Stereotypes and The Double Negative that Does Not Make a Positive

This week’s reading assignments hit really close to home for me. The chapters from the book on “How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do” by Claude Steele resonated with me from my own experiences as a Hispanic/Latino female student in engineering. The “stereotype threat” I have experienced has been, by far, strongest during my graduate degree at Virginia Tech. Even though my undergraduate degree was also in engineering and I had some of the stereotypical experiences of someone who identifies as a woman in this “male-dominated field”, these experiences were no challenge compared to my time in graduate school. Naturally, there are stark differences between the schools and within the specific departments when it comes to race/ethnic diversity. Florida International University, my undergraduate institution, has a student body comprised in its majority by Hispanics/Latinos (66.9%) compared to the 5.3% of the population for Virginia Tech (3.3% of the total graduate students). I don’t have the specific numbers for the department but it follows a similar trend for FIU which has an undergraduate and graduate program in my field, compared to the sole graduate program at VT where the total number of Hispanics has been fluctuating between 1 and 2 during my time here. I realize that my experience was made even more unique by my citizenship status. I am a naturalized citizen and I moved to the U.S. after my high school graduation which, in that sense, makes my experience more similar to that of international students. But since my legal status was that of “citizen”, I did not receive as many opportunities to interact with groups of people with whom I would have probably found a higher affinity based on our backgrounds. I was left out of the school’s targeted notices about certain events and the notices I did come across, which specifically stated “for international students”, I excluded myself following my identification as a citizen. This all meant that my social network, for a period of time during my graduate career, was confined to my specific school program in which I felt like I was a minority of one as a Hispanic woman who moved to the U.S. in her late teens. Add to the mix that my physical appearance clearly wears those labels “Latina” “woman” “short”, that I have English as a second language and an accent that proves it; and you get a recipe for strong feelings that “you do not belong”. In one of the chapters of the book by Steele mentioned above, the following footnote appears as the authors comments whether to make women and minorities aware of the “stereotype threat” they might face at different stages of their life, or even all throughout: I would argue that there is value in making people aware of the potential situations that might trigger feelings of inadequacy in these target populations. Looking back at my experience in Blacksburg during my first few years at Virginia Tech, I keep thinking about how different my reaction to encountering certain feelings could have been, had I been made aware beforehand of all the stereotypes I was carrying with me and the role they could play in my career. And I definitely agree with the author that it would be even more important to equip people with the tools to mitigate the negative feelings that eventually drive certain populations away from STEM fields. I didn’t know that some of the experiences I have had were “textbook” microaggressions towards women in my field until I saw them play out in videos and read them in stories that clearly identified them as such. I once thought that those attitudes were particular to the characters in my story and that my feelings were only my own. The awareness of a more general problem and the specific framework for it marks the first step in being able to properly address it.

I’m Tired….

I’m all over the place this week… Hence why this post is late… This is actually the week I was the most excited about when I first looked at the syllabus. But honestly… I’m just tired. I think that’s one of the reasons this post is late. I think another, that is strongly related to this tired feelings, is that I was expecting myself to have something profound to say about this. And really…

I don’t.

A lot of the time when this topic comes up in class, I feel this pressure to represent my people, speak up, and say something deeply profound. Most of the time, this pressure isn’t coming from anyone other than myself. I want to represent myself, my people, and my culture well. People are well meaning. They’re curious and they honestly don’t know so most of the time, I actually love to answer their questions. But right now,

I’m just tired.

