How Public Voices Gifts Yale

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Kimberly George

In my own vocational journey, I navigate life as both an aspiring scholar and a budding social entrepreneur. I know too well that academic and entrepreneurial contexts are quite different-— even sometimes at odds with one another in their unspoken norms and strategies. Which is why I have been so thrilled this year, as a postgraduate associate at Yale, to witness the Yale Public Voices Fellowship harness the resources of both entrepreneurial and university contexts to offer something truly game changing to the
wider public.

This past Saturday, I had the privilege of observing our 3rd convening. What follows are my reflections on how the fellowship not only supports our scholars as they offer brilliant intellectual gifts to public thought leadership, but also simultaneously gifts our academic community with strategies so often honed in entrepreneurship.

Public Voices Gifts Collaborations
It is clear from observing these convenings that only part of the goal is helping individual scholars successfully build their public platforms. Even more importantly, the fellowship cultivates networks and communities that carry the currents of synergy needed to accomplish something much larger than any one individual voice.

This approach is not insignificant, for individualism has a strong precedence in the production of traditional scholarship, even as it looks different amidst different disciplinary norms. Yet, the partnership Yale has with The OpEd Project is part of new,
collaborative synergies, which I believe will mark dynamic cultural changes this century between higher education and social entrepreneurship. Public Voices Fellowships provides a microcosm of these innovative strategies—a fertile soil for new ways of being together in the production of knowledge and social change.

Public Voices Gifts Play
We are good at a lot of things at Yale—but I wouldn’t put playfulness at the top of our list. And yet, any creative work, whether one is drafting a scholarly journal, writing a TED Talk, or partnering with on-the-ground activists, needs some spirit of play. Too much
seriousness leads to rigidity, but play opens up un-thought possibilities.

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Public Voices convenings help us experience new approaches to our work. For instance, this Saturday Katie Orenstein set up chairs in two circles (an internal and exterior circle) in the middle of the room. I immediately suspected a game of sorts, and I was relieved to be only an observer— until Katie invited me to join the circle. Oh no, I thought. Katie, a room full of Yale scholars doesn’t really play games very well. Can’t we just sit obediently at our desks taking notes? As feared, Katie’s game involved improvisation and charades, such that I soon find myself, per the rules of the game, sparring in a ridiculous fashion with the Dean of Yale College, Mary Miller.

As I participated, I noticed there was a significant shift into something less self-conscious—something more present, playful, and improvisational, ways of being which are actually useful for the writing process. I realized Katie knew what she was doing with us, as she invited us into the risk-taking needing for this work.

Public Voices Gifts Self-Reflection
Finally, self-reflection and assessment is often critical in entrepreneurial endeavors.  While such thinking also happens in the academy, it is also true that we don’t reserve as much time for discussing the experiential components of our work. After all, scholarship—at least in principle— is about a trained “objective” distance. The subjective “I” often takes a backseat.

But, Courtney and Zeba strategically guide the fellows in certain kinds of self-reflection.  For instance, they have invited them to analyze the particular risks of their positionality as writers. “Consider your buckets” as Courtney would say—which means we need to name our location and what is at stake. It’s particularly important to get precise about our fears, not just let them linger vaguely, for once we name the risks, we can make more strategic decisions. Such assessment of risk can unblock hesitations and unleash powerful results—a needed approach as academics venture outside of traditional academic space into new partnerships and spheres of influence.

Kimberly B. George is a creative and academic writer, a writing coach, and an innovator of online feminist theory classes. She’s also a Postgraduate Associate in Gender Equity and Policy for the Women Faculty Forum at Yale University. You can read more about her work at kimberlybgeorge.com.

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