Glass half empty … or half full?

I am sure that everyone reading this has heard the question “is the glass half empty or is it half full?” Unfortunately, it seems that these days most of us are seeing more situations from a glass half empty perspective. And I get it – I am there with you all in feeling that way. Our government is a mess. Our current administration is taking away much of the progress we have made as a country in regards to diversity and inclusion and is sending us back several decades. So many parts of the world are at war. Millions of people are homeless and starving. And from a more microcosmic perspective, it is the end of the semester, finals are coming, and life is stressful. It is really upsetting, sad, infuriating (insert any number of words here).

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Growing up, whenever I was struggling with something, whether it be a fight with a friend, being sick, my car not starting, etc, my dad would remind me that there are so many people less fortunate than I. My dad ALWAYS has a glass half full perspective. It is one of the things I admire most about him. While I often was annoyed with my dad for telling me how lucky I was (as every teenage girl just wants someone to understand them and throw her a pity party), I see know that he was teaching me a valuable lesson – even in the darkness, there is some light. The light may be the size of a needle point, but something in our life is good, even when everything seems bad.

Over the past month, I had a contractor run away with over $2300 for a service not completed. I have been really mad about this. Not only am I out thousands of dollars, I still need the work ro get done, and I will have to pay for new materials and the labor of another contractor. Needless to say, I have been feeling pretty badly for myself lately. But, when I stop to think about things from a more positive perspective, I see this instead: I have learned a lot from this experience. I am fortunate enough to own a house and have a roof over my head every night. I have a refrigerator that maybe isn’t as full as it could be (need to go to the grocery store), but I don’t go hungry. I have the ability to do small projects on my house from time to time. I am extremely blessed. When I remind myself of this, I feel better. The issue of my contractor is trivial in comparison to the strife that millions of other are facing.

We need to remember that even though hate is spreading like wildfire as minority groups (race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) are constantly under attack from ignorant people, we (us in this class) are fortunate enough to be in school. To get a higher education. To, presumably, have somewhere to live and food to eat. Some things suck. And it is okay to be angry (and in my opinion, we should be angry). Just don’t let feeling angry turn you into an angry person. We must stand strong and make sure that hate doesn’t win.

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Credibility in Teaching

Last week, I did not raise my hand when asked if I felt like I could teach a diversity and inclusion course. This was not because I believe myself incapable of teaching a course like this. It has more to do with the fact that I wondered whether people would take me seriously in teaching a diversity class, as I am a white woman. I wondered whether my outward appearance of not being a minority would make people wonder about my qualifications to teach about diversity and inclusion. I am not exactly sure why I felt this way, as both Christian and Dean DePauw are more than qualified to teach this course (and do an excellent job!) – and they are both white.

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Regardless, I felt that way. I asked the class how they felt about this. Would they take an African American Studies class seriously if it was taught by a white person? What about a Women’s Studies course taught by a man? Or a Native American Studies course taught by someone with no Native American background? My initial thought was that it would be harder to take the professor seriously. After all, if you are not a member of a given minority group, it is not truly possible to know exactly what it feels like to be a member of that minority group (not that that is anyone’s fault). At first, it seemed to me that students would take the attitude of “why should I listen to you, when you don’t even represent what you are teaching?”

However, it was really interesting to hear about another side of the story. The other view was that if a man teaches a Women Studies course (for example), it brings more credibility to the topics discussed in class. For if a man (in this example) is teaching about the history, issues, etc, women have and do face, it is more likely to be seen as true. If a woman teaches it, perhaps male students (in particular) would feel it was just the teacher expressing opinions and pushing these opinions upon her students.

I could see how this could happen. But I can also see the side that I thought at first. Personally, I believe that this is largely a very individual topic. Some students may feel one way and others another. Regardless of which stance someone takes, I believe that teachers in general typically need to “prove” themselves to their students in order to be truly successful at teaching. “Proving” oneself as a teacher could include demonstrating extraordinary knowledge on the topic, being able to handle difficult situations within the classroom, being able to relate to the students and the questions they have, etc. The figure below gives a good description of how teachers come across as being credible to their students.

