This post was spurred by the following piece:
The problem when academia crosses into the public without a common baseline for education:
1) someone/some group of scholars create a concept that encompasses issues that aren’t directly associated with the topic in its phase
If you’re familiar with my thoughts on “sustainability”, consider what happens when people want something better than maintaining a negative trajectory. When people or organizations would say “we want a more sustainable future” a few years ago in their mission statements, the hope they convey in the expression mattered as much as the “definition” of the word. Eventually, industry or advocates take hold of the concept and it often becomes a buzzword by distancing itself from the actual research and meaning that went into the word or phrase.
2) academia rarely reaches & educates enough of the public to bring every day people into understanding nuanced phrases like sustainability and structural racism.
When I say academia, I mean the gap between a handful of scholars who know & champion the ideas, and the rest of higher education–most Universities and colleges are so centered on research & basic student training (teaching basic classes) that students and staff often fail to engage the public beyond their campuses during their time there. It’s understandable if you know what the responsibilities for being in higher education as a professor are and how the career system (tenure track especially) are set up.
But I believe the organization & “movement” or “industry” for higher education itself has an obligation to engage and educate the rest of the public. The public should at least understand why a liberal arts degree like Women’s and Gender Studies or Environmental Science matter and what they practically contribute to the world beyond their specialized perspective.
How do you explain that structural racism assumes discriminatory policies also affects people who aren’t discriminated against on basis of race?
Sociology, social work, feminist theory (in terms of examining power structures), and political science might be places to start.
How do you validate what sociology, social work, feminism, and political science–or even basic natural sciences like geology and environmental science–to the general public when they barely know why these fields exist in the first place?
The answer to this comes from proactive outreach and better education that happens before crises take place. Practical tools do emerge from the “squishy” or “soft” social sciences, and natural sciences work for a reason too.
Academia–the part that does the research and learning–needs better Public Relations. I hope people in the position to create those jobs will have the foresight to properly value and employ the communicators tasked with bridging gaps beyond phrases soon.