Oh my Jailer, set me free for one day

I don’t know why I wake up after midnight to write this blog post. We are not required to write a blog post soon, and probably no one will check this post. However, our discussion at the end of the lecture make me think about people with disabilities. I wrote my regular blog post this week about some inclusion guidelines that teachers should take care of in their classrooms. I mentioned “gender”, “religion”, and “sexual orientation”. I though that disability is well taken care of by special offices in every university. However, Homero commented that I need to add “disability” to my list and he will talk about this in the lecture.

I was shocked to hear in the lecture that those who are supposed to facilitate everything for disabled people, are those who push them to give up any interest in attending a university. If those put themselves in disabled people shoes, they would not act like this.

I can imagine the disability as a jailer which puts someone in a prison without a real sin. He did not choose to be disabled as everyone will not chose to be. Disability always prevent you from doing something normally, as if you are in a prison. If a disabled person had a wish to come true, he would chose to be set free even for one day. Even a small thing as one day will really differ for him.

When a disabled person decides to attend a university and get a college degree, we should tip our hats to him. He knows it will not be easy and he will probably have a lot of difficulties but he has a strong will to try. So please, every teacher, student, and officer do not make it harder for disabled people. Do not force them to give up. Help them to the extreme. Facilitate every thing for them. Teachers can give special tests to those people to examine them without forcing them to take the regular test that could be impossible for them. Students also can help their disabled colleagues and try to be more social with them in order not to feel loneliness in classrooms. University officers, it is mainly your role to help them, please take care of what you say or do with them, it is very enough what they feel or suffer.

Diversity: the last unfinished business

The first step towards winning the fight with diversity is to acknowledge that we are still not in accord that diversity is still an issue in society.

One way to remedy that problem is to encourage the burgeoning of diverse groups on campuses and just having students feel included somewhere. It makes all the difference in the world.

Dr. Marilyn Sanders says it best in her TEDx talk.

Not Disney’s Brave

The way in which Arao and Clemens frame the issues around social justice dialogues as brave spaces was inspiring. I have for most of my adult life, loathed facilitated dialogues that were meant to solve the problems of the world, professional standards of conduct, or long time family issues in a 60 – 90 minute talk session. It’s as if Walt Disney had bestowed the facilitators with some magical wand, and bippty-boppety-boo we all walk away with a new, enlightened and single correct view of the issue that would inevitably lead to happily-ever-after.  But real life exists well beyond the bounds of such a fantasy world, not everyone has nor should have the same “politically correct” view of the world, expecting such would be akin to expecting the Seven Dwarfs to be replicas of each other instead of the Grump, Happy, Sneezy, etc version that we know and love.

Now that criticism is not to say these dialogues are useless. We do in fact need to start having conversations, if as the authors noble cause suggests, we are cultivating a space that is conducive to new ways of seeing things. So we join Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass and have a spot of tea. Once there, I was surprised and contented with the framing of the “common ground rules”. In particular, the controversy with civility was a framing that I have never come across. Having my own experiences of frustration with the agree to disagree disengagement tactics, I was never able to unpack why those situations felt so disingenuous and unsatisfying. Now, finally, thanks to the authors, it makes sense… “the conversation is halted… [the issue] is left unexamined”. This new rule goes in Mary Poppins’ suitcase for future reference.


The numbers say I am racist

How do we recognize when we are flying in autopilot?

Last week I took a version of the Implicit Association Test. The aim of the test is to look at perhaps hidden bias in our own minds by looking at the difference in ability to associate positive terms with or negative terms or positive terms with a given race or identity, in this case not my own. I did quite poorly. I’m not even really sure I want to admit this. How comfortable am I admitting this result with my friends? Is that a conversation I want to have? Would it be hurtful to do so? Or is it only my own ego I would hurt?

So in short the survey was a really a horrible experience. I am grateful for the experience, but to be blunt I found it sickening. Have you ever felt self-conscious around yourself? Have you ever found yourself wondering what you might be thinking? A little tempted to squirm out of your own consciousness, and find some meaningless distraction? Have you ever attempted to eavesdrop on the conversation in your head as though looking for gossip? This week I have found myself questioning myself. I want to know if this is true in my interactions with people. Or at least I want to find out. It’s hard to say if I really want to know.

