Shedding (YET MORE) Light on Marginalized Spaces & Identities by Becky Avila

This year the British Association for American Studies (BAAS) funded two successive annual conference panels that support, promote, and feature the production of research by and about people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, and disability communities. This ‘Targeted Research Panel’ provided the opportunity to “foster and forward research that attends to and includes historically marginalised communities and scholars without regularised institutional support.” The inaugural Targeted Research Panel consisted of myself (a scholar from the U.S.), a colleague from the United Kingdom, and a colleague from Germany. Together, our research illuminated the myriad ways in which marginalized spaces and identities are configured in policy, law, literature, popular culture, and history.

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My own research discussed the social, macro-economic, and political variables involved in the creation and displacement of Los Angeles’ homeless youth population. Dr. R. Brückmann explored the process of creolization both internally and externally as it relates to everyday practices, census categories, and the evolvement of legal codes; and Dr. J. Ward used literary, pop cultural, and political rhetoric to consider how ‘mothering’ is used as a tool for policing national borders, borders of identity, and for perpetuating binary configurations of normativity and deviance.

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As my fellow panelists and I explored the marginalized spaces occupied by our respective populations of study, we could not help but consider our own marginalization within the academic space. Exclusionary practices in academia have existed as long as academia has existed. And at what cost? The cost is the quality, depth, and criticality of scholarship and perspective that underrepresented scholars often bring to the field. There is a cost to the students who do not see themselves represented in the faculty. There is a cost to the university as it fails to disrupt the status quo —and what is higher education and scholarship if not the desire to instill change through research, debate, and constructive dialogue? It’s just more of the same and we cannot afford more of the same.

More of the same dictates that women academics are less likely than their male colleagues to achieve tenure. The percentage of female tenured faculty hovers somewhere between 20% – 33% in the EU and the US. In Germany, women occupy only 17.3% of the senior academic positions. In the UK, women occupy 17.5%. Although women in the U.S. held nearly half of the tenure-track positions (49%), they held just 39% of the tenured positions.

Gender pay gap

Additionally, the pay gap is significant. In the UK, for example, female academics earn 12% less than their male counterparts. In the U.S., women academics earn 5.7% less than their male colleagues. The challenge of receiving tenured positions significantly increases in the U.S. if you are a woman of color. A report from 2016 shows that Asian women held 4.9% of tenure-track positions and 3.0% of tenured positions; Black women held 3.6% of tenure-track positions and 2.3% of tenured positions; and Latinas held 2.7% of tenure-track positions and 2.4% of tenured positions. This is a problem.

I wish I could include these kinds of statistics for my colleagues in the LGBTQ+ and disability communities but they continue to be removed from the discussion of diversity within university campuses and academia. Comparable statistics are not readily available.  This is also a problem.

Institutions of higher education must consider the ways in which their actions, or inactions, continue to perpetuate exclusionary practices for historically minoritized communities within academia. The Executive and Conference Committee of BAAS took a step in the right direction for committing to equity, diversity, and inclusion in both philosophy and action by soliciting for and funding (and not in arrears but upfront!)  the Targeted Research Panel. This is a conscious design with equity-focused policies and more institutions of higher education need to follow suit.

As part of the inaugural Targeted Research Panel, I look forward to another year of scholarship and conversation with my incredibly talented co-panelists and conference attendees. See you in Liverpool in 2020.


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Becky Avila PhD is co-founder of The SALSA Collective. She works for Safe Place for Youth (SPY) in Los Angeles, CA. SPY’s mission is to inspire, nurture and empower the resilient human spirit of homeless youth by providing immediate and lasting solutions, one young person at a time.

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