Communicating Identity- Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education

Additional blog Post #3

I was so excited to write on this topic in particular, especially considering the importance of diversity I have seen from both sides of higher education. Now that I have been both a student and a teacher, I feel like I have a better understanding of why higher education needs to move forward with diversity initiatives and emphasize the importance of full inclusion for everyone. In both my personal life and my professional life, I have seen the ways that true inclusion is beneficial to everyone.

As a woman with an invisible illness who is in an interracial relationship, I was blind to a lot of my own problematic assumptions about others, and I really credit my significant other with opening my eyes to these with some respectful, eye-opening conversations over the past three years. I always got angry when somebody would ask him “where are you really from?”, and yet I would insert my own assumptions about his life in conversations from time to time without even realizing it. Likewise, as an undergraduate at Christopher Newport University, I was an orientation leader for the Presidents Leadership Program (PLP) and that program gave me experiences with true diversity as well. Over two summers I was in charge of facilitating an orientation for  a group of about twenty students, introducing them to the university as well as the leadership minor curriculum. Part of my training included extensive analysis of micro aggressions and biases, and I was so shocked and hurt to find that I was contributing to an exclusive environment at times due to micro aggressions I didn’t even realize.

I feel like the conversations with my partner about little things I was saying, as well as the exercises in my training for orientation really contributed to my education about my own privileges, and helped me have deeper conversations with individuals in the PLP who had different experiences than my own. If universities want to be more diverse and inclusive, they need to first address their own biases and have open conversations about how to improve these behaviors. I hope that in my classroom, my students feel respected and like I want to develop a true understanding of their experiences at Virginia Tech.

For example, when I first showed this photo to a friend, one of the first things they asked is “I know he’s biracial, but what exactly is he?”. That was something I found extremely rude, but I could tell they hadn’t meant it that way. This led to an open conversation about micro aggressions with a close friend, and it went better than i had expected! When he showed the photo to a friend, they commented “well, she doesn’t look sick”. He then had to explain to them about my history with debilitating migraines, and how people don’t have to look sick to be in a lot of pain.

http://countingmyspoons.com/2016/08/5811/

Considering all of these things, I believe that difference does matter. To suggest that somebody does not see color, or background, or sex, or ability, or any combination of these identities is either naive or ignorant. Rather than pretend we do not see others for who they are, I think there should be an emphasis on celebrating our differences, as well as how we can use these differences to teach one another about empathy and collaboration. Within the academic world, I have seen far too often the push toward diversity for diversity sake- I think that is a bit of a misstep. If I got into a program just because the program wanted more women, they are missing out on the various experiences and thoughts and ideas that I have as a result of my intersectional identity. I think if a university is trying to be inclusive and globally diverse, the first way to know if they are succeeding is to ask the students- ALL of the students. Having to explain an invisible illness to a professor is a deeply uncomfortable experience for me, as I often worry they either won’t believe me or will dismiss it as not a big deal. Likewise, individuals with identities considered to be in the minority may have their own challenges communicating their identity in class. Differences matter because, no matter where I am, the person sitting next to me undoubtedly has a completely different life experience that is just as valuable and valid as my own. It is only by sharing our experiences that we can grow, learn, and become better citizens.

Week 11: Codes of Conduct in Communication

I have noticed that a lot of subjects that we cover in my Preparing Future Professoriate class are covered here as well, so I was excited about the opportunity to again talk about the National Communication Association’s Code of Professional Ethics for the field.

By analyzing the fields of teaching, research, publication, and professional relationships, I feel that the 1999 statement clearly outlines ethical concerns specific to communication. As I spend more time in the program, I find myself more concerned with networking and developing those professional relationships within the field that can help guide me in my own future research. I appreciate the emphasis on power relationships between faculty and students, as well as understanding the role of a teacher.

