Call for Proposals: Critical DEI

Offices and officers of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) occupy a peculiar position in both educational institutions and the broader discourse surrounding the politics of teaching and learning today. Tasked with using often limited resources to give their institutions a progressive public face, these workers also, according to rightwing activists and politicians, have captured and corrupted public education itself, transforming everything from the kindergarten classroom to the college seminar into an incubator of leftist thought. In the face of these contradictory constructions, this special issue invites submissions that perform two interrelated tasks: first, critically assessing the work of DEI in contemporary educational institutions; and second, using this critical assessment to explore, imagine, or propose different curricular, institutional, and relational possibilities of laboring for equity in and around the classroom. In particular, we invite submissions from instructors, researchers, and staff in K-12 and higher education that engage with what a “critical DEI” might be and do across multiple scales of intervention, from the lesson plan to the hiring plan, from the office to the institution, and more.


What might a critical DEI consist of now, regardless of whether it is practiced in or outside of those offices that are formally titled Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion? We pose this question in light of the series of ethical dilemmas that scholars working at the intersections of black radicalism, feminist and queer theory, and decolonial and disability justice movements have identified with DEI in contemporary education. These scholars have observed the ways that DEI can be used as a “frontlash” to justice—in other words, as a form of boundary-setting that seeks to limit in advance the ways social justice movements can address how education works and whom it serves. Such frontlash approaches include using DEI as: a public relations strategy; a commodity to be accumulated for the institution’s benefit; a replacement for a robust practice of participatory justice; and as a threat to values like rigor and academic freedom. What does it mean to labor under these conditions of frontlash? To labor against and around them? Alternatively, how do people labor at the intersection of frontlash and backlash, as increasingly large numbers of scholars work at a moment when state legislatures seek to ban DEI offices and surveil equity initiatives? We are interested in cultivating work that understands how these and other dilemmas set significant challenges for those who are committed to what we could call a DEI from below, that is, a DEI that is transformative, proactive, and collective. 


The editors of this issue offer the phrases “critical DEI” and “DEI from below” not as prescriptions but as heuristic devices for contributors to apply, transform, or even discard as they take stock of the conditions that shape what it means to labor for equity now. We envision cultivating articles that, rather than neatly resolving all of the tensions surrounding DEI, aim to stick with and explore the discomfort these tensions generate within specific educational contexts. In other words, we welcome submissions that occupy the space between “critical” and “DEI,” including submissions that take up the question of whether a “critical DEI” is even possible or desirable, within the conjuncture of the present. 


Authors are free to address any topic they see as relevant to this call for papers. Authors should comment on practical and theoretical concerns, aiming to integrate both dimensions of pedagogy within their reflections, and also to specify how they engage with what is radical in their work. Topics authors might address include (but are not limited to) any or some combination of the following:


  • DEI in the era of adjunctification
  • The politics of volunteerism and the labor of DEI in K-12 and higher education
  • DEI practices and policies in a post-affirmative action landscape
  • DEI labor under state surveillance and backlash
  • Radical pedagogy against “diversity fatigue” and burnout
  • Conflations of and tensions between DEI and critical pedagogy 
  • Auto-theories and auto-ethnographies of DEI work in multiple educational contexts
  • Effects of educational technologies, including AI, on DEI labor
  • Relationships between campus protests, DEI, and academic freedom 
  • Critical perspectives on the theory and practice of diversity from those working in “identity fields” (e.g. women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, ethnic studies, and others) 
  • Critical histories of the theory and practice of educational inclusion
  • “Critical DEI” as a frame for curriculum development, active learning, assessment, and more

Complete manuscripts are due May 15, 2024.

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