An exchange with an old grad student buddy unexpectedly prompted an interesting Twitter discussion of alcohol at academic conferences, specifically SHEAR. I wanted to provide my email to SHEAR president Annette Gordon-Reed, sent earlier this year, for context on my request.
Annette (if I may),I don’t know that we’ve met in person, but we’ve emailed and Tweeted before, so I hope I haven’t overstepped by addressing you informally.I was reading the Chronicle article on conferences and alcohol (https://www.chronicle.com/article/A-Minefield-How/245441) this morning and thinking about SHEAR. Is setting aside sober spaces something that our organization should and would consider?I am not opposed to alcoholic consumption at conferences, but as someone who grew up in a very religious, non-alcoholic environment, I know that even though I partake occasionally, being in alcohol-infused professional spaces can be off-putting and intimidating. The Chronicle article also prompted me to think about not just those who are uncomfortable in those situations but also those who suffer from alcohol addiction or who have medical conditions that prohibit alcohol consumption. Having seen some of my male colleagues’ crass behavior while inebriated and some of the attention paid to sexual attention at conferences recently, I imagine that women in the profession can find those environments problematic as well.To be clear, I’m not advocating banning alcohol or receptions at SHEAR. I just wonder if it might be good for the executive officers and the advisory council to discuss having one designated social-networking event at each conference that is alcohol-free. (As SHEAR’s former social media coordinator, I even thought of the hashtag #soberSHEAR, for what it’s worth.)Thanks for considering my suggestion.
Gordon-Reed agreed to discuss the suggestion with the SHEAR advisory council. Her idea to have an ice cream social at this year’s SHEAR is great and illustrates the way in which thinking differently about social events can produce the same networking opportunties without the negative possibilities that sometimes arise.