Communication deeply values – you guessed it- good communication! It is extremely important to have open lines of communication between those in power and individuals breaking into the field for the first time, as well as those between teachers and their students. I think that the communication field values research than furthers theory, which I see time and time again in my own classes. There is a deep focus on the latest research within a particular subset of the field, so I appreciate how they emphasized that “there are ethical principles that apply to a communication researcher, no matter what form of research is utilized”(p.2).

One thing that surprised me about the statement is that there was no mention of graduate teaching assistants, or teaching assistants in general. I would add in a statement about the proper preparation of GTA’s within the field, as I feel that it is an important ethical concern to make sure that TA’s are well prepared. Since their academic integrity can directly impact undergraduate students, I think this addition would be beneficial to the field.

Week 10: Copyright Issues

As a public speaking GTA, I have students that create PowerPoint presentations to use as visual aids in their speeches. Often, they want to use photos, graphs, and charts that they find online. Therefore, I feel like the most common copyright issue I experience is properly explaining to students how they need to cite their sources properly in order to avoid plagiarism issues. Rather than simply grab a graphic from google images, they need to properly cite the image, its source material, and make sure it’s up to VT standards. The “Can I Use It?” test is something I had never seen before, and I am considering implementing it into my course next semester when I explain copyright!

Likewise, Creative Commons was a resource I had never used before, so I had a lot of fun exploring the site and the available works. The tutorial video was really helpful for someone like me who is a total newbie to the media site. The idea that individuals would spend so much time working on something and then give it to the public for free is really beautiful idea, and I appreciated the plethora of subjects and types of work available. I know where I will be going when I need an image in future presentations!

As far as open source work, it’s a topic that we have been discussing quite a lot in my Preparing Future Professoriate class. I think that open source is a really good concept, as it makes research available to everyone, rather than holding onto data in the hopes of publishing before others. I think there is such a competitive nature in academia, and I would hope that the normalization and celebration of open source research could make scholastic work more collaborative.

Week 9: Final Project Reflection

For my final project, I decided to focus on a presentation to help teach future GTA’s about teaching for the first time. I chose this project because, as a first-year GTA, my very first class was something that gave me a LOT of anxiety. I feel like the more information one has about a subject, the more confident I would feel in my skills and abilities. I want to clearly explain the resources on campus (such as Cook Counseling, the Writing Center, etc.) in the hopes of preparing GTA’s to be more knowledgable about the campus options.

I hope to learn more about teaching, higher education power structures, and the work-life balance of GTA’s within the communication department. I feel like there is a lot of pressure on GTA’s from all fields to represent their respective departments well, and that can lead to anxiety and stress. Likewise, it’s important that GTA’s feel well prepared and confident in front of their students in case they have to deal with any issues of academic misconduct. By knowing the resources and policies on campus, a GTA can be better equip to deal with problems, as well as referring students to the proper campus resources.

Week 8: Authorship

I feel like, within communication, it is a bit normal for faculty to collaborate with students on work in order to produce more publications. However, when looking at what it means to be an author, I looked toward the readings for some clarification. In reading about the different definitions of authorship, I was frustrated to find that the table on page 5 describing different definitions did not include any section for communication scholars. The closest to my field was through the “American Educational Research Association”, and was defined as “all those, regardless of status, who have made substantive creative contribution to the generation of an intellectual product are entitled to be listed as authors of that product”.

I would consider this to translate well into communication scholarship; there seems to be an emphasis on recognizing the work of others, especially for published articles that include graduate students working with faculty.  There are definitely come humanities-specific issues with authorship that I have you encountered in graduate school so far- I had a professor want to work on a research project with me, but insist on clarifying the age-old “first author” issue. I was so confused and anxious about who got first author that I ended up not even pursuing the project further.

After reading the articles, I feel like I have a better understanding: I think that anybody who is hands-on involved with the creation of the project, research, methodology, analysis, and discussion of the project deserve some sort of authorship. As a qualitative researcher, I don’t have to worry less about funding or lab spaces. However, I find that pressure to publish is a recurring theme in higher education, and I find that really problematic. As a GTA, I feel like most of my focus in my classroom is on teaching well, rather than latching on to students’ ideas in order to get a publication.

