Are we all good ol’ racists?

While reading a piece about Shankar Vedantam’s new book “the Hidden Brain” I was thinking “NO! This is wrong! I was not at all racist when I was 3… cause there was no other race in Iran…” To be more precise, we (Iranian students) usually have a hard time understanding what race is when filling out application forms for US universities (I sometimes categorized myself as Asian and sometimes as white)! But after a while pondering about racism, I thought well, we do not have racism in its classic meaning of othering the other ‘races’, BUT we do have many discriminatory behaviors (and policies unfortunately) toward a large number of minority groups in our country namely Afghan Refugees”.

The point is, even if we have not formed the associations between certain groups of people and the concepts about them (simply because we have not had the chance of it), it does not necessarily means we are not bigots, as a Persian proverb says “He doesn’t see any water; otherwise, he is a skilled swimmer.”

I totally agree with Shankar when he emphasizes on taking back the control of our brain by unlearning our mental associations consciously and conscientiously. This would be a difficult process for everyone of us, since as we grow up we lean more and more towards our autopilot brain functions and as Shankar puts it “… the hidden brain is much more in charge of what we do than our conscious mind’s intentions”. This, in my view,  is everyone of us responsibility at individual level.

What I find lacking in this article, is how society as a whole should move towards eradicating racism. The structural inequalities must be addressed in order to give back minorities and the oppressed their voice and power. When world powers, their policies, media and social structures at national and international level are constantly shaping an unequal, prejudice and hateful global culture (e.g. toward Muslims/Jews/Arabs/etc.), do individual efforts suffice? I say NO!

Teaching for Social Justice

A quick look at the racial composition of students and teachers in the U.S. reveals why a racial gap exists between the two. White teachers constitute 85% of all public school teachers in the U.S. and this share is expected to increase. About half of current public school students are non-Whites and the share of non-White students will increase in the coming years. According to Carlisle, Jackson, & George (2006), academic achievement is racially correlated and drop-out and attempted suicide are high among LGBT students. These trends indicate why teachers should be well-prepared to teach in diverse contexts: social justice and student achievement are inseparable (Carlisle, et al. 2006). Nevertheless, research (Cross, 2003) shows that such preparation is not yet achieved, e.g., to respect student’s language, to use diverse literature in the syllabus, to acknowledge diversity, and to recognize personal knowledge and experience.  These concerns become even more meaningful when inequity in the U.S. education is seen from a structural perspective. For example, since public education funding is tied to local property taxes, students in wealthier communities, which are predominantly White, have access to superior educational opportunities (Dover, 2009). Thus, researchers like Cross (2003) suggest that it is not enough to take a neutral approach and just realize that there are differences, e.g., in the language spoken by students. Rather, they advocate active behaviors or strategies for teaching in a multi-cultural context. Carlisle, et al. (2006) addressed such strategies through five key principles. These principles, according to Dover  (2009), try to reduce educational inequity through a comprehensive and systemic reform, which is increasingly framed as social justice in education. For example, working in reciprocal collaboration with students’ parents and communities, and teaching about activism, power, and inequity in schools and society are among such principles. Overall, I think such ideas are highly valuable if realized. It seems that with an increase in the number of students of color, existing racial gaps will gradually diminish. However, as long as the society is structured to provide a better education for the high-income populations, more work is needed to achieve social justice in education.  Also, other issues, e.g., religious minorities, immigrants, LGBTs, etc. will shape the next steps in reaching social justice.

References:

  • Carlisle, L. R., Jackson, B. W., & George, A. (2006). Principles of social justice education: The social justice education in schools project. Equity & Excellence in Education, 39(1), 55-64.
  • Cross, B. E. (2003). Learning or unlearning racism: Transferring teacher education curriculum to classroom practices. Theory into practice, 42(3), 203-209.
  • Dover, A. G. (2009). Teaching for social justice and K-12 student outcomes: A conceptual framework and research review. Equity & Excellence in Education42(4), 506-524.

The Universal Language… Not So Universal?

Mathematics is often touted as The Universal Language. Supposedly, despite the many different symbols, definitions, notations, and conventions, the core principles of mathematics transcend cultural, societal, and even terrestrial differences. However, a language requires someone to speak it. And here, we find our universal language is not quite the same for everyone.

