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Ruth Simmons, Susan Van Dyne and Kum-Kum Bhavnani at the Launch Party Novermber 2000

 



HISTORY
 

The idea for Meridians began in conversations with Ruth Simmons in the spring of 1996, the first year of her Smith College presidency. She asked senior faculty in the Women's Studies Program if we would be willing to work with her to found a journal dedicated to women of color, a project she had conceived while at Princeton. From the earliest conversations, the project had twin goals: to establish a forum for publishing the work of women of color, where their work would be sought after and central rather than tokenized or marginal, and to establish a pipeline for recruiting and retaining feminist scholars of color into leadership positions at Smith. The Program incorporated a proposal to found such a journal among the new initiatives in our triennial review in May of 1996 and also in the college-wide self-study during 1996-97. In July 1996, interested women's studies faculty met to brainstorm the journal's possible shape and scope and to generate names for our editorial boards. In August, Gayle Pemberton, then chair of African American Studies at Wesleyan, and Rebecca Flewelling, special assistant to the president of Wesleyan, Douglas Bennet, met with Simmons to discuss collaborating with the University and Wesleyan University Press in the project. Gayle Pemberton and Simmons had been at Princeton together, where both had been involved in growing the African American Studies Program and gaining external grant support. Pemberton emphasized that, in recent grants to Black Studies departments, the Ford Foundation encouraged collaborative, regionally-based initiatives by more than one institution. She also cited Wesleyan's historical commitment to diversity in its student body and the potential to raise funds from alums

Although the proposal was not ranked among the top priorities to receive funding by the college committee during the self-study in 1996-97, President Simmons encouraged us to continue planning and promised to find financial support outside the official college planning process. President Simons would later recall that she relished Meridians' "outlaw" history ("At the Meridians" conference, March 2001).

By the fall of 1997, the editorial collective, a self-selected subgroup of faculty in Women's Studies Program, was formed. The group included Ravina Aggarwal, Ann Ferguson, Ann Jones, Nancy Sternbach, Gayle Pemberton, and Susan Van Dyne, chair of Women's Studies, who served as coordinator. We invited Elizabeth Alexander, then Conkling poet in residence and director of the Poetry Center, to join us because of her wide network among poets and artists. As we conducted our research about other feminist journals, created a mission statement, nominated our boards, formulated policies, planned an operating budget and implementation timeline for seeking funding and publishing the first issue, we worked by consensus. We understood our mutual responsibilities to be making Meridians our top priority--to come to every meeting fully prepared, to share all information, to have equal voices in decision-making, and to take on additional tasks beyond our group meetings as equitably as possible. Our research included conversations with editors from Callaloo, Feminist Studies, Hopscotch, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Journal of Women's History, Transitions, and Yale Review, among others, about the functions and structure of the editorial office, forms of compensating editors, publishing arrangements, and the editorial review processes used by other journals. We all met with Beverly Guy-Sheftall, former editor of Sage, who wisely cautioned us not to promise more than we could deliver in our mission statement, especially about our global dimensions, if most of our board members were U.S.-based academics. She also cautioned us that defining thematic special issues early on before we had a steady flow of high-quality submissions, had in her experience at Sage, yielded uneven results in the caliber of work submitted on a special topic, or delayed the promised publication date of the special issue until good pieces could be recruited. Above all, she advised us to build in adequate institutional support for the editor and to publish on time.

Initial Proposals

In the Spring of '98, the editorial group made a formal written proposal to Ruth Simmons and to Doug Bennet. An integral part of the proposal was to establish a vital intellectual community and productive working climate for faculty and students: "Our journal would give national visibility to Smith and Wesleyan's commitments to recognize women of color in our academic mission, to recruit and retain outstanding faculty of color at both our schools, and to engage our students, through internships and conferences, with this exciting scholarship and with national and international scholars. In founding this journal and disseminating this important research, we could take a leadership role in providing the means for institutions of higher education around the country to build more inclusive curricula for the twenty-first century" (founding proposal).

In the summer of 1998, Wesleyan University Press submitted our proposal to three external reviewers who endorsed the mission statement and our boards and unanimously agreed the journal would fill an urgent need and find an eager audience. President Simmons also authorized a national search for a half-time senior editor for a two-year term, to begin in summer of 1999. A meeting with President Simmons and Provost John Connolly and Susan Van Dyne in August confirmed that work on the Meridians editorial board would be evaluated as scholarly activity rather than service in reappointment and tenure decisions and was a key ingredient in retaining women of color on our faculty.

In September, our national board convened for a two-day working meeting. In addition to seeking their endorsement of our mission statement, our implementation timeline and review process for submissions (with decisions complete within three months), identified the area of expertise of each member for reading submissions, and we received their nominees of a broad network of additional reviewers, whom we contacted that fall. Members also submitted names, dates, and locations of upcoming professional conferences at which they would scout and solicit submissions.