I don’t say this to take away from anything we’ve read or talked about this week. I am actually really passionate about this topic as you might be able to tell from class. I really resonated with the “Reducing Identity and Stereotyping Threat” chapter. I think that’s because I’m still creating my narrative like the author mentioned towards the beginning. I did find it interesting that once again, the native experience is forgotten even in this article. Because of where I’m personally at right now, this actually hurts today. Because I feel like it reiterates the idea that it’s okay for us to have to endure this threat… I mean we’re the one race that it’s okay to characterize with stereotypical cartoons & sports mascots despite our continuing disapproval. As a group that gets forgotten, I’ve actually really started looking at making sure I include and look at everything in my classroom especially groups that I think continually get forgotten. Lately that has been in my work to make sure my classroom is accessible to everyone regardless of their abilities or capabilities and that my wording is welcoming. That’s why I used the word “Accessibility” in my syllabus instead of “Accommodations”. Accommodations has a more negative connotation and it is really just my goal for my class to be accessible. I’ve also been looking into Active Learning techniques and have been reading about how these activities are actually a nightmare for students with ADHD and other disorders that make it difficult to process information right away. I’m really disappointed I’m going to miss class this week… I know the discussion is going to be really good. But I’m actually going to be at the Tribal Leaders Summit here on campus with Virginia’s tribal leaders. I need to be there. Especially right now, with my state of mind. But I’m looking forward to being with you again next week. And I’ll leave you with this gif because I found it during my writing and just had to include it.

A deserved pain?

Once I saw a question on ZhiHu (a Chinese website, similar to Quora), “How much will poverty affect people’s mind and body?” There are over 9 thousands of answers and most of them have over thousands of upvotes. I read most of the answers and fell into musings. Poverty is crucially related to inequality, minority, and diversity – those topics that are of great importance in the context of education. Move from the ZhiHu question that I put up in front, today I want to discuss how I come up with my inclusive pedagogy in a seemingly implicit point of view through the poverty question. There are many reasons that can lead to poverty. One possible reason is that one is born with poverty. In other words, one is born in a poor family. Because of the “disadvantage”, this person may unconsciously develop his/her outlook on the world, life, and values that are inevitably tied up with money. There never exists equality. If you understand why people want to immigrate to Western countries or North America countries from middle east countries or African countries, you may understand inequality somehow.  Inequality is the fundamental reason for poverty in that there is no alternative choice where one can choose to be born in a rich or poor family. Due to this irresistible inequality, one may suffer from poverty in all cases of life. Such as education, which is naturally lean to those who are not restricted by poverty. The fact is, however, how can education be so unfairly distributed to treat these poor people just because there is no choice left for them besides poverty? Do they deserve the poor education, poor teachers, or poor facilities? According to the most recent estimates, in 2013, 10.7 percent of the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day (World Bank). By comparison, we may call these 10.7 percent of the world’s population minority, those who may rarely meet their daily subsistence. This “poor” minority is mainly measured by income (or consumption). They may live in a different way as most of them are concerned about being alive instead of being living. Think about other minority that defined by race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sex orientation, etc. They all be possible to live in a so-called “absurd” way (in the perspective of the majority) as they just take great care of their meaningful way of living. Do they deserve the vicious abuse, the weird scan-looking, the cruel denial? The existence of poverty and minority is one proof of diversity. We can’t ignore diversity, and we actually never ignore it. As is pointed out in Shankar Vedantam’s book “How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us“, besides the conscious conversation, we sometimes are heavily dominated by their unconscious mind of thinking. We tend to define people by their appearances even though we are reluctant to admit it. We tend to underrate the minority population even though we may not realize it at all. We tend to express that we love diversity even though we, in fact, disrespect its existence. We unconsciously show our priority when facing those who are in poverty, defined as minority, or just merely different from the universal definition. We unconsciously put them in pain. However, do they deserve the pain? Do we really care about poverty, minority, and diversity? Do we really take them into consideration when we talk about education? Yes, we do. However, care and consideration are not even close to enough. Pain is still there for them. What we need to do is to invite them to expose it, to examine it, and then to really heal it. We can’t just discuss inclusive pedagogy within the majorities. We should hear from their voices and let them express their concerns. We should bring the contradictory arguments to the table so that we can understand their underlying rationale. We should nurture and express our inclusive attitude in a sincere way that all of us truly believe in (consciously and unconsciously). We should understand that inclusive pedagogy is a collaborative effort of everyone.          
Citation: Shankar Vedantam. How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us Katherine W. Phillips. How Diversity Makes Us Smarter Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. From Safe Places to Brave Spaces Brittany Ford. Cyberbullying must be prevented at its roots

Review old things with a new eye

Inclusive pedagogy is a huge topic and I am going to reflect some changes during my learning process when my classmates have different background, culture, and point of view and the classroom environment is completely strange. Studying abroad gives me the chance to expose to people I would not otherwise meet and to the culture that I am very unfamiliar to. Especially, it gives me a new look at things that have not been questioned before.

