The Proposal Reviewers We’ve Been Waiting For

When I think about my experiences submitting proposals for programs to ACPA, and to be honest all conferences, one thread that runs through my memories is the feedback I receive from reviewers. Almost without exception, one reviewer either: 1) provides feedback that indicates they barely if at all read the proposal, 2) offers feedback that reads more like a personal rant than developmental, constructive criticism, or 3)  simply reads “N/A”. Colleagues and friends have shared with me their experiences of feedback that dismissed or erases their lives and perspectives, questions the academic validity of counter narratives, and serves as another example of people from marginalized communities having to fight twice as hard to prove they belong and that their contributions matter. I imagine that I am not the only person to experience this, since, for example, Reviewer 2 is its own meme. And when I speak with academic friends about this and our shared mounting frustration, often the conclusion at which we arrive is “what could we ever really do to change something so entrenched?”

This question is at the heart of so much of what ACPA is hoping to be and is working to become. While many of us continue to work to understand and put into practice the work of the Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization on our campuses, we also can and should ask ourselves how it shows up in the ways we take up our involvement in ACPA. One way we could take this up is by being a new kind of proposal reviewer.

Perhaps it is important to begin by asking ourselves why we want to review program proposals for ACPA19. Who do we hope our reviews will serve, and what are we hoping to offer to our colleagues and to our field by participating? What values inform our reviews? Once we have identified those answers for ourselves, we all should ask whether our answers align with the values and mission of ACPA. Is what we are hoping to offer helping to advance and incorporate the SIRJD into this aspect of our ACPA experience and involvement?

For many, this reflection may shed light on a deeper alignment that was initially realized. For many more, this may bring to light a divide between what we say and what we do. In both instances, these answers should serve as a springboard into being a new kind of reviewer. Whether you have realized that you have some work to do, or if you are just realizing that you have more to offer than you once thought, you can use this realization to offer what has been missing from reviews for many years. Reviews that are more centered in Justice, decolonization, that challenge the proposal writers to grow and support them through developing better and more robust scholarship. These reviews could invite the proposal writers into dialogue and a co-creative space of learning and teaching.

This is the sort of reviewer so many of us, many of you reading this included, have been waiting for. In truth, many of you who are reading this are the reviewers you have been waiting for. So what more are we waiting for?

Conor P. McLaughlin (he/his/him or they/them/theirs) is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Bowling Green State University. Conor researchers the ways in which people who hold multiple dominant group identities can be active participants in creating just and equitable campus spaces and the experiences of unemployed student affairs professionals. Conor also greatly enjoys punk rock, good coffee, and cooking.

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