Coming into this week’s reading, I’ve been aware of the disparities for women in STEM. It exists, and there are multiple aspects to the problem. Personally, it’s just intiutive for me to think that equality is good. “Equal pay for equal work.” That just seems so obvious me. However, for me, I’ve always thought of striving for equality for equality’s sake. What I mean by that, equality is a right, and discrimination is bad. We should be more diverse in STEM, because everyone should have the opportunity to enter this field. It’s a question about morality and fairness.

Now, discrimination and racism can be a detriment to a student’s learning experience (and I will discuss that later). However first, one of the readings this week challenged my viewpoint that diversity is just a moral prerogative. The article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, speaks to the benefit of diversity in problem solving. When inter-disciplinary teams and experiences lead to innovative solutions, why do we not place the same importance in social diversity? I truly have never thought about this. Homogeneity excourages complacency. Novel ideas and solutions come about through constant questioning, and I never considered that diversity can have an impact on that.

In one of our additional readings, Whistling Vivaldi, Steele discussed the challenges women face in mathematics, as well as his attempts to understand what exactly is the cause. I’ve also been curious to find a reason for the disparities (and there are many). It’s important to acknowledge issues like harrassment. Part of me had some gut feeling that there was some gender biases that add extra obstacles for women in STEM. I feel like this chapter of his book really hit the tip of the ice berg. Without the presence of directly prejudiced people, Steele found that women can still feel negative consquences of gender biases. In addition, the effort to fight that stigma, itself, can hinder their ability to achieve. In my opinion, this really hits the nail on the head.

In terms of the classroom, how do we fight against this societal pressure? I feel like we can try to remove the stigma of “not understanding” material. Personally, I have times where I hadnot grasped subjects at first glance. When I don’t understand, I feel a stigma of asking questions in front of my peers during class. “I don’t want to seem dumb in front of others.” However, that doesn’t help me learn; it does the opposite. That pressure of trying to prove to others (or to society) of your abilities, while it  affects many more women in mathematics, it is not a unique feeling. We should strive to lower that pressure among our students in mathematics. Perhaps change the notion that only people who don’t know the material go to office hours.

Now, gender disparities in mathematics are not the only challenge that we face in our field. After some thought, I was starting to think about how language plays a part as well. Despite how we always think of math as transcending language, when it comes to expressing ideas to others, we have to use words in some way. For a direct example, think about foreign students who take proof courses. Is it more difficult for students to learn proof structure when they have to simultaneously learn English sentence structure, and grammer? For those new to proofs, those lexical aspects are absolutely required to learn how to express mathematical aspects . Native speakers have the luxury to focus entirely on the proofs, while non-native speaks have an additional handicap. This was a small thought of mine, but it would be interesting to explore the challenges to mathematics due to language barriers. Have there been major advances that took years to confirm because of difficulties in translation of mathematical papers?

Overall, I feel like Inclusive Pedagogy is much more relevant to mathematics than I initially had thought.

Biracial or Biethnic?

I have been trying to understand race and identity my entire life and it has been a complicated road. My mother is white and my father is a hispanic immigrant from El Salvador. Being multi ethnic (I guess I’m not biracial since hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race..?) is absolutely confusing, and in my 26 years and many hours of reading about race and identity, I’m not sure I’ve figured things out. While I culturally may not be very openly hispanic it doesn’t matter, because my brown skin is what people see first. When they meet me they make a judgement based on my skin tone and my name. There are opinions and stereotypes that people have about me and how ‘my people’ act. For this reason I have to think carefully about how I conduct myself in an academic setting and how I approach challenging discussions of race and where/when I choose to speak up. Frankly, I don’t have much of a filter on this topic and regularly call out what I appear to be biases, but it is incredibly draining sometimes.

For this blog post, I decided to respond to several comments that stuck out to me in the ‘Dismantling Racism in Education’ podcast:

 (1) “Because I’m brown that doesn’t make me a diversity expert or an expert on race”

Oh man, if I had a dollar for every time this has come up. So true. I understand the desire to have representation on panels discussing race, but I wouldn’t say that I am the expert on race. Like Sara said in the podcast, I have lived experiences that are unique to my white colleagues. For that reason I am more comfortable navigating the conversation of race, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing should be put on me to teach others what is wrong and right.

