Reflection

My knowledge and perceptions of diversity and inclusion have always been based on my upbringing and life experiences. My upbringing, family, internships, and friends have all combined to form a personality that attempts to be fair, equitable, and compassionate to all people. However, I am too conscious of my defects to believe that I am devoid of implicit biases.  So, for the majority of this class I was focused on gaining a formal understanding of issues and diversity and using the class discussions to pinpoint where my biases might be. Through our talks, I learned about intersectionality, which is the idea that multiple aspects of a persons identity could compound to form increased advantages or disadvantages.  Ideas like intersectionality were never a part of my high school curriculum or upbringing, so it has been enlightening to learn about the more formal aspects of diversity and inclusion. Generally, I learned that I need to be more conscious in my attempts to be inclusive. It is not simply enough to say that I value inclusion and never learn or grow in the pursuit. I learned that active inclusion is a process that requires constant self reflection and refinement. It also requires a person to be cognizant of their implicit biases and work to correct them over time. I had always valued the ideas of equity and inclusion, but had never put them into action. That is something I will look to correct in the future. There is still so much about diversity and inclusion that I don’t know, and maybe will never know and understand; that being said, this course pushed me beyond my comfort zone and created a space that allowed me to introspect on who I am and how I am perceived by others in terms of my own race and gender. I struggle to understand that the things I say and do can have an affect on others that I never intended but this course pushed me to even accept that about myself and that’s a step in the right direction. Coming into this class I expected to learn about base-line diversity topics but as I am leaving I realize even the small things have stuck with me; such as using the term “guys” to address a room full of both women and men. I plan to continue to use this newfound awareness to continue improving and learning within my own inclusion journey.

Overally, I really enjoyed this class. I expected it to be a very generic and normal class on diversity. However, the class discussions and insights offered by Dr. Grimes and my peers will be invaluable as I continue throughout my career in academia, and I hope that I can become a true champion of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the future.

 

Defunding Mental Health – A slippery slope

Mental health is a serious concern for all college students. Students today are under immense pressure to succeed, make friends, have a job, volunteer and do service work, and so many other things. This increased pressure has resulted in decreased mental health. ActiveMinds, a nonprofit which advocates for issues regarding student mental health, states that 39% of college students have experienced a significant mental health issue, and that suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. These issues are compounded by specific STEM fields like Animal Science, and Biology where the vast majority of students are seeking to enter very competitive and rigorous post-graduation programs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 67% of veterinary students have had periods of depression. Of which 37% had a period of depression lasting over 2 weeks.

While scrolling through Inside Higher Ed, a website that discusses issues within higher education, I found an article titled, Defunding Student Mental Health.

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/10/18/mental-health-low-priority-community-colleges

In the article it talks about how 2 year community colleges are defunding mental health programs due to high costs and under funding. This bothers me due to the high number of transfers that enter Animal Science programs from community colleges and 2 year schools. I am a graduate teaching assistant for the Intro to Animal and Poultry Science lab for first year students and a very large proportion of my students are transfers from 2 year or other 4 year colleges and universities. Not only do these students tend to have a harder time adjusting than regular freshman do, they also tend to have less time to check all of the boxes for graduation than a typical freshman student. This all combines into a serious mental health concern that will only be compounded if community colleges begin a large scale defunding of mental health services. It is imperative that these students have strong mental health habits so that they are prepared to handle the stress and pressure that comes with being a transfer student.

This article also struck a cord with me due to the general poor state of mental health services at colleges and universities. These programs are generally underfunded and understaffed, and are not adequate to solve the mental health needs of students today. For example, recently a friend of mine was experiencing a episode of depression. They went to Cook Counselling Center to make an appointment to see a Counselor and were turned away because they were not having suicidal thoughts. My friend does not have personal medical insurance, and therefore cannot afford to see an outside specialist. Needless to say, the were left helpless during this episode and had no options to speak to someone about their depression. While this is an isolated incident, it does shed light on the state of mental health services, even here at Virginia Tech.

I am discouraged by the current defunding of mental health services at community colleges and hope that this is not a trend that will extend into major universities. Students today are under more pressure than ever to succeed, and these services are vital for their success and well-being while in college.

