Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Conversations in Equity and Excellence: Sex, chromosomes, and Success

Joan Bennett, a fungal geneticist at Rutgers University, delivered Friday’s “Conversations in Equity and Excellence” lecture on “Sex, chromosomes, and Success” at Syracuse University.  She began with a simple reminder that “girls and boys are usually distinguishable from one another at birth.”  But many differences from that point are socially or culturally imposed, including dress (little bows and earrings on infant girls), dueling in Germany (until banned by Hitler), foot binding in China, Thailand’s brass neck rings, and corsets (and the damage they caused to internal organs) in western countries. Current trends in plastic surgery are a modern version of this. 
Fig. 1.  Percentage of Women on Physics Faculty by Country. 
“Biology matters!  But so does culture” she continues.  Women’s roles in society have been largely defined by biology, and in their relationships to men.  Even outside of family, there have historically been few opportunities for work:  prostitute, wet nurse, maid, and nun.  Midwifery was noted as the most respected position, but with limited opening.  In the sciences, women found places in agriculture, textiles and pottery.  Things began to change with the industrial revolustion when physical strength became less important, and when Queen Victoria and Empress Cixi held positions of power.  Educating women became more common, although not universal.  In WWII, women were called upon to “do the work that he left behind”  And the single most important factor that improved choices for women:  birth control.  “Its hard to have an intellectual life when everytime you have sex you risk getting pregnant.”  She notes that most methods were not common, or legal into the 1960s.  Among her own cohort, friends dropped out of college when they became pregnant and married.  Through this time, the fields open to women were nursing, teaching and library science.  Most other tracts were, and still remain, male dominated.  Women’s Colleges became havens.  And through the second wave feminism of the 60s and 70s, many women “stayed at home, but planted seeds in their daughters.”

"Now, women dominate undergraduate programs, but they remain stubbornly underrepresented in STEM fields."  She displayed a chart showing the % of women comprising Physics Faculty ca 2005, and dismisses the notion that women’s genetic composition varies that markedly between geographically close countries, confiding that culture must have something to do with it as well.  

In terms of success, Bennett introduces bias and gender schemas with a quote by Sally Kempton,  “It's hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”   She referenced the1970s study which demonstrated that far more women are offered orchestral seats when those auditioning are screened from those ranking them, and the 2012 PNAS articled that revealed that science faculty still harbor subtle biases that rate John higher than Jennifer, offer him a higher salary and more mentoring, despite identical (save first name) of the fictional applicants.   

The current hurdle that women must face is that in ‘traditional’ homes, each two adult household had a wage earner, and someone to take care of everything else:  2 people, 2 jobs.  But dual career couples also require someone for the unpaid work.  It doesn’t make sense to “just train men to take up more at home” because it’s a lot more work for both partners.

Figure 2.  Equitable expectations?  

Bennett also points to the cumulative disadvantage of micro-inequities outlined by Virginia Valian’s integration of psychology, sociology, economics, and neuropsychology in Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women (MIT Press, 1998).

What can we do?  “Organize!  Be aware!  And provide visibility to women who have achieved” by nominating for awards and other distinctions (http://raiseproject.org ), and writing Wikipedia entries. Mentor. 

Use Humor.  For instance, 2001 Sexist Geek Alive Ellen Spertus joked about her lack of sports prowess (but participation nonetheless), and donned a bodice built from circuit boards and holstered a slide rule on her thigh.  Her talent?   Teaching the audience to count in binary on fingers. 
Figure 3.  http://xkcd.com/385/

 “If Humor doesn’t work, try glamour” pointing to Danica McKellar’s popular press math books http://www.mathdoesntsuck.com .

Be aware of embedded media messages like “Saucy Feminist that Even Men Like.” (Time magazine cover, May 7, 1971, featuring Germaine Greer), or Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 feature in The Atlantic WhyWomen Still Can’t Have It All”  .  “Why doesn’t anyone ask this about men?  If you can’t substitute [the word] men for women, there is an embedded message” says Bennett. 

Do good science.  And celebrate the positive societal forces, rather than dwelling on the negative ones. 

