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"Otherness" at IMC in Leeds: An Open Letter

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UPDATE: Professor Axel Müller notified me today (8/1/17) that the IMC website has been changed to include a statement about the value of diversity and an apology "for any offence caused by comments made during the introduction to Monday’s opening lecture". These are steps in the right direction, and I hope the IMC continues to diversify: https://www.imc2017.co.uk/news/otherness-imc-2017/

Thank you for your support!


Dear Professor Axel Müller, Director, International Medieval Congress,

I am writing to express my concern about the recent events at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, U.K. as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education: http://www.chronicle.com/article/Medievalists-Recoiling-From/240666. As a Shakespeare scholar who has worked to make the study of Shakespeare, literature, and the humanities more inclusive and welcoming, I was shocked to learn that your panels on “otherness” were not only not diverse, but also that the conference organizers have not addressed adequately the offending comments made by one of the session moderators.

In this political-historical moment when the value of the study of the humanities and social sciences is constantly questioned and indeed threatened with vast institutional cuts, I find it dismaying that to date the IMC has only offered a bland statement that the organizers “welcome the fact [that] the debate continues.” What is there to debate when your own members of color no longer feel comfortable attending the conference? We need as big a tent as possible if the study of the humanities and the social sciences are to survive.

I urge you to act more swiftly by offering an apology for any bad feelings generated by the insensitive remarks and creating a statement about the value, importance, and necessity of diversity in medieval studies.

The Shakespeare Association of America values and fosters inclusivity in our profession. As part of a multi-year programming initiative, the conference organizers in coordination with SAA leadership hosted “The Color of Membership” plenary session at the 45th Annual Meeting of the SAA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f8_sOAucWw. The IMC may well wish to explore similar initiatives.

While I have sent this letter to you as an individual, I hereby publish this letter online for others to co-sign.


Ayanna Thompson
President-Elect, Shakespeare Association of America
Professor of English, The George Washington University

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