Category Archives: Diversity and Inclusion

Final Thoughts

I think my two biggest takeaways from this course were our discussions on inclusion/diversity and a better understanding as far as what intersectionality is. I think having an understanding of these things allows you to constantly check your privilege, and be cognizant in applying best practices. Being a white male, I am for the most part ignorant on how it feels to be oppressed and excluded, for this reason, I really liked having classroom discussions about these topics where I could expand my knowledge based on the readings and other experiences/input. I understand that these conversations can be difficult but I think they are imperative. I think it really helped me in my understanding and learning about the subject matter at hand. While I don’t think I intentionally exclude or offend others I might actually have just because I was not aware of different types of inequity. I think this class helped me identify some of these groups I was missing and how I can approach things with a better attitude/strategy to make all feel included.  Case in point just because something is equal does not mean it is equitable.  Moving forward I will try my very best to make my classroom a safe space where we can share thoughts, ideas and refer to individuals in the context they would most appreciate.

 

I really liked the DEI workshop we did at the end of the class. I think it is a really good way to examine a specific topic related to you in the context of the course. I got really interested in looking at how we as educators can do a better job being more inclusive to people with disabilities. This workshop is something I would absolutely share with my colleagues. I really appreciate the activites people gave, I think they are a good tool to help educate others about some of the systemic problems we face today.

 

Overall I really enjoyed taking this course and I appreciate all the new tools it added to my tool kit. I do think this course or a course like it should be compulsory.  College is the time and place to be exposed to these unique ideas where we do challenge the social norms and the status quo.

US Edu Inequality

In this weeks blog post I wanted to look at the lack of diversity we have in the STEM fields. After reading a few articles on the people color obtaining doctoral degrees I learned a couple disturbing facts I thought I might share (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/shortage-non-white-professors-self-perpetuating-problem):

  • 3 percent of doctoral degrees awarded in education represent blacks, however in comparison 3.5 percent of doctoral degrees in the physical sciences are awarded to black people.
  • 2 percent of doctoral degrees awarded in humanities represent Hispanic and Latinos, however in comparison 5.4 percent of doctoral degrees in the physical sciences are awarded to Hispanics and Latinos.
  • In 2014 MIT added 539 instructional staff members bout of which only 7 were black and 16 were Latino or Hispanic.

When I see these numbers it really drives home to me that this is a systemic issue when it comes to our K-12 educational system. I also think that hiring more people of color into the STEM field is not going to have a large net change in terms of the number of new student it generates into the STEM fields. It might help with retention and graduation of more diverse students, but the root issue needs to be solved. That being said I don’t think we shouldn’t hire more people of color in the STEM field, I completely agree we should. The more pressing issue in my mind is the fact the game is rigged from the start. Depending on where you are born is really going to dictate the quality of the public education you are going to receive in this country. Some schools have limited resources while others do not. The fact that we have student that have middle school lunch debt tells you how messed up our educational system is. If we can’t afford to pay for kids lunches how do afford to pay teachers a decent wage, and make becoming a teacher a highly sought-after job. This problem of getting the right people on board isn’t one of the only issues, but we also need to allocate resources to get younger people excited about the STEM fields. Unfortunately, new and exciting technology used to excite and invigorate young people costs money.  Where schools in lower middle-class cities/towns are more focused on bring up standardized test scores. Which I understand, but it is sad that people miss out on opportunities because they the schooling system is trying to provide everyone with a good enough education while others in impoverished areas don’t face these challenges. I hate to sound like a socialist but unless we make the playing field fair as far as how much money the government provides per student in a school this will always be a systemic issue.

After this rant I don’t mean to imply that blacks and Hispanics live aren’t receiving good educations but I whole heartedly agree that the education they are receiving is a reflection of the average income they receive. That being said we need to change this mentality of good enough education to that of one of excellence, where we provide the next generation of student with the best number of opportunities. That being said how are you going to pursue something if you never knew it existed, we need to fix this larger systemic issue so the pool of candidates of applying to majors in the stem field increases. Not only that but to help close this wage gap identified in the figure below.

