Author: Johanna Leinonen
I joined the ETMU board in 2013 after spending several years in the United States pursuing my PhD degree. Becoming a member of the ETMU board helped me immensely in integrating myself back in the scholarly networks in Finland. I ended up serving on thein the board from 2013 to 2018.
During those years, I learned the ins and outs of ETMU. I was the treasurer from 2013 to 2016, and in 2017-2018, I had the honor of serving as the ETMU’s chairperson. For one year, I also acted as one of the editors of the ETMU Blog. During my term as the chairperson, the blog was renewed and renamed as Liikkeessä yli rajojen. It is thus very rewarding to contribute to this blog and see it thriving!
My term as the chairperson of ETMU followed 2015-2016, i.e., the period when the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Finland grew significantly, and the Finnish government tightened migration policies in many ways.
As the societal and political discussions surrounding migration became increasingly polarized, the ETMU board members shared the feeling that we should take a stance when asylum-seekers’ rights were curtailed. We invited all ETMU members and email list subscribers to visit and show support for the demonstration by asylum-seekers at the Helsinki Railway Station square in March 2017.
This demonstration, organized by the Right to Live – Oikeus elää collective, continued for several months in Helsinki, calling for fairness in asylum-seeking processes. The Right to Live collective received the ETMU Award at the ETMU conference in Jyväskylä in October 2017 for their tireless struggle for human rights. This is the first time the ETMU award was granted to a network of actors (instead of a single person) and to persons with migratory background.
Following these events, we in the ETMU board saw that it would be necessary to discuss what role a scientific society like ETMU should have in civil society. For this purpose, in 2018, we conducted a survey among the ETMU membership, asking the members’ views on how the society’s activities should be developed in the future.
We learned that there was no unanimous view on what role scientific societies should take in public debates. While some thought that researchers ought to remain “neutral”, others felt that scholars should actively participate in discussions related to the field of expertise.
In the end, the board decided that ETMU should take an active stance in topics and questions that ETMU researchers specialize in. To spell this out, we created the ETMU’s first-ever strategy in 2018, during my last year as chairperson.
The strategy underlined the need to bring up research-based views that promote social justice and the realization of human rights. This stance aligns with the ethical principles spelled out by scholars of forced migration, who have underlined the researchers’ responsibility to speak out about the structural inequalities they uncover in their research.
While the public discussions on migration, ethnicity, and racism are often heated and even frustrating, it is exciting to see how research and activism are increasingly intertwined. ETMU continues to have an important role in speaking out about issues of social justice.
I am proud of the small role I had in ETMU’s history. Being a member of ETMU has meant a lot to me over the years. I learned many professional skills during my time as the treasurer and chairperson, skills that have been useful in other positions, and I also acquired long-lasting friendships through ETMU. For anyone interested in getting to know new and interesting people and learn about migration research conducted in Finland, I highly recommend becoming an active member.
Johanna Leinonen specialises in migration history and is a docent in multiculturalism research at the University of Turku (2016). Currently, Leinonen works as a researcher at the Deaconess Institute and is involved in various research projects.