Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What to say? A toolbox for confronting oppresive language

What do you do when your jaw sort of drops, and you don’t know what to say? Professor of Inclusive Education, Syracuse  University, Mara Sapon-Shevin, shared her thoughts on and strategies for responding to oppressive comments--and gave us a chance to practice using those technique
Each of us has multiple identities, with a race (or more than one), class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity (ethnicicities), language(s), religion(s), abilities/disabilities, etc.  We need to get SMARTER about differences, about oppression, and about what it means to be an ally.

“Color blind” as not noticing differences is an odd construct.  If someone said  “I can’t tell a tree, from shrub, from a…I’m nature blind” we’d feel sorry for them.  Not noticing things that are important to the other party—why isn’t that also the case?
When we (the group) discussed our identities with others here today, we realized that those at different parts of spectrum can feel similar isolation--but also learn more about other points of view that are not relatable from positions of privilege.  We can empathize when identities are difficult to balance, or are both a source of pride and frustration, when identities we see as “+”,are not viewed that way universally.  Some categories are fixed, but others were not, and some more fluid -- disability/ability for instance .  Disability studies may refer to the “TAB” (temporarily able-bodied), as age or injury will catch up with most of us.  If we keep those in mind, what would be designed differently?
How do we respond to differences?  The general tendency is exclusion, mockery, scorn, marginalization.  But, what if, rather than “that’s weird”…the response is "I wonder what life is like for that kid?  Why do you wear that?  I’ve never seen that food before.  How do you celebrate that holiday?" 
What about noticing how people are mis/treated because of their differences?  Racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, religious oppression.  Are there areas where you are good at noticing, but holes in others?  (Hard to know what you don’t notice… a prior workshop:  how many have experienced sexism?  No hands raised.  Not even someone yelling on the street “Hey, nice t!1s?” Well, yes, but that’s normal.)  We can notice, or we can turn away. 

“What would you do?  Muslims in America”  

Two actors:  customer in hajib, racist bakery owner refusing to serve her.  Do real customers intervene?  6 praise owner; 13 side with customer and opt not to place orders; a few stand ground and argue, requesting to speak with manager.  Both sides convinced their reaction is patriotic.  But 22 people said or did nothing—which is most frightening to the real Muslim college student whose experiences inspired the experiment, and watched with the camera crew.
Allyship is a process, and everyone has more to learn.  Allyship involves a lot of listening.  Sometimes, people say “doing ally work” or “acting in solidarity with” to reference the fact that “ally” is not an identity, certainly not one bestowed upon oneself

Allies—acting powerfully in the moment.  Addressing structural inequities and oppression for the long haul.
Think about times you either interrupted Oppressive Behavior, or did not.  Sometimes it’s a decision not to respond.  Sometimes it’s because didn’t realize what had happened.   What made it possible to respond?  had a strategy, had a story, had information, a relationship with the offender, power (could be easier to call out my students than dean), boiling point (emotion), body language, an identity that isn’t mine, argument won’t matter (but now my kids are at the table).  What made it difficult? a relationship with the offender, no power, shock/disbelief, ideology, emotion, safety (fear), moral relativity (is it an issue?), an identity that isn’t mine, argument won’t matter, didn’t know what to say, would oppressed want intervention…. will I say it correctly?
Need relationships to ask—What would be supportive in this environment?   Examples:  If a colleague’s idea's are dismissed at staff meetings—ask privately if the next time, would it would be beneficial if you responded “Wait, that’s a great idea!  I want to hear more”? 
Dr. Sapon-Shevin then distributed (drumroll, please!) the STRATEGIES FOR CHALLENGING OPPRESSION that she developed with Robin Smith.  These are intended for interpersonal relationships (that you'd like to preserve), not street harassment.  "The point is to have a BIG TOOLBOX ---- different things will work in different settings, contexts, etc." 
Before any of the responses can be used, you need to "notice what’s going on with you so can think of a strategy ---get centered –get grounded – be calm so that you can think more clearly.  Begin with three slow, deep breaths.  Notice what you’re feeling in your body as well as your thoughts."  You can ask for clarification, which can let someone rephrase appropriately---and also gains you a few moments to get your thoughts in order to calmly give accurate information, make a connection, ask more questions, counter with personal experiences, and if none of these work:  "Stop. I won't listen to this."

She also notes that "No one EVER does this perfectly—the important thing is to keep practicing, and keep trying!"  We look forward to more sessions to roleplay and to bring Dr. Sapon-Shevin back to work with even more of our colleagues! 

This workshop was a collaboration of the ESF Women's Caucus, Committee on Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, and the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Empowering each other, and the girls coming behind us

I'd like to share two collaborations this semester, with two different groups of women, working toward the goal of supporting women along the STEM pipeline, but at different stages in their lives and careers.