From the experience, I think there were two kinds of factors playing in on the unconscious mind – the mind on autopilot. The first a bias against another group, and the second a bias toward myself. The first is hard for me to wrap my mind around. The second is easier. What I have never noticed before is how many of my mnemonics are based on some system of ranking, of doling out importance. When I memorize numbers I use tricks like noticing when the digits add to 10, patterns and symmetry, and – conspicuously – a competition between the “good” even numbers and the “bad” odd numbers. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember without ever consciously deciding to do so.

What’s scary is how often I use “likeness to me” as a mnemonic. I’ll use my age, my initials, my favorite color, my “favorite” number, whatever it takes as a tag. And if I am trying to remember an ordered list or associate numbers with terms, I find it easier to remember when the more “me-like” is the greater. For example, potassium is “my” element because it’s abbreviation is “K.” My initial. The concentration of potassium is high inside the cell (I get to be the “insider”), and the Na+/K+-ATPase that maintains this gradient only pumps 2 K+ in for every 3 Na+ out (because I can’t be pushed around like so much sodium…). I use all sorts of mnemonics and the crazier the better. My memory is pretty horrible. Repetition hardly helps. My spelling skills are remedial (if anyone bothered to recognize that there is such a thing). But I don’t think I am off the mark when I say my memorization skills – the conscious ability to memorize what I set out to memorize – are very good. It’s something you practice as a biology major. But I’ve never pieced this together before; good at what cost? Have I trained myself to be quickly and instinctively egocentric?

And then there is the other factor that I have to wrestle with. The idea that with these results there is inherently a bias against. That’s the way this works. What do I do with that? I really like the concept so the hidden brain introduced by Shankar Vedantam. In effect he says that one of the best ways to get back control form the autopilot in my mind is to admit that the autopilot is there. To be aware of it.  That’s what this assassination test did for me.  Kind of like when a real pilot can be tricked into believing they are flying level between two layers of clouds, when if fact the clouds are not level at all.  We need some instrumentation and hard and fast numbers to identify the false horizon.  In the interview with Shankar Vedantam they talked about the idea of which person the autopilot of personal default or the conscious pilot is the “real you.” I really think it depends of which one is flying the plane. David Foster Wallace: “Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.” Whether his long bout with depression and eventual suicide gives him credibility here or the lack of it could be taken either way; I fundamentally agree with this quote. So I will take it as a good thing: not getting a poor score on the Implicit Assessment Test, but having taken it and gotten a score at all. And I hope that this exercise will build into my arsenal and allow me to help facilitate similar experiences in the classroom and continually in my own life.

Privilege Pedagogy–Awkward, Yet Necessary

This week’s topic is something that is near and dear to me, something that always get me in trouble at family dinners, something that has forced me to enter into social media rants and arguments shedding years off of my life. Diversity! And the issue implicit within that topic–privilege.

Privilege can be a difficult thing to talk about, whether it is in the company friends and family or strangers. I come from a largely homogeneous area of Appalachia. We are overwhelmingly white and Christian. There were only 10 people of color in my high school and the families of all but 3 of them owned and operated ethnic food restaurants (Because in my neighborhood, the balm of tolerance was dependent on the desire for authentic egg foo young and carnitas fajitas). My hometown and many of the surrounding communities are also overwhelmingly working-class, meaning that poverty and other socioeconomic struggles are not uncommon. How do you have a conversation with a poor white person about how the color of their skin, their very identity, provides them with unearned privileges, when all they know is living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to feed and support their families, and God forbid the car break down or someone need medical care? It’s a difficult conversation to have.

And yet, it is necessary in order for us to move forward as a society, to ensure that people of all walks of life, from every demographic be it race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic and ability status, etc. are treated as equals. We have to recognize our privileges in order to eliminate their existence in our culture, because denying privilege, ultimately perpetuates it.

