BY: KANISHKA SIKRI
In October 2020, Socially Just Academia hosted its Imagining a Socially Just Academia Launch Event, exploring where we are currently at in our fight for social change, and where we would like to go as ourselves and as one. While many strategies of resistance and imagination took shape, a key theme emerging from our collective discussion centered around the practical steps, practices, and routines we must take up to produce a socially just academia. We asked the difficult ‘how to’: how to cultivate a plurality of knowledge systems, how to prioritize co-iterative knowledge creation in the academy and community, and how to allow for generative knowledge production to take place. We embraced the reality that decolonizing everyday practices is inherent to the imagining of just futures.
The purpose of Digital Stories for Knowledge Equity hosted in collaboration with the Knowledge Equity Lab and Socially Just Academia arises from this pragmatic lens—how do we create spaces where this decolonization can take place, where we can disrupt the dominant paradigm of knowledge production and cultivate liberatory, pluriverse spaces rooted in marginalized ways of knowing. To realize and enact decolonization, we must deliberately engage with power logics of white supremacy, capitalism, coloniality, and patriarchy. If we are to challenge epistemic violence, we must challenge the mundane spaces in which domination is curated, how we reproduce it in our personal practices, and what we can do to tangibly excavate it.
Given that intersectional inequity is engrained in dominant knowledges, we often displace the importance of our individual practices in maintaining it. To reveal epistemic injustice in our day-to-day patterns, inspires this collaborative and participatory workshop centered around the unsettling of multilayered oppressions in knowledge practices, and the legitimation of alternate, consistently marginalized knowers and ways of being, thinking, learning. The design process of this workshop animates from our intention to craft arenas in which contemplative practice can take place, where we can invite emotion, embodied movements, and risky practices into our creative production practices.
On January 26, 2021, 25 participants from across the globe were invited to this collective workshopping. To ground the co-creation, we asked the participants to reflect beforehand: What does it look like in practice to decenter oppressive knowledge hegemony as it is implicated in our daily patterns? What practices, routines, questions, or habits can we instill and take up in our day to day that allow for us to unsettle dominant knowledge relations and center alternative, marginalized knowledges?
Hosted through Zoom and leveraging the virtual whiteboard Miro, participants came together to share a digital artifact(s) representing some action, idea, story, writing, performance, art, question, challenge, that relates to the notion of excavating intersectional inequity within our knowledge institutions. By inviting participants to think through this decentering as they embody, manifest, and struggle with it beforehand, we were able to create a collective visual archive that probes shared dialogue. Adopting a ‘potluck’ environment, where there is no set menu, our ‘food’ item is a show and tell of whatever artifact or point of discussion one wishes to bring up and think through together. As if we are sitting around a dining room table, we got a taste of other kinds of offerings and knowledges we would otherwise not have had the opportunity to learn from.
Our session consisted of four core parts, as we termed ‘movements’, which reflect how we move and flow through different viewpoints, experiences, and learnings, as well as how we physically move through our virtual space on the Miro board:
- Movement 1: time for quiet reflection and the invitation to paste one’s artifact(s) considering these probing questions: Why did you choose this artifact? What was special about it? How did you engage with it? What ideas, actions, values, or practices can you take from it?
- Movement 2: introduction & going around the table sharing one’s digital artifact, with participants noting visually some key ideas that emerge
- Movement 3: engaging in deeper dialogue generating ideas, actions, practices, and values to take from these artifacts through a collective visual archiving
- Movement 4: bringing participants back to the main room from their respective breakout rooms, we engage in a collective share back on the various artifacts shared and what we wish to take from them individually and as a large group
Each participant shared their unique offering to move beyond the host/participant dynamic and achieve liberatory justice through our own unique and diverse ways of knowing. We covered multilayered themes in the struggle for social justice, grappling with diverse mediums from spoken word and poetry to syllabi design strategies. We discussed Amanda Goreman’s beautiful provocation, her pushback at the United States Presidential Inauguration all the way to Simphiwe Dana’s song, Bantu Biko Street, from which we imagined that art does pushback, how art can be an area of celebration and play, struggle and grief to intermingle. We noticed our differences and pursued them as emotional meeting grounds for change. For us, sound became powerful, we did not need to understand a language to resonate, to connect. And at the very least, if not connected by anything else, we were united in this grappling, making sense of the world, struggling with the same challenges and questions that float around us all.
I realize that the work of decentering knowledge inequity is an ongoing practice which we must deliberately make time and space for. While this workshop provided a space for this contemplative and radical imagining to take place, it must be sustained, referred back to, mixed, added, implemented over and over again in our lives. Accordingly, we are continuing this decentering (and centering) in a dedicated slack channel, which hopefully inspires asynchronous and synchronous workshops in the future. Indeed, the work that I do—that we all do—to unsettle and dislodge violence, domination, inequity may have no ‘start’ and ‘end’; however, we can cultivate and make habitual the routines, practices, and commitments that make this radical imagination commonplace.
*Socially Just Academia in collaboration with the Knowledge Equity Lab will be holding a second iteration of this workshop with the same digital artifact sharing and idea generation in early 2022. For those interested, please sign up to receive updates from the Socially Just Academia email listserv and slack channel.