Mid-semester, students Rhea Joseph, President of the Baobab Society, and Fatema Zubair and
Samantha McVey, Undergraduate Student Association's Co-Directors of Student Affairs and Diversity, approached us about collaborating on "a social mixer/brunch to promote women empowerment specifically in STEM related fields"-- something Rhea and Fatema had in in the backs of their minds for a while, but with graduation rapidly approaching, would need to do soon to participate themselves!! We brainstormed format and discussion points, they periodically reported back that they'd secured panelists, drafted questions and would like feedback on them, ordered food, were selling tickets, had sold out! And then April 10 was there--Baobab Society finalized the decorations, welcomed in a gender inclusive audience of 80 or so students, staff, faculty, who listened to these poised young women expertly facilitate the panel discussion, focusing on challenges in and out of the workplace, what helped, and what should the community really look at to truly assess the climate for women, so that students, faculty and staff succeed in an environment that promotes a sense of value, support and belonging, rather than persisting in spite of that environment.

Take home messages:

It's time to think about a different way of doing things, but some challenges remain.

You may not feel "like a full-fledged member" of a department, especially if you have different credentials than the others in your unit. But you can open doors (even a crack) for others to come through to be full members of the community and value the different opinions at the table.

The "family prices" can still seem as negative for women. You need supportive partners at home! At work, find people (or a group of people, like the Women's Caucus, or a virtual group, like the esfwomen listserv) to answer questions, bounce ideas, just be there and listen.

Club issue--feel like the only one. If you don't want to be part of an existing group, make your own! Even if its just a club of one.

Particular challenges that our panel faced: two started the tenure clock over when hired here (despite college's history of offering tenured title to others who had attained elsewhere), because (for one) that process for a woman of color at another institution was "just not up to the same standard." That made her more determined--"they won't be skeptical at the end!" She continued to feel marginalized--but cannot pin it on ethnicity, but on simply thinking differently. How do you get past that? Empower and talk to one another! Being intentional about working with women and supporting one another. Culturally, wait to speak until asked. Big challenge to learn to interrupt. Listen to those who say "You're strong."  Bossy vs same behavior in men that is lauded. STEM fields considered very linear, but integration is much more valued now.

Sexually harassed by advisors? Currently there is more awareness of this, but women are still more at risk during travel.

How should we assess the climate for women? Its hard to measure a sense of belonging....do our curricula represent a plurality of ways of being? Thinking? How much do we integrate justice, ethics in science? How do we value all the different things folks bring? Do we listen? Do faculty learn? Retention and advancement in field! Are we persisting in spite of problems or succeeding within a strong support network? Keep moving forward!

Parallel to this event, Caucus staff met with individuals from Outreach, C-STEP, Diversity and Inclusion, SU's STEP program, and Girls Inc of YWCA to plan the 2016 Girls Summit, held at ESF and SU on May 7--a keynote by Dawn Benjamin, 8 workshops featuring a different STEM career (each girl attended 4), plus a college readiness panel of current college students facilitated by Mel Mennon, then of On Point for College. A record (I believe) 93! middle and high-school girls participated--putting "hard" (as in "concrete", not an assessment of difficulty) science and math into action, some with a social (aka "soft") science twist, to help them consider new fields for themselves, but also to see purpose in science and math, to stay interested in those subjects--as that interest is correlated with higher self esteem, and more options.

If the speed at which tickets were sold out to the first event is indicative of either a climate of support, or readiness to provide that, and a culture of inclusion, we are well on our way to be ready to support the Girls Summit participants, as students, and as community leaders, when those that choose to come here do so. Let's keep moving forward!


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Gwen Kay Discusses An Alternative View of Women’s Science Education

