By Nicole Cunha
The Diversity, Equity, Race, Accessibility, Identity in LIS (DERAIL) Forum was held on Saturday March 26, 2016. Whether you’ve heard of the “anti-conference” or not, know this: students can make a difference. A group of library science students (yours truly included) planned and executed this event in seven months, from September 2015 to March 2016. UIUC’s original idea for their conference inspired the students at Simmons to create DERAIL.
Why is this student-led initiative important?
1. So students are heard.
2. So they can share their own research.
3. So they can shape their education how they envision it.
Recently, students at Simmons have made demands that they want the administration to hear. DERAIL, in a sense, is the same thing on an LIS scale. There are certain gaps in our education and classroom discussions that are not being addressed, and we (speaking for this group of students) want to change that.
We accomplished this by sparking conversation amongst students, faculty, and staff in order to “address the gaps in professional standards and curriculum to recognize how the complexity of our individual and collective identities can work towards equitable information systems, environments, and practices.” Identity informs practice, and vice versa.
Now that the LIS students have encouraged each other to voice their concerns about educational practice, the next step is to encourage folks in other professional tracks to do the same. For example, how can folks in the healthcare professions best support their patients that identify outside of the gender binary? What can LIS do to help support this? Each school constructs siloed programs of study, but what benefits can we draw from a multi-faceted education?
I write this opinion piece for a dual purpose: first, to demonstrate that students do have power within the educational hierarchies of the institution; and second, to stress that students’ voices should be heard and considered during the restructuring of their education.
DERAIL was a student-led initiative to promote student voices, and hopefully this model can offer support within and across each school. So…how can you get involved in your respective positions as a student, faculty, staff member, or administrator?
On a basic level, know that we, as a community, need to work together to make change happen. Students may have the ideas, but the administration of the college or individual school may provide funding and negotiate the boundaries around the event. If the institution provides funding, how much branding are they allowed to do? As a student leader, do you want to share your ownership with the institution whose ideas you want to expand? (Be sure to ensure that your group is given credit; it’s YOUR idea.) You decide if faculty, staff, and professionals can attend your event, and how. For instance, at DERAIL, we let faculty, staff, and professionals participate virtually, as did several other schools.
To professors and faculty, will you share the news of student-led events with others, and share the pride in the students’ creation? Where do you want to start this conversation?