In order to be successful, I was taught to be a man, first by fulfilling the roll as my father’s son and then as one of the first female raft guides on the New and the Gauley rivers in the early 80s (anyone want to go rafting this spring). My education was completed at workshops given at the American Phytopathological Society Annual Meetings and through the outstanding mentorship I received in graduate school. The message was clear – you can be successful if you act like a man – change to fit the culture of science because it is not changing to fit you.
Once I landed a job that I loved and after I had demonstrated the level of my work to my colleagues and the producers I served, I let my hair down and began to bring my whole self to work. I believe that as a result of my authentic efforts, the research station became more inclusive and less hierarchical. Additionally, I began to use all my talents to serve my community (I directed a semi-professional belly dance troupe to raise funds for women’s issues and to promote girls in STEM in the community). I began to work toward filling the STEM pipeline with local talent and my byline became “We grow more than lettuce, we grow scientists too” (thanks to the Salinas Mayor). Importantly, I had the opportunity to integrate the feminine and masculine parts of my personality and use them as needed in my work and play. It felt good to be my fully authentic self. It felt like home.
In Salinas and not infrequently, my students would ask me questions about how they should change to fit into the culture of science. Should I dress differently (dress down)? Why do I need to look into the eyes of my advisor or teacher when I speak to them? Do I need to be less flamboyant? Should I cut my pony tail? I am always conflicted when asked these kinds of questions. First and foremost, I am conflicted because I want talented students to have a seat at the table and the way they will get there is different from the way I got there. Guiding them to gain the tools to be at the table was my job, but navigating cultural landmines is deeply personal. So, I explain my path of modeling myself after those who were already at the table and then quickly explain that this approach is old school. We have evolved to want more for these students and ourselves. We want diversity that makes a difference (A. Davis) and a woman that has to act like a man to succeed negates the diversity we want. Today we talk about bringing your whole self to work and shaping the culture from those participating so that each can be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture (W.E.B Du Bois). Despite our movement toward a shared culture we know that unconscious biases can still trip us up on the way to the table and that is what drives my conflict when asked for advice like this. Additionally, these questions indicate that the students were experiencing what Du Bois referred to in The Souls of Black Folk as Double Consciousness. My students knew they belonged because of their talent but felt like the greater science culture didn’t accept them as they were. I will likely feel conflict until we can overcome this and develop a truly inclusive culture of science.
I was attracted to PPEM because the people were caring and had enormous untapped potential. It is the caring nature of PPEM that will drive us to be more inclusive. We would be horrified if someone in our midst felt like they were an outcast and a stranger in my own house (department in our case; Du Bois). Diversity and inclusion were in the PPEM strategic plan long before I arrived and I imagine that at least part of the reason you chose me to serve you as your head was because of our mutual commitment to learning and acting on knowledge to improve diversity and inclusion. With these thoughts in mind, we are starting a series of activities to look at our inclusivity.
Although in past memos I have highlighted diversity and inclusion activities around campus, from this memo forward you will find a new segment of the memo titled Diversity and Inclusion. Please send me your favorite articles, videos, activities to share in this segment. Today I am sharing a TedX talk describing blind spots and unconscious bias.
To further kick off our activities, a College of Agricultural Sciences Multicultural Diversity Initiative is funding this week’s visit by Dr. Ron Walcott from the University of Georgia. In addition to sharing his unrivalled expertise in seed pathology, he has agreed to facilitate a workshop on Diversity and Inclusion for PPEM tomorrow. I hope that all Staff, Faculty, and Students will show their desire to be included in strategic initiatives in the department by attending this workshop.
As plant pathologists we understand the dangers of monoculture to plant disease epidemics, now it is time for us to explore what mono-culture means to us as a group of human beings.
Time to diversify our thinking.