Initial Editorial Process

Among the most productive of our sessions was the morning spent discussing our mission, particularly the political and intellectual implications of the terms of our title, the stakes involved in the various definitions of our subject matter and anticipated authorship, and how our intentions and goals would be realized in the solicitation and review process. These important insights that would guide our future editorial practice emerged. Although each of our terms, such as women of color, transnationalism, feminism could be misused or misunderstood, we were willing to engage the complexities of their histories in the work we published in the journal. Rather than abandon these terms, we agreed not to "turn them over to the enemy" but to use the journal to interrogate critically their usefulness for analyzing women's experience. Some felt there were competing or conflicting priorities in highlighting transnationalism in our title that might neglect the unfinished work of understanding the experiences of ethnic minority women in the U.S. We affirmed our commitment to study both the U.S. and transnational contexts and their intersections, as we later wrote: "The founding of Meridians marks significant paradigm shifts. No matter what theoretical or disciplinary paradigms bring feminist scholars to this historical moment of knowledge production and political action, we work in interlocking worlds in which the post-colonial and the neocolonial collide and interpenetrate at home and elsewhere in complex ways that our journal seeks to analyze" (Introduction, vol.1,
no. 1).

In our discussion of the review process, we strategized ways to solicit manuscripts
so that the majority of submissions would come from scholars of color, yet we also agreed that we would not rule out publishing work by others. Members of the boards agreed that the quality of the scholarship was the most important criteria for publication and that an excellent essay would be deeply and fully informed by the relevant terms, debates, and intellectual traditions of scholarship on women of color, and that our peer reviewers, who would also predominantly be scholars of color, would be the best judges of such knowledge. As one member put it, "the footnotes will show us who knows the field." We also all agreed on the necessity for blind peer review of the manuscripts, and believed the credibility of such a juried process outweighed the risk of accepting too many submissions by white authors. We also confirmed that the normal practice would be for readers to be anonymous, but that they would have the option of further contact with the author subsequent to the first review if they wished to aid in revisions. We all agreed that Meridians should set a standard for peer reviews that are constructive and respectful to the author, and completed within one month of receiving the manuscript.

Our discussion about how to incorporate creative work into the journal raised
these questions: Did we expect poetry, fiction, art, photography to be produced by women of color or might such work merely have women of color as its subject? Because women of color have often been relegated to the realm of the expressive rather than the theoretical or analytical, did having only women of color produce the creative work we published reinforce these distinctions? Unlike a scholarly essay, which often involves explicit identification or self-conscious interrogation of the author's own subject position, creative work might seem more transparent even though esthetic choices are always present and potentially political. We found it harder to evaluate whether we thought "legitimate" authorship of creative work was limited to women of color and therefore decided to review pieces on a case by case basis without setting policy on this issue until we had some experience of submissions.

 

Structure

The structure we proposed included three tiers of commitment and responsibility: the highest level of commitment and responsibility would be assumed by the editorial collective, Smith and Wesleyan faculty members whose function was to set policy, review budgets, to establish criteria for board membership and for submissions, to solicit manuscripts, and to make an initial assessment of submissions in order to recommend external reviewers, and to evaluate the managing editor (founding proposal). The editorial collective nominated two editorial boards: an international advisory board and a national editorial board. The advisory board consisted of scholars, activists, and creative writers whose "leadership and contributions to feminist inquiry" had gained them national and international reputations. We asked these women to lend us their name rather than their labor: "Your presence on our masthead will signal to contributors and readers the political commitments we stand for and the level of excellence we hope to achieve" (letter of invitation to serve, April 1998).

National Board

Our nominees for the national editorial board were expected to work more closely and more intensively with us. Those who agreed to serve were asked to solicit manuscripts, to serve as peer reviewers, to nominate additional reviewers, to plan future issues, and to serve occasionally as guest editors for special issues. We also expected these editors to join us for annual board meetings during at least two of the three years they served on the board (letter of invitation to serve, April, 1998). In evaluating potential members for this "working board," we established these criteria: experience on editorial boards or as reviewers for other feminist journals; their scholarship should be interdisciplinary, by which we meant of interest and intelligible to audiences beyond their field of origin; feminist, by which we meant illuminating the experiences of women of color through an analysis of some aspect of gender as it intersected with the other key terms of our title; and original, by which we meant their writing would be desirable for publication in Meridians. We agreed that we would not privilege any one methodology, theoretical framework, or rhetorical style and that our editorial board should reflect the "fields, methodological approaches, institutional affiliations or geographical locations, and ethnic diversity the journal seeks to represent" (founding proposal). We were particularly eager to include scholars who did research in other countries and who had established networks of scholars and activists outside the U.S. Candidates were nominated by a member of the collective who knew them or their scholarship well. We compiled bibliographies for each of our nominees; two members of the collective intensively reviewed the published work of each nominee by these criteria, and reported on it to the group. In our discussion, we also considered what we knew of their collegiality and ability and willingness to mentor young scholars. Successful candidates for the editorial board were approved by all the members of the collective. Both boards were invited by President Simmons to serve for three-year renewable terms in the spring of 1998. All but a handful of our original nominees agreed to serve.

In the fall of 1998, Gayle Pemberton, Tom Radko, director of Wesleyan
University Press, and Susan Van Dyne met with Wesleyan President, Doug Bennet to solicit Wesleyan's support for the journal. We secured Bennet's commitment to a joint proposal to the Ford Foundation, as well as the University's pledge to subsidize the production costs of the first two years (or four issues) of the journal's publication, as their in-kind contribution. Wesleyan Press agreed to assume responsibility for the production (copy-editing, proof-reading, printing, and distribution), and marketing of the journal and to oversee subscriptions.

 

CONTINUED


Meridians: feminism, race, transnationalism
Smith College 146 Elm Street Northampton, MA 01063 | phone: 413.585.3388
| fax: 413.585.3362 | meridians@smith.edu
Published by Indiana University Press