At the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies, we have been having bi-weekly conversations regarding diversity and inclusion in an effort to move towards an anti-racist culture. Today, we would like to share our reflections from our third diversity and inclusion lab meeting, and we encourage you to re-visit our reflections from our first and second lab meetings as well.
Our most recent discussion was led by GWHT staff members, Libby Dotson and Ashley Deans as well as GWHT PH.D student, Erica Skerrett. The three began the discussion by reminding us that, “we’re all at different stages in unlearning racism. We hope that these conversations can help us learn more about how to build an anti-racist culture in the lab.”
Before the meeting, everyone in the lab read #BlackInAstro Experiences: KeShawn Ivory and Tone Policing & the Sound of Equality in STEM. Quotes from these articles provided an excellent foundation for our discussion. One quote we spent a lot of time discussing was this piece of KeShawn Ivory’s article:
“I would be an even better astrophysicist if I were not grappling at this very moment with the reality that this exact message, one that we as a black community have been yelling for years now, has only become acceptable in the mainstream because a pandemic has white people bored at home long enough to actually listen.”
In his writing, KeShawn outlines the ways in which racism has negatively impacted his experience as an astrophysicist. This was important for our lab, as it spoke specifically to racism in the world of academia. While there were a variety of reactions to this quote, a common theme was that it was somewhat jarring to be “called out,” but that ultimately being called out is a good thing. Our communications specialist, Ashley Deans, elaborates on this feeling of being called and addressing ignorance, in her blog post, “Opening My Eyes.”
While KeShawn is correct that while eliminating racism allows people of color to be better scientists, he also reminds us that people of color should not be diminished to their productivity. As a lab, our goal is not and should not be to become actively anti-racist to improve our science, but rather to become actively anti-racist so that our scientists feel safe and welcome.
KeShawn ended his article with the takeaway, “diverse perspectives yield the best science.” Keeping women at the center of our solutions to problems in women’s health has always been an important goal for GWHT. We are striving to make diversity an important piece of our scientific work, and inclusion an important piece of how we conduct that science.
“Contacting someone to say, ‘your tone rubs people the wrong way,’ often does absolutely nothing to end injustice. In fact, often this kind of behavior reinforces the injustice at hand by focusing on silencing critics.”
Members of our lab reflected on the idea of “tone policing,” and discussed the ways in which it can be harmful. We also discussed that harsh tones, especially in the workplace, often come from a place of hurt. We talked about putting aside our own discomfort in order to focus on what is being said when a peer shows vulnerability. We agreed that we want our lab to be a space where individuals feel comfortable being vulnerable, and in order to do that we need to foster an atmosphere of respect and unity.
After our discussion about the articles, we pivoted the conversation to think about ways that we can create unity amongst the lab. Students and staff answered the following questions:
“What make you feel heard in team meetings?”
Asking questions to show you are listening
Moving away from “Okay, sure” responses towards engaging, encouraging feedback
Giving full attention to presenter
Transparency and respect
“What frustrates you when discussing a deliverable with a team member?
A lack of enthusiasm or urgency
Getting off-task in a meeting
Walking away from meeting or discussion without concrete action items and a timeline
Having to explain things multiple times/ when teammates do not bother to take good notes
A lack of communication
GWHT encourages other labs to use this transitional time into a new semester to ask these question about what makes someone feel heard and what makes others feel frustrated or silenced. In order to work towards building an anti-racist culture, we have to start by addressing internal bias and issues in communication before we can begin putting diversity and inclusion practices into action.