Academic boycott against USA

2017-02-10 16:03

Last week, an open letter from an international collective of researchers and academics called for a boycott of academic conferences held in the US. The boycott was an act of solidarity with those who were prevented from entering the country due to the Trump administration’s US entry ban, which specifically targeted seven countries with Muslim majorities. By 2 February, more than 5000 academics had signed the initiative, including several gender researchers in Sweden. At that time talked to some of them about their decision to join the boycott. For now, the ban has been blocked by both a federal judge and an appeals court.



Fanny Ambjörnsson, Associate Professor of Gender Studies at Stockholm University

– It is important to protest against Trump’s right-wing populist and immigrant-hostile policy in all possible ways. Encouraging academics to boycott international conferences in the US to show solidarity with the academics who are denied entry into the country is one of many ways of doing this.

– I have no plans to visit the US in the near future, but if I did, I wouldn’t go.


Diana Mulinari, PhD in Sociology and Professor of Gender Studies at Lund University

– It is important to show solidarity with colleagues who are being criminalised. It is vital to defend the transnational academic dialogue against the US-led political paranoia.

– I had planned to attend the 2017 NWSA Annual Conference: 40 YEARS AFTER COMBAHEE: Feminist Scholars and Activists Engage the Movement for Black Lives in Baltimore in November, but have decided to stay home.


Tara Mehrabi, PhD in Gender Studies, Linköping University

– I have to say there are many reasons to sign that letter. To start with, it is personal as much as it is political to me. I am a Muslim Iranian woman and a feminist scholar. Unfortunately, today Islamophobia is growing everywhere in such a degree that the president of United States, issues a visa ban on seven Muslim countries. Though, I should say, it is more complicated in this case that just Islamophobia, I mean the Muslim ban has targeted not every Muslim country but only 7 countries which interestingly none of the terrorist attacks in US during the past couple of years where orchestrated or executed but their citizens. He has targeted Syria which is suffering war. He has banned refugees that are of the most vulnerable among Muslim countries. I find it an ethical and political responsibility to stand against racism, fascism and any kind of bigotry particularly on such large scale. I feel the need to be vigilant not to allow such fascism grows.

– Now, as an academic, I know the value of international conferences, collaborations and programs (ranged from the academic prestige of holding a high profile international conference for the host university, budget distribution and attracting more funding, networking and attracting the upcoming young scholars, etc.) Boycotting such events is a form of academic resistance for me. What I hope to gain is, for instance, redistribution of international funding and relocation of such conferences to other countries which are not making such inhuman bans.

– International programs and conferences are thought to be an open tolerant space of intellectual exchange for all. They are supposed to be a space in which people with different backgrounds, religions, nationalities, etc. can come together and collaborate beyond such difference. The Muslim ban jeopardizes the intersectionality and integrity of such space. An international conference hold in US with the Muslim ban, for instance, is indeed excluding a great number of scholars. For years, feminist technoscience scholars among others have argued that science is indeed political. We cannot just simply make a distinction between science and politics. Muslim ban not only excludes epistemological standpoints coming from certain Muslim countries and their situated perspectives but also excludes Muslim scientists and scholars from networking, scientific exchange, international collaborations and joint publications, and future job opportunities that often come out of such international platforms.

– Even if conference admins try to accommodate this madness by for instance pressuring immigration office to issue visa for Muslim scholars from the banned seven countries, I still find it problematic. I mean, even if that works, even if certain Muslim scholars manage to get visa entry for conferences, the bigger and more dangerous problem remains, which is; to leave the most vulnerable groups under attack, namely refugees (political refugees and war refugees). The boycott for me is an act of solidarity and resistance to show that the Muslim ban (or generally, targeting any group of people based on their differences whether it is religion, nationality, gender, sexuality, disability, etc.) IS NOT OK.  That there will be consequences.


