Relationship Building for More Equitable Publishing

Yelena Kalinsky's picture

Guest post by Katie Lee, acquisitions editor, Gallaudet University Press, and Jennifer Nelson, professor, Gallaudet University

Content Notice: [ableism, audism]

Katie Lee: I would like to situate the collaborative nature of our work as acquisitions editor and editorial board chair in the context of Gallaudet University, the world’s only bilingual (ASL and English) liberal arts university for Deaf and hard of hearing people. We not only answer to our parent university, but we (most importantly) answer to Deaf communities both in the US and internationally. Those communities watch our work closely, and while that presents its own unique challenges, overall I think it is an exciting space from which to work, in that it invites authentic relationship building.

As an acquiring editor, one example of this relationship building occurs with peer review. I see it not just as experts vetting scholarship, but as a way to create buy-in from the communities we serve. It is so important that Deaf and disabled people (not just Deaf and disabled scholars) feel invested in our work and feel/see themselves in our books.

What are your thoughts on this? 

Jennifer Nelson: It truly is a team effort to create connections and buy-in with the community, and the collaboration has to go both ways. When you pulled me into a panel meant for acquisitions editors, I was a little puzzled as I was the chair of the press editorial board, not an acquisitions editor. But then I realized that as a Deaf scholar, I could make an impact serving on the panel by showing how my community membership and knowledge of that community helps the press make the best decisions for its list and for the Deaf community it ultimately serves. So it was entirely appropriate for me to be on the panel even though I wasn’t the acquisitions editor, and you willingly stepped aside. I then pulled you back in as a panelist along with me, because it truly is a team effort to ensure inclusivity in practice.

My past experience had been that I only rarely gave advice on manuscripts, the composition of the board, or other technical questions related to the press. When you came aboard, suddenly I got a lot of questions and emails from you—which I heartily welcomed. You asked me for my expert opinion on a manuscript that seemed to be a good fit for the press but said there was something problematic you couldn’t put your finger on. I looked it over and quickly realized that I was not comfortable with the hearing, heterosexist point of view adopted by the author looking into Deaf and DeafBlind culture from the outside. I also did not like how the author portrayed these communities. I sent you a pretty vague email about it, and you picked up on my discomfort and declined to publish the work. It was published elsewhere and drew a lot of negative attention for how it othered Deaf and DeafBlind people, especially women. You told me that as a new editor and a hearing person, you might not have caught that. By asking me, we saved the press some grief. 

Katie: Gallaudet is a bilingual university, but the priorities of the university and the campus community are on signed languages and Deaf ways of being. In terms of our work at GUP, our board is majority Deaf and chaired by a Deaf person, and we make a lot of effort to ensure there are Deaf reviewers of manuscripts. This means that there is already a space carved out for Deaf people, and from my perspective I am an invited guest to the party. It’s usually the other way around, where marginalized folks are being “given” a seat at the table. There is already a table set, and of course that doesn’t mean audism and ableism do not exist in Deaf or disability spaces, and as a hearing ally I have to examine my hearing privilege both professionally and personally.

How can our hearing colleagues (scholars, publishing colleagues) address audism and ableism in both their work and daily lives?

Jennifer: Katie, the person who is privileged must yield to those who are marginalized, and by doing so spaces can be opened up and inverted. Standards must be changed; nontraditional people, methods, and frameworks must be supported and forced into the mainstream academic world. Inherent beliefs and assumptions need to be questioned and put aside when necessary, such as when I did the panel as a board chair and not an actual acquisitions editor, or when you declined the manuscript I did not feel comfortable with. The usual standards did not apply in these two examples, and they ultimately produced outcomes that were better for everyone, the Deaf community and hearing scholars and publishers alike. Spaces have to be intentionally created, sometimes by allies such as yourself, and differing viewpoints sometimes have to be accepted even when in conflict with the way things have always been done. Intentionality and actions are everything and people need to be mindful of this; in turn, these actions will change the fields that presses publish in.

...the person who is privileged must yield to those who are marginalized, and by doing so spaces can be opened up and inverted.

