Our Promises

Dear AA, ACH, AW, KK, and GH,

As I put fingers to keyboard, I currently sit in a booth, in a suite, surrounded by you. When I deliver this, I will be in front of people, sitting at a table, surrounded by you. Over these past couple of days, we have been immersed in each other’s presence. We have eaten together, we have worked together, talked, and traveled together. The gift of our presence to one another is something we take seriously, we show up for one another. Sure, sometimes one of us will forget the new meeting time that we’ve explicitly agreed upon as a collective, while others will know the letters and numbers of our meeting URL by heart. And sometimes in the chaos of adjusting to a new job, in a new city, in a new office — all one can do is log onto Blue Jeans and be present. We are learning that this is enough. This is how we equitably govern ourselves across shifting geographies and institutional affiliations – getting comfortable with moving at the speed of agreement, consensus, or as Alex put it, consent.

But this is not the temporality of the institution. That tension – between our time and the institution’s time – is not unique to us. In fact, it’s a contradictory position that feminists of all sorts have learned to occupy, with varying levels of success, failure, bitterness and hope. That tension and its struggles are daily companions. So, when resources are made available, “we pick it up and put it in our pocket(s)” as our very own T.L. has described it, because we’ll need it. Even after the report has been filed to fulfill the conditions of a grant. We’ll need it even after we’ve decided we’re not actually an STS scholar, or a film studies or communication scholar, or an art education or digital humanities practitioner. We take on these identities with the trust and knowledge that with our names attached to a grant or project, we will not be betrayed. Even if we change our minds after we think on it some more, or after we read some more. Together, we can be bold. Together, we can take chances. Together, we have power we didn’t know we had.

In the prompt we prepared for today, we asked “What are the problems of SCRAM? Are these our problems or are these the problems of being adjacent to capitalistic neoliberal academic systems?” We’re not sure if this is the question we’re most interested in any more. And as I took it on as a question I would address, I’ve been thinking about how we might reframe – identifying not our problems but giving words to the promises we’ve made to each other. This is inspired by the work of Ruth Nicole Brown, Blair Ebony Smith, Jessica L. Robinson, and Porshé Garner (who together form the musical group We Levitate). In their article for a recent special issue of American Quarterly about critically engaged digital practice. We Levitate and its originary project of SOLHOT (Saving Our Lives Hearing Our Truths) are dedicated to creating space to celebrate Black girlhood and Black Girl Genius. And they do that by valuing each other, committing to each other. Their promises are:

// QUOTE//

  • “I love you in a space that says we shouldn’t,”
  • “We are artists without form and scholars without method,” and
  • “We are misunderstood and determined to persist.”


With SCRAM I now feel safe enough to ask what we promise each other, what we owe one another, and how can I show my love for you not in a way that necessarily leads to outcomes or contribute another line to my CV – though sometimes that is how we demonstrate love – but first and foremost, how can we promise to continue to grow with one other? To provide room for experimentation, to provide possibility for the missteps, and mistakes necessary for growth? These are not usually afforded women of color in the academy, but together with this group and with the extended FemTechNet network, I feel how we are making this for each other and how those who came before us built it with us too. It is hard to give language to this love, this form of freedom and safety, this companionship.

What I sense is that this difficulty has to do with the fact that SCRAM emerged from a different project, with different aims, which ACH has already described – FemTechNet. I learned so much contributing to FemTechNet’s challenges to higher education innovation and new media presentism, manifested in an entirely new online course structure and an impressive archive of course materials historicizing the topic of feminism and technology. Though, some of the most transformative and significant lessons that I learned were connected with understanding how power works in university systems. As Sara Ahmed describes diversity work as feminist theory in Living a Feminist Life:  QUOTE we learn about the techniques of power in the effort to transform institutional norms or in the effort to be in a world that does not accommodate our being. END QUOTE (Ahmed, Sara. Living a Feminist Life, 2017)