2016 #DiversityJC – Emily’s Year End Review

social-justice

It’s the end of 2016 and it’s been a year of change in all sorts of ways (for hopefully good, but also almost certainly for the worse in many ways too, especially on the diversity/inclusion front as at least the US became demonstrably less friendly following our 2017 election). 

In these first 2017 posts, Ian, Emily, and the good Doctor give our thoughts about this past year of DiversityJC and some ideas for the future. Ian’s post is here.

Remember you can subscribe to the DiversityJC Newsletter to keep up with all our discussions and posts.

 

I avoided writing my DiversityJC year-end review for weeks. Sure, I was busy with work, and then with family and friends and the holidays. But… I also didn’t really know what to write. 

Revisiting anything in 2016 seems… completely overshadowed by the US election. The incoming president. His cabinet picks.


I was derailed by this election. Absolutely and completely. I didn’t do any work for days – weeks even. And I know that’s one of my own forms of privilege – the ability to press pause while I grieved and clicked on links and read posts and tried to make sense of what happened, what to do next. And wept.

While I’ve been back to work (clearly), I’ve still been struggling to come back to social media. Aside from the easy, escapist space of Instagram, my online presence since November has comes in strange fits and starts.  Engaging seemed at once inconsequential, given what has happened (and will happen), and all-encompassing – I have been absent for days to weeks from Twitter, but posted long-winded statements and questions on Facebook, laying aside research to obsessively follow and respond to the conversation that resulted.


Eventually, I found myself in this place where I was completely torn. On the one hand, I feel like I am not doing enough to prepare and to fight what is happening, what is going to happen – on the other, starkly aware of the risks to my own research should I take any more time away.

I was desperate for some time, some space to regain my balance. To see clearly my way forward. More days were lost as I spun my wheels.


Over the holidays, I was finally able to carve out a little of that time, that space. Not much, but some. I also relied on the voices of those more eloquent than myself:

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: “Re-framing Ocean Conservation in this Post-Election Era”
Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman: “Why I am Committed to Fighting Oppression in Academia”


I also finally sat down to review the topics our Diversity Journal Club has addressed in 2016 – which was strangely challenging. I am so focused on what’s next, on 2017 – and, as I mentioned, it’s been really tough for me to look back at … Before. It already feels like another era.

But what I realized as I read over our recaps and intros that ruminated on why women leave STEM, whether we can overlook someone’s behavior in light of their achievement, on toxic masculinity and Nobel prizes and how bias and the imposter syndrome are connectedall of these things remain critical. Their importance as examples of why inclusion and diversity matter, how they translate into the science I love so much, the science that loves to believe it is objective and above such social ills – these matter not less but more in the coming months.

We also started out 2016 talking about what “diversity” means. That conversation had me reading some posts that were challenging and eye-opening (for me anyway), and thinking about why diversity matters beyond being the right thing to do. We also discussed what it means to be an ally, and why Orlando is poignant not just for us as people, as citizens, but also as scientists.


These conversations are still a form of activism – a critical one. We must continue to highlight and share the science that shows us how much inclusion matters, and that the scientific community is not above or immune to the societal ills of prejudice and bias. We must continue to talk more broadly about what diversity and inclusion look like, how social justice cannot end at a lab or office or classroom door. We must continue to educate ourselves and each other. If this election proved one thing, it’s that we need to listen more, educate more, engage more.

This is a crucial way forward in this new political climate. Conversations like those we have under #DiversityJC are more important than ever.


In the end, as 2017 rapidly approaches like a freight train, my answer came clearly one night as I lay fretting and awake: I simply resolve to work harder. One thing that becomes more obvious the older I get is that there are indeed no do-overs. We have this time, now. That is it. We don’t other chances. It sounds cliche and trite – but it also seems more true now than it ever has to me before.


My research will get done, but I also turn more attention and more effort to my To Do list – not just in the weeks following November 4th, but from here until we go back in the election booth in 2018, and in 2020. And beyond – bias and discrimination do not end along party lines. I am focused on a job that values and allows for social justice work as an explicit part of the package. I want to do good science – but I want to make science better even more.

Discussions as part of the Diversity Journal Club hold a central place for me to forward my own education, as I push my career in new directions, and, I hope, the education of others. I hope more people share the research and topics we look to cover in the coming months, more join us. I hope to post more here, too – to put this space to good use.


Our work is just beginning.

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)

Albert Einstein: he was an introvert. What about you?

It’s the imposter syndrome… or is it?