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What are others’ thoughts? Which side would you be on in this case? Or would it completely depend on the specific teacher and specific class? What can teachers do to overcome feelings of incredibility in the classroom?

Diversity in Schools

In primary and secondary school (K-12), I had one teacher who was not white. One. Out of how many? Probably well over 100, as once in middle and high school, I had as many as 8 teachers a year (1 for each course). Sadly, I highly doubt I ever really thought about this growing up because I am white. Thus, having only teachers that looked like me seemed normal and not something to cause second thoughts.

Although I only had one black teacher growing up, I had tons friends who were not white. And my schools were always pretty diverse in regards to the races/ethnicities of the students. By why was there little to no diversity in regards to the teachers? Is teaching not a popular profession for racial minority groups? Or is our society so messed up and prejudiced that it is harder for people of color to be hired as teachers? I don’t know the answer to this. But, kids tend to think about the careers they see people like them doing. So, if there are very few black, Hispanic, Asian, etc teachers, students who are black, Hispanic, Asian, etc may subconsciously think teaching is not a job option for them.

While pondering this, I came across an article published last month titled “Want students to succeed? Hire more teachers look like them, reports says.”

http://www.macon.com/news/specialreports/disintegration/article179945276.html

The article states that the percentage of students in K-12 is becoming more and more diverse, with 49% of public primary and secondary school students being from a racial minority. This stands in stark contrast to the mere 18% of public school teachers being from a racial minority. A school district in Georgia is specifically examined – the number of white students is decreasing, while the number of black, Hispanic, and Asian students rising. The number of non-white teachers has remained relatively stagnant in comparison.

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This article states that having more diversity in the classroom is imperative to the success of ALL students. “It’s important for kids who are traditionally underserved to see people in positions of authority who look like them. You need to feel like you’re not relegated to the sidelines. You need to feel important” (Kate Walsh; http://www.macon.com/news/special-reports/disintegration/article179945276.html). The article also states that having a diverse group of teachers is imperative, even in schools that have a non-diverse student base. Teachers with diverse backgrounds and experience “can provide perspectives that children may not otherwise be exposed to” (http://www.macon.com/news/special-reports/disintegration/article179945276.html). While having teachers who are similar to the student base is also important, as it enables students to feel like their backgrounds are understood by someone in an authority position.

I, for one, agree strongly with the sentiments presented in this article. What are others’ thoughts and experiences about teacher diversity in K-12? In higher education? I am curious if my experience in school is as common as it appears?

Open Access, Diversity, and Inclusion

A few weeks ago, I went to an Open Access night held at the library. Sadly, it appeared that only my peers from another class and library personnel attended. In order to get open access more utilized and accepted, more people need to (1) know about it and (2) care about it.

Open access refers to research published online that has no fees associated to them. These articles are available to anyone (with internet access) who wishes to read them, and are therefore a step in the right direction for making science available to a more diverse audience, and not solely to either academics or those with the financial means to purchase subscriptions. Currently, it appears to me that when people think of scientific journals, they typically think of those that are only available to journal subscribers. In this case, the publishers of the journal own the rights to all the articles they publish.

Open access is a great strategy for bridging the gap between scientists and the pubic and for making the distribution of information more inclusive for all. That being said, I see a major issue with open access – not enough people know about open access and not enough researchers do or want to publish in open access journals.

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Even though I believe open access is a positive movement and likely the wave of the future, it does not matter if open access exists if nobody utilizes it. In order for open access to truly make a difference in providing information to much larger and diverse groups of people (and thus make science more inclusive), more people need to learn about it and more scientists need to utilize open access. To be honest, I really did not know much about open access until I started graduate school. As an undergraduate, I remember being annoyed when I could not download articles that I needed for my classes when I was not on campus, but I did not think much about it or why that was. Nobody ever talked to us about what it means to have a subscription publication vs. an open access publication. In order to spread the word about what open access is, why it is important, how it is different than subscription publications, and the advantages it has over subscription publications in regards to topics related to diversity and inclusion, professors need to explain this to students as undergraduates (and teachers to high school students).