 

intersectionality

I found Kimberlé Crenshaw TED talk titled “The urgency of intersectionality” (https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality/up-next?language=en) extremely moving. I think this was a really good example of bringing attention to the subject matter and how people’s different identities can effect them. It really highlights the fact that different identities can have compounding effects. The only thing I would be curious to know about is the prevalence the media had on the effects of recognition of injustice. Not that I am tying to minimalise the amazing TED talk I just watched, but the reason we know about the black men who were killed by police is because the media focused on it. Which I would think is a function of the number of people in the community that saw this unjustice and rallied around it, again this is my speculation feel free to correct me. I would think that if Kimberlé looked at the  number of instances and where the instances occurred it would give so much more substance to the argument she is trying to make. I know that makes me seem heartless but I think giving this more framing would only help her argument.  The fact that black people are being killed systemically is awful but the fact the are women makes it worse. Not to sound antiquated but I think the fact them men (in generally larger and stronger) are using excessive force on these women is disgusting. All that being said I definitely think that intersectionality is a real problem. As Kimberlé said it is a problem with framing if you don’t see thing though the lenses of compounding identities you would just look at these issues separately. I honestly think the best way to eradicate this problem of intersectionality is eduction/informing the public about what happens to the marginalized of our society. Honestly, I never would have though about this issue if I did not attend this class. Here are some ways I plan on applying intersectionality in my future work:

  • I hope in the future I/we(as a society) can get our departments to take part in a diversity course like this one. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  • When interacting with people I will make a conscious effort to understand where they are coming from. More or less approach try and approach as an unbiased outsider.
  • I would be curious if we could come up with a way to remove gender/race from the hiring process (at least up until the interviews). Maybe this could be applied to homework and tests in a class. I remember from a conversation in the Future Professoriate Class I took here at Tech about one of the other female classmates telling us how she only used to put her first initial on homework due to concerns on unfair grading. I never would have imagined of doing something like this, and the fact someone does have to think about this kind of thing is unacceptable.
  • I’m not sure how applicable or how I would work this into an engineering curriculum (suggestions are welcome) but try and expose my students to intersectionality. Here maybe we make a systemic change where we require a course about diversity here at Tech. Again here you, for the most part, only know about your own experiences and not that of others. If we don’t expose ourselves to different ideas/perspectives we will never understand a different set of ideals.

I am excited to read what other people have suggested as ways to incorporate intersectional into our lives/work. Suggestions and comments are more than welcome! I look forward to speaking with everyone about this on Tuesday!

–Sam

Can Diversity Be Quantified ?

As per the prompt, I am taking a broad interpretation of the word field here. In the sense that I am going to discuss college admissions, where I am rationalizing this with the fact that in the future I wish to work as a professor. As some of you may or may not know there is an advocacy group called the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) which has brought a case against Harvard University, which has made its way to the Massachusetts Federal Court system. The SFFA is claiming that Harvard’s admission process is unfairly weighing race as a metric to obtain entrance into the university. The SFFA is claiming because Harvard only admits a certain “quota” of Asian-American students, that the Asian-American students they do let in have to achieve higher test scores in comparison to that of White, Hispanic, and Non-Hispanic Black applicants. The SFFA believes that a metric like economic status, in lieu of race would also produce a similar amount of diversity as the current admissions screening. All that being said, judge Allison Burroughs ruled today that while Harvard’s admissions process is “not perfect,” she would not “dismantle a very fine admissions program that passes constitutional muster, solely because it could do better.” (Biskupic 2019).

Later on in the article, Harvard’s acceptance data based on race was published, however racial information based on US’s population was not. As an engineer I need numbers to compare against. I went out to the internet and pulled this data from David Erickson and compared that to Harvard’s acceptance numbers (2014). The results of this can be seen below:

 

Based on the numbers Asian-American have almost a 5 times larger presence than their representation in the US population. With white people and Hispanics making up for this loss. I bring this up not because I think that we need to reduce the Asian acceptance rate but rather bring up the question of what is a diverse campus? Where do we draw the line at what is diverse? Do we need to look at diversity as a national thing or a global issue? If it is national, immigration policy is going to vastly dictate what future diversity looks like. Do we really leave something like that up to politicians? If it was global, then the Asians a most likely vastly underrepresented in the numbers above. The thing I am getting at is how and where do we draw that line? I look forward to talking about this next week!