I am adjusting my view about subjects

Before, my classes were divided by two main categories “primary classes” (science classes) and “secondary classes” (social science classes). Therefore, I spent most of the studying time for those science classes (same as other students), which was encouraged by my parents and my schools. Now, I still enjoy math and chemistry classes a lot and they have helped me a lot for other classes as well as my research. But I see two new things. First, I might remember the definition or a chemical formula better than my friends but they seem to know how to apply that piece of information into a real life problem much better than me. Second, my fellows know a lot about history, art, geography, and much more. And they care a lot of current social events that might affect the community. I am so embarrassed to say that I should have known much more about my home history and culture. No class should be classified as “secondary” compared to other classes.    

I am changing my learning habit

In general, I am a product of a passive education system. I was taught in a way that students get all knowledge from teachers, listen to teacher’s lecture as a truth and without questions, take note, memorize information, and reproduce memorized information in exams. Now, I am trying to become an active learner since I am the one who plays the major role in my learning process, instead of the teacher. I have always preferred to study by myself. But this semester, I start trying to study with others in a small group. Beginning feedbacks seem to be positive.  

I have learned some very new concepts. For example,

“Privilege”: for the first time, I understand the meaning of this word and clearly see my privilege in different contexts. I am so surprised that I might not experience the same environment as others. Then I think about my country, yes, I had seen how a city teacher and a countryside teacher received different reactions from students and their parents. Privilege exists in my country too. It just has not been defined in my home or I just do not realize it.     

“Microaggression”: the same word, the same sentence, but for different people, it might have very different meaning. Suddenly, I think about an international instructor or an instructor of a multicultural classroom, who might face microaggression more frequently. Since they are in a powered position, their saying and action might have more effects on students.    

The Hidden Brain Also Has Hidden Bias

I have personally noticed a trend regarding the idea of inclusivity. It seems that whenever inclusivity is discussed at Virginia Tech, it typically surrounds the discussion of race, gender, and sexual identity. Discussion of disabilities tends to be excluded. Maybe it’s not a trend and is instead a result of a personal bias due to my wife’s background in working amongst individuals with disabilities. Another misconception is that the term disability do not always refer to a disability that manifests in a physical manner either. I’m now getting down from my soap box to continue this post.

Reading about Shankar Vedantam’s The Hidden Brain reminded me of a battery of online tests that I have taken on several occasions. Psychologists at Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington created “Project Implicit” to develop Hidden Bias Tests — called Implicit Association Tests, or IATs, in the academic world — to measure unconscious bias. These tests allow you to find out your implicit associations about race, gender, sexual orientation, and other topics. Scientific research has demonstrated that biases thought to be absent or extinguished remain as “mental residue” in most of us. Studies show people can be consciously committed to egalitarianism, and deliberately work to behave without prejudice, yet still possess hidden negative prejudices or stereotypes. Therefore, I know I have implicit biases and it is a daily task to make sure I remind myself that I have them. Go ahead and try one of them….the results will surely surprise you.

Now I want to tell a story that relates to inclusivity in the classroom.

It was 2006, one year after Hurricane Katrina left its mark on New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I was working for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in the patrol division and was told by my supervisor that I was scheduled to attend diversity training in the upcoming week.

Now, before I go any further, I would like to point out that the entire sheriff’s office was required to attend diversity training at this time. We were never told why everyone had to attend, but they were some mutterings that the department had been the subject of a civil rights investigation by the United States Department of Justice.

