My commitment to diversity and inclusion, in many ways, began in the early 1990s with my own struggle to enter academia and become a recognized scientist. As a low-income female attending a vocational high school, I was positioned as a remedial student in the eyes of guidance counselors and potential college recommenders, and I struggled against my family’s ideology that “women don’t go to college.” When I defied those odds and was accepted into a wealthy private four-year institution, attempts to acculturate into academia and the field of science were disrupted by my own under-preparedness, male professors who did not see women as belonging in the field, and an inability (because of financial resources) to participate in the many extracurricular activities (i.e., unpaid internships) that led to job placement and graduate school acceptance. At the time, of course, I didn’t recognize this disruption as something outside of my own skills and abilities. Instead, I saw these as evidence of my inability to “do college” and “do science.”
With time and life experience, however, I came to recognize that my inability to acculturate was similar to many others’, and not entirely in my control. The “pull yourself up from the bootstraps” mentality that permeates American society is fraught with tensions and obstacles that are rarely explicitly addressed by and with those whom they most powerfully affect.
In 2009, I took on the role of Science Grants and Projects Administrator for the research foundation of a large, public university system. Placed in the largest 4-year Hispanic-Serving Institution in the northeast, I was tasked with helping to build capacity for academic programs in science serving students much like myself. Though most of these students identified as part of Latinx, African-American, and Asian-American communities, many of them were women and almost all of them came from low-income households. These were students who, like I had, worked part- or full-time jobs to pay for tuition, housing, and food. They juggled family commitments and expectations with the rigor of an academic discipline with specific modes of communicating and expectations for participation. They were trying to negotiate membership in a new community with very specific ways of being, thinking, and knowing while keeping one or both feet rooted in the communities that raised and supported them. Their challenges and successes left an indelible mark on my way of thinking about equity in education and led me into a deep engagement with culturally-relevant and anti-racist pedagogies.
Personal and professional experiences like these have directly informed both my research and teaching. In my research, the underlying agenda is always about working toward equity in academic and professional spaces. In order to accomplish that, I draw on qualitative approaches such as case study and ethnography to privilege the voices and lived experiences of the research participants themselves – not what I think is happening from an outsider’s perspective. In my teaching, the aim is to push back against the typical canon and to bring in a plurality of voices and perspectives. My advanced-level courses in disciplinary writing, for example, intentionally include assignments and readings that ask students to critically examine questions of equity within their discipline’s culture and how certain ideologies are reified in disciplinary texts. At the same time, equity in the classroom is supported through the use of techniques like freewriting that help shy or uncomfortable students formulate their thoughts before we begin discussions, multimodal activities to meet different learning styles, anonymous check-ins throughout the semester to assess student experience of the course, and the use of a variety of discussion techniques to ensure all voices are heard.
As a scholar, educator, and administrator, I see my responsibility as one that encourages individuals to draw upon and celebrate their unique life experiences, rather than suppress or hide them. Academia, in my view, should be about creating, sharing, and questioning knowledge, not about recirculating myths of who belongs and “how things are done.” An important part of accomplishing this is making sure that we honor the voices of many, rather than privileging the voices of few.Like