Public Engagement: Beautifully messy

By Imagining America | September 14, 2016

lb_hannahh-copyBy LB Hannahs, a Ph.D. student in Higher Education Administration at the University of Florida and a 2016–2017 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow. This PAGE Blog Salon explores themes of intersectionality and public scholarship, important topics of the upcoming Imagining America national conference, Oct. 6-8, 2016, in Milwaukee, WI.

Public engagement and scholarship is the work of addressing the very real, and sometimes very messy, parts of the human experience. The notion of success and failure sets up a false dichotomy that doesn’t recognize that any endeavor aiming to address a human issue must be allowed to exist in the messy overlap of success and failure. There is rarely going to be a cut and dry capture of success, because often this works comes at the cost of something, or someone, else. The successful engagement of public scholarship requires an acknowledgement of this, while challenging the academy’s oversimplification of success. This oversimplification often comes at the expense of those we are serving. Successful public engagement is constantly trying to address those complexities of life with the utmost care and responsibility to those most marginalized, while simultaneously negotiating the privilege we have as scholars. By studying strategic diversity plans and organizational decision-making, my research attempts to better understand administrative and institutional approaches to diversity initiatives. I hope to contribute to the body of work developing policy and practices to make deep change for historically marginalized people on college campuses.

In my former professional position, as Director of LGBT Affairs at the University of Florida, I had the privilege of being in a job that required me to evaluate my positionality on a daily basis. I am a white, trans-masculine genderqueer, blue-collar born but transitioning to middle class, queer, able-bodied, documented US citizen, and a new parent. I am all of those identities wherever I go and they shape how I physically, emotionally, and intellectually show up in the world. Being super conscious of these identities and the way I exist in the world has made these last two years as a part-time student a very lonely journey. I know as a white, trans-masculine presenting person I am given legitimacy and credibility that a colleague of color who is trans-feminine would not be given. I also know that because my personal is political, my personal is professional. While this enmeshment of identity is challenging, it opens up the opportunity for authenticity and vulnerability as part of my professional life.

For the past five years I have been building relationships and support systems, developing curriculum and workshops, and advocating for underrepresented students as a diversity professional and social justice educator. I am immensely proud of this work, but there is a strong pull to collaborate and be part of an organization like Imagining America, I believe it’s what I need to challenge me to be a better advocate, a better change agent. I am humbled to be a PAGE scholar and am eager for this experience to help me develop as a scholar, practitioner, and as a person.