While boycotting United States conferences in reaction to Donald Trump’s immigration ban doesn’t take action on the issue, it makes a statement.
An online petition calling for a boycott of academic conferences in the United States garnered over 6,000 signatures from scholars. The boycott is in opposition to President Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries and in solidarity with their colleagues from these countries who’re unable to attend.
Ruth Hayhoe, a U of T professor, isn’t a fan of the idea. In an article in University Affairs, she expressed her understanding of the motivations behind the boycott but urged the community not to isolate American academics, comparing the reaction to the withdrawal of diplomatic and academic ties with China after Tiananmen Square.
On the one hand, action speaks much louder than inaction, and a boycott is, paradoxically, an action of refusing to do anything.
When it comes down to furthering discussion and educated criticism about Islamophobic immigration policies, simply boycotting United States conferences isn’t the answer. A boycott asks academics to turn away from communities of learning and not use them as tools against discriminatory policies.
Organizing a conference centered around the topic of immigration policies or United States politics — where critical discussion about the Trump ban and its consequences is fostered — is a more effective plan of action than a boycott.
If the academic community is committed to standing in solidarity with affected colleagues, they can work on drawing attention to academic conferences in any of the seven countries and raising awareness about them. If the goal is action against discriminatory policies, there’s more than just a boycott that can be done.
But maybe action isn’t the purpose, and neither is furthering education about the policy itself. Maybe the purpose is to make a strong political statement. By choosing not to be present, these academics make a clear statement about where their values lie.
As people whose livelihoods depend on sharing their work in conference settings and disseminating their research, boycotting these conferences is a large self-sacrifice — that, in itself, is also a statement of support and solidarity with those affected.
Also, so many scholars choosing to turn away from major United States conferences puts a pressure on American universities to play a bigger role in advocating for those affected by Trump’s ban. It may not be an immediately tangible change, but it’s a shift beneath the surface.
Making the personal and individual choice to boycott a conference is also a much more accessible form of protest than marching in the streets. Not everyone can risk being at a physical protest, so acts like this one are more accessible ways for them to take a stance and stand in solidarity.
Boycotting United States conferences to stand against Trump’s immigration ban comes down to whether we’re defining effective protesting by action or withholding action.
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