So, the day of diversity training came and I walked into a room of 50 deputies from across the entire department. As I looked across the room for a place to sit, I saw that there were 45 white male deputies, four white female deputies and one African-American male deputy. An outside organization sent the facilitators for the training that day: a white female, a hispanic female, and an African-American female. Every person in the room introduced themselves and then the facilitators began the training.

White female facilitator: Today we will be discussing race at great length. Who has heard the term racism before? [every deputy in the room raises a hand] Good. You can put down your hands.

Hispanic female facilitator: Raise your hand if you believe there is such a thing as reverse racism? [48 deputies raise a hand] Okay. Hands down. Hmmm. [she looks at the other facilitators] 48 out of 50. [deputies bgin looking around to attempt to figure out who didn’t raise their hand]

African-American female facilitator: Two of you don’t agree with your colleagues and I took a mental note of who they were. [makes eye contact with the African-American male deputy and a solitary white male deputy] You. [gestures at the solitary white male deputy] Why did you not agree with your colleagues?

Me: It doesn’t matter who’s doing it, racism is racism.

Improving Classroom Performance through Diversity

The articles this week about how unconscious bias and diversity effect our performance came as a bit of a shock to me. I never felt that I act any different when I’m working in a diverse group of people versus a group of people with similar race, gender, and background. Personally, I like to think that I don’t act any different around diverse people, but I would be interested in finding out if I do. When it comes to unconscious bias, since I heard this term in a seminar about a year ago. Since then I have been working on identifying unconscious bias that I have and making myself aware of them. Coming from the engineering world I found the seminar a refreshing change of pace. It was interesting to learn how a person (i.e. me) could jump to a bias conclusion about an individual based on one or more of their characteristics. During the presentation the presenter did a test that involved relating words and pictures to either Chicago or Boston (this presentation was given in Boston where many of the people have lived for a long time). It was interesting to see that even when a crowd was used when nice/happy things were related to Boston the crowd was much quicker to form the relationship versus when they had to related bad things to Boston. As more of a bystander than a participant since I’m not from either city I found it interesting that people can have unconscious bias purely based on where they are from. Thinking about all of this in a classroom setting. When it comes to projects I always like the idea of letting students pick who they want to work with because I enjoyed this more when I was an undergraduate student. When working in groups I find that I work better when I already know the other people and have had experience working with them. I felt that when I was put with a new group of people we would have to spend a sizable amount of time getting use to each other, figuring out how each of us worked in a group, and everyone’s strengths/weaknesses which I felt made group projects tougher. But, after reading “The Hidden Brain” by Shankar Vendantam and “How Diversity Makes us Smarter” by Katherine W. Phillips it got me thinking that maybe assigning groups and using the diversity in the classroom can be advantageous to producing quality results from group projects. This is defiantly an idea that I might try to mess around with in the classroom depending on the course, the size of the class, and the students in the class.  

Embracing Diversity = Amazing Results

I wholeheartedly agree with the article, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” by Katherine Phillips. Not only does she tackle the benefits of diversity from a business perspective, but she challenges the notion from a social aspect. Growing up in Northern Virginia, which surrounds the DC metropolitan area, I have been blessed with the opportunity to experience many different cultures, races, foods, sports, and entertainment to just name a few. Additionally, my educational training was above average even though I went to a public school. The diversity among the students, staff, and teachers contributed to the success of the educational level offered and also challenged me to think outside of the box as cliche as it sounds. Growing up with diversity has definitely contributed to my success as a first generation college student.

Phillips’ statement, “The fact is that if you want to build teams or organizations capable of innovating, you need diversity. Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving,” stands out greatly for me. As an environmental engineer, we collaborate among scientists and engineers across many disciplines, including biology, chemistry, physics, food science, human nutrition food and exercise, computer programming, and statistics to name a few. I had the opportunity to collaborate with food scientists halfway across the world in Portugal last year. That opportunity gave me the ability to look at my research with a whole different perspective, and resulted in a well written journal paper. All in all, never underestimate the power of diversity in all aspects of making this world a better place.

