Open Letter to the ASA Community Concerning the 2020 Annual Meeting

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and our commitment to keeping our community safe, the African Studies Association Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to shift the format of our Annual Meeting to a fully virtual conference. As members and participants in this association, we want to outline for you the decisions made and the opportunities created in 2020.

Like many have repeated over the last several weeks, we believe that 2020 is not a lost year. Now is an essential time to come together as a community, share knowledge, and engage in deep and meaningful debates – not in spite of the current national and global climate but because of it. We believe that it is our responsibility as an association to have the difficult conversations about this global pandemic as well as the ongoing protests against state violence and their multitudinous impacts on our global community.

After considering all of the meeting options for 2020, including going forward with our regular format, a hybrid meeting, a virtual meeting and total cancelation we still felt that many of these options left our community vulnerable or wanting. The decision to shift to a fully virtual meeting was not made lightly and we recognize that it is not a perfect solution. We acknowledge that it highlights access inequalities across our membership, which we hope to partially address through organizational partnerships. This decision has created incredible discomfort and uncertainty and we have no doubt that many of our members will share that sentiment. Never the less, for the well-being of the organization and our membership we do believe that a virtual meeting is the best option available to us this year. We are dedicated to honoring the commitments we have already made for our meeting in Washington, D.C. and therefore have renegotiated with Marriott to return to our regularly scheduled Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. in November 2021.

There will be many practical changes this year including the division of presentations into synchronous and asynchronous segments. Our programming will include live keynote sessions as well as the release of some publicly accessible keynote events on YouTube. This year’s board sponsored activities will include pivotal interdisciplinary discussions surrounding COVID-19 as well as robust AfricaNow! programming – which will open for submissions in late August. We hope that everyone will join us for our annual Award ceremony followed by our (at home) dance party. A reduction of participation fees for both members and non-members is outlined on our website effective for all participants that register henceforth.

Although nothing can substitute for the experience of being physically together to connect with old friends and forge new partnerships, we believe that a virtual conference will give many people the opportunity to participate in knowledge production and dissemination without the financial and personal burden of an in-person meeting. We hope that this is an opportunity to demonstrate the incredible depth and breadth of knowledge within our community to those African Studies practitioners, academics, students, and governmental officials that have never had the physical mobility, support, time, or fiscal freedom to participate before. Ultimately, we believe that this year will inspire deeper connections, new projects, and creative opportunities with those that have been historically left out.

Lastly, we want to reassure our members that we are continuing to adapt our programming and our institutional offerings to meet the needs of our community in this shifting landscape. We are excited to reveal some of the new initiatives we have been developing over the past few years as the 2020 Annual Meeting draws near. It has also given us comfort that despite the circumstances, we are currently planning the most environmentally responsible Annual Meeting that the ASA may ever host. While the Secretariat has enjoyed organizing an in-person Annual Meeting for the past 63 years, we embrace the challenge to virtually engage our community in meaningful dialogue, and build impactful year-round programming to support our membership, now and into the future. Our mission to facilitate interdisciplinary exchange, foster networks of Africanist scholars and practitioners, and broaden professional opportunities in the field remains as salient as ever. We hope you agree.

Further details about the presentation and participation format of the virtual conference will be outlined on our website as they become available. We want to be transparent with our constituency when we say that we do not currently have all the technical answers to your questions. We are learning the technological best practices along with many other associations impacted by the current global circumstances. Even in this challenging time, we are committed to coming together in November to share a sense of community. We hope that you will attend this year’s Virtual Annual Meeting in November and that you will consider submitting a proposal for the 2021 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.