When the talk turned to Q&A, SU Advance director Marie Garland inquired about what policies have helped Rutgers faculties deal with the “3rd job”?  “Rutgers has wonderful tenure extension polices, but it hasn’t been good about child care.”  They do finally have limited on-campus infant care options. “ It isn’t the institutions place to dictate how families handle their situations,” but she reminds us that “it’s OK to hire someone else to clean, and perhaps pay the woman, as it most certainly will be a woman, more than she’d receive at McDonalds and pay her social security [contribution].”  The final question “Are women and minorities still overburdened [and under credited] with committee work?”  Yes.  She praised Stanford’s time banking system for rewarding extra teaching and committee service, and it's intent  to help faculty find both work-life and work-work balance (http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2013/school-medicine-initiative-helps-faculty-achieve-balance).  Credit can be exchanged for other things such as clerical assistance or meals to be brought home for their families.  “Quite a few men are taking advantage of the meal service.”   (Note:  the University of Central Oklahoma’s offers a more limited scope “Merit-Credit” system  http://www.uco.edu/academic-affairs/faculty-staff/merit-credit.asp that rewards teaching, scholarly/creative activity, or service with support toward it.)

For more about SU ADVANCE, please visit:  http://suadvance.syr.edu

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

ESF opens Nursing Mother's Room, 313 Baker Lab

On July 23, 2013, ESF designated Room 313 Baker Hall as a dedicated room for nursing mothers. After some minor adjustments, the room now has a chair, outlet and occupancy sign, and is only lockable from the interior, meeting NYS Department of Labor requirements for such a room--once they bring in a table. Although this room (after a few modifications) will meet requirements for employers to provide a private place to express milk for infants for their first 3 years, Tim Blehar, Department of Human Resources, assures us that any mom, including visitors and full- and part-time students, is welcome to use it for nursing or pumping.  No one will check the child's birthdate, and no reservations are necessary--just let yourself in, slide the occupancy sign to 'occupied', lock from the interior, and reverse steps when you are done.  Users must provide their own pumps and bring their expressed milk with them in their own cooler or to a food-safe refrigerator.

The administration has pledged to either upgrade the plumbing to a more functional sink and counter and the lock so that it meets ADA requirements, and/or to find an alternate location on campus that has those capacities, and is more centrally located.  They also liked the idea of putting up a bulletin board for moms to share information.  Please contact the Human Resources office at 470-6611 if you notice that this room requires maintenance, or if you have any questions.

On a related note, there is a changing table located in the newly completed family restroom in the basement of the Gateway Building.

UPDATE:  Administration was unable to locate a better space, so have been repairing walls and readying to replace the floor basin with a counter height sink and cabinet. UPDATE 1/6/14:  Renovations seem complete! Counter and sink are functional, there is a second, more easily accessible outlet, a facade now covers the previously exposed pipes.  They have even added a mirror, which both adds brightness and helps Moms check that all their buttons are lined up before heading back out (boy, that would have been handy for me!)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Revitalizing Baltimore: A better city through environmental discovery

As part of the course requirements for FOR496/797, students share responsibility for reporting on the WiSE Professions Speaker Series.  The following was prepared by Olga Shevtsova

Jackie Carrera, president and CEO of Parks & People Foundation in Baltimore, concluded ESF’s 2013 Women in Scientific and Environmental (WiSE) Professions Series with Revitalizing Baltimore: A better city through environmental discovery on Tuesday, April 23. The seminar was jointly sponsored by the Graduate Student Association and the ESF Women's Caucus.

Parks & People began with the idea that there is one park, a city within a park, that is, rather than many parks within a city as the greenspace and corridors provide a network for a healthy community.  Ms Carrera discussed problems in the city of Baltimore, including significant property abandonment as a result of suburban sprawl, lack of opportunities for young people, stream erosion and non-point source pollution, uncoordinated approaches to natural resource management. These examples demonstrated the urgent necessity of the Urban Resources Initiative which works towards sustainability through applied ecosystem management principles. This working group learned that “Urban greening programs influenced the health of the city—they bring people together in a way they are not used to working together.  This increases their social capital, enabling them to take on bigger community issues like schools and crime.  They also have an economic benefit by increasing property values.” 