(2) “White Privilege”

Again, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve tried to navigate explaining this one. I appreciated the breakdown and separation of white privilege from social/economic privilege. These are two different things that should not be confused. White privilege is so closely tied to representation, being able to see your face represented and being able to see your experiences represented as the norm. That is white privilege. White privilege is ignoring that police brutality is a thing because as a white person you don’t have negative experiences with police officers, so how could anyone else? (Insert face palm emoji)

(3) “It costs white people nothing to speak up”

Yasssss. Please. Do speak up. For me. When I speak up, I’m considered an angry brown woman. Any time I bring up race or point out biases that my white peers have, I can guarantee you that going through someones head is ‘the race card again,’ and that is exhausting. Knowing that I can keep bringing up what I believe to be wrong, but then I get pegged as the continually angry person pointing out race problems. But why do I always have to be the one to say something. If we see ourselves as progressives, then it should be just as evident for me that something is racist as it is to the person next to me.

(4) “Many of us are reluctant to speak up because we don’t have the expertise”

I have heard this a lot, and I agree, as a white person you may not have the expertise, and I appreciate you admitting that upfront. So here’s what you can do. Educate yourselves. Please. Take the time to listen and respect others opinions. Listen, appreciate, and understand that those experiences are real. Do not question that experience just because you have never experienced it. That is what I would say, listen, and respect perspectives that are not your own. Practice becoming comfortable with conversations and situations that make you uncomfortable, that’s how we make change.

Red Queens in Inclusive Pedagogy

Inclusivity is a challenging subject to discuss at times as societal morality presents a constantly moving target. The common playground insults of yesteryear become the room-silencing slurs of today. In turn, technical terms for uncomfortable subjects segue to playground insults and require routine maintenance every couple of years. This is largely great, it’s becoming more and more taboo to label individuals by aspects of their self beyond their own personal choice, and I’m sincerely curious how long it will be until pejoratives describing rural populations fall out of favor. As morality shifts more and more, we suddenly come to view each previous generation as selfish and barbaric, casting ourselves as the temporary heirs of a more civilized age. Inevitably, these positions too are shown to be folly and morality will generally continue forward as we realize and communicate more of our mistakes. As such, any statement specifically anchored to the accepted morality of a given time and circumstance runs the risk of coming off extremely tone-deaf in short order. In writing this, I question if tone-deaf is even an appropriate term.

No matter how woke you may (desire to) be, you have to run as fast as you can to stay where you are. And in a world where real, actual Nazis exist as a cultural force once more we need to keep up the pace. The notable social progress in our discourse in the last five years has triggered an equal if not greater retraction in opposition. Per the cliche, everyone is the hero of their own story, and many find it just so much easier to see oneself as a steadfast hero of free speech, beset on all sides by snowflakes than to see themselves as out of touch with time and society.

The benefits of inclusivity in academia are clear and can be selfishly justified with no presumption of altruism. We take the best and brightest from all over the world and pay them a bare necessities salary during 2-5  of the most creative, most hardworking years of their career. The question then becomes, how do we conduct inclusive pedagogy to reach both sides of the aisle, all the while functioning within our own implicit biases? For this I lean heavily upon two simple rules: don’t be a *jerk, and understand that you just might not get it, and that’s okay.

I take don’t be a *jerk from the Team Rubicon code of conduct. Team Rubicon is disaster relief organization that’s built upon a beautiful lie – that their primary business is disaster relief. While they perform admirably well in serving disaster afflicted populations, their true, unspoken mission is to rehabilitate afflicted service members. Team Rubicon deliberately recruits veterans struggling to re-adjust to civilian life and gives them a high energy, high adrenaline environment where their martial skills and dedication are useful once more. By pairing new members working to get well with elder members who have been there before they create a natural support group for those carrying hidden wounds. Given such preconditions, I was really surprised to see what a memorable and timeless code of conduct they chose to unite under. We might not realize all the ways we’re beings jerks, and no system of rules can ever keep up with our increasing awareness as a society, but if you start simple, it’s easy to maintain and build a solid foundation.

