Class of 2020 Convocation Remarks
Given at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign iSchool’s 2020 Convocation.
Colleagues and future friends — congratulations on your momentous achievement.
It is an honor to share space with you today.
I find it impossible to proceed without acknowledging the difficulty of this year. I am tired, and I know you are too. I sincerely hope you are able to find rest as we transition to 2021.
Popular contemporary depictions of the United States often verge upon the ahistorical, framing levels of social division, minoritization, state-sanctioned violence and murder of BIPOC people as unprecedented or new. We know this is inaccurate. Longstanding, well-entrenched forces sustaining division and violence have simply slithered their way into the open, committing acts of aggression and disinformation that are algorithmically amplified, cascading through the corporate products that increasingly coopt the off-line, lovingly slow-moving, friend and kin networks that have ably sustained personal, professional, and civic life for generations.
Being a graduate of an iSchool has and will continue to prepare you well for a life dedicated to working against inequity. Rather than spend time distilling lessons learned from my path, I want to elevate the work of peers throughout the profession and the professoriate. Their work is the kind of work I strive towards every day — the kind of work I believe demonstrates our highest potential.
Safiya Noble (Class of 2009), Associate Professor at UCLA’s iSchool wrote Algorithms of Oppression and through a tireless speaking schedule and set of collaborations has thoroughly established in circles within and especially outside of the academy, that algorithmic systems have an undeniably negative impact on society — effects disproportionately felt.
Yasmeen Shorish (Class of 2011) was Co-PI on Supporting OA Collections in the Open, co-founded the Digital Library Federation’s Technologies of Surveillance working group, and served as past chair of ACRL’s Research and Scholarly Environment Committee (ReSEC) wherein she stewarded the development and publication of Open and Equitable Scholarly Communications: Creating a More Inclusive Future.
Miguel Ruiz (Class of 2013), Supervising Librarian at the Robert Crown Library Branch in Chicago, continues to make strides providing resources and third spaces for individuals in his community to self-actualize.
Tracy Drake (Class of 2014), co-founded the Blackivists, a group dedicated to, “empowering people to use the past to speculate on or create through direct action radical, liberatory and inclusive futures for us all.”
Patricia Hswe (Class of 2008), Program Officer at the Mellon Foundation, leads the recently reorganized Public Knowledge program, an effort that funds projects throughout the world that, “increase equitable access to deep knowledge — from scholarly texts to community collections — that help build an informed, culturally diverse, and civically engaged society.”
This is just a sample, drawn from a larger cohort of professionals and scholars that you belong to. Your unique experience and expertise enriches the whole — it increases our potential to effectively work against inequity. I thank you for joining us and I am honored to call you a colleague.
I am looking forward to seeing how you will build on your accomplishments — the accomplishments you brought with you to the iSchool and the accomplishments that lie ahead. Know that there are many eager to lend you a helping hand — through good times and bad times. None of the impacts I mentioned would have been possible without extensive help from colleagues. There is a beautiful fellowship to be had in common cause.
The poet Claire Schwartz recently wrote, “When we give attention to something, we enlarge its presence in our life.”
May you have the strength and support to focus your attention, assemble your intentions, and commit to actions that foster a more just world.
Colleagues and future friends — congratulations.