Inclusive Pedagogy

While I do think diversity is important, I also find it to be a bit of  a buzz word. Maybe we should consider thinking less about diversity and more about equal access to tools of upward mobility that would offer minority persons the ability to accelerate at the same rate as non-minorities in education, careers, family life, health, wellness etc.

In many ways the idea and implementation of diversity suggests that business teams, for example, need one token individual of each minority group to meet the standard in order to hit their “diversity mark.” Yes, “diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations” (Phillips 2014). But does investing reportedly millions of marketing dollars into the idea of diversity have as great an output as focused attention paid to the structural barriers that create roadblocks for diverse individuals in their career trajectories? If – for example – having women in leadership positions results in increased innovation and increased revenue, then it seems more women should be encouraged to take on leadership roles and offered the same tools as men to navigate corporate spaces and be successful in their careers. This means encouraging young girls to explore areas of math and science, engineering and construction, entrepreneurship and leadership. This also might mean creating clear pathways from young womanhood to adulthood (funded programs specifically for women) that would suggest the corporate space is as convenient for a woman as it is for a man (e.g. paid maternity leave, extended maternity leave in general). This might also look like assistance to help low-income mothers realize their potential in traditionally male spaces.

On Movie Nights

Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi gave me an epiphany when I read about “arranging informal cross-group conversations” in Chapter 9, on reducing identity and stereotype threat. I have a hunch that some of the interventions described in the chapter may have a broader effect on reversing underperformance than mitigation of stereotype threat. As a student club advisor, I have encouraged clubs to hold movie nights, which include a post-movie discussion.  The most memorable of these was a showing of Spike Lee’s “School Daze.” Several students (and one faculty member) of different racial and cultural backgrounds contributed to a stimulating 30-minute discussion after the movie.   My aim with the movie nights is to promote engineering identity formation by giving the group a common emotional experience in which they may identify with protagonists dealing with various challenges.  School Daze is not about engineers, but it is about college students, and it provides many poignant situations for movie night participants to identify with the characters and their struggles, which in our case, led to a rich discussion. The epiphany is that movie nights can precipitate interventions similar to those described by Steele.  So the movie does not have to be about “engineers,” just stimulating for cross-group conversations.  Perhaps the movie night intervention is one small measure to help level the playing field for many students, regardless of the origin of their underperformance.  The student who led the movie night discussion arranged a themed student-faculty forum about a different issue a month later.   I think he is onto something. For more information: Steele, C. (2011). Whistling Vivaldi: How stereotypes affect us and what we can do (issues of our time). WW Norton & Company. Lee, S. (1988). School daze [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.

“I thought he was going to hurt someone”

In October of 2015 a cohort of 40 or so people gathered in Squires for InterCom training. During the training one scenario required a person to use a slur word of some kind during the circle to give the facilitators the opportunity to navigate ways of responding to unexpected events in the process of a facilitation.

But, there was a small hiccup. One of the participants, let’s call him J, who wasn’t a facilitator was out of the room when we disclosed who was going to be using a slur word and why. As such, he, a tall black man (these are important demographics to note), didn’t know going into the circle that another person, a white man, had been asked by the trainers to use the n-word during the circle.

The facilitators were brought back in, given their topic, and things started smoothly enough. Then, in the midst of the conversation, the white man used the n-word and a discussion quickly emerged about that word, its use, and reclamation. J reacted strongly to the use of the term and at one point said “Look, if you use that term again I’m going to have to do something”.

How would you interpret this phrase? How do you think people in the room interpreted J’s response?

While this week’s readings were concerned with adjusting, and mitigating, the impact of implicit bias, utilizing “brave” space as opposed to “safe” space discourses, and what I took to be, in one respect, an appeal to long term tangible increases in profit that can accrue when a workspace and place is diverse, I want to take us in a different direction and talk about some things the readings didn’t discuss all that explicitly. While I will come back to elements of bias, especially given the title of this post, I want to start a bit differently than I normally do.

