Empowering Individuals to Foster an Inclusive Campus Climate
On Saturday, August 10th, Tufts University Medford Campus hosted the annual New England GWiSE Summer Retreat on campus inclusivity. Graduate students from over 8 universities across New England heard from leading researchers, practitioners, and advocates about key challenges and solutions in empowering individuals to foster an inclusive campus climate.
To a passionate audience, speakers shared inspirational stories about why diversity and inclusivity matter more than ever. They gave examples of how unspoken rules persist in academia and how implicit bias can be tackled. Graduate students from all walks of life shared their identity struggles on campus and how they fought back against discrimination. It was an opportunity to reconnect with individuals and groups and to remind people of the power of individual and synergistic efforts to foster a better and more inclusive campus climate.
If you missed the event and would like to find out more about it or get in touch with the speakers, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Keynote: Rising above the “leaky pipeline’’ metaphor
Professor Banu Subramaniam, professor of Women’s Studies at UMass Amherst as well as an avid researcher of the intersection of natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities kicked off the event with a keynote whimsically entitled “Alien becomes exotic: gender, race and the practice of science.” Drawing on her own training as a biologist, Banu set out to engage the audience with the inextricable connections between science and society, nature and culture. Why has science proved so resistant to diversity? How do gender, race, and sexuality shape scientific inquiry? In the Q&A session Banu reminded us all that institutional changes take time and need to happen at many levels. Participants were challenged to revise the well-worn “leaky pipeline” metaphor, discard the “leak-plugging” mindset, and reframe the conversation of diversity from a rigid pipe to a liberating structure.
Lunch and school update
Following the keynote, attendees from different institutions got to meet each other over lunch to connect and socialize. GWiSE representatives gave presentations to introduce ongoing diversity initiatives and future efforts taking place in their school.
Workshops: Promising practices and potential actions
Two sets of workshops provided participants with the opportunity to take a deeper dive into promising practices and potential actions in advancing diversity and inclusion in the campus environment.
Workshop A: Inclusive peer mentorship in academia
Alyssa DiLeo, a graduate student from Tufts University School of Medicine, presented information about a peer mentoring program she designed and is implementing in the Fall at her institution. The Sackler Resources for Easing Friction and Stress, or sREFS, encourages first year graduate students at Tufts to discuss issues with mentors and attend stress-relief events during the year. Mentors are trained in conflict resolution and can also direct students to other resources available on campus. During the workshop, participants were very eager to ask questions about the program including how student confidentiality works and how to increase awareness of the program. The workshop capped off with a mini training on conflict management that participants can use on their own campus.
Workshop B: Reacting effectively to microaggressions
Blessing Lawrence and Najah Walton, graduate students from Tufts University School of Medicine, led a workshop on implicit bias and microaggressions. The workshop focused on the study of involuntary biased behavior resulting from subconscious attitudes and stereotypes. The workshop leaders explained the science behind implicit bias and provided guidance on strategies to combat microaggressions. To help build self-confidence with handling such situations in real life, participants were split into groups for roleplay, acting out roles as aggressor and interrupter. The workshop was concluded with an open discussion to uncover the relevant issues from the presented scenarios.
Workshop C: Disability is an identity, not a definition
There are several barriers that a disabled person can experience in academia. These barriers include poor infrastructure design, inaccessibility to lab and field work, and a limited peer network. However, most of us always make assumptions when we try to accommodate the needs of the disabled. Grace Moskola, Director of Accessible Education Office at Harvard, reminded us that while everyone has good intentions, making assumptions about what accessibility means without involving the people who need access can have unintended consequences. During the workshop, participants were encouraged to discuss the implicit messages about students with disabilities and the way that graduate programs impact mental and physical health of all students. To wrap up the workshop, Grace gave a quick pointer on factors involved in the effort to improve disability inclusion, including attitudes and practices, policy considerations, physical access and most importantly, including people with disability.
Workshop D: Confronting implicit bias
Beatriz Cantada, program director at MIT’s Institute Community and Equity Office, led a workshop entitled “Understanding Implicit Bias.” Participants were encouraged to treat the classroom as a “brave space” to confront their implicit biases and prejudices. Workshop activities included giving candid reactions to media images and reflecting on how biases had been demonstrated by the media. Beatriz also shared insight into the “automatic” nature of biases- how they are unconscious, fast and error prone- as well as strategies to recognize and combat biases as we form them.
Panel: Empowering change in the push for change
After the workshop sessions, three phenomenal panelists shared insights about strategies to create an inclusive campus climate, such as attributes of successful diversity initiatives, the importance of peer groups, and maintaining research excellence. On the panel, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, theoretical physicist at UNH and chair of the National Society of Black Physicists, argued that the key to successful efforts is to have a clear goal. She recommended leaders of future initiatives to form cross-sectional groups to increase their negotiating power, be clear about their demands from the administration, and think thoroughly about the strategy that they would adopt to push for change. Potential solutions to successful initiatives were also presented by Dr. Ritu Raman, engineer and post-doctoral fellow at MIT. She pointed out that personal connections are important to push for a progressive agenda. From the student’s perspective, Ugochi Ugoh, an MPH graduate student from Tuft University School of Medicine, believes that a balance needs to be struck between appealing to the ego of school administrators while not diluting the purpose of the diversity initiative. The collective take-home message provided by these panelists set the tone for future initiatives across all student bodies represented by NE GWiSE.
Social and the end!
The day concluded on a high note with more socializing and board games. Prices were won and friendships were forged. The 3rd Annual Summer Retreat was a huge success. We hope our attendees left the day feeling better equipped to face the challenges that their career trajectories may hold. As women in STEM, the obstacles we face can be daunting, therefore we must stay united and help each other rise above the biases against us.
The organizers of the retreat would like to thank all attendees, speakers, sponsors, photographers, and volunteers for their support. Finally, we would like to give a special shout out to Tufts Medford for hosting the event. Stay tuned for the 4th annual Summer Retreat and other motivational events by NE GWiSE.