The fifth annual SC&I scholarly Incubator, titled “Information Discovery,” was held virtually on March 8, 2023, to enable members of the school’s scholarly community to address, investigate, and discuss the following critical questions:
- Where have members of our community at SC&I made inroads addressing the opportunities and challenges for our research conduct — how can we go further?
- What can it mean for teaching and mentoring research practice at any level of education or career development?
- What enabling environments and infrastructure should we seek and develop at SC&I and in the university?
Organized each year by Associate Dean for Research Mark Aakhus and Interim Dean Dafna Lemish this year’s scholarly incubator brought together more than 60 members of the school’s scholarly community.
Describing the aim of this year’s incubator discussions, Aakhus wrote to the school community that the goal of the two-hour event would be to “explore questions pertaining to the connections among diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility and the digitalization of life and living, for the conduct of inclusive discovery in SC&I’s research and pedagogy - especially as it relates to insights and innovations in the methodologies and methods we use and that we teach.”
Providing background for the decision to frame this year’s incubator around these issues, Aakhus explained, “The past decade has witnessed both a renewed critical attention to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility as well as the continued and accelerating expansion of datafication-computation-digitization across all walks of life. For the SC&I community, the combination is significant for what we deem possible for our topics of inquiry and crucially for how our inquiries are conducted.”
The event featured discussions led by Director of Undergraduate Studies in Information Technology and Informatics Warren Allen; Assistant Professor of Communication Shawnika Hull; Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Youngrim Kim; Associate Professor of Communication Jeff Lane; Journalism and Media Studies Doctoral Student Nikhila Natarajan; Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Britt Paris; Assistant Professor of Communication Sarah Shugars; and Associate Professor of Library and Information Science Vivek Singh.
Providing further insight during the discussions were Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Bernadette Gailliard; Assistant Dean for Information Technology Jon Oliver; and Assistant Dean for Programs and Assessment Sharon Stoerger.
After the event, several faculty members commented on its success and future steps the school might take to advance work around the issues discussed.
Gailliard said, “I appreciated that the SC&I Incubator on Inclusive Discovery was a dynamic space with lots of opportunity to hear from various members of the SC&I community. Going forward, I am inspired to think about how to make the invisible, visible – how do we increase transparency about the labor involved in community-engaged research within marginalized communities? How do we keep the people behind the data visible and meaningfully engaged in the research? How do we demonstrate the connections among our faculty’s work for students and other stakeholders? And how do we uncover the ‘hidden curriculum’ regarding what it takes to successfully navigate academic spaces? Attending to these questions will help us create more equitable and inclusive environments for research and learning at SC&I.”
Hull said, "I think that these conversations are an important way to share perspectives on critical and timely issues that affect each of our work differently. I see these discussions as a critical step toward building strategies and support for more systemic solutions to the challenges we face in prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion in our scholarship and teaching."
“I just love getting together to see colleagues and students and talk about our ideas. I think we leave these Incubators wanting to see each other more often and with new ways to see connections between us—making supportive and collaborative connections between SC&I members more visible and accessible seemed to be a theme for the next developments in our infrastructure. I also always get ideas about ways to do my research and talk about it more thoughtfully – I appreciate that aspect of the Incubator too,” Lane said.
Doctoral student Nikhila Natarajan said Dr. Aakhus’ “crystal clear” explanation of the problem statement inspired her to build out a theme of ‘digital public goods’ for SC&I. “As a first-generation South Asian (Indian) doctoral student at Rutgers, I focused on the inclusive discovery of connections and mentorship within SC&I, not content or technology in and of themselves,” Natarajan said.
Paris said, “This incubator was a wonderful chance to meditate with colleagues across SC&I on various theoretical and practical issues around DEI in research and teaching. One of the things it really crystallized for me was that the neoliberal drive to privatize public infrastructure and public-serving institutions has led to ongoing overlapping crises that continue to shape how our own research and higher education infrastructure is situated in political and economic projects. As researchers prepare for, and respond to ongoing stressors and emergent crises, they must consider how their research topics, work processes, research and teaching tools, and related systems are imbricated with growing economic precarity, structural inequality, reactionary mobilization, and privatization.
“For example, in the provocation talks and in the small group sessions, there was a theme that emerged, expressed from different perspectives and with different contours, around the surge in surveillance and data capture following the quick and often uncritical adoption of online tools and applications during crises, like the Covid-19 pandemic, that affect people differently based on their situation in structural inequality. This type of group reflection around DEI is crucial in the development of a shared ethical framework and approach that can guide research and teaching at SC&I as we meet the challenges ahead.”
Shugars said, “When we put people in boxes of gender or race – or when we treat gender and race as categories that can be meaningfully separated – we erase aspects of reality in ways that favor some people’s lived experience over others. Perhaps even more concerningly, by cloaking these measures in the mantel of ‘science’ we may unwittingly suggest that these necessarily simplified constructs are not rough summaries at all – but are somehow accurate reflections of some True social order.”
Addressing the success of the event itself, Shugars said, “SC&I’s research incubator was an incredible opportunity to hear the diversity of expertise and perspectives across the school. I particularly appreciated the chance to talk seriously and creatively with other members of the SC&I community about important issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Stoerger, who during the event had provided a reflective comment about advancing our learning environments for inclusive discovery, said, “The common thread that connected the plethora of ideas and suggestions made during this event was the emphasis on people. Our faculty, students, and staff come to Rutgers and to SC&I with unique perspectives, and we need to design our formal and informal learning environments with access, empathy, and equity in mind. When considering these concepts, we must also recognize the entrenched inequalities that exist in our processes and systems - ones that may serve as obstacles to our students in ways that impede their success. These diverse individuals also come to us with different needs and often require additional support. With a focus on student success, both in our learning environments and beyond, additional labor is required, much of which is invisible. We need to do more to make the invisible visible, and not just as it relates to our labor, but to the resources available to our students.”
“I appreciated yesterday's event as an opportunity to learn from different perspectives present within SC&I. I also liked how breezy it was and things flowed very well one after the other. It might trigger some interesting collaborations in the near future,” Singh said.
In an email to the entire school community following the close of the incubator, Interim Dean Lemish wrote, “What a dynamic and inspiring Scholarly Incubator on Inclusive Discovery we participated in today! Such a wonderful experience of ‘crowdsourcing’ of ideas, sharing strategies for change and deliberating challenges and concerns. Many thanks go to our ‘inspirers and instigators’ who were able to squeeze a wealth of wisdom into a few minutes of presentation.”
When Aakhus and Lemish originally conceived of the idea for an annual incubator series, their overarching goal, Aakhus said, was to host them as “a think tank that helps us look together toward the immediate and longer-term future of our research, teaching, and outreach by drawing on the collective wisdom of our community. With that in mind, the outcomes this year will help to articulate ways members of our SC&I community can better connect around topics and questions, surface ideas and strategies for research pedagogy across curriculum and career, and to outline directions for developing our environments and infrastructure.”
Learn more about the Rutgers School of Communication and Information on the website.
Images provided by JMS Doctoral Student Nikhila Natarajan.
Image credits: AdobeStock.