Sara Edenheim, Reader in History and Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies at Umeå University

– Initially, I thought ‘Of course we’ll boycott!’ But then I asked myself if maybe we could support US academics by being there. After all, they are in a pretty bad situation right now. But since the call for a boycott actually came from US academics, I realised that this is a symbolic act they want to use against Trump, or at least against the Republicans who still believe in research and science.

– The same argument was heard a few years ago when the American Anthropology Association decided to boycott Israel. The initiative came from Israeli researchers and it was only for conferences and research exchanges in Israel, so it didn’t stop Israeli researchers from attending conferences elsewhere. So this made my decision easier.

– I had not planned any trips to the US, and after a visit to the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton two years ago, I’m not very interested in returning. Academically, there are some great researchers there, but the country as such doesn’t suit me, and I don’t expect my view to change in the next four years.

– If I had planned to go there, I’d feel a bit ambivalent for both ideological and personal reasons. I would probably have boycotted the conferences and instead tried to find some grass root organisations that need people. I would simply have used my US entry privilege to question the fact that some people have such a privilege and some don’t.


Lena Grip, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at Karlstad University

– My reason for signing the initiative is that it is important to show that the new president’s decision has more wide-reaching consequences than he initially may have thought. My guess is that he won’t take notice, although I of course hope he will lift the ban. Besides it being a protest against the president, it is also a way to show to the public that we’re quite a few who are reacting to what’s going on. And it is also an act of solidarity with the academics who actually can‘t participate in the various research events because of the new rule.

– I signed because it is ONE way not to be indifferent to what’s happening in the US right now, ONE way to protest.

– I’ve been planning for a long time to attend the big AAG (American Association of Geographers) 2018 conference in New Orleans. An event that gathers thousands of participants from around the world. If the entry ban remains (or if other similar decisions are made), I won’t go, and I will also act to make the conference take a position on the matter.

Foto: Paulina López

Photo: Paulina López

René Léon Rosales, PhD in Ethnology, researcher at the Multicultural Centre in Botkyrka

– I signed the initiative to protest Trump’s decision to enact a 90-day collective US entry ban for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia, initially also including people with dual citizenship, a residence permit or a valid visa. I see it as another step in the normalisation of racist policies that deny people their human rights because of their background.

– This decision creates a situation in which scholars and students with a background in these countries do not have an opportunity to participate in the critical academic discussions that are carried out at US academic institutions. They are excluded from discussions and intellectual exchange regardless of who they are beyond their nationality.

– For example, I work closely with Behzad Khosravi Noori, who is a PhD student at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm and an Iranian citizen. Right now I wouldn’t be able to travel to the US with him to present our joint research.


Rebecca Selberg, Senior Lecturer in Gender Studies at Lund University

– I signed the boycott because it is an easy way to protest against the growing racism and xenophobia, and because I think it is important to stand up also in one’s professional role for a world of openness instead of closed borders.

– I also signed because I see myself as being part of a global research community that is directly affected by the entry ban. The ban interferes with free research and research exchanges. In solidarity with the colleagues who because of their origins are unable to attend international conferences in the US, which is one of the most important partner countries for Swedish researchers, I choose to stay home.

– I’m not going to participate in a conference that is held in a country that does not let some of my colleagues in only because of their citizenship, and I also question the quality of scientific exchange that occurs in an environment that excludes colleagues in that way.

– I attended an international conference in the US last summer together with an Iranian colleague. In fact, we initiated our collaboration at that conference. We were going to present the results of this collaboration at one of the upcoming major US conferences, but that doesn’t seem possible anymore and nor is it anything we would like to do against the background of the Trump administration’s behaviour. So we’re trying to find a conference in Europe instead.


Iwo Nord, PhD student in Gender Studies at Södertörn University

– First of all, it is important to point out that the boycott is not directed to US researchers and their work. Instead, it is a protest against the fact that many academics who are racialised as Muslims now can’t travel to, and therefore are excluded from, international conferences, which in turn implies a restraint on the free communication and dissemination of ideas and research.

