A recent conversation with a friend reminded me of yet another of the “death by a thousand paper cuts**” craptastic things I used to hate dealing with in my days in the scientific workforce. You know what I’m talking about. Could be a retreat, a workshop, a seminar, a meeting, a program, maybe even just a discussion, but whatever it is, diversity is the subject, explicit or implicit. On one occasion it was a discussion about whether a tiny little space should be set aside for students of a certain group. On another it was a pizza party for women students. But ever and anon, at such occasions, you will hear the plaintive wail:
“Where is the [meeting/retreat/study room/pizza party/program] for white men?”
At K-State, where I was for a time director of the Women in Engineering and Science Program, I was asked not once but several times “Where is the program for men in engineering?” I had various answers. Sometimes, when I felt pissy, I would say, “That would be the whole College of Engineering.” Sometimes when I felt polemical, I would say, “You know, that’s a good question. It’s good for us to think about why we need a program for women in engineering. Women can do engineering work, but engineering is not as successful in attracting and keeping them as it is with men. So in a sense, the program is more for the college of engineering than it is for the women.” Sometimes, when I felt Socratic, I would say, “That’s a good question. What do you think men need that they aren’t getting, that a men in engineering program would provide?”
But all times, this is what I really wanted to say:
Jesus H. Christ! Every time I hear that “where is the whateverthefuck for white men” I want to say “seriously? Seriously? you think you are the first motherfucking white d00d in the whole motherfucking world to come up with that acid riposte in a diversity-related seminar/meeting/retreat/discussion? SERIOUSLY? Go away and come up with an ORIGINAL white d00d whine and we will think about giving you a diversity cookie. Until then, open up your motherfucking white d00d eyes and take a look around at how the whole entire world is plastered with signs that say ‘White D00ds ‘Specially Welcome Here!’ ‘K? Thx.”
**(The) Knight Higher Education Collaborative (September 2001). Gender Intelligence. Policy Perspectives, 10(2), 1-9.
I have an acquaintance who works in what some of you professorial types jokingly refer to as the dark side – administration. Ha ha ha. Yeah, I was an administrator in academia myself, you know, and let me tell you, you should be grateful to your administrators, if only for the fact that if they didn’t spend their days attending all those meetings, you’d have to do it yourself. Somebody’s gotta do that administrative crap while you’re out there doing the whizbang gollygee fun stuff in the labs.
My acquaintance knows both sides of the story, for she herself is a tenured full professor in the field of -ology. The type of administrative position she has now is a standard issue administrative position, and she’s got to deal with all the usual administrative stuff. She’s also, in the normal run of her daily business, got to deal with managing diversity.
Recently she reported to me the following:
I just spent half an hour talking to a male department head about one of his untenured women faculty members, who had been in to talk to me about what she perceives as unequal treatment by the head. I talked about how perceptions are important even though he feels as though he is being fair. I talked about accumulation of disadvantage. I talked about how if
they ever want to diversify their department it is important to have not just successful but
happy female and minority faculty members.
And at the end of the half hour, I think that he walked out convinced that he was right and everything was fair and hunky dory and he need only apologize for one kerfuffle that involved [one particular incident].
My work here is obviously not done, but I am not hopeful that it can be done. Worst of all, this…department head [is] a younger guy with (I think) a professional wife…the kind we hope that get it and are our allies.
FSA is not new to the business of dealing with diversity issues and trying to educate her colleagues. She is quite an expert in this area. So it’s not that she doesn’t know how to talk to people about this stuff.
It’s just that she is tired, oh so very tired, of banging her head against the giant wall built of Nice Guys Who Just Don’t Get It. The guys who listen, and then say “Okay, I’m sorry you got so upset over that.” The people who are all for including women and minorities, as long as nothing substantive about longstanding departmental culture really has to change. The folks who think that if women are not being accosted in the hallways and hit up for sexual favors in the lab, then everything must be, well, hunky dory. The scientists who think that there is absolutely nothing that social science can teach them about how to create a better, more equitable scientific culture. The Nice Guy Knuckleheads who believe with all the faith that a creationist believes in an Intelligent Designer that Science is a Meritocracy.
FSA, I feel your pain, and if I could I would go right now and puke on your Nice Guy Department Head’s shoes. But I have the feeling he’d just look up in bewilderment and say, “Now why in the world would you do that? I’m such a nice guy!”
You are a male physics professor, and you want to improve science education. What could possibly be a better idea than to team up with a bunch of professional cheerleaders and make a video of them shouting out science tidbits while they shake their pompoms? Science cheerleaders!
I know, right? You wish you’d thought of it first, don’t you?
Via the WEPAN listserv, I just learned about a new book about African American women in science:
Temple University is proud to announce the publication of Swimming Against the Tide: African American Girls and Science Education by Sandra L. Hanson. In her book, Hanson uses Department of Education data as well as a recent survey of young African American women to examine the experiences in families, communities, and peer-groups that help young African American women “swim against the tide” of the white, male science education system. Sandra L. Hanson is Professor of Sociology and Research Associate at Life Cycle Institute, Catholic University . To learn more about the book, please visit its website.
From the book’s website:
“They looked at us like we were not supposed to be scientists,” says one young African American girl, describing one openly hostile reaction she encountered in the classroom. In this significant study, Sandra Hanson explains that although many young minority girls are interested in science, the racism and sexism in the field discourage them from pursuing it after high school. Those girls that remain highly motivated to continue studying science must “swim against the tide.”
Indeed. I will never forget the young African American woman at Kansas State who told me how, every semester, in at least one of her science and engineering classes, a professor would invariably come up to her on the first day of class and solicitously suggest to her that she must be in the wrong classroom. After all, what in the world would an African American woman be doing in a science or engineering class, right? Right.
I really, really want to get my hands on this book but it costs $64.50. The website suggests a paperback version is due out in September; I may just have to wait for that.