I learned one of the most important things from graduate school in my first semester. A senior, tenured, well-respected and highly published faculty member told us something along the following lines:

“You will go through periods where you feel like you know everything, and then you will go through periods where you feel like you know absolutely nothing, and you’re just hoping no one notices. The important thing to remember is that everyone, from graduate student to tenured academic at the top of their field, everyone goes through both of these periods regularly. Prepare for this pattern to happen throughout your career.”

I actually remember what it was like to not really know what she was talking about. As a fresh-faced first year, I had yet to even experience the Imposter Syndrome.  Of course, since then I’ve come back to this message many, many times. It’s been a helpful reminder that the Imposter Syndrome is real, and more importantly, it’s normal.

 

But… what if it’s not just the Imposter Syndrome?

 

I know women who started out their academic careers believing sexism was dead, feminism had won. While, sure, some fields are lagging behind a bit, overall woman are earning well over 50% of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in STEM fields, and are closing the gap on PhDs. The evidence speaks for itself…. right?

In this assumed post-patriarchy, there is no sexism to explain what we experience – we look inward when our confidence is undermined. We tell ourselves it’s the Imposter Syndrome rearing it’s ugly head, that we need to just believe in ourselves and know these feelings are normal…. right?

 

What if they aren’t?

 

For June, the Diversity Journal Club will delve into the Imposter Syndrome and how it intersects with diversity and inclusion. We will be discussing Alexis Hancock’s

How The Rhetoric of Imposter Syndrome Is Used to Gaslight Women in Tech

While this was written for an audience in tech fields, it applies pretty similarly to those in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) more broadly. Do we use the Imposter Syndrome to explain away how microaggressions make us feel, how stereotype threat undermines our confidence? To help us ignore real reasons for our struggles that may not actually be fixed by believing in ourselves, or working harder?

We hope to expand this conversation to explore the difference between individual and systemic problems – or if that assessment is even important. Is it something I personally need to do differently or work at – or is it systemic bias?

 

Please  join us on Twitter under #DiversityJC on Friday 19 August at 2pm Eastern Time for the discussion!

Emily Klein, Ian Street, and Doctor PMS

If it’s outdated, it’s still voiced. Speak up: #DiversityJC recap.

This week in Diversity Journal Club, we had a discussion about the importance of addressing outdated comments and attitudes (like this and this). Both had such strong and negative responses – so did that mean we’ve moved on? That they might not really matter?

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) and Ian (@IHStreet) got us started..

Should we indeed be paying attention to the outdated comments like those of Tim Hunt and Ask Alice? Should we just ignore them, wish they would evolve, or wonder how they didn’t know better? Perhaps we should be able to filter out these wrong opinions, given that it is hard to change, and that they do have deep expertise in some areas (Nobel prize = expertise). But…

Indeed. It can be difficult to filter someone, especially if the comments are not all that blatant. Subtle comments like microaggressions can be hard enough to even identify on their own. When it’s someone you respect and admire, subtle comments can be even more difficult to distinguish and weed out. Moreover, it’s not our responsibility to be someone’s filter – for our own sake or for a larger community, no matter how much you and others respect them. We also discussed this initial idea of it being comments of an “older generation” and if we give them a pass as being from a “different time” (my words). Several took issue with this “older generation” stuff – which is totally correct. Age and generation can mean nothing in these cases, and age is relative. We shouldn’t use age as a blanket clause either, basically. The reason I raised this “older” stuff is because I personally have avoided conversations and used this excuse – I wondered if others had as well, and if there was something to the “well that’s an outdated opinion, it’s not very important, look at the backlash, clearly we’ve come far from there, from that time.

So perhaps it’s not just me who has used this as an excuse?

So maybe I wasn’t the only one. But it is still an excuse. It also brought up an important point:

 

In the end, we’d more or less agreed age really wasn’t the issue, and learning was a two-way street. We also agreed that, no matter your age, these comments and attitudes do need to be addressed.

Yet these teachable moments can be really challenging.

In addition, as Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS) pointed out, change can be tough and painful – and may not be worth our ATP. It may actually be problematic for us, especially as early career scientists, let alone draining. Ian (@IHStreet) reminded us you can’t be sure who is willing to change or be open to the discussion at the onset. On the other hand, as Ruthie (@ruthiepbirger) pointed out, initiating the conversation can be a good litmus test for how ingrained the attitude is, and how open the person is to further dialogue. But back to the first hand, Benjamin Carr (@BenjaminHCCarr) said some people are actively resistant to change.