Rather than start with a long, rather drawn out explanation of the concepts at play, here are some scenarios to ponder.



Scenario 1:
Think back to the first day of class. If you’re teaching or a TA, or have been in the past, think back to how you take roll on day one (assuming you do so). If you’re not teaching or a TA, think back to when you were a student and how your teachers/professors took roll.

Question: How do we usually take roll in a class? Are there any unnamed impacts of certain methods for taking roll/learning names in a class?


Scenario 2:
You are in class and notice two students having a conversation. One student is talking and then the other student interrupts them and says “Look, just tell me when we need to meet. I can meet at 2. When can you meet?”. The first student looks frustrated and starts talking again making the same points they made earlier to the obvious frustration of their peer.

Question: What is going on? How might the parties feel?


Scenario 3:
On a different day in class two students, Alex and Sam, are talking about something before class. Suddenly you notice Alex using a lot of hand motions and get very close to Sam. Sam takes a step back before continuing the conversation.

Question: How would you read this scenario with only the information provided? Would anything change if you knew the gender, or the race, of Alex and/or Sam?



Scenario 1: Universal Design

When I reflect on my experiences in the classroom, the way roll/attendance tends to get called in classes where the professor cares about knowing names is as follows: on day one the professor goes down the list, calls your first and last name, you say you’re here, and if you have a different name that you go by you tell the professor and they edit the roster.

Sounds normal, right? Many folks I’ve talked with in my department say that this is just the model that they have always used and seen used. But who could be harmed with this model or, sometimes, put in danger?

For trans* students, especially those students who don’t have a name change in the system, and sometimes who can’t get their name changed in the system for a myriad of reasons, the first day of class can be a bit stressful. Some students email their professors, individually, semester after semester to give them a heads up that they go by a name that’s not on the roster (or “obvious”). But, there are a few hiccups here. The first is that the that name information doesn’t always make it way onto the roster that will be called on day one and thus the bootstrapping may have been in vain. The second is that this requires the student to “out” themselves to someone they might not know yet and not everyone responds positively, or even neutrally, to trans* students in the classroom.

As such, I think that when it comes to designing our classrooms, we ought to operate with a mind towards mitigating the harms, and the need for bootstrapping, for our students. This isn’t to say that universal design can fix everything, but certain design moves can help those who need it the most and also those didn’t realize that they stand to benefit from changes to the system.

As such, here is a proposal: when we take roll, rather than call out the first and last names for the students, call out the last name only. If you’re like me, you will still mispronounce it but hey, now we only have to mispronounce the last names! After you call out the last name, have the students respond with whatever they go by. There is no need for the entire “My legal name is William but I go by Bill” hoop jumping, for trans* students if they have a name that they want to go by that’s not their “legal” name no on in the class will be the wiser, and you only have to struggle to pronounce the last names (this time). This is one example of a universal design move in the classroom that benefits more than just trans* students even if they may benefit from it more than some others.

While there is more to say about universal design, to end this section, I want to ask a question:

What are some other examples of universal design that we can use in the classroom and what are our reasons for not shifting to different models?


Scenario 2: High Context and Low Context Communicators

For me, I see this kind of interaction fairly regularly and it speaks to a difference in context communication. By this, I mean that some people are high context communicators (HC) and some people are low context communicators (LC). For folks who are HC communicators, especially in new settings, it is not uncommon for them to need to speak uninterrupted in order to feel heard and valued. If they are interrupted, or rushed by folks who are LC communicators, they may feel dismissed or unheard. In contrast, folks who are LC communicators tend to want to get to the point, can come across as blunt for HC communicators, and may also become very impatient with HC communicators.