Second, is that sometimes, I just wont get it. This I take from an episode of South Park in which Stan repeatedly tries to apologize for the blunders of his father, growing more and more off-message with each attempt. Finally, after failing in every attempt to understand and right this wrong, Stan finally realizes that he’s failing because he just doesn’t get it, and he never will. There’s a lot of beauty in layers to this. From the ivory tower perspectives of academia, it’s easy to imagine that all knowledge is tangible and may be readily extracted given the right hooks. Falling into this line of thinking with regards to inclusivity risks discounting one’s entire lifetime of lived experience and private struggles. At the end of the day, somewhere in our selves, we all have some deep wound, some pernicious injury, some hole that we will spend the rest of our lives trying to fill. We can never truly understand what experiences one is carrying looking from the outside in, it’s showing that we’re willing to listen, to accept, and that we care enough that we will strive to do better, even though we don’t always get it.

These rules are simple, they don’t cover everything, but they are robust and generalizeable. Following these has led me well as a framework, and they contain a pure and simple enough truth that they may be disseminated readily – please do.

*Not the original wording.

 

Can discomfort be taken seriously?

Some may think those who work in academia within STEM fields are lucky – the classes and work they do rarely involve bringing up conversations about biases, political correctness, and privilege among other things. Many of our research areas don’t involve the human experience at all, so “uncomfortable” subjects don’t usually come up in the classroom.

Just because we don’t intentionally stimulate “uncomfortable” dialogue very often doesn’t make us lucky at all. Situations that reveal biases and problems within the workplace will inevitably come about, rendering us unprepared and even more uncomfortable.

STEM fields are just as subject to inequality and biases as any other area. At my previous university, at least three women close to me reported Title IX incidents without any subsequent repercussion to the offenders. One of those reports involved a tenured, full professor in her department. She was being paid quite a bit less than her male counterparts; even less than some assistant, untenured male professors. Moreover, she was only one of two full, female professors in the department. Even further, there were no non-white faculty at any level in this department.

We never, ever talk about why white males dominate our field. Animal Science at the undergrad level is 80% female and mostly white. However, those with leadership positions in Animal Science, and agricultural fields as a whole – almost 100% male. I’m not entirely bothered by this, because I feel these dynamics are slowly changing at the academic level. What does bother me is that our higher-ups know these issues exist, and still choose to blatantly gloss over them.

Consequently these conversations are rarely had. When they come up in the workplace, they are not serious. Males dominate the dialogue, and as a woman I usually find myself feeling sheepish and not wanting to be contrary. I’ve been witness to such conversations where a woman will be brave enough to interject, only to later hear the men talking amongst themselves about the content of her character. As a result, my automatic reaction when the subject of bias arises is to be passive. Unfortunately, that’s how women are conditioned to be in our society – agreeable, cooperative, apologetic even.

The power dynamic rules in these situations.  Georgetown’s guides for using heated topics as a learning tool make the task seem more approachable. However, those mainly apply to a classroom setting when you hold the power cord of the conversation. The question is, how can we overcome the fear of having the unpopular opinion if we aren’t in the power role or in the majority? How can we learn to be okay with creating discomfort?

-J

Inclusive Pedagogy

After reading the excerpt from Shankar Vedantam’s book, it made me start thinking about my childhood and how I had been impacted by my parents and the culture I was raised in. Race was not something that was discussed much or really thought about, but I noticed as I grew up that I did start to think that me trying to be colorblind wasn’t necessarily a positive thing. During undergrad I was participating in a training prepping for orientation when colorblindness around race was the main topic of conversation and there was a heated conversation going on. The professional didn’t do anything to stop the conversation, but let both sides and perspectives be heard in the room and I think it was that moment that several people in the room finally understood that it was better to have productive conversations versus trying to act like everything is perfect and there aren’t still racial issues happening everyday.

This connects to the implicit bias tests slightly as I had the RA’s that I supervise take a few of the tests and discuss their results with each other. They were shocked by some of their results and a little frustrated when some of them did not get the positive results they were expecting. Unfortunately, at first they did not want to embrace the conflict and have those conversations, but found that they learned a lot about each other and themselves from having those conversations. While listening to some of their conversations, it made me think of my sister and some of her experiences after she got married and took on a new last name. Her maiden name is Cheatham, but her current last name is Ching, so when people came to find “Mrs. Ching” they were expecting to see my sister. I don’t think my sister realized what the impact was going to be until after she experienced some of the different looks just based off a last name, especially since she teaches at an elementary school that is not diverse at all.