And, yeah, as Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti) noted, people in leadership and power positions are often people of privilege. As others agreed, they are also the ones with the most control. Over us, over our careers…

I understand these challenges. I know it’s scary. I still think it’s critical. We have to say something. We can’t allow these comments to go unchallenged even when we don’t have twitter ready to back us up. Why? Because other people beyond you are listening. Because if they say it to you, they have said it to others. Because those others might be students, early career scientists, just getting their bearings. They may think statements like that are ok, or are hurt and demeaned by them. When we fail to speak up, we allow those statements to enforce especially unconscious biases and stereotypes of some, and allow others to have their self-worth undermined.

 

 

In addition, some listening don’t realize these comments, or their larger experiences, are due to bias and stereotypes and are not personal. Without someone speaking up or calling out, these can be internalized.

So how to go about addressing comments? Moreover, SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux) questioned whether correcting someone would really change their mind – which begs the question if you can engage them in further dialogue beyond just the correction. Will they be open to it? Are you be prepared? Perhaps a gentle nudge, as Ian (@IHStreet) suggested, or offering your perspective on the comment, as V. Siva (@DrVidSiva) recommended. Ian (@IHStreet) further noted it’s likely easier if they know you personally, and I agree. I’ve had the most luck with heart-to-heart conversations. In addition, or if you don’t have a personal relationship to draw on, ask people questions, try not to just tell , find out what they think is behind what they’ve said or done. And remember what you learned in elementary school: use “I” statements. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also made a great suggestion:

It can be frustrating, especially as we do end up being the ones careful of our words. As Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd) said, for some reason, people can respond really negatively to something as simple and true as “I’m offended by that“, and Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) reminded us about gaslighting and that we’ll like hear “you’re being too sensitive.” So be prepared. We also talked briefly about the need for a safe space to voice our thoughts – but how this isn’t always available. Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger) and I agreed that we can actually make spaces safer – when we feel comfortable, we should more apt to speak up about diversity, or share our own (like me being out as bi, even though I present as straight) to make spaces safer for others. Wandering Scientist (@wandsci) also noted that they are often taken more seriously when talking about racism, whereas they feel less comfortable talking about sexism. This likely has to do with when you have the privilege in a situation, so take advantage of that. If you don’t feel like you can speak about a subject, like racism if you’re white, simply ask questions about it – what your institution is doing – and raise other voices up to speak. We can also spend a little more time being introspective, and thinking about advice and feedback we get and how we take it. About how the feedback you’d give to would feel (do unto others…). And we should encourage others to do the same…

We still need support in speaking out. We still need a community to back us. It will always be scary, and you never know the impact or backlash that may come of it – there’s a reason we haven’t made as much progress and we should: paradigms are entrenched (that’s why they’re paradigms), old biases die hard. You never know when someone will take offense. We should think carefully about how we address these issues.

I think perhaps a real key is bringing up diversity well before it is a personal issue. Find out if your institution has a diversity statement, and if not why not. Initiate discussions around diversity, unconscious bias, and microaggressions. Talk to leadership about opening up these dialogues, or even bringing in speakers or doing workshops. You certainly don’t need an incident to start this dialogue – look to the increasing body of literature on this as a problem (some here on this blog), or the many, many incidents in the news these days (oh where to start… #BlackLivesMatter, on campus sexual assault..).

Don’t want to start out negative? You don’t need to! There’s also more and more research about how diversity helps us all and why it is critical. You can start talking about diversity as a strength, in terms of so many things from problem solving to attracting new talent. Start there!

No matter your tactic, start before an incident – even if leadership is iffy, I promise you, there is someone, likely many someones, quietly thanking you for your forward thinking. And just imagine the next generation.

Additional links shared by the group included

From Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti): Six Tings You Can Do When People Say Stupid Sexist Shit To You

From Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr): Stories of sexism in science: ‘sorry about all the women in this laboratory’

Thank you to everyone who participated (as usual in no particular order, and please let us know if someone was missed)!

Ruth Hufbauer ‏(@hufbauer)
Ruthie Birger (@ruthiebirger)
SometimesScienceSux (@SmtimScienceSux)
Ben Carr (@BenjaminCarr)
V. Siva (@DrVidSiva
Wandering Scientist (@wandsci)
Luna CM Centifanti (@LunaCentifanti)
Nicole Morgan (@coralnerd)
Cassie (@mosquito_chaser)
Dr. Q (@DrQualls)
Dr. Wrasse (@labroides)

Until next time!

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)
Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)
Ian (@IHStreet)