Last semester I wrote a paper regarding the potential implementation of privilege pedagogy (i.e. the inclusion of instruction about privilege) in the composition classroom. I wanted to explore the idea that privilege pedagogy can be communicated both explicitly and implicitly through composition curriculum, which I chose for a few reasons: First, at most institutions, composition is a general studies requirement, therefore all students must take and pass at least one section of it. This would mean that, if successful, it would reach as many students in the institution as possible. Second, privilege pedagogy tends to lend itself to the humanities, though it should be ubiquitous to all disciplines (considering that privilege is).  Thirdly, composition is a flexible enough discipline so as to allow such diversions with minimal distraction from the overall curriculum (focusing largely on texts and on the individual). And lastly…well quite frankly it’s the only course I’ve ever taught, so I figured it was my best and easiest entry point for me. What I found was that composition seems to be a great choice for implementing privilege pedagogy, because, in many cases, it’s already being implemented albeit implicitly, due to readings from diverse authors, from a variety of backgrounds. Students are often encouraged to talk about their own identities in writing, sometimes comparing their experiences to others’. Focusing on the individual throughout the writing process does more than improve a writer’s confidence; given the proper subject matter, it promotes empathy.

There are a couple of activities that can introduce the concept of privilege in the classroom that I’ve used to positive results. The first, called the paper toss is illustrated in the following video:

The other activity is called Privilege Bingo. You provide each student with a copy of the game board below. Whoever has the most marks (or gets a Bingo) has the most privilege and “wins.”


I’ve found that in both cases, students seem to connect with what privilege is, as well as its effect in our culture, while alleviating the awkwardness of the conversation. This is key to a successful discussion about privilege. We want to be inclusive, not only because we want students to feel as safe and comfortable as possible, but also because the way to tackling privilege is through a collective effort.

Feel free to let me know what you think int the comments below. Do you have any privilege exercises that you’d like to share?

Walking Afraid in Hyde Park

Claude Steele’s book “Whistling Vivaldi” was titled such after a black graduate student, Brent Staples, at the University of Chicago (Hyde Park, IL) felt his presence caused white community members discomfort (an all too common scenario on American campuses). He noticed that white people often drew one another closer as he walked by, or locked arms with fear in their eyes. In order to alleviate their fears and make himself feel safer from prejudice, he began to whistle Vivaldi — a famous classical musician — publicly so that he was viewed as elitist, someone who knew high culture, etc.

I too was a graduate student at Chicago and lived in Hyde Park for 2 years, a few blocks away from President Obama’s home. The dynamics of south side Chicago are complicated, and the city itself has been the source of major sociological studies in urbanism for over a hundred years (The Chicago School of Sociology). Chicago remains one of the most racially divided cities in the world, and particularly south side Chicago has been called by some a war-zone of sorts. In fact, not too far from the University campus is deemed one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country where gang fights often occur during hot summer days, sometimes leaving children caught between bullets and dead as a result of gang conflict.

The feeling walking on campus, expressed by Brent Staples, was very real. People simply did not know — and continue to not know — how to react around the presence of minorities since surrounding neighborhoods are so volatile. The mental question “is person X walking behind me a member of this University or part of a neighboring war-zone” often leads to the typical insular reactions felt by Staples. It is difficult to assess whether such reactions are acceptable or not, especially in a city and campus as diverse as Chicago. Yet I can completely understand how Staples felt the need to fit in, or to act out “imposter syndrome” as Steele calls it. As Steele’s work demonstrates in his meticulous explanation of his social psychology experiments on testing women and minorities, minorities do not want external pressures to interfere with their work. I interpret Staples whistling as not only his own willingness to not feel he is un-necessarily or accidentally intimidating others, but also to safe-guard the investment he has made towards graduate study. Why ruin a golden opportunity because others are afraid of you because of their own messed up psychological issues? If his sense of identity was eased, his intellectual performance would become better; why risk the latter? Ironically, just a few blocks away is one of the richest black neighborhoods in America where the President resides (as well as one of the homes of former boxing champion Muhammad Ali and other black luminaries). I wonder how Staples might behave in such a neighborhood? I wonder what he might whistle, or not whistle at all?

