Centre Square Philadelphia, published by S. C. Atkinson for the Casket.
We, the Nominating Committee of SHEAR, write to join our voices in disgust at the racist comments and blatant disrespect of junior and women scholars voiced by Daniel Feller in the SHEAR 2020 online plenary on July 17th. We also write to express our sadness and disappointment at how the leadership of SHEAR responded to the outpouring of negative reactions to the panel, first by removing the recorded video from Facebook, and then by circulating a letter by Doug Egerton which exacerbated rather than ameliorated the problem. We were honored to be elected to serve SHEAR, with its statement of values that claims a commitment to inclusivity. This is not the SHEAR that has been revealed by events of this past week.
This should be a moment of reckoning for all of us in leadership positions at SHEAR. The plenary is not an isolated incident. As many of us have acknowledged in conversation, much of what happened was sadly predictable and entirely preventable. We are hearing more and more reflections from those who have experienced racism, sexism, and exclusionary practices during our annual meetings. We support the Advisory Council’s call for President Doug Egerton to resign. But we cannot absolve ourselves of our own responsibility. This is the time for us all to address and seek to remedy the systemic structural problems within SHEAR.
As the Nominating Committee, our role is to name members to stand for election for leadership roles within the organization. This is a privilege. Our work on this committee allows us to get to know the membership and the incredible range of talented scholars who contribute to SHEAR. It is our responsibility to recruit leaders who will help to make SHEAR into a vibrant scholarly community that all those who study the early American republic will want to call home. It is in this role that we express our concern that the current environment impedes our ability to recruit new officers for SHEAR, particularly those whose voices are most needed right now.
In light of the events of the last few days, we have been considering what steps we can take as a Nominating Committee. We will continue to meet and discuss these issues going forward, but we have two proposals for immediate consideration to put forward to the Advisory Council.
First, we ask the Advisory Council to take action to strengthen SHEAR’s existing statement of values into an enforceable code of conduct with a clear reporting structure. This code of conduct must ensure that future meetings will not see discrimination, harassment, and bullying of any kind, including a repetition of the ad hominem attacks and use of slurs that we saw in the 2020 plenary. All our members should be able to trust that SHEAR will treat future concerns and complaints in a transparent and rigorous process. All our members should feel confident that violations of our code will be met with appropriate consequences that have been jointly agreed upon.
Second, the Nominating Committee urges the Advisory Council to discuss how we might add one graduate student member to the Advisory Council and Nominating Committee. It is our hope and expectation that this addition will enhance generational and intellectual diversity within the organization’s leadership.
We are glad to have the Advisory Council’s directive to immediately bring new names forward for election. We have been and will continue to convene to create a slate of candidates for the Nominating Committee, Advisory Council, and President-Elect. This work is both time-sensitive and of critical importance. An essential component of our responsibility is listening to the membership and to those seeking to become new members. We appeal to them to reach out with suggestions for nominations. We look forward to presenting the membership with candidates who will help SHEAR to move forward and become a more inclusive space.
This troubling moment presents SHEAR with an opportunity to build constructive change by rethinking the structure and programming of the organization. We strongly endorse the Advisory Council’s letter of July 19, as well as the letter referenced within it. We on the Nominating Committee also commit to nominating candidates for every level of leadership who represent SHEAR’s membership and values at their best and most inclusive, and who will better reflect the wide range of voices and academic subfields within the SHEAR community—particularly those related to historically underrepresented Black and Indigenous people and histories. While saddened and angered by the plenary and responses to it, we as a committee are hopeful, and determined, that we can and will use this moment to push for immediate and long-lasting change for good within SHEAR.