STARYL's purpose, ethos, and origins
STARYL (Striving Towards Anti-racist Research in Youth Literature) was formed in the summer of 2020, during a moment of global attention on issues of systemic anti-Black racism and in response to specific incidents at the Centre for Research in Children’s Literature and, on a broader level, the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge.
The founding members were disturbed by the faculty’s hollow and inhumane response to the testimonies of those who experienced anti-Black racism within the institution and within the field more broadly. Our suggestions for reform were met with denial, obfuscation, and hostility.
After exhausting possibilities of working collaboratively with the faculty, a group of post-grads formed an independent support and accountability group that committed to on-going anti-racism training and anti-racist praxis in our own work.
We returned to the suggestions that had been rejected by the faculty as ‘impossible’ or ‘divisive’ and decided to enact as many of them as we could. One of these was a BIPOC speaker series that would pay presenters for their valuable expertise that was lacking at the faculty.
We had been told, “I’m no expert on the ethics of paying for speakers but for my working life I have never seen this. Speakers may accept a meal if incidental to the speaking.” The ‘sing-for-your-supper’ culture was not one that we wanted to replicate.
We began applying for small grants, and continue to do so. All our speakers are paid a (modest) fee for their time. We wish we could pay them more, but at least we’re not participating in a prestige culture that trades in admittance to a space that is both staid and toxic.
It isn’t an overstatement to say that the talks and workshops by our amazing speakers have been some of the most powerful, formative teaching experiences we have experienced since we joined the University of Cambridge. We are immensely grateful to our presenters.
Our talks are online and free for anyone to attend - although we particularly encourage students, post-docs, and ERCs to join us. We have so many exciting things on the horizon and we continue to learn from inspiring organisations such as REIYL. In fact, the idea for a BIPOC online speaker series originated within REIYL, co-founded by Breanna McDaniel (also co-founder of STARYL) and Joshua Simpson.
Beyond offering ERCs the chance to engage with some of the most interesting scholars and practitioners working in youth literature, STARYL’s purpose is to model ways that student groups can resist entrenched university cultures that require them to compromise their core beliefs.
The rewards offered to our (white) members for compliance with white supremacist institutional structures are empty, shadowy, and cursed. We lose nothing through resistance, and, in fact, we slowly regain our humanity that we’d lost to white complacency.