Bystanders and Omelas

Upon reading Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, I was not too sure as to how it would relate to diversity. At first the author describes an ideal place where everyone seems happy and the weather is perfect during a festival. The author also mentions that people are not naive and truly are joyous with little rules or laws. Happiness is described, as “a just discrimination of what is necessary, what is neither necessary nor destructive, and what is destructive.” Readers are also invited to imagine their idea of utopia. However, I understand how this perfect society is reflected in current social issues surrounding inclusion. Later on in the story, the tone shifts and a basement is described in detail as dirty and dark.

Within the basement is a child. My major takeaway is that the child who is described as feeble-minded and malnourished is a metaphor for how we ignore issues of diversity and inclusions.  All the people in Omelas have neglected this child and believe that if they allowed the child to leave the basement that the child would never know joy because he/or she is too dumb and would know how to respond. Their happiness depends on the child being miserable. Hence, there is no sense in releasing the child. Some people have seen the child and others have not, but everyone knows the child exists.

The inhabitants of Omelas feel upset or angry by the condition in which this child has been left in, but they never take action for fear of destroying their utopia. It is implied that in some cases children and adults are not truly free or happy if this child is imprisoned. These people do not get upset or angry, but decide to walk directly out of Omelas. As a result, they do not know what exists outside of happiness, but know where they are going.

This story is a close description to what happens with current events in the United States. Some people hear about social issues relating to discrimination and bigotry through the news or social media. Either way individuals choose to complain on the internet or in private discussions with friends rather than taking any actions. It is easier to act concerned on a public forum in order to say that “I care too” without any consequences. Being a bystander is always easier because there is no risk associated.  It can be unnerving for people to participate in a march or a rally, but a good place to begin is by writing their congressman. Another option is to become more knowledgeable about diversity issues and being informed through scholarly articles, lectures, conferences. Finally, current events should be addressed in the classroom and workplaces.

 

The Job Search

“(Insert School) is committed to building and supporting a multicultural and diverse community of students, faculty and staff.”

General diversity statements like the one above can be found on most job postings in higher education these days. I am in the process of searching for a job and often notice where these statements are located in a position description. I wonder if departments and universities really believe that they are committed to inclusion. Is diversity and inclusion a priority when a commitment statement appears at the bottom or top  of a job posting? A sentence or two does not truly encompass how the school promotes diversity. I want to know clear examples of how diverse populations are being supported.  An interested candidate should not have to hunt down these examples through the university website only to find the same generic phrases about diversity, inclusion, and access. A clear definition is required, but institutions also need to be asking tough questions of candidates.

A better example of a commitment to diversity would be providing a supplemental question during the application process that candidates must answer. If a school is going to promote diversity then candidates should be able to address how they work with underrepresented students  and support them. By requiring these kinds of questions it is more reflective of the priority that employers are placing on recruiting candidates who value inclusion and diversity. Unfortunately a candidate will never know about how schools are committed to diversity until they arrive onsite for a job interview or after he/or she accepts the jobs. All candidates should consider if the “perfect” job is really perfect if underrepresented identities are not supported.

Native & Indigenous Communities, Latinx, and Asian Communities

Native & Indigenous communities, Latinx, and Asian communities are communities that I am not as familiar with. My understanding of these communities is based around the fact that I know these are underrepresented groups in higher education.

The history of native and indigenous groups in the United States is briefly mentioned in higher education. The challenges that these communities face revolve around— cultural identity, postsecondary accessibility, and retention. Typically individuals are generalized as one cultural group, but tribes have different languages, cultures, rituals, symbolism, and legal status. Historically, acculturation and assimilation were forced upon indigenous people at the K-12 level through boarding schools, converting to Christianity, and relocation to reservations. As a result, culture has been impacted and the creation of tribal colleges is supposed to benefit native students. Native students are still the most underrepresented group of marginalized people in higher education.

Latinx is a term that I had not heard of until I arrived at Virginia Tech. I will admit that I am unfamiliar with the support and resources that are available to these students. Separately, I am surprised that Asian students are sometimes considered to be included in the majority versus the minority. An example of this is in Virginia Tech’s Project 2022 plan for enrollment of underrepresented students.

Virginia Tech is the first institution that I have encountered that has a native and indigenous cultural center in addition to other cultural centers. These are important resources of support since students may not have immediate family nearby. Students are also able to find community in a predominately white institutions.

What Does Social Justice Mean?

Diversity, inclusion, and equity are concepts that I have learned more about as a graduate student, but I honestly know less about how to enact social justice. Organizations and institutions will create missions and values of social justice, but they lack clear examples of how they are achieving social justice. I think it is important to begin with a one’s own personal definition of social justice.  I have not yet fully created my own definition because I am not as well versed about what social justice is and what it should be.

