Shortly before a conference about Brexit and history was to be held last week at the University of York in York, England, a university alumna, Oxford academic Janina Ramirez, tweeted her displeasure about the speaker line-up. All seven speakers were male.
Two days before the conference was to begin, Ramirez wrote:
As an honourary fellow and alumna of @UniOfYork I am disappointed to see an all-Male conference line up on such an important issue. Are there any female scholars out there who would like to have spoken? I for one would have been happy to be involved…. https://t.co/kqZeEJBt6e
— Dr Janina Ramirez (@DrJaninaRamirez) October 9, 2018
So far, that’s not too different from objections raised about dozens, if not hundreds, of conferences in the recent past. But what happened next was: Within a few hours, the university expressed its thanks via Twitter to Ramirez for raising the issue and announced that the conference would be postponed until a better gender balance was achieved.
Lawrence Black, a professor of modern history and chair of the history department, which is a conference sponsor, posted the following message on the conference ticket page:
It has come to my attention that a conference organised to explore issues related to Brexit and History has an all-male speaker list. The University – and the Department of History – are utterly committed to developing, maintaining and supporting a culture of equality and diversity. The current gender balance reflected in this conference programme does not reflect those values. We have got this wrong and I apologise for that.
For this reason I have asked the organisers to postpone the conference in order to create a more balanced programme. The Department’s Equality and Diversity Committee will work further with our institutional Equality and Diversity Committee to ensure that all of our future events reflect the widest possible diversity and to ensure that this does not happen again.”
For his actions, Black was named the “Avenger of the Week” on Friday by the GenderAvengers, an initiative dedicated to making sure that women are part of the public dialogue, including being represented at conferences. “This is what GenderAvengers dream of!,” wrote the GenderAvenger on its website. Black “made no excuses and no promises to do better next time, simply admitted that #manels are wrong and don’t reflect the values of his department.”