Thursday, April 10th 2014

Stag Parties: Awareness and Elegant Solutions

Kiddo spills her milk. We lock eyes, and she dissolves in a puddle of sadness, crying about how it’s all her fault and she feels SO BAD.

“Kiddo, honey, it’s really okay. Let’s get a towel and wipe it up together.”

But she can’t stop crying. I comfort her for a while, being patient with her feelings and wanting her to process what’s going on. But at a certain point, the crying feels like a rehearsal of bigger things. So I say, “I notice you are crying a lot about the milk, but I’m not mad at you. Why are you still so upset do you think?”

“I’m just a sensitive child!” And back she goes to crying.

At this moment, I feel anger at myself for having too many conversations about kiddo in her presence while she listened and internalized grownups’ thinking about her. But there is a little part of me also feeling mad at kiddo. Anger that she accepts the label and, to me, seems to be using it to say something permanent and inflexible about herself.

So, I went to the person I know with the most insight into this issue: my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. I explained to her my predicament.

She thought for a moment. “Ah, see we grownups have all moved on to the next developmental step. We have awareness of kiddo’s sensitivity, and are already thinking of the ways she can grow and learn from it. But kiddo herself has only just hit the awareness stage.”

And suddenly it made sense. The couple of weeks of “But I’m SENSITIVE!” sounded, in retrospect, like a child figuring out something about herself for the first time, not an entrenched position. When someone is at the awareness stage, they don’t yet know what to do about it. They just know they’re there.

* * *

A dear colleague and friend, Dr. Pablo Nepomnaschy, contacted me to see if I would write a blog post informing our colleagues about his upcoming conference, “Evolutionary Aspects of Child Development and Health,” taking place this June at Simon Fraser University. A quick glance at who the email was from and the title of the conference, and of course I said yes.

Days later, when I looked up the materials for the conference to write my post, I saw the list of invited speakers. Only two of the fourteen were female, in a field that is absolutely dominated by senior and junior women. In fact, Pablo and I were in a special working group on evolutionary medicine and reproduction just a few years ago that was run by two women and had at least fifty percent female representation. While the invited speaker list was excellent, I could not comprehend how a list skewed in such a way could have happened. Balanced gender representation should have happened naturally.

When I brought this up with Pablo, he was horrified at his error and of course wanted to make this right (and gave me permission to write this post about it). Pablo, like many of us in the sciences, has just hit the awareness stage. It’s that moment when we get caught in our own biases and have to acknowledge that everyone has them, from the most sensitive ally to the most brazen bigot. Plenty of research bears this out. So for instance, while male-only leadership (as with this conference) has been shown to lead to gender disparities in symposia speakers (Isbell et al., 2012), there is work also demonstrating that both women and men carry stereotypes that lead to gender-biased hiring decisions (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012).

Getting to the awareness stage is revelatory, and hard, and kind of sticky too. Awareness can feel like a label or a permanent problem.

It’s exciting to think about the ways in which it is not. Pablo – and perhaps also the rest of the organizing committee, and the speaker lineup – have a chance to unstick here. There is always an elegant solution for people invested in creating an academic science environment that lifts up all of its excellent scholars, appreciates diverse perspectives and approaches to our common questions, and makes active, intentional progress towards parity.

 

References

Isbell LA, Young TP, Harcourt AH. 2012. Stag parties linger: continued gender bias in a female-rich scientific discipline. PloS one 7(11):e49682.

Moss-Racusin CA, Dovidio JF, Brescoll VL, Graham MJ, Handelsman J. 2012. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(41):16474-16479.

Friday, February 28th 2014

If You Want Normative Reporting, Reporting Needs to be Independent and Anonymous

Please forgive me for the quickie posts this week. I have bigger ones planned for the next two weeks.

I don’t have time to fully unpack this, but I think the Science Online community could stand to read this article (and the associated links therein that tell the backstory):

On Prosecutors Having Survivors of Assault Arrested: It’s Not a Zero-Sum Game

The folks at #scio14 are having hushed conversation after hushed conversation about Bora and our community more broadly. I’m also hearing that there are explicit conversations about harassment policies, appropriate conduct, boundaries, and reporting. I just want to remind everyone that reporting harassment isn’t a chicken and egg issue where we can endlessly discuss which comes first: creating the supportive environment that enables reporting, or reporting itself. Yes, there will always be some folks who will decide to report in the face of all sorts of personal, career, and physical risks. But moving towards a workplace culture where reporting is normative behavior cannot happen before the workplace has safer ways of reporting and zero tolerance for bad behavior.

So I would encourage those of you at #scio14 this week to make your conversations less hushed, and to start to talk about how one might create an independent, anonymous reporting mechanism for harassment. Some of the encouragement I am hearing that people need to report feels a little victim-blame-y. If we aren’t setting the reporting mechanism up for success we can’t expect people with the least safety and the most to lose to suck it up and tell someone when they have been harassed.

 

Thursday, February 27th 2014

Students Blog Evolutionary Medicine

Just wanted to draw your attention to this year’s student-run class blog for my Evolutionary Medicine class here at the University of Illinois. I am using the same assignment and rubric as last year, which is modified version of Mark Sample’s blog assignment at Profhacker (I wrote about this last year here).

Check it out and let my students know what you think of their work!

You can also check out last year’s blog, as well as the individual blogs that students wrote as part of their semester-long projects (The Daily Filling, A Little R&R, Cuisine for Comfort). This semester two Honors students will also be hosting individual blogs. Once they are up and running, I’ll share those as well.

This year instead of the 80/20 projects I am trying a class-wide problem-based learning assignment (PBL) for the second half of the semester. We are doing small group PBLs every Friday for the first half of the semester to warm up to the process.