Sometimes it seems that progressive statements regarding diversity and inclusion are considered acts of social justice. I am able to identify social justice issues, but I am not actively involved in addressing these issues. I am curious about ways to be an advocate for social justice that comes from a sincere place rather then checking a box to meet a requirement. Issues that I care about are related to college access and women’s rights relating to equal pay and maternity leave. At times I am not certain how to provide support for other social justice movements beyond my own interests. I would like more practical and applicable knowledge regarding social justice advocacy. Overall, I have a surface-level understanding of social justice.

Do Words Matter?

I am continuously searching for a university or college that I can picture working at. Lately I have been reflecting on buzzwords used in mission statements and jobs descriptions. I wonder how many of the words included in these mission statements are actually values of the prescribed institution. Words like “diversity, inclusion, and equity” are used often; but it seems like these words have different meanings depending on who you talk to. Institutions should be more intentional about how they are using language and defining words in an institutional context.

The blame cannot solely be put on schools because I know in the past I have been guilty of using certain words as a filler. Since coming to graduate school I have adopted the habit of thoroughly explaining what I mean when I use words relating to diversity. Is there a way to be more intentional when we use these  words? As departments and other universities create mission and value driven statements, I also wonder who is internally making these decisions. Are there any people from the minority that are included in this decision making process and what kind of task forces have been created? Who works in these departments is also reflective of how these values are being lived.

Inclusive Pedagogy

Inclusive pedagogy is not necessarily a term that I believe most people are familiar with. Essentially it refers to the fair and equal education of all individuals. I am curious if people generally believe that education is equal for students in the United States. Some areas of the country have education systems that have more financial assistance to make learning “better” for students. While one of the lowest rated states for education, Mississippi, lacks the resources necessary to educate students. Is education fair and should it be equal? I do not believe it is nor should it be equal.

Some people are more privileged than others and have the resources to receive expensive educations. Another issue with education is that some believe that education should be the same in every state and that reflects equality. However, we must keep in mind that not all students learn the same way. Standardized testing is one example of the difficulty students have with “mastering” a concept when classes are taught the same way for every student. Some students need extra attention, resources, and tutoring; but they are unable to get help when resources are in short supply. Educators need to also understand the social issues of students differ depending on the area and influence access to education.

To Disclose, or Not to Disclose?

I am about to complete my graduate degree and re-enter the work force, but I have once question that I am not sure how to answer. Should I continue to disclose my ethnic group? I have felt in the past that people are hoping to make me the spokesperson for one ethnic group in the workplace. I also find that people are disappointed when I do not speak another language when I self-identify as Hispanic or Latina.

To give a little background, my father is Caucasian (or white) and he was born and raised in the United States; while my mother is Hispanic and she was born in Panama. As a child, my parents would always mark official documents disclosing that I fit the category of Hispanic/ or Latino. I was born in the U.S., but I lived in Panama briefly until I completed Kindergarten. I spoke Spanish fluently and was immersed in my mother’s native culture.

However, when my family moved back to the U.S. my parents feared that I would only speak Spanish and school officials would force me to take English as a second language courses. The rule in our house then became that only English would be spoken because my parents did not want me to feel different from my classmates. Until I became and adult, my parents never shared  discrimination and racism  as a potential issue regarding where I was raised. I later found out that when my dad had a choice of where we would be transferred for work, he and my mother always considered that racism could be a possibility depending on the state. Even though I spent the majority of my adolescence in northern Virginia in a more diverse area, I still could “pass for white”. Often my classmates would ask “what are you?” because of my skin color.

I took Spanish in middle school, high school, and college; but I still am not fluent like I used to be.  Culturally, I have not been engaged in Latino cultural groups. Why? I do not feel like I belong. I have been told by others in the Latino community that my parents made a terrible mistake by not allowing me to speak Spanish. I also get looks of confusion when I say I do not speak Spanish. I embrace my culture at home, but I do not feel the need to constantly defend my heritage.  I did not see any problem with marking the Hispanic/Latino box. However, others have made me feel that I should not self-identify as Hispanic or Latina.

In my professional career there have been negatives and positives to my identities. Previously, working outside of Washington, D.C. offered me the opportunity to work with a diverse population of students at Marymount University. My position even gave me more of a reason to practice Spanish. Eventually I was promoted at work, but it seemed that I was given my promotion for the wrong reasons.  Part of this negative experience occurred when a superior made the assumption that my outward appearance would make the institution seem more approachable, yet the way I conducted myself was almost like a “white girl”.

Moving forward in my career I am still not sure how to answer the question of disclosing. It seems like I still have some personal battles to address. I have realized that I should not allow anyone to put me in whatever perfect box that they think I should fit into, but part of me feels that I am not being true to myself if I do not disclose.

Merit & Advantages

How do you decide whether you have earned certain advantages in your academic career, or whether you have some success because of unearned advantages?