Why the norm is that people must pay to read others’ research does not make any sense to me. Why would people conduct research when 90% of the world cannot access it? With subscription publications, only people who subscribe to the journal can access the articles. This equates only to people who are interested in the journal’s topic (and therefore likely conduct research in the same, or similar, fields) and those with the financial means to pay for subscriptions. This creates a cycle of the same people, studying the same thing, and reading the articles written by the same scientists. Perhaps if we opened our research to the public, fresh, new ideas from people not so involved in the minute details of our work will enable break-throughs. When you read the same paragraph over and over again, it becomes easy to miss errors because you know what it says – I think this concept holds for publications as well.

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Overall, open access could enable new ideas to circulate, could bridge the gap between scientists and the public, may increase the number of people interested in the topics we all hold so dear, and may even make our world more inclusive. We all know what it feels like when someone asks “what do you do,” and as you start talking, eyes glaze over, and a short response of “oh, that’s nice” ensues. People are more likely to care if they have some basic background in what is being discussed. Open access could grant the basic background needed to interest the public in our research, which, in turn, helps decrease issues with diversity and inclusion, as research and data are made accessible to more people. While millions of people will not benefit from open access, due to no internet access, I strongly feel the open access movement is heading us in the right direction for making education, science, data, etc more relevant to the masses.

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?!?!

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.

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.

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.

What we say vs. How we say it

In class last evening, I made a comment about how we say things (i.e., the words we choose, the delivery, our body language, etc) is just as important as what we have to say. And I wanted to elaborate more on this topic, as I believe it is extraordinarily important, especially when considering the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.

When I say the word “communication,” what comes to your mind? My guess is that the majority of people think primarily, if not solely, of verbal communication. Speech. And yes, speech is incredibly important. But, as I re-learned in Communicating Science the other night, 85% of how we communicate is through our body language. Only 15% is verbal.

Learning to communicate effectively must be about the words we choose and how we deliver these words. Has a really nice southern lady ever said “Bless your heart” in a way that made you believe you were actually being chastised? (Not that it always means that. Sometimes it is just a nice thing to say). In this example, the words being used are nice, but the delivery (tone, body language) tells us that the words weren’t necessarily meant in a kind way.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, who has received a text that says “ok,” and then spent the next two hours trying to determine why the person whom texted you is upset? It happens to me all the time. And 9 times out of 10, the person isn’t mad. But I can’t tell that because in texting, I cannot see this person to get any visual cues, and I cannot hear the tone behind the words. My senses are limited and thus, meanings are misconstrued.

As another example, have you ever been in an “argument” with someone else, and either one or both of you keeps talking over the other? In situations like this, people tend to not listen and just keep thinking about their counter-argument. Being in a long-term relationship myself, I know that how my fiancée and I communicate when we disagree is imperative to how the argument goes. If either of us starts yelling and not listening, communication breaks down. If either of us just say “you are wrong and this is why,” communication breaks down. A better approach is to acknowledge the other person’s perspective (i.e., “I hear what you are saying AND this is how I perceive XYZ).  I capitalized “and” in that sentence because people often put the word “but” there. “But” has a negative connotation. It tells the other person that you are about to disagree with them and is dismissive. “And” suggests that you are open to what the other person has to say AND you respectfully have a different opinion.

This topic may seem sort of random, but I feel it is imperative to increasing tolerance and acceptance of those different from ourselves. Nobody wants to hear that his/her/their opinion is wrong. People are much more willing to change their opinions or at least listen to yours if you communicate respectfully. So, next time you find yourself in a position when the person you are talking to has a very different perspective of the world, remember that the words you choose and your delivery of these words can make or break any chance of changing the other person’s mind.