How a Culture of Inclusion Can Improve Peer Review: Guest Post by Sandra Korn and Alejandra Mejía

It’s Peer Review Week, an annual event that brings together individuals, institutions, and organizations committed to sharing the central message that good peer review, whatever shape or form it might take, is critical to scholarly communications. We are pleased to share a guest post by Assistant Editor Sandra Korn and Editorial Associate Alejandra Mejía to kick off the week.

Last year for peer review week, our Editorial Director Ken Wissoker wrote about why he loves peer review. This year, we have a different sort of take: we want to look at how mentoring and developing students from diverse backgrounds can strengthen the work of book acquisitions.

bedit field trip

Staff and interns from our Books Acquisitions department on a field trip to the Museum of Durham History, including post authors Sandra Korn (back left) and Alejandra Mejía (front, second from right).

The two of us work together to coordinate the student internship program in the Books Acquisitions department at Duke University Press. Our department relies on our students to carry out some of the administrative work that is essential to our workflow, but we also draw them into conversations about projects in their field of interest, and provide professional development experience for them in acquisitions and across the press.

How do diversity and inclusion, the academic peer review process, and student internships overlap? We believe that listening to voices that have been traditionally underrepresented in the publishing industry can make our editorial work, and our author’s books, more thoughtful and responsive. This is especially vital because our industry remains majority white — a recent study found that 91% of employees in scholarly publishing identify as white. Valuing insights from our student interns can aid the process of upholding socially conscientious scholarship as well as promote a more inclusive culture within academic publishing.

Duke Press hires three to five undergraduate and graduate students during the summer and school year, and we are able to pay all of our student interns. Many other university presses, especially those at public universities with constrained budgets, still have unpaid internships — but important conversations questioning that common practice are finally happening across the publishing industry. Paid internships make interning here a viable option for students from low-income backgrounds: after all, many low-income students work in order to finance their studies, maintain themselves, and send money home. We are grateful to provide students from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to learn about an industry which they may have not ever thought about as a feasible career path.

And, we have made the conscious decision to review student intern applications using a holistic rubric. The many different experiences and skills that diverse applicants bring to the table will undoubtedly influence their work and the direction of the Press as a whole. We take care to hire acquisitions interns who come from the many colleges and universities across our region, including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). (If you’re a student nearby, you can apply right now to work in our department this year!)

As coordinators of the internship program, we recognize our role in training future scholars and publishing professionals from a diverse range of backgrounds, from academic to socioeconomic. Part of this work is recognizing the daily support that we can provide our students via training, relationship-building, and upholding their voices.

It is exactly by valuing the opinions of student interns and colleagues that we can begin to expand the scope of scholarly publishing and create a culture of inclusion in the publishing industry. For instance, we’ve already seen how fruitful it can be for junior-level staff to express opinions, thoughts, and knowledge about processes and projects. One of our editors is acquiring a book that analyzes racism in the American public school system. Our summer intern, who recently graduated from a local arts high school, was able to speak to the editor about her own experience as a person of color in a predominantly white school. And we have heard student interns contribute important insights into who might be an appropriate peer reviewer or cover artist. Moreover, these students are our future acquisition editors, authors, and peer reviewers: truly including them in editorial conversations now will strengthen the scholarly publishing industry in the long term.

It is vital to the intellectual work of publishing to have queer students, students of color, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and student activists engaging with the literature that is oftentimes theorizing the experiences of their communities. We are excited to think about what the future of academic publishing could look like with a wide array of voices and skills coming together.

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