Katherine Philips brought up a great thought and presented a great question that I have heard many people talk about in that they don’t know what good diversity does us and ask: what is the upside?  I have had to have many conversations with new students about the importance of diversity and trying to get them understand what diversity actually means to them. Once they start to understand what diversity entails and we can unpack some of their beliefs and reasons for their beliefs it is easier to discuss the positive impacts of diversity on the world as well as the negative impacts not respecting others who are different from you. Working in Higher Education, this is going to be a constant challenge that we as professionals are going to have to continue to work at and try to help as many people as possible understand the importance of diversity.

“Racism is a structure not an event” – Robin DiAngelo

 

 

This year’s ACPA (American College Personnel Association) Convention theme is BE BOLD. This theme is very appropriate for recent events and our class post this week on Inclusive Pedagogy. What does that mean? “Being BOLD requires actions, takes resilience, requires engaging complexity, necessitates deep reflection, is a learning process, is rooted in racial justice and decolonization, and involves knowing one’s roots.” I completely agree with this statement and believe it is a foundation to what it means to be inclusive. How can you create an inclusive space when you haven’t exposed yourself to differences? How can you encourage others to be inclusive when maybe you never felt excluded because you’ve always belonged? As in always part of the majority. “I don’t want you to understand me better, I want you to understand yourselves. Your survival has never depended on your knowledge of white culture. In fact, it’s required your ignorance” This was shared by our opening keynote speaker Dr. Robin DiAngelo. She brought up so many issues to light about how if want to be “inclusive” we need to start by deeply understanding Racism and how it is embedded in our history and society today.  I also feel that this has been an issue that was ignored before and it is now being talked about because of everything happening around us…Black lives matter, anti immigration laws, LGBTQ+ shootings, women’s rights, white supremacy and many more. Injustices are happening right now and will continue to happen. Therefore, I think that if we truly want to be “inclusive” we need to educate ourselves about the systems of oppression and racism that are embedded in our society and how we can truly engage as educators in dismantling them. Lastly, I want to conclude with what Dr. DiAngelo asked:

On Diversity and Inclusion

Participants in learning environments have been members of society; affected by a variety of factors in society and have been exposed to different sorts of assumptions and judgments. They bring their rich experiences into the environment, unless their background and experiences are acknowledged; the environment may not welcoming and their learning experience may not be productive.

Diversity and inclusion matters. Katherine Phillips in her article highlights a particular benefit of diversity, informational diversity; the fact that participants have a chance to get exposed to different perspectives and beliefs. Phillips argues that people in an environment, in which they see/consider alternatives, work harder.  Georgetown’s Center for New Design in Learning and Scholarship reports that the efforts in creating inclusive environment students have positive academic and health effects for students who have been traditionally marginalized in the educational setting.

How can instructor create such an environment? Before making any agenda or action plan, instructor as a member of learning community needs to be aware of unconscious bias. Shakar Vedantam argues that our hidden brain unconsciously and without our awareness contribute in making unsupported judgement about individuals. To overcome this, a facilitator of a learning environment needs to be aware of her hidden brain when it works in “autopilot mode”, as Vedantam calls it. In addition, she needs to be aware that children get exposed to different biases from early ages influenced by family, educational system, media and so on. Her role, then, is beyond creating different sorts of learning opportunities and having different methods of assessment, indeed.

Thinking about different aspects of diversity, the issue of race and racism is perhaps the most difficult aspect that needs to be addressed. On the Heinmann podcast, “Dismantling Racism in Education”, panel members have paid close attention to systemic root of the issue and discuss exclusion of Black and Brown as an intentional problem in the schooling system. We cannot ignore it. Cornelius Minor, one of the panel members invites us to put humanity at center and see individuals’ backgrounds as shared struggle that solidify friendship. ,

This is not going to be an easy conversation, needs to have foundation and ground rules…

 

 

1 2 3