Real-Time Report from the 2nd Princeton Public Voices Fellowship Convening

Ravenna Koenig, OpEd Project Junior Fellow, reporting from Stanhope Hall on the Princeton campus where seventeen exceptional Princeton scholars have gathered for the 2nd Princeton Public Voices Fellowship convening. Here with me are Courtney Martin and Janus Adams, the Princeton Fellowship leaders, Michele Weldon, one of the Fellowship leaders at Stanford who is making a guest appearance today, and the inimitable founder/director of The OpEd Project, Katie Orenstein.

We take some time at the outset to talk about how the scholars have been faring in their writing since the first Princeton convening on December 11th, 2011. The group has published four pieces since then, and three more are slated to appear this coming week.

One scholar mentions that she’s still experiencing trepidation at the thought of publishing an opinion piece. She worries that she’s not expert enough and that she’ll feel like an “impostor.” When she says the word “impostor” a murmur of assent goes around the room.

“Well, play that out… what’s the worst that could happen?” asks Courtney. The room expresses the full range of their concerns: being wrong, losing their credibility, provoking aggressive disagreement from other experts who know more than they do, endangering their jobs.

Courtney responds by reframing these concerns as “considerations.” She asks the scholars to examine these considerations next to the “value of their knowledge to others.”

By publishing, she says, you make a conscious decision to face your doubts and concerns in order to be of public value. You have to start by thinking about how much your ideas could matter to the world. You then consider all the negative consequences that could come from plunging into the fray. After, you strategize how you’ll anticipate and address these consequences to the best of your ability.

Worst case scenario: something that you’ve written turns out to be wrong. Says Courtney, that’s a learning opportunity. One of the scholars points out that there’s an expectation of consistent correctness in academia– that it’s deemed shameful to have your knowledge expanded or corrected in the public eye. Courtney argues that there’s nothing wrong with this. “It’s a personal value of mine to learn in public,” she says. Janus adds that opinion writing, unlike academic writing, doesn’t have to be definitive; it’s all are about keeping a conversation going. You shouldn’t necessarily write to be right, you should write to be of value.

Looking around the room at all the nodding heads, I find myself excited to see how the scholars will choose to be of value over the coming months.

Princeton leader Janus Adams leading an exercise with Princeton fellows

Stanford leader Michele Weldon listening to Princeton scholars sharing their pitches

Princeton scholars honing their pitches

From left to right: Courtney Martin (Princeton Fellowship Leader), Katie Orenstein (OEP Founder/Director) and Janus Adams (Princeton Fellowship Leader)

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