 

Inside Higher Ed. (October 18, 2019) https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2019/10/18/mental-health-low-priority-community-colleges

Active Minds. (2019).

Statistics

American Veterinary Medical Association (May, 2016) https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/160501c.aspx

Intersectionality

As a middle class, white, straight male I have known very little discrimination in my life. Therefore, intersectionality is a new term for me.  Intersectionality is the idea that all of the discrimination and disadvantages, that come from various ethnic groups that an individual identifies with, compound to increase the disadvantages that a person faces. This idea seems like common sense if you think about it. It seems obvious that an individual who identifies as black and female would face more disadvantages than someone who identifies as white and female. However, how I plan to use intersectionality in the workplace represents a conundrum for me, since I can’t manipulate others disadvantages and can only work within my own.

In summer of 2018, I participated in a diversity based internship at Iowa State university called the George Washington Carver Summer Research Internship. While there, we focused on science, diversity, and the intersection between the two. We discussed how disadvantages among ethnic groups create disadvantages in access to opportunities within science and college. During this internship, I asked many experts and peers what I could do, as a white man, to increase access to opportunity in science. Repeatedly, the answer was that i needed to be an advocate for lesser represented individuals. That I could use my privilege to speak on the behalf of others who are underrepresented and increase opportunity through my voice and ideas. So, just like intersectionality seems like common sense, it also seems reasonable to think that advantages can behave in the same way. And that numerous advantages can compound to form increased access to opportunity. Therefore, I plan to use the numerous advantages I gain from my ethnic groups (white, straight, male, etc.) to become a better advocate for underrepresented groups in the workplace and to increase opportunity through my voice and actions.

While intersectionality refers to how disadvantages can compound to form increased discrimination, we should also be aware of how advantages can also compound to form opportunities to be advocates for diversity. Those of us who identify with advantaged ethnic groups must use those advantages to increase opportunities for underrepresented groups.

Diversity in Animal Science

The single biggest diversity issue in Animal Science is the male to female ratio in undergraduates, graduates, and faculty members. For over 30 years, animal science has been a majority female profession. The undergraduate statistics, for Virginia Tech, show that APSC has 80% female students and 20% male students. This is pretty consistent with the national average for undergraduates. This would be fine, except that the majority of faculty members in APSC are still male. Additionally, a number of the male faculty members came in during a time where females were discouraged and rare in animal science. Therefore, they still exist under the “boys club mentality”.  This creates friction within the department as many of the faculty members prefer to deal with male students rather than females. For example, during my freshman year, an older male professor was advising a new, female student when she expressed her interest in becoming an equine veterinarian. This professor has a known distaste for equine animals and veterinary students, and told this freshman student, “You have nothing to offer to this department”.

In graduate school, the statistics between students are closer to 50/50 but clearly still a majority women. Currently, a number of us are in a professional development course that is taught by an older white gentleman. In this class, we have only read literature by, or heard from older white professors. Some of these papers have overtly sexist sections to them, and are being taught as fact and sheer wisdom.

The problem with all of this is that the faculty in Animal Science is not adequate to serve the needs of the students enrolled. The majority of the students are female and have access to very few role models and professors that have similar life struggles and experiences as they do. This puts female students at a disadvantage compared to the few male students, as they often have an easier time connecting with faculty and finding research and work opportunities. This difference should fix itself over time, as the older male professors retire and are replaced with majority female individuals. However, the students enrolled now, and those that will enroll before this change happens are going to have to struggle in a system that is not designed for them to succeed.

This link gives a few of the national statistics in Veterinarians. Take a look if you are interested!

https://www.vmdtoday.com/news/veterinary-medicine-is-a-womans-world

 

Stereotype Threat

The idea of stereotype threat can be a touchy subject for many. Defined here  as a situation where an individual feels at risk of conforming to stereotypical or negative behaviors of one’s social group (Steele and Aronson, 1995). Such situations could be if a man experienced anxiety about talking to a woman because they could be afraid of confirming the stereotype that all men want is sex. Another could be a black individual being afraid of singing along to certain hip-hop music for fear of the stereotype that all black people are thugs. Everyone usually has one stereotyped identity, and therefore, nearly everyone is impacted by stereotype threat.

I must admit that this is a difficult subject for me. I am a white, straight, middle-class male and these are not typically negatively stereotyped identities. Recently, there have been a few negative stereotypes taking shape in the news, however I have not really been affected by them. The stereotype threat that I have found myself struggling the most with is centered around where I grew up. I was raised in South West Virginia in a small town called Hillsville. My father was a preacher and my mother worked in the courts as a clerk. I grew up running through fields, playing in creeks, fishing, hunting, playing sports in the backyard, and not coming in from the woods until late in the evening. I participated in a lot of the standard activities of someone who grew up in a small town. I went to church, spent time at family gatherings, even dated a horse-girl for a while! I loved my childhood, and I am proud of where I grew up. However, if you met me on the street you would not guess that I was from Hillsville. I didn’t grow up on a farm or drive a loud scary truck. I don’t have a discernible accent (unless I am very mad) or have a particular affinity for the Republican party. I don’t hunt regularly or support the NRA, and I wouldn’t even identify myself as Christian anymore. I am not the stereotypical kid that grew up in Carroll County Virginia, and if you had gone there you would have realized that there are many kids there like me. However, Virginia Tech does not see it that way. I noticed almost immediately the disparity  between students from NOVA and students from everywhere else. Many of these students have little idea about the life  lived by those in the more rural parts of Virginia. So, it became difficult for me to speak about my upbringing without also confirming the negative stereotype of, “everyone from the country is just a dumb, deer hunting hillbilly”. It became especially difficult when people would make the jokes of, “do you have running water where you grew up” or “how many people did you know who dated their cousins”.  It got to the point where speaking about where I came from became an embarrassment to me and I wouldn’t speak about any of the aspects of my childhood for fear that something I said would reinforce negative stereotypes of rural Virginia.

Eventually, I learned to re-embrace my childhood and be less afraid of the stereotypes. Those who know me understand that my childhood helped form who I am and to understand that the rural areas of Virginia are bright and vibrant centers of culture. I am once again proud of my heritage and am less affected by this stereotype threat. However, I am also cognizant of the fact that this is a luxury that not all who suffer from stereotype threat can have. Those who are stereotyped by their race, gender, sexual orientation, and many other categories, are fighting a much more serious, and historically significant, fight than the negative opinions of rural areas. I cannot imaging what it would be like to be constantly worried that my actions might reinforce negative barriers to inclusion that people have be working towards dismantling for hundreds of years. Overall, everyone needs to become more empathetic to the differences between people, and begin to dismantle the ideas that make stereotype threat a problem in the first place.

Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology. 69: 797-811.

 

 

Introductions

My name is Drew Campbell and I am a first year master’s student in the Animal and Poultry Science department and I use he/him/his pronouns. I did my bachelor’s here, in APSC, with an emphasis in Companion/Lab and Equine animals. I also have solid amount of undergraduate research experience in Dr. Eric Wong’s lab and in Dr. Susan Lamont’s lab doing molecular biology and immunology work. Now, I work for Dr. Leonie Jacobs in animal welfare and molecular biology.  Generally, the way animals are treated in animal agriculture could use some work and I want to be instrumental in changing that. Coming into VT as a freshman, my dream was to be a veterinarian. If you know very much about the Animal and Poultry Science department, EVERYONE wants to be a veterinarian. However, during my sophomore year I began to do research in Dr. Wong’s lab and fell in love with the process. The planning, way of thinking, and analysis that goes into a research project fascinates me, and helped me to decide to go to graduate school instead of veterinary school.  Eventually, I want to get my PhD and become a professor of a college/university. If I am not in the lab, I am usually playing basketball and/or video games or going on hikes and camping trips with my girlfriend and her new puppy. An interesting anecdote about me would be that I am really good at archery. I started archery with my dad so that I could learn how to bow hunt deer and turned out to be really good. I used to compete, however, I lost interest in the competitive side a few years ago. I’ll still smoke you in an archery competition though.

I am taking this class because it is a requirement for my master’s degree. However, I am also excited to learn from others perspectives and previous life experiences.  Anyway, here is a picture of my new step-pup!