The Medieval Academy of America, following a survey of the membership taken last year, released a Professional Conduct Policy on January 2. I quite liked this coverage of it, on the College Fix. Excerpt:
According to the document, it is meant primarily for the protection of “those in vulnerable positions” from other medievalist members, who could potentially “assert a relationship of power” over them.
What actions does the policy define as troublesome? While it is highly specific as to what constitutes sexual harassment, all of the other potential violations in the categories of “harassment,” “microaggressions,” “bullying” and “social media” are very general.
“Harassment includes demeaning, humiliating, and threatening actions, comments, jokes, other forms of verbal and/or written communication, body language, and physical contact,” the policy states.
This generality has been taken by some to be problematic; despite the academy saying it “will not take breaches of professional or ethical behavior lightly,” what exactly constitutes a breach in its judgement appears to be lightly outlined, if at all.
Much of what is written about is based upon an individual’s personal judgement or feelings. For example, the academy strictly prohibits harassment in the form of “demeaning” or “humiliating … body language,” but does not state what types of online actions are considered violations of either. It also says that bullying “may include refusal to recognize … personal constructions of work,” which, as the word “personal” implies, differs from one professional to another.
Under the category of “microaggressions,” instead of detailing in the policy what types of behavior are restricted, it links to a Tumblr blog titled “Microaggressions.” The blog’s last post was from over a year ago, and in the FAQ section in response to the question “What makes you an authority on microaggressions,” its authors admit that they “aren’t.” They do, however, define the term as “the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities.”
Rachel Fulton Brown comments that:
If feelings are going to be the way in which we determine whether or not people belong in the conversation, then… it’s a change in the character of the professional body, from one of mutual interest to social belonging, and that will change its effectiveness.
For my part, I was amused by this nugget from the policy:
Harassment is a form of discrimination and misconduct by which the harasser asserts a relationship of power over the harassed through behavior that causes feelings of fear or distress.
Apparently every single meeting with one of my grad-school professors was “harassment.” 🙂