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Speak Out: Advocacy at the 2018 MLA Annual Convention

This year the MLA Annual Convention will feature a panels, workshops, and activities designed to help attendees develop as strong, effective public advocates and to give them opportunities to get directly involved in the urgent effort to strengthen and support the humanities.

The 2018 convention will emphasize engagement. In a political climate that has become increasingly hostile to the humanities and its values, we encourage attendees to think through and collaborate on new styles of activism, advocacy, and participation. The presidential theme, #States of Insecurity, is intended to call attention to the integral role of the arts and literature in politics and everyday life. The MLA’s president, Diana Taylor, urges attendees to consider, “How can faculty members, administrators, students, and staff members strengthen our institutions; reaffirm the value of open inquiry and dialogue; and secure academic access and freedom for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, and immigration status?”

In response to these questions, several panels will focus directly on advocacy and activism, including a roundtable on “The Humanities and Public Policy” which asks how we can link humanities work to matters of public policy, and a panel on “Sanctuary, Contingency, and the Campus as the Site of Struggle,” which will address the threats facing undocumented students and faculty members, among other vulnerable members of university communities. Additionally, panels like “Possibilities of the Public Humanities,” will ask how humanities scholars can make their work available and relevant to a broad public audience.

The conference also seeks to emphasize new modes of scholarly collaboration by providing a variety of less traditional session formats, including workshops and collaborative roundtables. This year’s program features workshops on advocating for your department and a special presentation by the founder of the OpEd Project designed to give attendees the foundation necessary to write persuasively for a public audience, and to address core questions of how the humanities can have an impact outside of a traditional classroom setting.

The recently launched MLA Action Network will also provide opportunities to reach out directly to elected officials. Volunteers at advocacy tables in the conference venues will help attendees compose and send handwritten postcards to their representatives, expressing support for federal funding for language and literature study.

The ongoing vitality of humanities teaching and scholarship depends on a new wave of effective public advocates. We hope you’ll find ways to get involved at the convention, or visit the Take Action page on the MLA Action Network.

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