 

References:

Biskupic, J. (2019). “Federal Judge Upholds Harvard’s Admissions Process in Affirmative Action Case.” CNN.

Erickson, D. (2014). “US Population Estimates By Race/Ethnicity.” e-sSrategy Trends, <http://trends.e-strategyblog.com/2014/03/28/us-population-estimates-by-race-ethnicity-1990-2019/18040>.

Box It Up

I really had to think for a long time about how stereotypical threat has impacted my life, and I realize as a white man this type of threat is either so small I don’t notice it or I really don’t find it offensive. That being said white men are probably more screwed up than everyone else, but I really had to rack my brain for a time where a stereotype was applied to me. So the story I am about to tell is a real first world, white, male privilege story, and writing/thinking about this made me realize how lucky I am. I could think of two times where stereotypes really had an effect on my life. The first was being directly related to me and in the second case someone was assuming that I held the same (racist) stereotypical beliefs as they did.

To give some context to this first story, from when I was born to my freshman year of high school I grew up on the east coast. Then for high school and college, I lived in Texas and Oklahoma. I had a really big friend base back east and for the most part identified as an east coaster. I never really cared much for southern culture, and I will admit that I generally associate people from the south as being backward thinking and most likely somewhere on the racism spectrum (the irony is coming). On a few occasions in the south I was called a “Yankee” or some other names along those lines but I felt that was more like a badge of honor. It didn’t bother me in the slightest, however when the roles are reversed that’s a different story.  All that being said I would occasionally take a vacation back east to see my friends and hang out with my family. I was out one-night getting drinks with friends and friends of friends when I started talking with this girl. We were just making casual conversation about what we did, etc.  As soon as I told her I was doing a Masters in Oklahoma here entire attitude change.  It was apparent this Ivy-educated New Yorker had just put me into the box of less intelligent/racist or some combination of this.  She asked me “how could you live in a place like that”.  I just responded that it was a financial decision and that It was a great school. Shortly after our conversation ended.  All that being said I don’t think anything but an ivy league education and a wealthy family would have appeased this girl. It’s funny, I know many people from a similar background and are friends with them.  Just this interaction really made me realize that our preconceived notions about where people are from can be so far from the truth.  It’s a wild idea that depending on if you are born above or below the Mason-Dixon line people are going to assume you are a racist or not.  This whole interaction made me realize how contrasting our country is even after 150 years after slavery was abolished.  It also made me rethink the stereotype I held as partly true.  I think the funny thing about the whole ordeal and this is true of every type of stereotype/ racism is generally the people we have biases about are people we have never met or had any interaction with.

All that being said everyone makes an initial judgment based on people’s appearance, however, next time don’t try to put someone in a box so quickly.  Listen to what they have to say and how they act before you make a judgment about them.

Intro Post for 5214

Hey all, my name is Sam Sherry, I go by he/him/his pronouns. I am a third-year Structural Engineering  Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech. I work as a graduate research assistant in a large structural testing laboratory where my project is focused on improving aging infrastructure with carbon fiber retrofits. At the lab, we test retired steel bridge beams to failure.  Before I was at tech I did my B.S. and M.S. at the University of Oklahoma.  Before that I moved all over the place: PA>NJ>TX>OK>DE>VA.  My parents switched jobs and I moved for school. I love that Dr. Grimes brought up the phrase “where do you call home” because whenever people ask me where I am from I always respond with “I don’t know”. After I finish my Ph.D. I hope to get an academic job at a university where I can continue doing research. I love doing large scale testing and coming up with solutions to modern problems. When I am not working I am typically running, climbing, hiking, or working out.  I love visiting national and state parks. My climbing trips have taken me all over the country and I have seen some beautiful places and wrestled some beautiful rocks.

I am taking this course and the other teaching classes because I hope to better understand others and challenge my perspective.  I would never want to exclude any of my students or make them feel uncomfortable. I think interacting on a college campus is a great way to get exposed to a multitude of people and ideas but I think taking a class like this one is a jump into the deep end of uncomfortable conversations/ideas. I am excited to interact with the class and challenge some of my misconceptions. I hope we all have a great semester.