In the classroom, or in spaces in general, we need to be aware of how differences in context communication can aid, or hinder, the interactions of folks in those spaces. Folks with different styles of communication, or with different context and cultural traditions, may interpret classroom activities, films, or discussions in different ways and respond to those things in a myriad of ways. If we were to ignore the roll that a difference in context played in those interactions, we risk ostracizing a group of learners if the classroom is set up for a certain kind of context learner to the detriment of the other types of learners in the space.

As with the last scenario, oo end this section, I want to ask a question:

When designing classrooms, how to we create and make space for multiple styles of communicators? How do we address conflicts that arise when there are differences in styles?


Scenario 3: Oral vs Print Culture

Sometimes when students interact, body language, tone of voice, mannerisms, and other indicators can be actual indicators of mood/affect. Other times they can be misinterpreted to indicate moods/affects not currently present. In the above scenario, it is not uncommon for folks to take the actions of Alex as either indicating excitement, anger, or other moods that tend to reflect what we as the observer have tended to associate certain actions with (e.g., hand motions means angry) in our own histories. As such, the purpose of this scenario was to get folks to reflect on how we as educators and facilitators may interpret language, especially bodily language, based on our own preconceptions of what anger, excitement, engagement, and the like look like with our academic training.

For, within academia we operate in what is called a “print” culture (PC). This kind of structure is such that emotions tend to be rather limited, communications for formulaic and dictated by tradition and norms within the academia, boundaries and distance (literal and metaphorical) tends to be emphasized, etc. Sound familiar?

In contrast, “oral” culture (OC) operates in a more emotional and expressive manner. The communications are focused on the relationships among the interlocutors, there isn’t really a formulaic or structured element to the conversation as opposed to flowing narrative, and boundaries and distance (again, literal and metaphorical) tend to be down played. The interlocutors connect with one another via emotions, physical closeness, etc.

When folks from a PC interact with folks from an OC, there can be tensions that we need to name. To the PC folks, the OC folks may come across as hostile or threatening due to their close proximity and use of hand motions when, for the OC folks, how they are acting and interacting is an indication of their engagement with the person and topic at hand. There are other things to name, and we can process though them later.

To end this section, I want to ask another question:

How might someone from an OC find academia? Specifically, how might someone who is a first generation college student, with an OC background, find their peers and professors and how would their perception of the climate effect their success?


When the scenario with J played out in the circle, we processed through not only what was said but also how people interpreted J’s words. For some people, and this was the case for a number of the white folks in the room, J’s words came across as a threat.  One person said, “I thought he was going to hurt someone” hence the title of this blog post.

When we asked J what he meant by his words, he said that he had meant he would leave the room. His “doing something” would be removing himself from that space.

When it comes to our classrooms and how we design them there are a few things I think we must all be conscientious of. On one hand there is the design of the space, its accessibility, the removal of needless barriers for students, etc. This can include changing how we do class rolls, for example, or even using only gender neutral/name only references for students when we don’t know their pronouns (a bit more contentious of a UD move).

On the other hand another important element is knowing ourselves. Sometimes, we might misinterpret what a student says, much like J’s colleague very much erred in their reading of his exclamation. In trying to move through those tensions both for ourselves and among the students we work with, we need to know what we’re bring to the table and what they may be bringing to the table.

While we facilitate a classroom, we should know the culture we have, our communication styles, if we are Low Power Distance or High Power Distance (something I didn’t discuss), etc..  We will be bringing our histories and biases into the classroom. Rather than be ashamed to acknowledge our tendencies and biases we can use our knowledge of them to be better facilitators across and among differences in the classroom.

The talking points for this blogpost are taken from and inspired by materials found in the VT InterCom: Dialogues for Social Change program run by Dr.Christian Matheis and the IEC here at Virginia Tech. They can be found, in much more detail, in the Human Relations Facilitation, Modes of Communication, and Responses to Conflict training packet. Additional information can be found in: Intercultural Sensitivity for the Health-Care Professional Eric H.F. Law, M.Div. with Elizabeth Snow, MA, OTR 1995

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