If you can’t tell by my little picture/icon, I am a white, cis-gendered male.
And so is most of the dairy science department. From the faculty, to the graduate students, to the undergraduates, we are predominantly a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual department. Somewhat ironically, we are as homogenous and white as the milk we study.
I have noticed this for the past couple years I have been at Virginia Tech. It has caused me to be hyperaware of the student composition of the classroom, but I don’t know if I have done my part to improve the situation. It’s one thing to notice that my class is almost all white; it’s another to do something like bring the student’s attention to it. I am just typically unsure of how to address the lack of diversity or how to let others know I want to provide the space for anyone to study dairy science or agriculture
This is part of the reason that I really appreciated Dr. Brandy Faulkner’s visit to the Contemporary Pedagogy classroom this past week. She came and discussed the null curriculum, focusing on what is not addressed in a classroom and how the lack of discussion about the topic affects the students, primarily based around students of color who’s classes were not addressing the police brutality and increased visibility of violence against people of color. She also discussed a program she has developed to provide that space for students to dissect and dialogue about this topic. As one student pointed out, a lot of the undergraduate and graduate students who attend these dialogues are not from the traditional STEM based departments.
This got me to start thinking about me department and my classroom more. You could say that students of color just tend to not want to pursue a career in dairy or animal science, instead just preferring other careers. But having spoken with the few students of color in the department about this, they have made it clear their needs are not being met and that they don’t really feel comfortable in the department all the time. While they had mentioned it was mostly due to the other undergraduate students in the department and how they behaved, that does not mean the faculty and staff don’t have a responsibility, especially now that I know what sorts of behavior occurs outside of the classroom. I feel that as educators in dairy science, agriculture, and other STEM fields, we play an important part in creating an atmosphere where intolerance is not tolerated and inclusivity is put at the forefront.
I’ve heard people say “It’s math and science. It doesn’t see race, gender, sex, or other social identities. It’s the same to everyone.” Clearly this is not true. These marginalized students have different experiences that they draw from than the white, cis, hetero, male students. Therefore, us educators need to be keenly aware of the differences in these students and be partial to all of them. And if we can’t address all of the experiences in the classroom, we need to provide spaces, such as Dr. Faulkner’s, outside of the classroom for the students to discuss these matters. I’m aware I should not be trying to speak on behalf of these student’s of color. I do not share their experiences and therefore cannot speak on anyone’s behalf. But, I can say I’ve seen what providing spaces for marginalized students can do, and I will continue to try to improve my classrooms and the others within my department.
I’m sure I have made some mistakes or errors in how I am addressing this topic, and I would appreciate any corrections or comments on the matter. Thank you!