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Motherscholar Collective paves way for diverse scholarship

By Raena Doty

Asst. Arts & Features Editor

As part of a Scholarly and Creative Showcase hosted by the Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching, Scholarship and Service, FSU hosted a panel of scholars from a group called the Motherscholar Collective April 12.

The panel discussed how and why the collective was formed and what they do as a group.

Maggie Obaid, a psychology professor and a member of the Motherscholar Collective, said the group formed after COVID-19 caused lockdowns and the struggle of motherscholars became very apparent in their own lives.

She said when calls started coming in for scholars to write about their experiences through the pandemic, and a group of motherscholars who had already been in contact before the pandemic began to discuss them.

“We had some frustration as a group with seeing these calls. Not because they shouldn’t exist - like, these were important things to discuss - but because we felt like voices like ours would really be left out of this conversation,” Obaid said.

They formed the Motherscholar Collective in order to make sure their voices would not be left out of the conversation just because they had particular challenges to face as mothers - particularly lack of time and emotional energy to invest in scholarship.

Katharina Azim, a professor at California Institute of Integral Studies, said the Motherscholar Collective is “interdisciplinary and nonhierarchical.”

She said the mothers in the Motherscholar Collective are incredibly diverse - they come from a wide array of academic disciplines. Members from within the same discipline often have different areas of expertise, and their personal backgrounds are also incredibly diverse.

Azim said they are “thinking intersectionally about our identities and our experiences, because our lived experiences do inform how we understand our research and how we shape our research.”

Explaining what it means when she says the collective is “nonhierarchical,” Azim asked attendees to consider what traditional group publishings look like in academia.

She said traditional publications often consider a lot of factors based on seniority in a project when deciding what the authorship of a paper will look like - what order the names will go in and whose names will be included on the final publication. But the Motherscholar Collective does not give authorship in that way.

“In our scholarly community, ‘not hierarchical’ really means that when you are bringing yourself into the research project, you are bringing your whole self - you are valued, you are valuable,” Azim said.

She said the collective will list someone as an author no matter how small their contribution to the finished product was - if they could only copy edit the text at the end, their contribution is still considered valuable enough for authorship.

Ivanna Richardson, a professor at the University of Ottawa, said the collective will add “The Motherscholar Collective” as the first author if the publisher will allow it, but otherwise, they choose based on who needs authorship.

“We, as the group of authors of the piece, ask who needs which position to help support their specific career state,” she said, and added when no one needs it, they’ll choose the order of authorship randomly.

The panel then began to discuss another tenant of the group - “radical feminist flexibility.” Azim clarified this isn’t associated with radical feminist movements, but rather an ideology around how they treat each other and work together.

“We were radically mindful, for example, of the ways that time, space, and our actions uniquely affect motherscholars,” she said.

“We’re trying to facilitate a space that feels comfortable and safe for folks to bring their whole selves to the project,” she said, and gave the example of saying it needs to be a space where mothers can leave at any moment because their child is sick.

Katie Frazier, a professor at Worcester State University, said radical feminist flexibility is mostly about accommodating the “mundane.”

Obaid said she described the principles of radical feminist flexibility to her research methods class.

“I was saying that some of these things that I am bringing up to you about the group probably sound obvious or, like, ‘duh’ to you because it just is the way we should relate to each other as humans, but it’s because you haven’t been corrupted by academia and academic research and some of the power structures in academia yet,” she said.

Richardson said a big part of the radical flexibility is that members of the collective are able to join or drop off of projects as necessary, and members only have to contribute what they’re able.

“We value you. We want you there in the room. We want to hear your ideas. But it’s OK, also, if you can’t. And that second portion is almost more important than the first portion - to tell people that it’s OK,” she said.

Another value the panel stressed was the importance of intersectionality within the Motherscholar Collective.

Obaid said different members of the collective bring different experiences, and this makes the scholarly work they produce more effective.

“Members of the collective have a couple papers that explicitly address the intersection of the academic with motherhood and with other parts of our identities,” she said.

She added they have papers by motherscholars of color, disabled motherscholars, LGBT+ motherscholars, and these all contribute different perspectives and enrich the conversations they’re having.

Helen Ho, an independent researcher with a background in communication studies, said joining the Motherscholar Collective made her feel less lonely.

She said, at her former academic institution, she was the youngest person and the only person of color in the department, and when the Motherscholar Collective formed, it “felt like a home.

“It helped me to expand my boundaries in so many ways - in terms of scholarship, but also identity. And I realized that it was a space where I could feel fulfilled,” she said.

Ho added many of the members of the Motherscholar Collective are people who have doctorates or jobs in academic fields, and this gives them a position of privilege, and “for me, the Motherscholar Collective was a way to use that privilege to lift up other voices.”

When asked how to implement the ideology of the Motherscholar Collective into undergraduate classrooms, Obaid had two main recommendations.

First, she said people should teach students to value all voices, “especially those who don’t get heard very often.”

Second, she said teachers should change how they “value input.” She added many students dislike group projects because they worry about their grades more than they worry about the people in their groups, and group work should act to teach people how to work together.

The members of the panel all spoke on the ways the Motherscholar Collective made their lives better and made them see the world in a new and different way.

Frazier said the Motherscholar Collective helped to make her feel more productive and happy in her life.

“There’s a difference between having it all and being whole - and I think, for me, the collective has really opened this space - this reality - where I can be my whole self in a way that doesn’t require me to simultaneously eat away or cut away parts of myself,” she said.



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