I feel as though authorship within the arts, as well as humanities, is possibly harder to define than in scientific fields. For example, if I come up with a really interesting research idea in class and my professor does a project on it, I would not get any sort of credit unless I was included on the project in writing, researching, or carrying out the study. It can be difficult as a graduate student to feel confident standing up for our ideas, asking for credit, and backing up these requests with knowledge about proper authorship.

 

Blog Post 4 – Tech and Innovation in Higher Ed

In an article on the Inside Higher Ed website, Dr. Joshua Kim continued the conversation around MOOCs and how “Professors Have Taken Over the MOOCs”, as his article is titled. In his opening statement, he states that he believes people need to start opening their minds to what MOOCs can do; as the  Director of Digital Learning Initiatives at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, Dr. Kim has experience in the rise of “disruptive” media such as MOOCs, and I found his perspective to be one that I could relate to.

A little background about my own life experiences: when I finished my undergraduate degree, I didn’t have the money to immediately continue my education. I took a gap year to work locally and save money to pursue my masters, but felt the need and the desire to keep learning. I personally relied on MOOCs (specifically, I used this website) to expand my knowledge in certain areas, because I couldn’t afford to simply enroll in a local community college class. By having access to a free, easily accessible classes on things like digital marketing and grant writing, I was able to add to my own education as well as improve my performance at the job I had (I was a development and marketing assistant for a non-profit at the time). However, with this personal experience with MOOCs I had not yet considered how individuals in the Higher Education field may feel about access to free education, and I quickly learned that not everybody was as big of a fan as I was.

Dr. Kim’s article outlined that professors had a widely held belief that MOOCs were “just another overhyped educational technology”, but that he wanted to introduce a new perspective. Rather than look at MOOCs as disruptive to traditional university education, they could be used as a resource for educators themselves to have a say in the narrative. Rather than turn away in disgust of this everyday level education, Dr. Kim suggests that “professors want to teach open online courses for the same reason that they teach traditional courses, write articles and books and opinion pieces, and give talks to diverse audiences”, saying that MOOCs are “another platform to share their love of their discipline, their passion for the methods and concepts in their field, and their own contributions to growing knowledge in their area of scholarship”.

I really loved that perspective, and it made me feel a little better about utilizing the resources myself. After all, if we only value education that breaks the bank, so to speak, we are turning our backs on a large amount of different perspectives, experiences, and really cool learning opportunities. I think that higher education can sometimes have a pretentious undertone that really holds students and educators back, and by embracing MOOCs the way that Dr. Kim suggests, faculty can share their knowledge with people who otherwise would not have access to education in a traditional setting.

As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, isn’t it our job as educators to teach, after all? Why should we restrict our expertise to specific groups, and what gives us the right to decide who “deserves” education? I for one agree with Dr. Kim’s emphasis on “the devotion and commitment of professors”, because while I recognize how higher education creates stable income for faculty, I also recognize that going to college is not an achievable goal for everybody. I for one have enjoyed classes the most when the instructor was engaged and truly loved the material they were teaching, so by having these kinds of professors create their own content for a larger audience, I think we could all benefit. Personally, I would love to be involved in MOOCs from the other side, and I hope that these continue to spread knowledge and opportunities to individuals everywhere, regardless of circumstance.

 

Blog Post 3- Open Access Research

This week’s readings on open access really opened my eyes to the world of easily accessible research for everybody. One particular subject that intrigued me was the conversation surrounding the intersection between social media and higher education. I know that I personally follow most of the Virginia Tech Facebook pages and twitter handles that relate to my own graduate experience. I feel like these routes encourage learning in “down time”, or when students are not currently engaged in academia for a grade. For example, I found myself reading an article about environmental conservation that was shared online, regardless of the fact that my own research is not related. I think the open sharing of research is extremely beneficial to the academic world, and may even encourage people to stop being so anal about their own findings.