Carrera also focused on the power of partnership between governments at all levels, nonprofits, academia, businesses, and communities. Defining the most important steps of planning process through discussion of how to meet the goals and how they’ve changed is a key to achieve urban ecological restoration. The Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) has enhanced increased public support of scientific research. Parks & People Foundation affords opportunities for BES scientists to communicate their knowledge for practical application in community organizing and public policy. Initiating different workshops, annual meetings, trainings and science presentations all contributed to the project’s success.  It is imperative that on the ground management strategies use sound scientific approaches; and that science research is informed by practical needs. The process “is established, then fixed, then tweaked, in an iterative way” to assure that everyone at each level are at the same table.  

Watershed 263 is a classic example. "The city had an unfunded mandate to clean up pollutants flowing into the city.   This watershed featured lots of impervious surfaces, a lot of city owned land, and significant but dispersed open space. What, they wondered, would happen if they could reduce the asphalt?  The removal of back parking lot of Franklin Square Elementary School, coupled with other projects increased the area available for infiltration."

Good Science is the key, and a technology committee capable of communicating science with practitioners, is the tipping point.

About Jackie Carrera
Jackie Carrera has been instrumental in the development of a 15-mile urban greenway, community forestry and watershed restoration programs numerous youth sports and camp programs which continue to be integral to the revitalization efforts of some of that city’s most underserved communities. She also chaired Revitalizing Baltimore, a US Forest Service urban and community forestry project and is a co-principal investigator for the Baltimore EcosystemStudy, a National Science Foundation-funded, long term ecological research project.  Ms. Carrera represented the Chesapeake region in preparing for the Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative and the Urban Waters Initiative.  She served on a national task force initiated by the US Forest Service, Vibrant Cities and Urban Forests: A National Call for to Action. Ms. Carrera was voted one of the Daily Record’s Maryland’s Top 100 Women and 100 Most Influential Marylanders by The Maryland Daily Record and was named the 2008 University of Baltimore Distinguished Social Entrepreneur. Ms. Carrera is a graduate of the Greater Baltimore Committee Leadership Program and the Weinberg Fellows Program. She earned a BA, Business Administration degree in Finance from Loyola College in Maryland.

For more information about the WiSE Professions Series, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus/speakers.htm

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Girl Rising

Have you seen Girl Rising yet? 

When we scheduled our campus screening with the Baobab Society, we tried to place it in March as a Women's History Month/belated International Women's Day event.  But as we prepare for Passover, I realized that the timing also has relevance for this holiday, at least for me.  You see, my mother struggled to find a family Haggadah (the book read during the seder) that told the ancient tale, but still felt relevant to her. She found one she liked well enough for our immediate family and the friends that joined us each year (our extended family is very widely scattered), largely because it used everyday English, but also because the language was a little less gendered than the version used at her childhood table.  But it still didn't quite let the gathered envision themselves in the story--which is a goal of each telling.  So, I now have Mom's collection, plus a variety of other haggadot that each have something that I like, but none I'd recommend in its entirety. 

I am now one of the friends at another family's table. They worked around their similar dissatisfaction with commercially available Haggadot by writing their own.  They used the biblical story as its basis, but  contemporizes its telling by interspersing a few jokes (Why do we call it matzah?  Well, it has little holes like matzah.), and stories of current day social justice issues--subjugation of others by virtue of ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, even dietary preferences (they have vegan, vegetarian, and carnivorous options at their table--all kosher l'Pesach).  This reminds the gathered that despite the dissolution of slavery in Exodus, and even later in the US, human trafficking still flourishes in parts of the country.  In many countries,  girls marry far too young as her virtue and fertility are bartered for her family's financial security. Rape might be perceived as a rite of passage or punishment for being in a man's world. And those that speak out against these or other practices have been subject to punishment.

Tonight, we will sing the traditional verses of Dayenu ("It would have been enough") which gives thanks for each level of assistance provided from slavery to the promised land, each of which "would have been enough" and will read new verses that bring us from that moment into our time.  We will belt out songs from the '60s peace movement, Debbie Freidman's Miriam's Song, and Tracy Chapman's Why, accompanied by tambourines and other instruments that decorate the table, enjoying food that celebrates both Ashkenazim and Mizrahi  traditions.  And when we do, I'll  think of Wadley, Senna, Yasmin and the others--and the choices that they don't yet have.  And I will once again thank this family for making history live for my child (and for my husband and I), and reenforcing the aspects of his heritage that address inclusion, righting wrongs, and building community. 

