Should we have to say this?

Local saying (I’m guessing): “don’t be the pumpkin head with the spade”

It’s just like the before days: I’m waking up in an unfamiliar bedroom, very early, after an evening of wandering around a city I don’t know, looking for a meal, after a day of chatting to colleagues, listening to presentations and making some (hopefully) insightful contributions of my own.

Yep: it’s conference time.

In my case, it’s also do-the-things-that-association-chairs-do time, as UACES holds its annual conference in Lille.

One of those things at yesterday’s opening plenary was to remind colleagues that they’ve all signed up to our Code of Conduct, which is a new thing for us and for study associations in general.

The aim of the Code is – in terms I didn’t quite use yesterday – to reinforce the message that you shouldn’t be a dick. If you are – if you treat colleagues unprofessionally, or harass them, or bully them – then you can expect others to call that out and sanctions to follow from us.

At one level, none of this should be controversial. It’s an academic conference, not Fight Club, and our expectations of what is and isn’t acceptable shouldn’t cause anyone difficulties.

And yet, we find ourselves hearing more stories of colleagues behaving in ways that might make for colourful gossip at the coffee break, but which really have no place in the modern workplace. You can insert the example you heard about here, which might well involve someone confusing their fancy job title for the right to treat someone else without respect, or someone else being less than thoughtful about the language they use.

I’ll note here that it’s not something that I’m aware of particularly in our association, but equally I don’t doubt that some colleagues will have crossed at some point the line our Code now sets: just because I’ve not seen it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

And so we made explicit what had been implicit. As a field, European Studies contains plenty of controversial topics and the world continues to provide plenty of events that aggrieve and inflame tensions: the war in Ukraine and how we discuss and describe is only the latest (non-random) example in a long list.

Moreover, if we are sincere in our desire to support colleagues – especially those earlier on in their academic careers – then we have to make sure that the words on a page are also make material in our actions. If we want to spread values of equality, diversity and inclusion then we do that much more effectively through what we do than through what we say.

So I’d encourage all of you to live the values we profess [sic] to: treating others with respect; being mindful of how others might see things; acting after thinking; not letting poor behaviour by others just slide.

The more we do that, the more we can embed and make real the constructive and collegiate community of scholars that we all gain from. Something to think about next time you wake up in an unfamiliar bedroom in a new city.