The journal I chose to look at was the American Communication Journal, the Summer 2017 issue (Volume 19, Issue 2). It is registered with the Library of Congress, and focuses on communication analysis in an open access format. Their website states that the journal was  “commissioned by the American Communication Association’s Board of Directors in 1996”.

The following statement is on their “Aim and Scope” page of the website:
“The American Communication Journal (ACJ) is the official publication of the American Communication Association (ACA). ACJ is committed to publishing interdisciplinary scholarship on communication. Appreciating the diversity of research agendas and methodologies in the study of communication, the Editorial Board of ACJ welcome submissions on any topic related to the discipline.”

I took this to mean that the journal’s scope is wide reaching, with a focus on the journal connecting readers across a wide variety of subjects within the communication field. Likewise, I like how the goal of diversity was highlighted in the statement.

Overall, the journal does not go into too much detail about what open access is; the only statement I could find was with information on copywriting, “The ACJ is dedicated to the open exchange of information. ACJ is freely available to individuals and institutions. Copies of this journal of articles in this journal may be distributed for research or educational purposes free of charge and without permission.”

I really appreciated how the journal provides research in an open access format simply because they believe it’s the right thing to do, and encourage other to do so as well. In a perfect world, I would hope that open access could loosen the pressures surrounding professors needed to publish the “hot, new research” in the field. Instead of hiding stimulus materials or data pools, individuals could collaborate for the greater good.

Blog Post 2- Ethical Gray Areas & The Need for Perfection

I was excited about this week’s topic, as I am currently enrolled in GRAD 5014: Academic Integrity and Plagiarism. This class (which I highly recommend!) has given me what I like to consider a crash course in ethics, particularly navigating the “gray areas” that can appear in scholarship fields. Phrases like “academic bullying” were not familiar to me, and I felt like the class really has opened my eyes to the work of academic integrity as it pertains to GTA’s, students, and faculty.

The National Association of Communication released a code of ethics in 1999 that I feel outlines expectations clearly. It can be found here, and some of my favorite highlights are the emphasis on ethical teaching, the importance of integrity in research and publications, and the development of professional relationships within and outside of the field.

Ethics can feel like a confusing area for those who have not studied the terminology- take academic bullying, for example. I have a friend in another department who has told me that on multiple occasions, her superior has required her to stay late for work without compensation, since it is “for a grade”. She feels such pressure to do whatever she is told for fear that her grade will be affected or her supervisor will spread rumors about how she is “a bad student”, or “lazy”. Until I had the words for it, I just considered this to be weird behavior from another department that left a bad taste in my mouth- however after learning about academic bullying, I had a conversation with her about what her rights as a student and as a student employee were. I feel like this should be outlined clearly not only to students (we discussed it a bit in GTA training), but also to faculty! Some may feel like that’s just the way it is, because that’s how their own experience was. However, students should NEVER be made to feel that they have to do something they are uncomfortable with for fear of being reprimanded academically or gossiped about by superiors. Faculty needs to promote ethical behavior, scholarly integrity, and professional standards by educating themselves, educating their students, and upholding those standards even when it’s difficult or easier to look the other way.

(Found on the VT website) 

When I visited the ORI website (which I’m embarrassed to admit was my first time!), I was intrigued to find some updates on an educational project they launched in 2017. In addition to the various written cases of academic misconduct, they have developed Video Case Studies that give the viewer a more personal experience in the world of research integrity. I found this so interesting because in the Academic Integrity class, one of our most recent assignments included an interactive case study in which you could actually choose the next action to take and watch the resulting fallout. For example, I decided to play the “game” as the ORI officer at the fictional university, and was surprised when a decision I made about halfway through the game led to a huge roadblock! It really helped me see how important the ORI officer’s job is, as well as educating myself on proper policies and smart ways to talk about suspicions of research misconduct. All in all, I think this is a great resource that the ORI website provides, and I feel it would be really helpful in future trainings.

