Leaving Academia

Some people in computer music ask why there aren’t more women in the field. When I was a student, occasionally people would put me on the spot and demand that I explain women and why there weren’t more of us in the field. Sometimes this question was asked in little seminars and mini-conferences in front of loads of old white guys, a handful of younger white guys, and that one guy who isn’t white. Occasionally, they’d throw another female student into the mix and grill her the same way.

Needless to say, it was pretty awkward. All that othering isn’t helpful. Plus, the power dynamic was skewed: it was always faculty grilling students. If I were talking to a mentor who I trusted we could’ve had a private conversation without it being weird. But outside of that context, no. Politically, honesty is out of the question. In the end, the student has to pick the answer they think might be least offensive, potentially get some results, and have the least potential for backlash.

One of the things I always wondered was why no one bothered to ask women and other minorities who’d left the field—or anyone who’d left the field, for that matter. I imagine there’s plenty of attrition all around. If the factors impacting everyone disproportionally impact underrepresented minorities, systematic exit interviews might give a better picture than interrogating people who haven’t left the field yet. Plus no one would have to get othered to get that information.

To their credit, I seem to recall a Facebook post a few years ago asking the general computer music population about ICMC attendance. I don’t know what they did with that information. Beyond this, I haven’t heard much by way of followup. I’m starting to think that when people ask the question in public in an othering way, it’s simply performance. It’s a show of concern rather than actual concern. It lets people gain political points for caring about an issue without requiring that they actually do anything. After all, why have uncomfortable conversations, change behavior, and so on, when you can score points for nothing.

So although no one is asking, I figure I’ll start telling. It might take a few gajillion installments, but I’ll talk about all the little things that added up for me. Some of them probably are reasons for anyone dropping out of academia; some of them might disproportionally impact women and minorities. But academics really ought to address some of these issues if they hope to achieve diversity. And they might want to address some of these issues if they don’t care about diversity but simply think it’s a poor use of resources to train someone up in a field only to drive them away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *