Excellence in Diversity … Why Diversity isn’t Enough

 From my personal observations, it seems that people often use diversity and inclusion interchangeably. I get it. Sort of. They both give you (if you are a supporter of diversity and inclusion) a warm, fuzzy feeling. A feeling that these words somehow make the world a better place. And, from that standpoint, in my opinion, having a diverse and inclusive environment around you does make the world a better place.

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However, I think that if people stopped and thought more about what each of these words mean without the other, companies, universities, etc would be more successful at having diverse and inclusive environments. These words are not always linked, even though they really need to be in order to foster a more accepting world. For example, while pondering this, I came across an article that talked about how Florida State University (FSU) recently earned the “Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award” for the fourth year in a row. Kudos to FSU! That is undoubtedly a major accomplishment and a step in the right direction for large universities nationwide. However, while the article states that “it’s recognition of their [FSU’s] continuous efforts towards diversity and inclusion,” (see link below), the name of the award says nothing about inclusion. And it should.

http://www.wtxl.com/news/fsu-earns-the-higher-education-excellence-in-diversity-award/article_a76fdc94-baa1-11e7-8d85-57b05e3f567c.html

So, what is the difference between diversity and inclusion? I came across this article that I think very eloquently describes the differences between diversity and inclusion (and also includes compliance, which I won’t discuss here).

http://www.insightintodiversity.com/diversity-inclusion-and-compliance-similarities-differences-and-how-they-can-work-together/

Generally, diversity denotes the numerous characteristics and traits that a person has. These traits include (but are not limited to) someone’s gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender orientation, ability, socioeconomic status, education, etc. In order to have a diverse environment, you must have people that represent these characteristics in different ways. For example, a work place would not be diverse if 95% of the workers were white heterosexual men between that ages of 25-35 who all have Masters degrees.

Inclusion, on the other hand, refers to how people within given environments feel about their treatment. Do gay people feel comfortable “coming out” to coworkers? If they are “out,” do coworkers treat them the same as straight coworkers? Do minority group members feel like they are only there to fill a diversity quota?

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Because these words mean very different things (but are made out of the same thread), workplaces often do not succeed in their diversity initiatives because they do not also include inclusion. It does not really matter how many diversity quotas you meet if the people who fill the diversity quotas do not feel included. These “diverse” individuals will leave their jobs or make it known that it is unpleasant to work there if you are “diverse.” Bottom line is … we need to be sure that the world doesn’t only focus on making the workplace, schools, etc more diverse. We also need to work on making these places more inclusive.

Diversity, inclusion, and … food?

Recently, my roommate, who was born in Mexico, taught me how to make home-made tortillas with fresh beef, queso fresco, cilantro, and guacamole. They were so delicious – I have not had Mexican food like that since my trip to Puerta Vallarta last summer. My roommate’s boyfriend was born in Russia, and it is really interesting to talk to them about their upbringings and customs. While cooking dinner the other night, we got on the topic of Russian food, and I realized that I had no idea what Russian cuisine is!

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In the United States, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Mexican restaurants predominate. While talking with my roommate and her boyfriend, I realized that I have never seen a Russian restaurant before. I also have never seen a Hungarian restaurant, an Israeli restaurant, a Canadian restaurant, or restaurants serving food from the majority of countries or regions from around the world. That got me thinking about why this is ~ why do we have food representation from some countries and not from others? I guess part of it could be how many people from different countries live in the United States – my assumption would be that the more people from a given country, the more likely it is that restaurants serving that cuisine would be present.

While I do believe that this is partially the reason we don’t see Russian restaurants (for example) very often, there must be more to it. Are restaurants from other places not present (or not present in nearly the same numbers as others) because US citizens don’t like the food? Is the food too different from what people are used to? In a country full of people with roots from all over the world, why don’t we have more restaurant/food diversity?

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What does everyone else think? Why are our food options lacking in diversity? What can be done to change this? I don’t really know, but I, for one, would like to see more diverse representation of food from different countries. I truly believe that food brings people together. The more food we are exposed to, the more likely we are to associate and accept people from other countries. I love trying new food ~ this does not mean I always like the different foods I try, but I think it is imperative to try! What if Russian food is my favorite thing in the world, and I have no idea?!?!

Ethics: Blog Post 2

After perusing the ORI website, I came upon a case study on Dr. Eric J. Smart from the University of Kentucky, who was charged with numerous counts of scientific misconduct. In part, I chose this particular case because his name is Dr. Smart and how ironic it is that someone whose name is “Smart” would do something so (in my opinion) dumb.

Dr. Smart was found to have “engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in ten published papers, one submitted manuscript, seven grant applications, and three progress reports over a period of ten years. Respondent reported experimental data for knockout mice that did not exist in five grant applications and three progress reports and also falsified and/or fabricated images in 45 figures” (https://ori.hhs.gov/content/case-summary-smart-eric-j).

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After an investigation, it was recommended that Dr. Smart’s publications either be retracted or corrected. Dr. Smart also agreed to exclude himself from advising and contracting with the USA government for seven years. Unfortunately for Dr. Smart (who does not have my sympathy), even once the seven years expire, he likely will be hard-pressed to find people willing to work with him again. Word spreads. And nobody wants to get caught with a cheater.

Not being in the field of microbiology, I was a bit unfamiliar with the journals listed with fabricated and/or falsified images. All of them were seemingly decent journals (which may be arbitrary, as I based this on impact factors alone – and I won’t go there today). It is really scary to think about how many things (data/images/figures etc) likely are fabricated that are never discovered. Are the journals with the best reputations (i.e., Science and Nature) immune to this? Probably not.

Bottom line, maybe scientists need some kind of “Hippocratic Oath”-type saying that promises that we uphold integrity and shall not cheat the system, falsify or fabricate data and results? I guess we sort of have that informally through mandated RCR courses, but clearly, those are not enough. Sadly, even if we had a more formal oath, people would continue to perform scientific misconduct.

The birth of implicit bias — when does it start and how do we stop it?

After thinking more about implicit bias, I came upon this article:

https://www.salon.com/2017/10/15/how-to-combat-racial-bias-start-in-childhood_partner/

The article discusses how racial bias, in particular, begins really young in life. So, by the time we reach adulthood, our biases are hard-wired and pretty set in our brains, making them difficult to disintegrate. Implicit bias, as opposed to explicit bias, appears (to me at least) to be more challenging to eliminate, as we often don’t even know that we are being biased.

The implicit bias tests we took last week clearly demonstrate this.  I like to think of myself as a relatively unbiased person who is very open and accepting of everyone; however, the tests showed that I still have some bias (based on the times it took me to complete the tasks when descriptions of gender, etc are switched). Completing these tests were illuminating – they made me think about how little we know even about ourselves sometimes.

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I found this article especially intriguing, as it discusses how even 9 month old babies showed bias by looking longer at the faces that match the babies’ own race when exposed to “happy” music. This suggests to me that some of our bias may not be learned but innate. However, I wonder about children who are adopted and raised by parents of a different race. Do these children show preference for their own race or for the race of their parents? What about children of bi-racial parents? Which parent would they “prefer?” To me, these are all fascinating questions, and I would love to learn more.

The article also discussed how working in 20 minute sessions with five year olds, implicit racial bias can be eliminated (for a short period of time). To do this, children learn to identify individuals within a given race. This is really interesting as well – instead of looking at a large group of people defined by the color of their skin, look at the individual. It makes sense to me that thinking about an individual rather than a group can help eliminate bias. I personally have seen this in my own life. For example, someone I knew once said “all Jewish girls are JAPS – Jewish American Princesses.” Then, after realizing what he said, he quickly added “except for you, Erin.” This guy knowing me as an individual within a minority group showed him that the stereotype doesn’t hold true for everyone. Unfortunately, knowing me was not enough to stop the microaggression altogether.

Further understanding implicit biases and how they affect us in our day-to-day lives and in our professional lives are both imperative to creating a more welcoming and accepting world.

Freedom of speech is no excuse

While perusing the “Inside Higher Ed” this morning, I came across an interesting article:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/10/16/college-presidents-and-provosts-gather-consider-issues-free-speech

As a brief synopsis, this article discusses how over 60 university presidents and provosts met last week at the University of Chicago to discuss freedom of speech and speaker disruptions across college campuses. Columbia University, University of Michigan, College of William and Mary, Texas Southern University, University of Oregon, and our own Virginia Tech have experienced speaker interruptions within the past few weeks. At Virginia Tech, the President gave a speech during which one person questioned why he hired white supremacists and another yelled that we need to get Nazis off our campus. These people were escorted away by the police.

The purpose of this meeting was to determine how institutions of higher education should respond to speaker disruptions etc. Overall, it appears that the participants of this event agree that freedom of speech is important to uphold on college campuses.  Others argue that it is imperative that students be better educated about what freedom of speech actually means and that this generation is one of “snowflakes,” students who are unable to process and effectively communicate about issues that are uncomfortable. Much disagreement about the sentiment of “snowflakes” exists. The article also discusses the massive costs involved in hosting speakers with controversial viewpoints. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent to “keep the peace” at these events.

To me, it seems that while universities are places that should embrace different opinions and perspectives, being cruel, unkind, and promoting violence and hate go beyond freedom of speech. Just because you are “allowed” to say something does not mean that you should.

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I believe the line between when something controversial falls under the First Amendment’s freedom of speech vs. when is it unlawful (or deemed it should be) lies in the purpose behind the words. If the purpose is to help people better understand a particular vantage point and is used to spread knowledge, not hate, it is freedom of speech. When the purpose is to instigate a fight, instill hate and fear among the masses, and to hurt various groups of people with words, that crosses the line.

How should “freedom of speech” be enforced? And how does the constitution define it exactly, in today’s world (i.e., not the world of when the Constitution was written)? I have no idea. But I do know that our current administration appears to welcome fight, fire, hate, and fear, rather than to welcome knowledge, communication, acceptance, and understanding. The direction this country is heading is deeply troubling to me. When calling others nasty names because it is “freedom of speech” becomes this commonplace, we should all be scared. Most children are taught to speak politely and not say mean things … why do we forget this sentiment as adults?

Diversity and Inclusion in the Dog World

Racism.

Prejudice.

Stereotype.

Discrimination.

BSL.

Breed specific legislation (BSL) is law that either bans or tightly regulates the ownership of certain dog breeds due to “public safety” concerns. These laws result in loving owners losing their furry family members, thousands of dogs being euthanized each year for the sole reason that they look a certain way, and for wide-spread fear and misunderstanding of particular dog breeds.

Not to say that dogs are humans, but I believe that dogs deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. As a dog owner, a dog rescuer, a dog foster mom, and a dog enthusiast in general, I interact with all sorts of dogs. Some are big. Some are small. Some are goofy. Some are scared. And some just really need some TLC and to know that people can be kind.

Breed specific legislation, while its intentions may be good, is (in my opinion) extremely problematic. Saying that these types of dogs (currently pit bulls, American Staffordshire terriers, etc – the “bully breeds”) are dangerous and need to either be stripped from their families and euthanized or muzzled while in public is not a whole lot different from legislation that discriminates against people due to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Just because one dog, one person, one cat, one whatever with a particular set of phenotypic characteristics does something bad, doesn’t mean that other dogs, people, cats, etc that look like that will react the same way. Thinking this way is stereotyping. It is no better than racism. It is what I would call “breedism.” My dog Riley is the biggest love bug in the world – I could put her in a room with 30 toddlers and would trust her without a second thought. But, she is a boxer-American Staffordshire terrier mix. And some people are afraid of her and will not approach her. I mean, I guess I see how that face could be deemed scary (cough cough).

So, the next time you see a dog that looks like Riley, don’t automatically be afraid. Next time you see someone who looks different than you, don’t automatically feel uncomfortable, threatened, or fearful. Let’s create a world and an environment where our differences are embraced, not stigmatized.

Higher education hierarchy … and parking

I am sure that I speak for a number of people when I say that parking at Virginia Tech can be a nightmare. With over 30000 students here, it is no surprise that the prized parking space closest to your office is challenging to get. And, it’s not just undergraduate and graduate students who complain. I have heard numerous faculty and staff complain that they cannot find parking either. So … what is the solution?

Fortunately, Blacksburg is a very walking and bike-friendly place (at least compared to other places I have lived, like Richmond and Norfolk). A lot of my friends and co-workers bike to campus each day. Another large percentage take the bus. But … I have heard through the grapevine that even the bus is overcrowded, particularly at peak times (i.e., 8-9am; 4-6pm). It also can be a long ride. A friend told me that he has to take the 9am bus to even hope to get to the office by 10am (and he lives within a few miles of campus).

Parking services has some nice carpooling options as well. However, despite all of the people who utilize bikes, their own feet, public transportation, and carpooling, I still have to “shark” around almost every day to find a parking spot. And by “sharking” I mean, driving slowly up and down each parking lot aisle, waiting to see a person walking with keys in hand. Then … you gun it to figure out where this person is going. Half the time some other person sharking wins the spot. It’s ridiculous. If I don’t get here by 8:30 (which I often don’t on days when I have night classes), this is my reality. Or, I park very far away from where I work (which isn’t really an issue, except when the weather is bad or I have a lot to carry).

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This may seem a little off topic, but I do have a point. Higher education has a hierarchy – which we have discussed in class. In the most basic of terms:

Faculty/Staff

Graduate Students

Undergraduate Students

Parking, sort of, follows this hierarchy. Faculty and staff parking permits allow F/S to part in the “best” spots – spots closest to buildings where people work. And, that makes sense. F/S should have better parking spots than students. Resident (R) parking passes are on the bottom of the food chain – that’s fine – most of the people who R parking passes are 18 year old freshman. They are young and can get where they need to go faster than an “old” graduate student like me can. They also live on campus, so likely don’t use their cars everyday.

But … this is where the hierarchy of parking stops. We also have teaching assistant (TA) and graduate/commuter (G/C) spots. TA spots are typically pretty prime too. In some lots, the TA spots I would argue are “better” than the F/S spots. Teaching assistants are obviously really important and deserve to find parking – however, what about the rest of us? The GRAs, fellows, etc? Is our work not important too? Not so much, based on parking rules.

“Standard” graduate students (i.e., not TAs) get lumped in with the 22000+ undergraduate commuters. Why? Graduate students are working for the university – we do research, we try to make the university look good, we mentor undergraduates …. Why can’t we get our own parking spots? Why do we have to compete with the commuters every day? I don’t understand.

And … unfortunately … I don’t think our advisors would appreciate it if this is the attitude we took about parking (see below). I know nothing about this situation likely will change (or at least not while I am here). But, I do think graduate students should be allowed to purchase separate passes from undergraduate commuters and have specified spots. The spots don’t even have to be “better” than the commuter spots – just separate from commuter spots so we can actually find parking and get back to doing our graduate student work faster.

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Learning to give less than 100% … sometimes

“If you don’t always give 100%, don’t expect to be any better than average.”

“Give 110%.”

“Always give 100%, except when giving blood.”

All of these commonly said phrases have the same theme: we must always give 100% of ourselves to everything that we do. We are taught it in school. We are taught it at home. We are taught in when playing sports. But … why are we teaching something that sets everyone up for failure 100% of the time? And why do many graduate students think that they must be “superhuman” to please everyone by giving 100% to everything?