– I see it as important to show that those of us who are not directly affected by the travel ban can’t just go on with business as usual. I have friends and colleagues in the academic community who are directly affected by the travel ban. Signing the initiative is an act of solidarity with researchers and students who are not allowed to enter the US.

– I want to add that there is a need for collective brainstorming and a larger discussion about what other strategies we can use. Can we relocate conferences to countries without a travel ban? Can we make it easier for the affected scholars to speak? I’ve heard several suggestions and believe that the boycott alone is not enough.

– I haven’t planned to attend in the United States right now. But since I work within the framework of transgender studies, and the institutionalisation of transgender studies at the University of Arizona is unique, I’m closely following what they do there. I have a great deal of academic contacts in the US and have attended conferences there. I will avoid planning new trips to US conferences under the current situation.


Lena Martinsson, Professor of Gender Studies at the University of Gothenburg

– What we are seeing in the US at the moment is a great threat to Muslims and Blacks and therefore a backlash for the struggle for a better democracy. We’re witnessing a reinforcement of the white Christian privilege structure. My decision not to utilise this reinforced privilege, where I’m offered entry while a large number of colleagues and others who come from the “wrong” countries, doesn’t need to be explained.

– However, I don’t believe that Trump or anybody else in the US government will see it as a big problem that a few Swedish feminists and gender professors, or some other critical researchers, won’t come to visit. What may be important at this point, and that these types of signatures can contribute to, is that we become visible to each other and find ways to collaborate and act as transnational academic subjects. Whether a boycott is the right method is an issue we need to keep discussing.

– The situation in the world and the growing fascism affect my work. The role of a boycott is of course, and comparatively, fairly small.


Jens Rydström, Professor of Gender Studies at Lund University

– I think it is important to show solidarity with those who are affected by the ban. Because of the dominant position of US research, it is important for us who live outside the United States to be able to go there to meet and work with US researchers. The ban affects many people. The biggest tragedies occur when families can’t reunite. But what’s most important is not to be content with belonging to the privileged group, not to just nod casually when the passport inspector waves you through at the border, but to also to the best of your ability show solidarity with those who are rejected.

– I haven’t planned any conference trips or research visits to the US in the near future (as somebody said, it’s easier to boycott something you don’t do or use anyway), although I am involved in intellectual exchange with several US researchers. I was asked the other day whether I wanted to attend a conference on Anti-Gay Policies in Twentieth-Century Europe. I would have considered going under normal circumstances. My colleagues who have worked hard to arrange the event will of course be disappointed if a bunch of Europeans decide to stay home, so it is important to point out that the boycott does not target the US academic community but is rather an act of solidarity with those who are affected by the travel ban.

Irina Schmitt, lektor i genusvetenskap, Lunds universitet

– Refusing to travel to the US, as long as large groups of colleagues and students are denied entry into the country solely because of their birthplace, is an act of solidarity and hopefully draws attention to the problem. Those affected by the new rules need to know that they are not alone in this, and those involved in resistance movements need to know that they are supported by colleagues and friends around the world.

– Research and learning are international endeavours, and the Trump administration’s isolationist stance is going to throw a wet blanket on US research. The new policy reinforces already existing mechanisms of self-promotion and exclusion, so the phenomenon is not new and is not limited to the United States, but the magnitude and explicitness of it are scary and call for resistance.

– Nor does the academic boycott of travel to the US mean that we ignore everybody else who is affected by this type of policy. But it is a consequence of our work and assignment to analyse what goes on in society and the world.

Author Anneli Tillberg, translated by Debbie Axlid.
Photo Wikimedia Commons
Footnote: the entry ban is stopped
On 3 February, federal judge James Robart blocked the US entry ban on the grounds that it may be ruled unconstitutional. The White House appealed Robart’s decision to a court of appeals, which rejected the demand to immediately restore the travel ban. Now the case is most likely headed for the US Supreme Court.
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