Dr. Gwen Kay, Professor and Graduate Program Director of the History Department, and Director of the Honors Program at SUNY Oswego, presented her research titled Not Just Stitchin’ & Stirrin’—An Alternative View of Women’s Science Education at ESF on Wednesday, April 13, 2016 as part of SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Speaker Series.  The ESF Women’s Caucus and the Environmental Scholars program jointly sponsored the presentation.
            Dr. Kay discussed the history of home economics and the role it has played as a haven for women in science.  Land grant colleges helped to establish educational opportunities for women, and Home Economics became a back alley for women to enter into studies primarily dominated by men.  Since the core courses of Home Economics majors included art, biology, calculus, chemistry, engineering, microbiology, psychology, and physics, women finally had the opportunity to apply scientific information that they were previously excluded from.
            As women began to gain stronger footing in the STEM fields, Home Economics began to carry a negative connotation, and many stereotyped it as being a “housewife” major.  This stereotype caused a loss of capable female students in the major, and a growing need to attract male students and keep on male faculty.  Programs began to change their names to appeal to students interested in applying the sciences to the home and family.  Names were tossed around at leading Home Economics institutions that included everything from Family and Consumer Sciences to Human Ecology.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s there was a call to strengthen Home Economics programs in higher education to attract more science-focused students.
            The major of Home Economics has begun to loose steam into the later 1990s since women have more opportunities than ever in “regular” science majors, and the programs are no longer considered a priority to get women involved in science.  In 1993 the name of Home Economics was officially changed at a Scottsdale, Arizona Conference to Family and Consumer Sciences to try to eliminate the stereotype altogether, however, many universities have refused to change their institution’s name even after the consensus—some due to the time and expense they had already invested in rebranding, others citing alumnae concerns.  Dr. Kay’s research demonstrates that Home Economics is still a valuable focus for those interested in home and family dynamics, and deserves its place among the STEM majors.
            Dr. Kay received her B.A. from Bowdoin College, where she dual majored in biology and history, and a PhD from Yale University in the history of medicine and science.  Her research specializations are the history of medicine and science, Progressive Era America, and women's history. She authored the 2005 American Nurses Association's book of the year (2005) Dying to be Beautiful: The Fight for Safe Cosmetics (Ohio State University Press) and edited Remaking Home Economics: Resourcefulness and Innovation in Changing Times (University of Georgia Press, 2015) with Sharon Y. Nichols. Dr. Kay directs Oswego's Honors Program and serves as Graduate Director for the History department. She teaches courses in American history and women’s history and in women’s studies. In addition, she currently serves as Vice President and Secretary of the SUNY Faculty Senate. Prior to joining Oswego's faculty, she held faculty positions at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, DePaul University, and a fellowship at Ohio State. She was awarded a Dean's Fellowship in the History of Home Economics, Cornell University (2008, 2006), studying Taking the Home out of Economics: From Home Economics to Human Ecology. 
            For more information about the WiSE Professions Series, please visit http://www.esf.edu/womenscaucus. For upcoming lectures, please visit the College Calendar at http://www.esf.edu/calendar

As part of their course requirements, students in FOR797 share responsibility for reporting on the WiSE Professions speaker series.  The preceding was prepared by Holly Granat, Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management, M.S./M.P.A. Candidate

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rochester Roots: Excellence in Community Sustainability Education

Jan McDonald, executive director of Rochester ROOTS, Inc., located in Rochester, New York, presented a seminar on March 9, 2016 titled “Bringing Science to Life: A collaborative Approach to Sustainability Education in Grades PreK-6th grade where Students, Teachers, Citizens, College Students, PhDs, and Businesses Learn Together” as part of SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Seminar Series. SUNY ESF Graduate Student Association, and the ESF Women’s Caucus jointly sponsored the seminar. Her inspiration for ROOTs now signature programs started with her childhood food allergies, and realization that when her diet improved, they bothered her less—while spending less at the farmer’s market
            ROOTS mission is “To empower citizens and communities, starting with youth, to create agency for their own sustainable wellbeing.” Ms. Donald presented the organization’s work which involves improving community health through and wellbeing through youth school programs and community gardens.  An example of this is local Montessori children working with RIT students to develop their imaginative ideas into tangible systems like classroom composters and robotic interfaces and gaming models.
            A central theme for ROOTS is creating diverse community gardens through learning environments, grassroots initiative, and the use of adaptable urban sustainable designs. Ms. McDonald discussed how to improve life enrichment and nutrition by developing gardens for low income communities by integrating sustainable agriculture, art, and healthy eating.
            By incorporating hands-on gardening experiences, students are able to learn the value of gardening and food preparation which empowers youth, family, and community. These community gardens - repurpose otherwise abandoned land which simultaneously approves aesthetics. In addition, the produce can be sold at market or used in product development, serving additional lessons in marketing and sales.

            For more information about this lecture and Rochester ROOTS visit www.rochesterroots.org. For more information about WiSE Professions Speaker Series, please visit www.esf.edu/womenscaucus. For upcoming lecture, please visit the College Calendar at www.esf.edu/calendar.
Students in FOR797 Env Career Strategies for Women share responsibilty for reporting on the WiSE Professions Speaker Series.  The preceding was prepared by Kelley Corbine, Nicolette Fruehan, Devin Hansen and Joel Ramtahal, all graduate students in the Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

SUNY aims to increase diversity

We've been advocating for Diversity Training for members of search and promotion and tenure committees, and over the past few years, programming for students has become more readily available, built into orientation, with ongoing opportunities through the office of Diversity and Inclusion (formerly known as the Office of Multicultural Affairs, which had originally been launched as the Office of Multicultural Outreach).  Last year, the college at long last, appointed a Chief Diversity Officer, albeit an Interim one.

Do these efforts go far enough? The CDO's duties were in addition to her existing ones.  While there are many parallels, that's still a lot to add on to one person's plate!  And that office works almost exclusively with students. We are so proud of the ESF student organizations that called for greater efforts toward a culturally inclusive campus, and that facilitated open forums to brainstorm questions and directions.

And this week, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimper included this passage in the State of the University Address--we hope, really truly to see our CDO position grow with those in the SUNY network to help faculty and staff communicate across campuses, cultures, learning styles, genders.