Food Solves Everything (Or At Least Make MHA a Better Place)

By May 15, 2018

We at JI have been thinking about how MHA can be a more inclusive space for a long time. We’ve read a lot about different forms of mentorship (vertical vs. horizontal) and have reflected on our best conference experiences. We’ve thought a lot about the Mike Pence Rule (or the Spencer W. Kimball Rule). We’ve asked women about their experiences at MHA and how it can operate .

We’ve come to a few conclusions. It’s hard to go to a conference where you don’t know anyone. It’s hard to make friends if you don’t already have a few friends there. It’s hard to make a field more inclusive if social events aren’t more inclusive–you tend to think of the work of people you know when you’re citing and inviting other people to share their work. We don’t think that this is intentional, but that’s part of what privilege is: never having to think about what you haven’t experienced. If we want MHA to be a better place for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and others that haven’t traditionally felt welcome at MHA, we have to do something about it.

With that in mind, we at JI want to state that we are committed to making sure that no one eats alone unless they want to (no judging, we’ve all been there). We will put something up about where some folks are meeting before meals outside the conference center and will do our best to leave seats open at conference meals. We will post when and where we are meeting for meals on our Twitter account.

MHA has some major structural problems, like most academic organizations. JI doesn’t have the funds to help fix them. So we are doing what we can to make MHA a more diverse, enjoyable, and equitable place however we can.


Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Joseph, Thanks for this. As introverted as I am, I’ve found MHA to be an especially welcoming place. Most people are just waiting for an opportunity, an invitation, to engage with others.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — May 15, 2018 @ 8:15 am

  2. Thanks, Gary. I’ve also had excellent experiences, but I’ve also heard some really difficult stories of feeling isolated at MHA. I really hope that folks take us up on this and that everyone at MHA will do a good job making others feel welcome.

    Comment by J Stuart — May 15, 2018 @ 11:35 am

  3. As one who hasn’t ever attended but has considered it,, could you also post some kind of MHA for newbies guide? Like why and how to come/participate, etc.

    Comment by acw — May 15, 2018 @ 12:03 pm

  4. Agreed that cliquishness/clannishness can be a problem. My advice? (1) Don’t hesitate to engage a presenter after her/his presentation. Almost everybody loves it when someone takes an interest in her/his work, especially in articles and books. (2) Don’t hesitate to ask questions during Q&A. (There may be no dumb questions, but it does help when one pays attention and asks relevant, thoughtful questions.) (3) Don’t hesitate to sit next to strangers during sessions, during lunches/dinners, on tour buses, etc. (4) Try not to argue and/or discuss politics (don’t assume everyone’s a member of your political party–they’re not). (5) Try not to ask questions or make statements that might be more appropriately asked/made during an explicitly religious service (this isn’t meant to silence expressions of faith, etc., merely to suggest that one try to be aware and appreciative of boundaries). And (6) try not to take things so seriously–if you can’t have fun and enjoy yourself at MHA, where can you?
    Your thoughts, Joseph?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — May 15, 2018 @ 3:42 pm

  5. For the Newbies’ Guide:

    Presenters DO love it when people engage them immediately after a presentation — sometimes that is the only direct response they get to a paper or project that has engaged them for months.

    Be sensitive, though, to others who might to greet the presenter. Don’t monopolize his time with lengthy explanations of your own theory of the topic, or how your grandmother’s brother’s wife’s uncle’s bishop found himself in a situation kinda sorta like the one the presenter just spoke about, only not really. That “glad to talk to you” will sour into “would you please go away” if the speaker sees the people he wanted to hear from give up and drift away.

    Comment by Ardis — May 15, 2018 @ 7:31 pm

  6. Gary, I love that list. The two others on my panel dropped out at the last minute at one of my first presentations at MHA. It meant that I had 35 minutes of Q&A, which was kind of insane, but it was a lot of fun to get feedback. The questions and comments I received helped me to formulate a much better paper and argument–and helped me to know which reader recommended rejection when I submitted it to a journal!

    Ardis, YES on not monopolizing time with a speaker. Ask if you could talk with them further over email or in the audience before another session!

    Comment by J Stuart — May 16, 2018 @ 8:49 am

  7. As a n00b attending his first MHA, the OP and comments are appreciated!

    Comment by Ben S — May 20, 2018 @ 6:31 pm


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