Regarding education, campus culture in institutions of higher education in America revolve around an “elitist, northeastern, secular Anglo-Saxon” white culture. There is little in denying this fact. Experiments like the “blue vs brown eyed” by Jane Elliot exposes the stupidity of race alienation. The Tom Ostrom strategy (pg 163) was also a creative solution to the problem of “white criticism” to minority students. But this problem is far from a student issue, as Steele alludes to professors having to deal with this problem. One famous black professor of philosophy at the liberal arts college I attended disappeared and joined another institution. He returned years later to explain why he left. He was assigned to a committee to diversity incoming students. In an effort to begin the diversity question, he wanted to look at factual information regarding the student body at the time. He said something to the effect, “About 30% of our student body is white-Jewish”. He was later silently accused of anti-Semitism amongst his colleagues. Because of this, he voluntarily left on his own accord. This is a problem deeply entrenched within the academy, which starts — as Steele says — from the greater culture from which schools spring-forth. Almost all societies exhibit some form of racism, but there is something a bit stronger, a bit more touchy, and a lot more sensitive in American racism than in other places.

Too much writing…apologies. Thoughts?


Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority!

This week I would like to reflect on the “Dear White America” speech from Tim Wise. His speech last semester here at Tech opened my eyes to many different perspectives of the issue with the current regulations in higher education institutes. Reading the inclusive pedagogy articles: from safe spaces to brave spaces, identity and intellectual performance, and reducing the stereo type threats I cannot say that I disagree with their presented methods. However I am not sure if they are sufficient to address some of our current issues… Yes, changes in the educational system/exams/etc. can help, but this will not impact what students learn outside of school from the community that they are in contact with. We cannot neglect the fact that the interaction of students with each other is a major part of this equation… If a student does not feel comfortable in a classroom setting because of gender, race, or other categorization issues, restructuring the exams or the educational system will definitely have an impact on the performance of such students. However how are we moderating the interaction of the students with each other? How are we making sure that they are understanding of each other?  I think that it is very important to educate the teachers with the background and history of the ethnic minorities that they will be mentoring. I believe that this should be a requirement for all teachers and professors which will help them understand how some of these issues are impacting the society and how they can be best conveyed to students. Most probably I will be teaching a course in my last year of PhD here at Tech and I think that it is necessary to have a discussion with my students to open their eyes to some of these problems. As most people (alike myself) may think that this problem does not relate to them and since this problem may not be near and dear to the hearts of people who have not experienced it, they are less likely to learn more about it or work their way to finding some potential solutions to these problems.

One way to implement this change in higher education is to offer one mandatory course for all majors which discusses the background, culture, and history of various ethnic minorities and how the future of the nation depends on equal rights and opportunities for all current minorities which might be the majority of the population of the United States in the future (here’s an additional resource). Students enlightened with the true history of various ethnicities are more likely to perform better in their courses and therefore are more likely to perform better when they work in today’s global environment. Our graduates are the future generation of the CEOs, employees, teachers, professors, policeman, and policy makers. Although I think that this problem needs to be fixed from much higher place in the hierarchy of regulations. We in higher education can also impact this problem in many ways by understanding that our population blend will look very different in the future and that we need to find better ways of understanding and serving the minorities by both training our teachers and students…


Why conversations about diversity are necessary

Diversity is something that has been important to me for a long time. Through so many conversations with friends, my worldview has grown in so many ways and continues to grow daily. My life has been made better because of diversity.

One particular quote from Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens article “From safe spaces to brave spaces” really stuck out to me as I think about diversity.

Was it the activity that had made our students unsafe, or did this sense of danger originate somewhere else?

This sentiment really supports their idea that safe spaces are impossible when talking about diversity of any kind in academic settings or really any setting. The concepts of privilege and inequality are necessarily uncomfortable, and to discuss them and bring some sort of resolution, we will have to make ourselves uncomfortable.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes. It is in Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. It is a letter written to fellow clergymen imploring them to support his movement and when I read it, I feel like it was written to me. There is one part in particular that I find incredibly convicting. Here, he calls out the “white moderate.” I’d like to share it here (emphasis mine):

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

This letter is incredibly relevant to the issues that remain present today. There exist in this country so many injustices that are hidden under the surface. We need to bring these issues to the surface. They will make us uncomfortable. We will likely feel bad or guilty or hopeless at times. Whether we talk about them or not, they persist.

In the engineering classes I’ve taken and those I hope to teach in the near future, most of the students are heterosexual white males, and therefore ours is the loudest opinion. That means that people of color and women already hear our opinion whether they want to or not. It is absolutely essential to the human experience to be aware of the way that others experience it. Therefore, we, as members of the majority, have to take special care to hear other worldviews.