If you missed the ESF screening, please book seats at http://gathr.us/screening/2445 for Wed. April 10, 7:30 pm, Regal 17 Cinemas at Destiny.  Tickets ($10 ea) must be reserved  -- cards are not charged until a sufficient number of tickets are reserved, and if they don't reach that goal within the allotted time, showings are cancelled. As of this moment, they still need about 20 reservations.  This has been the fate of other regional showings--I hope this means that our local community is just not yet not familiar with this ticketing mechanism rather than disinterest in the subject.

The SU Chapter of She's the First, a not-for-profit that "sponsors girls’ education in the developing world, helping them be the first in their families to graduate"  will host SU's campus screening on Wed April 3 at 7:30 pm in NewHouse 3 Rm 141.  Other events scheduled for "She's the First{Syracuse} Week" include:
Mo Apr 1 Insomnia Cookie Fundraising --10% of all proceeds will go to STF
            Bake Sale 10-4, Schine
            Yoga Night, 7:30 pm, Archibold Gym, 1st Fl
Tu Apr 2 Conversation with Christen Brandt, STF's Director of International Operations and SU Newhouse alumna, The Herg, NH3
We Apr 3 Bake Sale, 10-4, Schine Center and Girl Rising, 7:30 pm in NewHouse 3 Rm 141
Th Apr 4 Girls+Education= Magho (Daughter) http://shesthefirst.org/magho/ & forum on girls' education,  7 pm, HL 107.
Fr Apr 5 Bake Sale 10-4 Schine, Late Night Ice Skating, 9pm-12am, Tennity
Sa Apr 6, Dodgeball for Education, 1:30 pm, Women's Bldg Gym A, $1 spectator fee

PIH is also trying to schedule a showing at Shoppingtown on May 9, 7:30 pm.  These seats are reservable at http://gathr.us/screening/2124

About Girl Rising: This feature film shares the stories of 9 individual girls--"transformed for the screen by an acclaimed writer from her native country: Marie Arana from Peru, Edwidge Danticat from Haiti, Mona Eltahawy from Egypt, Aminatta Forna from Sierra Leone, Zarghuna Kargar from Afghanistan, Maaza Mengiste from Ethiopia, Sooni Taraporevala from India, Manjushree Thapa from Nepal, and Loung Ung from Cambodia. Priyanka Chopra, Selena Gomez, Anne Hathaway, Alicia Keys, Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and other celebrated actresses contribute voice performances to the film, which features original music from Academy Award winner Rachel Portman, in collaboration with Hans Zimmer."
The film is rated PG-13 because it deals with some of the elements of the serious issues that the girls have faced in their lives (e.g., sexual violence, AIDS, and homelessness). However, nothing graphic or explicit is shown (no nudity, swearing, or violence).  Parents should take into account the maturity of their children as some subject matter may just go over their heads. A rough cut of the film was assessed as appropriate for 6th grade and up.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Famed primatologist speaks at ESF

Dr. Patricia Wright
As part of the course requirements for FOR496, students share responsibility for reporting on the WiSE Professions Speaker Series.  The following was prepared by Rose Petersky.

In 1986, Dr. Patricia Wright was looking for the Greater Bamboo Lemur, a species that had been thought to be extinct, in Madagascar, the only area of the world where lemurs are naturally found. Weary? from her extended travel, she decided to stop at a local hotel.   Behind the hotel was a forest.  Within that forest, Dr. Wright not only found the lemur that she sought, but also a new species-- the Golden Bamboo Lemur.   Despite the ecological significance of these finds, she knew that the forest would not be around for much longer without protection. She visited the Madagascar Department of Water and Forests to try to persuade them to make the forest a preserve. Their response was that they would be happy to comply, if they were given the necessary funding. Wright recalled to the audience of about 80 in ESF’s Illick Hall that she “walked out of that office thinking, ‘oh dear’ and then [she] became a conservationist.” Seven years later, Ramonafana National Park was founded.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

Golden Bamboo Lemur
Lemurs are the most threatened mammal in the world. Ninety-one percent of lemur species are on the RED list of endangered and threatened species. They are threatened by deforestation, slash and burn agriculture, erosion, and mining. Since humans arrived in Madagascar 1,500 years ago, 90 percent of Madagascar’s forests have been destroyed. Thanks to Dr. Wright, there are 41,600 hectares of tropical forest where 12 species of lemur are protected. In addition to providing this essential habitat, Ramonafana National Park also supports 100 scientific researchers annually and employs 85 full-time staff.

