This is a strange time to be seeking appointment as Vice President of LASA, yet it might also be a most opportune time. The 2020 pandemic that has profoundly affected our lives, the institutions we work in, and the world around us, comes alongside significant social and political conflicts and reckonings throughout the world. It is at times like this that perhaps we can best envision what a future might look like and how we can help build the LASA of that future. We have had to put aside many of the certainties of the past – annual conferences in far-flung locations where we congregate and collaborate – and are still scrambling to figure out how to fill the void in order to move forward. I do not claim to have all the answers, but as VP I would like to work on identifying strategies to move forward and develop new initiatives to ensure that LASA emerges stronger.
What role can LASA play to sustain and support our membership and the institutions they belong to in a time of crisis throughout the Americas? I believe that one key strategy is to continue to enhance LASA’s engagement and communication efforts, becoming a more constant and valuable resource for the membership through multiple avenues throughout the year. Much of the membership, caught in the madness of the first stages of the pandemic and unsure about the modality, resisted participation in the 2019 conference. With the certainty that blended events (online and in-person) are now part of our lives permanently, we have to work to communicate to our membership that despite what is “lost,” there is still much “value” in participating. We can invest in incentivizing research networks that begin meeting well before the conference – using spaces and tools we can provide through the website – and use the conference “time” (which no longer needs to be only 4-5 days) to present the collective work to broader audiences. We can brainstorm to devise innovative ways to reach out to our senior scholars who will shy away from travel for years to come to engage them with new online venues; we cannot afford to lose their knowledge and voices. We should also promote the multiplication of regional/section events throughout the year. Some sections have successfully organized regional events; with blended/online modalities those events can easily thrive, especially if we develop platforms that make them more accessible.
With constant different modalities for engaging our membership we can also be more responsive to our young scholars, graduate students, and new PhD’s, who are facing the most uncertain future – personally and professionally—of any other generation. For example, we can incentivize the sections to develop mentorship programs between senior and junior scholars, run summer institutes for young scholars entering the field and actively support of a jobs and grant forum.
We should also not ignore that most of our membership teaches and that, this year in particular, teaching has been extraordinarily challenging. What can we do to support the teaching of Latin American Studies and the teaching of Latin America in the disciplines and in vastly different cultural contexts within the Americas and elsewhere? Could we, for example, gather and curate useful resources, and engage our communities in active discussions about pedagogy? Convene an initiative creatively focused on pedagogy across and within differences? Fund teaching awards for innovation in Latin American Studies pedagogy?
This is a time to expand LASA’s outreach, continuing our commitment to being a truly transnational, multidisciplinary and diverse site for academic exchanges transcending all borders, but also expanding the tools and opportunities through which we grow.