We cannot discredit another human’s experience because it’s different than ours. When people of color are insisting that there is a race issue in this country, we cannot say that there isn’t one. When females in engineering say that the culture in the classroom is too hostile, we cannot say that they are just being too sensitive. We must learn from others. We must grow as people. That is why diversity matters.

Resident Advisor Training For All

I began this week’s resources with The Hidden Brain (because I love me some NPR) and was immediately reminded of my resident advisor training at NC State. It was during this class that I learned of my own implicit biases, through our discussions/activities there as well as through an online quiz similar to those that we took in class last week. It was then that I first got a look at my own “hidden brain.” I learned that just by being aware of these unconscious biases, I could “turn the autopilot off” in order to best serve my residents and guide them to the resources they needed.

The association I made about my “hidden brain” and RA training actually turned out to be rather convenient as I moved on to another resource for this week–the case study in the chapter entitled “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces” from Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. Their discussion of the the “One Step Forward, One Step Backward”definitely rang a bell; I think we did that activity in my class! Curious about the RA training class at NC State now, I looked up a more current syllabus. Though I cannot know for sure if “One Step Forward, One Step Backward” has stopped being done in the class, it seems that at least a major part of the “Personal Cultural Analysis” portion now takes place through a written assignment. The syllabus is explicit in that the assignment “will not be shared…publicly or with your peers” so students can be “open and honest” about their personal identities. I hope that this type of activity has a similar eye-opening experience for the current students in the class as they, too, begin to understand their “hidden brains.”

It seems like a shame to me that even this precursory training in social awareness and inclusivity only reaches a small number of students each year. I think it would be very interesting to see the repercussions of making it a required freshman course at the university level. Does anyone have any knowledge of a program/requirement like this? What do you all think the pros and cons of such a requirement would be?


Dear current and future creator, builder, developer, dreamer, problem solver, world changer

Before I begin, there are a few things that you should know about me. I am quiet, goofy, kind, caring, shy, outgoing, creative, and bubbly. And I am an engineer.

I have a BS in Mechanical Engineering and I am currently working on an MEng in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Engineering Education. I want to improve the way engineering is taught and help to change the “chilly climate” that is synonymous with engineering. Engineering is not always a welcome setting for women and minorities. But how do we change this?

I came across this TEDx talk by Debbie Sterling on inspiring the next generation of female engineers. She talks about getting girls excited about engineering and changing the narrative for young girls. And she is working to accomplish this through the creation of GoldieBlox, toys that introduce girls to engineering at a young age, to change the narrative of what girls can be and what they can do.

In Whistling Vivaldi, Claude Steele talks about giving people “information that enables a more accurate and hopeful personal narrative about their setting” (Whistling Vivaldi, p. 169). So maybe we can give young girls a narrative about engineers that is broader than “train conductor” or “antisocial nerd” (because, let’s face it, I am neither of those things and engineering is much broader than that).

And that got me thinking. Can letters by engineers to future engineers help change the stereotypical narrative of what an engineer is?

Below is my letter. What would your letter say?

Dear current and future creator, builder, developer, dreamer, problem solver, world changer:

My name is Amy and I love learning about the world around me. I love exploring and seeing new things. I love creating new things and making things better. I love hearing other people’s stories and learning about other areas and cultures and perspectives. And this is why I love engineering.

I always thought that engineering was just about math and science. I thought engineers sat alone in a dark, dingy rooms starting at computer screens. But engineers get to do really cool things. Engineers get to help find cures for cancer, help explore outer space, help people learn, help improve the way we live, and so much more! Engineers use math and science to solve problems and find creative solutions to those problems. And engineers work with people to do this. Engineers are creators, builders, developers, dreamers, problem solvers, and world changers. Just like you!

Engineering is really fun and amazing, and it is also really challenging. But that is because engineers are constantly learning about new things and trying to see problems from a new perspective. But one cool thing about people is that we are always learning and growing. We don’t stop learning when we are done with school. We all constantly learn about the world around us, and engineers get to do this every day!

So I encourage you — creators, builders, developers, dreamers, problem solvers, and world changers — consider engineering as a way to realize dreams, learn about the things around you, and change the world. We need you!



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