Monday, March 13, 2006

Who wants to help me carry this torch? Anyone?

I'm feeling a bit demoralized lately on the gender front. There's a lot I want to blog about, but it's hard to walk that fine line between righteous anger and whining. I'm just having one of those weeks (months) where it feels like I'm the only one "carrying the torch" around here, so to speak; where it feels like I'm the only one who's bothering to devote time and energy towards the whole diversity thing. And to be honest, this angers me.

Why am I angry? Because my colleagues like to claim that they are "concerned" about diversity. Because they talk and talk and talk about how they wish we could have more women and more minority students in our classes, or at least in the classes beyond the intro course. Because they forward along announcements about funding specifically targeted towards increasing participation by women and minorities. Because they dutifully monitor the percentages of women and minorities that sign up for their classes, and cheer when the numbers go up, even by the slightest amount.

Is all of this important? Of course. But what gets me is that that's where their "activism" stops. When push comes to shove---when I say "hey, that funding opportunity is a great idea! why don't we put together a proposal?", or when talk turns to which students to hire for research positions---the excuses come out:

* "I don't have time to do that; I have to work on my own research."

* "I wish I could hire more diversely for my project, but I have to get my own work done."

* "That sounds like a good idea, but we tried that before, many years ago, and it didn't work."

* "We could try teaching that course differently, but we have to be careful to maintain the rigor in that course." (Translation: We don't want to "dumb down" the major, do we?)

* Or, the worst response: total silence.

News flash: I need to get my own work done too! My plate is just as full as yours, dear colleagues! But (a) having diverse students is not at cross-purposes to being productive, and (b) diversity doesn't just happen just because we now happen to have a woman on the faculty. No, we still have to work at it. And it's hard work, and not always fruitful work. But it's work that has to be done if indeed we are all serious about increasing diversity here. And when you balk at doing it, or stop at merely talking, I'm going to question your dedication to increasing diversity. If that makes you uncomfortable, or makes me "not a team player", then so be it. I'd rather have us all feel a little uncomfortable if it means we'll be more likely to act, than to have us all pretend that everything is just peachy-keen and that the diversity fairy will visit us any day now and make everything all right.


Katie said...

I wish I had something profound to say. It's obviously an important problem, and just as clearly a neglected issue by so very many people. I don't know how you force action though - I think you're great for finding energy to continue to try. It's inspiring though and I hope that eventually you can see where you did everyone a great service by continuing to devote time and energy to increasing diversity.

ScienceWoman said...

Hear! Hear!

Anne Zelenka said...

Sometimes I worry that I'm compromising myself by spending too much time complaining about gender and diversity issues in software development. Then I worry I'm just a tool of the patriarchy. Then I think I just want to build and talk about software and web technology and not worry about anyone else's experience of it.

I've got no solutions. It's tiring.

Even if you feel alone in your department, you're not alone in the world. We do our bits as we can, and we hope that together we make a difference.

Jane said...

Anne, your first paragraph sums up the running dialog in my head most days. :)

Oso Raro said...

Ah, the Diversity Conundrum! The responses of your faculty are depressingly common. Rhetorically, everyone agrees that diversity is important, but when it comes down to brass tacks, no one really wants to do much, other than feel good about their feel good intentions. And of course, most of what underlies this ambivalence is the echo of race thinking found in the "dumbing down" response: diversity as a compromise on rigour. Good grief!