“That’s Not My Job. . . Is It?”

Additional Blog Post #2

I found this week’s reading extremely interesting as I had never before heard to term academic freedom. I initially thought it means the ability to study whatever we wanted, but the reading from the AAUP website defined academic freedom as “the indispensable requisite for unfettered teaching and research in institutions of higher education.” (Protecting Academic Freedom, retrieved Feb 26, 2017 from https://www.aaup.org/our-work/protecting-academic-freedom). I appreciated how they emphasized the quality of work and the ability to have equal access. I have seen before how certain professors put their interests above individuals, or put the university’s reputation over giving their students high quality classes. I think that the ferocious need for tenure can really hold instructors back by making that the priority, and actually teaching students a secondary goal. After all, why call yourself a teacher if you don’t even care about teaching?

One of the readings that I found most interesting was that of trigger warnings. I agree with the assessment that they can sometimes be counterproductive to the classroom. While I understand the need in certain situations, if we consider everything to be a trigger, how can we be challenged by differing viewpoints and grow as individuals and academics? I think that faculty need to take their own personal opinions into consideration and try to create a space that is free of blatant bias one way or another, and help foster creativity, academic expression, and still keep necessary safe spaces for at-risk students without “babying” them. As faculty, I think our job is to help students learn, and if we are cutting off information because it could be considered inflammatory, we are hindering that process.

Take into consideration past implications of the word “queer”. Twenty years ago, that would be considered a derogatory term and would likely be something “triggering”. However, it is integral to the LGBTQ+ community to understand the history of the word, as well as how the community effectively took the word back, and took ownership of something perviously considered offensive. Rather than being triggered, we as a community challenged the current state of the word, learned about the circumstances, and used our abilities to change the societal meanings. I think that this can be applied in future circumstances to address certain triggers- this is not to say that an individual with PTSD doesn’t deserve a heads up before we show a screening of Saving Private Ryan, however I think that open discussions about tough topics will help students enter an uncomfortable space where they are challenged.

I have only been a GTA for a semester and a half, yet I have already had about five students that consistently came to my office hours to discuss academic concerns as well as personal ones. While I tried my best to always direct them to the proper resource (Cook Counseling, for example), I think that there is a certain duty to GTA’s to recognize our own limits. So how can we, as professionals in higher education, truly build a strong community, mentor students, and still maintain a sense of individual growth? I’m glad you asked! In addition to traditional safe spaces, I think we as faculty we should be encouraging safe “challenge zones” where students can consider new perspectives, learn about studies in other fields, and expand their current worldview.

Week 7: Citation Methods

I found the reading about the primate photograph extremely interesting. Copyright issues are not something I consider myself very familiar with, so I have to admit I was a bit shocked to learn that PETA had filed a motion to consider the photograph property of a monkey. As somebody who studies communication, I am interested in the implications of this case as the photo would not have happened without the photographer setting up the camera in the first place! In my own field of work, I doubt this is something I would have to deal with as much as citation issues.

For example, as a GTA I oversee about 150 speeches a semester. In most of these, students are responsible for creating citations in either APA or MLA format. As a communication scholar, APA is the format that I am most comfortable with, so I had to teach myself a bit about MLA in order to be able to grade my own students! In that way, I found citation software and manuals very helpful as I learned about proper formatting.

However, the flip side of the coin is that my students heavily rely on citation software (often Citation Machine or Purdue OWL), without taking into consideration that sometimes it comes out incorrect! I have recommended the VT writing center to students in the past, but I don’t know how many have actually visited. I think it is important to talk with students about the implications of relying on software to do citations without double checking the work- after all, is the convenience really worth potential plagiarism? I’d think not!