Dr. Wright states with confidence that Ramonafana would not be possible without the support of the local people that cooperated with her from the very beginning. One half of the admission fees from the park go to local villages for municipal projects.   Ramonafana also participates in outreach programs around Madagascar such as hosting a radio station in the park’s recording studio, and an education program that reaches 32 schools and more than 11,000 Malagasy children. In addition,, Ramonafana’s heath team has constructed 230 latrines and installed 30 water pumps in the local area, and provides disaster relief for 3,000 people.   

About Dr. Wright
Considered to be one of the world’s foremost expert on lemurs, Patricia Wright is best known for her 26-year study of social and family interactions of wild lemurs in Ranomafana National Park, Madagascar, and for leading the effort to establish this park.   For this work, she holds, among other honors, the prestigious National Medal of Honor of Madagascar.  She is the founder of the Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE) and Centre ValBio (CVB), and a Professor in the Department of Anthropology, all at Stony Brook University.  Wright has worked extensively on conservation. In the late 1980s she spearheaded an integrated conservation and development project that, in 1991, led to the establishment of Ranomafana National Park.  Wright has received many honors for her conservation work in Madagascar, including the prestigious "Chevalier d’ Ordre National” National Medal of Honor of Madagascar, from the President of Madagascar in 1995. 

About the series
Dr. Wright’s lectureLemur Conservation in Madacasgar:  Updates from Ranomafana National Park   on February 21, 2013 was a joint presentation of the Women in Scientific and Environmental (WiSE) Professions and the Adaptive Peaks Speaker Series.  It was sponsored by the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, ESF Women's Caucus and the Graduate Student Association   For more information about the WiSE Professions Series, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus .

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Free to be ... in combat?!

"Free to Be...You and Me" just turned 40!   I loved the songs and stories as a child, and I was thrilled to hear Darius Rucker cover football hero Rosey Grier's "Its all right to cry"  on a For the Kids CD.  I remember the messages delivered by older kids as they performed the skits during an assembly in the gymatorium.  But I struggled to recall a melody for my then preschool son--who, like William, has a doll.  Unlike little William, who was mocked for his choice, our community supported my child's decision to bring his baby into restaurants and to religious services.  Many applauded his effort to not only care for her, but to include her in activities.   Until he stood up to join the other children in dance and adjusted Karen on his hip, many had not realized that the small, fair-trade scarf was not a blanket, but was converted into a sling, very similar to the one I'd used to carry him and that I still use with his cousin.  Furthermore, no one questioned why such a fair skinned child had such a dark skinned baby.  In the moment that one father offered my child a high five for his future parenting promise, I was overcome with pride and with hope, that when he is a Dad, he has the choice to care for his children as he and his future partner (as all spouses will, indeed, be equal partners) deem best for their family, and they are not hamstrung by societal gender or racial stereotypes.   And that worldwide, there will be no need for programs like Girl Rising to bring attention to the necessity of bringing girls into education to break their cycle of poverty.

I hope some of those stereotypes really are relegated to history, where they should remain as lessons.  My son's current teacher, in preparation for Martin Luther King Day, shared that "It really is gratifying to have to explain the laws he worked to change--our [kids] have absolutely no idea why anyone would ever judge a person by the color of their skin (or hair, or eyes..)."  What a wonderful birthday present for Dr. King!

In related (to gender stereotypes) news, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will announce today and notify Congress that the U.S. military is ending its policy of excluding women from combat with the goal of opening up as many jobs as possible to female troops.  Branches will be examining physical standards and gender-neutral accommodations within combat units over the next few years, and will report their progress quarterly. From an equity standpoint, its about damn time.  However, I'm  wary that  "If, after the assessment, a branch finds that a specific job or unit should not be open, they can go back to the secretary and ask for an exemption to the policy, to designate the job or unit as closed."   This concerns me, somewhat because of its CYA, and don't worry your pretty little head implications, but primarily because if there really are positions that are so dangerous or difficult that not one woman is capable of even attempting to compete to fill it, than how screwed up is our world that there is a need for such a position, for anyone, for any length of time?!