Departments that were not in any way included in STEM are experiencing declines in student enrollment, particularly in their physical geography and geospatial courses. Without STEM designation, these courses are sort of “remaindered,” left only to fulfill major requirements. On the other hand (and the other source of passionate responses) departments that are STEM-designated are losing enrollment/status in their human/cultural geography courses, again left as “remainders” for major credit only. I suspect these responses were most passionate and anxiety-riddled because they are about hierarchies, the prioritization of one part of geography over another. This perhaps is the most pernicious aspect of STEM initiatives: the risk that geography is pulled apart and that we become less than the sum of our parts, instead of more than. We can ill afford to do that.

So, what to do? I received quite a few responses from department chairs who were able to take STEM initiatives and put them to geography’s advantage. Montana State University, for example, has used NSF funding focused on supporting women in STEM to hire three new faculty members, two of whom do integrative human/physical, qualitative/quantitative research; in other words, geography. Other departments are making sure that university administrators understand that geography is intra-disciplinary, that it houses STEM and non-STEM courses and ways of understanding the world, and that putting those two together is productive intellectually and practically. In my first column I used the term strategic essentialism; here I want to introduce a related term, strategic opportunism. We cannot afford to let STEM pass us by, but we need to pursue the opportunities it affords us strategically, in a thoughtful, forward-thinking way that promotes what is best about geography as a whole and that does not prioritize one way of understanding the world over another. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this important matter, and to learning about how different geographers and departments have maneuvered in this ambiguous and anxious world of strategic opportunities.

[1] See Rajibul Al Mamun, Does the Geography Major Fit in STEM?, Journal of Geography and Geology, 2015. DOI: 10.5539/jgg.v7n1p27.

— Mona Domosh

DOI: 10.14433/2014.0021


Toward a More Healthy Discipline

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Mona DomoshIf one googles the word ‘stigma’ the definition that appears first on your screen (“a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”) is followed, as most definitions are, by a phrase showing how that word is commonly used; in this case the phrase that google uses is “the stigma of mental disorder.” I know that I shouldn’t be surprised by this, particularly given the recent publicity about Robin Williams and his secret battles with depression, but I was. I had assumed (obviously incorrectly) that in popular parlance a mental disorder was no longer considered a character flaw or mark of disgrace, but rather an illness that afflicts certain people and families and that is treated (like any illness) therapeutically. I have had several bouts of depression that have left me drained and feeling vulnerable, and anxiety is something I’ve come to live with but only after years of therapy and different forms of treatment. I haven’t felt ashamed of this, but then again I don’t make a habit of talking about my illness or mental health in general. But prompted by some wonderful colleagues who are proposing a new AAG committee on mental health in the discipline, that’s exactly what I want to do in this column.

For many of us October represents the midpoint of fall term when one can literally feel the anxiety level within our classrooms and hallways begin to rise. According to the American College Health Association’s 2013 survey[i], over 51% of undergraduate students felt overwhelming anxiety during the past twelve months, and almost 32 % felt so depressed that it was difficult to function (with a notable gender difference; in both cases higher numbers for women). Eight percent had seriously considered suicide. In the U.K., a study undertaken by the National Union of Students showed that one in five students reported that they had a mental health illness. And in geography we often encounter the additional challenge of requiring fieldwork for many of our courses and research, creating situations that may exacerbate mental health conditions.[ii] It’s a stark reality we face, and few of us know how to manage it. Academic leaders in Canada are ahead of the curve. Some Canadian universities are considering ways to reduce anxiety during peak, end-of-term periods by reworking exam schedules while others are training student leaders in mental health awareness in order to reach out to their peers. But for most faculty members, awareness of our students’ mental health comes in bits and pieces; notes from a disability office/health clinic, overheard anecdotes, or the student who is willing to share their illness. The big picture – the scope of the problem that has been referred to in some circles as having reached crisis proportions – has certainly eluded me and I suspect many faculty, with the effect that discussions about how to handle the situation are muted if at all present.

And it’s not just undergraduate students who are experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression (and other mental disorders). I highlighted in my column last month the important work that graduate students do for our discipline and academic institutions, noting that they often conduct this labor in conditions that are not of their own choosing and certainly not well remunerated. Those conditions in addition to the uncertainties graduate students face in the academic job market create highly stressful situations that can often lead to anxiety disorders, depression and in rare instances suicidal behavior. Recent online news media have brought these issues to the fore, offering suggestions about how graduate programs can offer support for students’ mental health issues that range from openly acknowledging the problem to providing training for faculty teaching in these programs about how to recognize and address mental health issues.

In my case, it was only after I left graduate school that my mental health became a concern. Unmoored from the networks of friends and colleagues from graduate school and living through the constant insecurities of one-year positions, my taken-for-granted coping strategies disintegrated and eventually disappeared, leaving me in a very dark world of despair. It literally was a struggle each day to make it through my classes and meetings without breaking down into tears, while at home I found it impossible to sleep (thus further deteriorating my mental health). I of course told no one, exacerbating my feelings of loneliness and estrangement and plunging me deeper into depression. Apparently my story is a fairly common one; a recent study has documented some of the factors that can lead to anxiety disorders and depression among contingent faculty, with the stress of non-permanent positions ranking high. The authors look to institutional change in order to combat some of these concerns, particularly since their findings suggest that it is the contingent faculty who are the most committed to their institution who suffer the most negative consequences in terms of feelings of anxiety and depression.

I wonder, however, what we as an association and discipline can do to help. I finally recovered from depression by reaching out to some very good friends who encouraged me to find professional treatment. But I know that if I had been able to talk about what was happening with my colleagues without feeling shame that I would have recovered much sooner. I also realize that if I had received training about how to recognize and deal with clinical depression and anxiety disorders I would have (hopefully) recognized those symptoms in myself and been more equipped to handle them. This (among other things) is exactly what the proposed new AAG committee will take on as its mission. Spearheaded by Beverley Mullings, Kate Parizeau, and Linda Peake, a group of geographers organized a series of sessions at last year’s AAG meeting on mental health issues, established a listserv (MHGEOG-L [at] lists [dot] queensu [dot] ca), and are now proposing to establish a standing committee of the AAG. The proposed Committee on the Status of Mental Health in Geography will conduct research into the scope of the problem and assess the policies of other organization and institutions, provide professional guidance to the Council, the AAG, and geography departments in terms of protocols and ethical issues related to mental health, and engage in advocacy and awareness-raising within the AAG and academic institutions. I think this is a very important and long-overdue step that we need to take. The word “stigma” should not be a presumed outcome of “mental disorder.” I welcome your thoughts.

DOI: 10.14433/2014.0018

[i] See American College Health Association, American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Undergraduates Executive Summary Spring 2013, Hanover, MD: American College Health Association, 2013.

[ii] See Jacky Birnie and Annie Grant, Providing Learning Support for Students with Mental Health Difficulties Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities, Gloucestershire, U.K.: Geography Discipline Network and Geography and Environmental Research Unit, University of Gloucestershire, 2001


Recognizing the Work of Graduate Students