Katie: During Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s powerful plenary at the AUPresses 2021 annual meeting, she said: “One of the fundamental beliefs of disability justice is ‘nothing has to be the way it is,’” and that “more access creates more access for everyone.” And of course you had to deal with accessibility issues before and during the panel, which is nothing new for Deaf people.

What does a truly accessible publishing industry look like for you as a Deaf scholar? 

Jennifer: Opening up space and opportunities for community members is key. For example, when the Gallaudet University Press board—which is now intentionally majority Deaf—reviews Deaf education manuscripts, we ask how many Deaf, DeafBlind, etc., contributors are on the list. In the past, the press was generally fine with having all hearing contributors on a project; this is now an outdated concept. The hearing contributors did have the academic credentials, but space and opportunity must be automatically allocated for Deaf contributors as well. Our view on what constitutes traditional scholarship must change too, such as citing and accepting vlogs—in a signed language—alongside peer-reviewed articles and books.

Dr. Raychelle Harris, a Deaf academic, acknowledged a hearing academic’s bias in her vlog: “How do we cite our own? We’re trapped in this academic expectation cycle by having to cite mainly academic publications. … Our interviews with those brilliant and experienced Deaf community experts should be equivalent to, or supersede, academic publications. Set aside the ‘academic rule’ that we are to cite publications by privileged people, and honor those with direct and authentic experiences, and many different types of experiences. … Honor those individuals.”

So sometimes what is considered traditional scholarship has to be tweaked or set aside completely in favor of community-based knowledge and traditions.

...sometimes what is considered traditional scholarship has to be tweaked or set aside completely in favor of community-based knowledge and traditions.

Katie: Based on your experience on the panel and as chair of the Gallaudet University Press Editorial Board, is there anything else you’d like to convey to the scholarly publishing community?

Jennifer: In addition to selecting and working with materials for publication, when you have a conference, panel, or meeting, be sure to ask the person or people presenting what they need. And listen and take the comments and feedback seriously. We had trouble with the AUPresses panel when an assumption was made that automated captions via CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) would work for everything; when Deaf participants explained why this wasn’t workable (too many errors in the transcription with background noises, accents, and so forth), the organizers arranged for live captioning. American Sign Language interpretation was also requested alongside the live captioning—after all, even if there is live captioning, how will I as a Deaf presenter adequately convey my remarks without an ASL interpreter to convey them in English to the captioner? How will I “speak” to everyone? But this explanation was somehow pushed aside or overlooked with the belief that live captioning would be enough. Perhaps there was an assumption that I as a Deaf person could speak clearly. In any case, the result was that we started the panel without ASL interpreters, making it so that my contributions could not be captioned. Katie, you were ready to step in to interpret, but that really was not your role as acquisitions editor and as a participant in the panel yourself. Luckily we got ASL interpreters to the panel shortly after it started, once we alerted the organizers of the error. I had to explain to the audience what happened and how it was more difficult for me to participate. That oversight served as an object lesson for the audience, so in this case, some good came out of this, albeit with a large amount of stress on my part and also yours, Katie, even though you are not Deaf, because you are an ally and you were in it with me.

Katie: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! I look forward to our continued conversation on this. I feel lucky I get to work with you, our board, and Deaf and disabled communities worldwide to create books that Deaf and hard of hearing people, Codas (children of Deaf adults), and their allies can feel invested in and enjoy.


Katie Lee is an acquisitions editor at Gallaudet University Press in Washington, DC. As the sole acquisitions editor at GUP she acquires across all Deaf-related fields, but her areas of interest are sign language linguistics, translation and interpretation studies, DeafLit, Deaf history, and Deaf- or Coda-authored biography and memoir.

Dr. Jennifer Nelson is a professor in the English Department and Director of the Honors Program at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. She teaches and studies Shakespeare, Deafness, sign languages, and disability as routine parts of her work. Dr. Nelson has published on American Sign Language poetry, Deaf American prose, Deafness and muteness in film, and John Bulwer’s manual rhetoric and the Deaf community. She is also, in the end, a practicing artist.

Have something to say on this topic? Reply to this post! Or email the Elephant about writing for us. We welcome submissions from stakeholders on all sides of scholarly publishing. Find us on Twitter @HNetBookChannel and use the hashtag #FeedingTheElephant.