Guest Post: On why you should make a list

I wish I had made a list.

A list of each incident I was told about, of each incident I witnessed, of each incident I experienced.

These incidents could have included anything on the spectrum of chilly climate to sexual assault. Being called a girl. Women raising their hands and not being called upon at meetings and lecture Q&A. Being interrupted. Being silenced. Details of a poisoned environment, like the “artistic” nude photo emailed to all department members because it’s part of his email signature. Harassing, threatening, or intimidating emails. The sexual assault of a teaching assistant by the instructor she was working for. I would have make careful note of what things were told to me in confidence and what happened in public. I would have noted the official response, if any, to these incidents.

My list would have included anything that my instinct told me was an issue. I wouldn’t worry if later on I decided that one thing or another wasn’t pertinent. And my list wouldn’t have been pretty. Maybe bullet points, definitely not poetry.

It seems simple now, a document on my laptop where I compiled notes. I admit it is also depressing.

Despite the gloom that lurks over making such a list, I urge you to make one of your own. Include dates, times, places, people present, and include whatever evidence you can. Evidence can be documents, photos, emails you sent in regards to an incident, emails about setting a meeting time to talk about a concern, your meeting notes or official meeting minutes. Write a few notes on how incidents and concerns are dealt with. Perhaps a concern was dealt with and the resolution impacted your department for the better. Note that, too.

Hopefully, your list will be nearly empty. Maybe it won’t. I’m not suggesting that you make the list to take formal action at the equity office. Just document things as they happen. Maybe you’ll never need to use the list. However, the time may come when you feel you do need to take formal action. Readers of this blog know that incidents are often not isolated but are part of a larger culture. Your list can help to establish a pattern of behavior so that substantive action for change in departmental or university culture can take place.

The list may also allow you to articulate the banal practices of discrimination that you are dealing with. For me, I think such a list would have given me a means of separating myself from what I witnessed and experienced and heard. The list is an ethnographic dataset. I could have played the role of the “objective researcher,” providing myself with a (false, yet helpful) separation from the incidents. Analyzing data in one form or another is what so many of us do. Having that dataset can help to analyze and change the departmental culture we work within.

Make a list. Make a list because your brain will forget details. Make a list because it might be emotionally too difficult to remember it all, your experience and the many confidences shared with you. Make a list because someone might need the best evidence you can give.

One thought on “Guest Post: On why you should make a list

  1. beautiful and too damned true! my mind is now flooded with the seemingly endless list of incidents. often they seem too small because we know the person and they are actually not that bad. however, it's not about the individuals. it's about the climate. it's about building a case for institutional transformation and culture change. the incidents don't need to be attached to individuals to make this case. it's also not about me. it's about all of us.


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