Personally, I do not know if there is a clear way to determine whether I have gained success because of unearned advantages. I would like to hope and think that everything I have earned is based on my own merit through my dedication, intelligence and work ethic. However, there have been some instances where people have assumed that my ethnicity would give me more of an advantage. I recall as a senior in high school that a fellow student said to me that it was unfair that minority students are able to get scholarships. All I could gather from this comment was that the student was ignorant of oppressed groups and that I would not care about her remarks because I “pass for white”. I also had a supervisor that made me question whether or not I earned a promotion on my own merit.  My supervisor made the assumption that my outward appearance would make the institution I worked for seem more approachable, yet the way I conducted myself was almost like a “white girl”.

How does your understanding of academic research, teaching, and service change depending on whether or not you succeed because of merit or because of other factors?

My understanding of academic research, teaching and service is solely based on these achievements through merit. I worry that women are placed at a disadvantage when it comes to academic research and teaching. Mostly my concern is that women are not acknowledged when they are successful these fields. There is also a disconnect in the compensation that women receive versus men. As far as service, I believe that it can be performed in a way that is not genuine. When service is done from a place of power and privilege it does not benefit anyone.

About Me

About Me:

Where do I call home?  Honestly, I cannot truly state I have a home. Since completing my undergraduate degree I feel like I have lived a nomadic lifestyle. Every job I have obtained post-graduation has required me to commute and travel for work. If anything, I have only had a place to store my belongings, but I have not been able to truly create a home. Virginia Tech and Blacksburg do not feel like home. I have not made much of an effort to decorate my apartment because the plan has always been to stay in Virginia Tech for the duration of my program (two years).

What’s your background?/What’s your ancestry? When people ask me the first question I am not sure how to respond. Are you asking about my professional background, religious background, hobbies, or  ethnicity? When people ask me the second question I answer that my mother is Panamanian and my father’s side of the family hails from New England and Irish descent. My identity is something that I fully embrace, but I do not discuss it within my professional life. The question that I most frequently get is “what are you? ” The simple answer is that I am a United States citizen. Typically that question is a product of my skin color yet sometimes I “pass for white”.

Do you feel you have a community here at Virginia Tech? I feel like I have a community within my program and cohort. I also feel like I have been immersed in the Virginia Tech culture, but is different as a graduate student. My priorities are different from the undergraduate community. However I regularly attend Hokie football games. My graduate assistantship through Student Engagement and Campus Life also requires to manage student activities and play a role in community involvement at Virginia Tech.

What are my goals? After completing my graduate degree my hope is to be employed at a four-year, public university on the east coast of the United States. Ideally I see myself working as an administrative and professional faculty member in academic or career advising.

History & Access in U.S. Higher Education

At one time access to an education in the United States was exclusively limited to only white, wealthy males while individuals were excluded based on gender, religion, race, ethnicity, ability, and social class. Since the creation of the Morrill Act of 1862, accessibility to college has expanded. Federal government policies and regulations have attempted to provide universal access to education through diversity initiatives for historically underrepresented populations. However, there is still an achievement gap for this population of students that is difficult to overcome through barriers such as— affordability, family engagement, curriculum, and college preparation.

Diversity and inclusion appears to be a rising effort among college institutions based on the creation of offices, departments, and amended mission statements. While some universities seem to shy away from admitting the lack of assistance that was given to underrepresented groups, others proudly memorialize discrimination.

For example, at Yale University the school has engraved “The Old Yale Fence Stood Here”, with an image of young men dressed in suits and top hats, into the side of a freshman residential building. So what? The image commemorates the time when Yale divided the campus from the rest of the city New Haven in order to preserve “manly democracy of Yale life”. As the school expanded and made the decision to build in place of the fence, Yale alumni feared that without the fence that women would walk the campus grounds. Today, the University has replicated the fences on their Old Campus. What kind of message does this image send to first year students who reside on Old Campus? In my opinion, this sends a message of maintaining a sense privilege and elitism.

It is important that institutions preserve their history, but also make decisions about what to memorialize. Longwood University, located in Farmville, Virginia (Prince Edward County), is a school that has decided to shine light on their lack of involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1951, students at Robert Russa Moton High School staged a strike and walked out of one of the few schools for African American students in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The county closed public schools for five years due to mandated integration, while the once all-female college played little to no role.  In 1996, Moton High School was transformed into Moton Museum and serves as a historic landmark for the beginning of the student Civil Rights Movement. Longwood has annually created service events with Moton Museum on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; but in 2014 Longwood announced a partnership with the museum and released a statement in 2015 detailing their regret and lack of involvement during the Civil Rights.

“While many individual members of the Longwood community spoke and acted bravely in support of the inarguable principle of equal protection under the law and educational opportunity for all, as an institution Longwood failed to stand up publicly for these ideals, resulting in support to those who opposed desegregation, and falling short in its duty to provide strong moral leadership in the community.”

I do not believe this one initiative can heal the relationship between the Farmville community and the institution, but it does highlight the need to continue diversity and inclusive environments. Longwood’s current president also established the Moton Legacy Scholarship, which is awarded annually to students committed to service and citizen leadership.