Dear JASNA Members and Friends,
The Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA) has recently heard via social media and email from members and others in the Jane Austen community who are concerned about JASNA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion within the Society. We thank those of you who took the time to contact us directly, especially those of you who shared your varied experiences as members or guests of JASNA.
We believe JASNA is strengthened and our interactions are enriched by the diversity of our members. To that end, we reaffirm that we are committed to making JASNA a place where everyone can feel welcome, valued, and safe: a space where all Austen readers and admirers can gather and share their passion for Jane Austen.
We regret that our communications have caused any members of the JASNA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (JEDI) to doubt our sincere commitment to become a more diverse, inclusive organization. We know that actions are more important than words and that JASNA has more work to do to make that commitment a reality.
The JASNA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee was chartered in December 2019 to assist JASNA in becoming a more diverse organization. We understand that the Society must first be perceived as an inclusive and safe place for all Austen enthusiasts and scholars, including Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). The JEDI Committee composed a draft diversity statement, which, following JASNA practice and bylaws, was considered and adopted with modifications by the Executive Committee and subsequently placed on our website. Since then, the JEDI Committee has advised us to retain their original draft, and the Executive Committee will bring this to the full JASNA Board for discussion.
While work continues on the diversity and inclusion statement, JASNA continues to move forward in other areas:
- Community guidelines: As JASNA members, we have a shared responsibility for creating a welcoming, safe, and productive environment for everyone attending our programs and events. The JEDI Committee has recommended that the Society adopt community guidelines for our Regional meetings, Annual General Meetings, and online spaces, and we have been working on a draft which we will review with them. The guidelines will include a process for reporting issues and concerns.
- Professional assistance in creating an inclusive organization: The Executive Committee approved the hiring of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant who specializes in providing diversity workshops, bias training, and team-building to help facilitate a better understanding of what is required to move JASNA’s diversity work forward. We have already contacted two candidates who came highly recommended and hope to conclude our hiring soon. Given recent events, an external resource will aid the JEDI Committee and JASNA as a whole in our future work.
- A special issue of Persuasions On-Line dedicated to Jane Austen and diversity: This special edition of JASNA’s online journal will be published this summer. With this collection of essays, we hope to spotlight the limited ways in which Jane Austen’s writing and her world have been seen in terms of race, ethnicity, gender identity and orientation, culture, and class.
- Diversity programming at our meetings and conferences: A number of JASNA Regions have invited BIPOC scholars to talk this year about race in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England and Austen’s works. The slate of speakers for the 2021 AGM includes presentations about little-known black artists and performers in Jane Austen’s era, consistent with the AGM theme of Jane Austen in the Arts. To make explicit our longstanding policy of accepting AGM breakout-session proposals from JASNA members and non-members alike, we modified our Call for Papers language, and in March we will present an online panel discussion, with JEDI Committee representation, to provide tips on writing breakout proposals. Further, the JEDI Committee has been asked to help identify additional BIPOC speakers for future Regional events and annual conferences.
- Making AGMs more accessible: Based on the success of our first virtual AGM in 2020, JASNA will continue to offer a subset of our AGM program online to members every year, even when the AGM is also being held in person. This will make the AGM experience more accessible for members who cannot attend in person, who want a lower-cost option, or who are unable to register for the live event due to a sellout.
We realize that there is much more to be done than is listed here, and we will continue to consult the JEDI Committee on how to make JASNA a more inclusive space. We appreciate the dedication of its members, who will help keep us headed in the right direction. We also thank all the other volunteers at the national and Regional levels who are working to make JASNA a Society that values, and is valued by, everyone who loves Austen.
We always welcome your thoughts and feedback. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Members of the JASNA Executive Committee
President: Liz Philosophos Cooper
First Vice President (Regions): Debra Roush
Second Vice President (Publications): Erika Kotite
Third Vice President (Conferences): Linda Slothouber
Secretary: Julie Arnold
Treasurer: Vicki Petersen
Assistant Treasurer: Marcia Merrill
Membership Secretary: Carol Medine Moss
Member-at-Large: Renee Charron