In high school, I gave 100% on every assignment, every test, every extra credit. And my lowest final grade my senior year of high school was a 96. What I didn’t do was give myself time to relax, to be a teenager. If I had a 99% in the class, I still did the extra credit because I was below 100%. I didn’t know how to spend less time on certain assignments that didn’t need to be perfect and thus stressed myself out constantly. Instead of saying “Erin, you have a 96% in this class. You don’t need to get 100% on the project due next week,” I would say “Erin, you have to give 100% on this project.  It is an insult to yourself and to your teachers to not give 100%.” I was the epitome of an over-achiever.

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While I do believe that we should do “our best,” I think that there is an important distinction between giving “100%” and giving “your best.” Giving 100% means, give everything that you are physically, mentally, emotionally etc capable of giving. Doing “your best” means, you do the best that you are physically, mentally, emotionally etc under the given circumstances. I did not understand this distinction until I had some rough experiences during my Masters degree, where I could not give 100% in everything being asked of me. It was not possible. And for a while, it made me feel very poorly of myself. I thought I was failing. I thought I wasn’t good enough to be in graduate school. I felt that the things I used to be really good at, I was now not good at.

Fortunately, I crawled out of that space and came to understand the distinction between giving 100% and doing my best. Now, I for the most part, do the best I can given everything going on in my life. I have things besides schools going on, and it is not possible for me to give 100% to all of them all of the time – I cannot give 100% to my partner, give 100% to my classes, give 100% to my research, give 100% to my well-being etc. But, I can do my best at each of these things. That means that sometimes I give 95% to my partner, 67% to my classes, 80% to my research etc. Different aspects of my life get different percentages of my time and energy at different times. Or does the percentage have to add up to 100%? I don’t know.

Fortunately, other quotes are becoming more frequent. “Whatever your 100% is, give it.” This, for example, I think embodies my distinction between giving 100% and doing your best. But, I still would prefer to nix the 100% part.

This all being said, this amount of text here is the best I can do for this entry right now. It is not my 100%. And that’s okay. J

Hate crimes

I am very sad today. Sad for our country, sad for Nevada, sad for the friends and families of those killed or injured in the mass shooting in Las Vegas last evening, and sad for all of those who died and were injured at the hands of, what I would call, an “evil” man. How someone can kill innocent people baffles me and is definitely one of those things that I hope to never understand. However, I am not going to directly talk about this tragedy in this post, as we are still learning the details and because I have not had enough time to process it yet.

The tragedy in Nevada, however, brought me back to the mass killings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last summer and how this relates to diversity and inclusion in a global society. Some people called this shooting domestic terrorism, others a hate crime. I think it was both. I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. The shooter was an American citizen who dedicated himself to ISIS; thus, since he was an American and caused an act of terror – it is domestic terrorism. Since the shooting happened at a well-known gay club and specifically targeted a minority group – it was also a hate crime.

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While the rights of members of the LGBTQ+ community have progressed, LGBTQ+ members remain, what I perceive at least, at the top of list of hated/judged/misunderstood people in the United States. Living in southwest Virginia is a reality check on this issue. Bumper stickers, t-shirts, etc that say rude things about LGBTQ+ individuals are fairly commonplace here. And it breaks my heart. Even people who wouldn’t consider themselves as anti-gay say derogatory things daily. For example, the expression “that’s so gay” is something I hear weekly as I walk around campus. Most of the people, I presume, who use this phrase are not using it specifically to insult the LGBTQ+ community. But, it is a derogatory statement. It is said with a negative connotation. And it is offensive. Words can be hate crimes as well.

It seems that many people, including our current administration, hesitate to use the phrase “hate crime.” But why? What happened at the Pulse club was a hate crime, what happened in Charlottesville a few weeks ago was a hate crime, and who knows, we may find out that the act in Nevada last night was one too (only time will tell). And the sad part is, we were not born hating anybody. Hate is taught. Hate is passed down from generation to generation. And thus, hate is hard to extinguish.