Part 2: What We Talk About When We Talk About Inclusion
By Sabriya Stukes, Ph.D. with a foreword from #VanguardSTEM
Happy Friday, #VanguardSTEM! Today is the day: we get to hear how Dr. Sabriya Stukes’ SciFOO experience ended, and more than that, we get to hear her eloquent, authentic words about what actually needs changing to make STEM a more inclusive space. (If you missed part one, get caught up!) When I say my girl-crush for this woman is BEYOND real… I can’t get enough of this her insight, courage and meaningful dialogue. I’m also blown away by her vulnerability—can we just take a moment to acknowledge the strength that’s required to not just be a woman of color in STEM, but to be excellent at, honest about the experience, encouraging to others AND committed to improving the climate for all?? GIRL. CRUSH. ::praise-hand emojis, heart eyes and that weird huggy one with the hands::
Be encouraged by her courage, folks—and end this week with thoughts on what we can do differently to make STEM both more representative of our world and actively inclusive.
~ Natasha Berryman, #VanguardSTEM Editor-in-Chief
Photo of Sabriya Stukes used with permission.
The next morning has arrived and I’m at the podium—a girl who grew up wanting to ask better questions about the world around her—ready to tell respected scientists, Nobel Prize winners, (is that Larry Page in the audience?) that as a woman of color, I don’t care about diversity in the same way as many of them, and that their conference was incredibly white and overwhelmingly male.
I had wanted to talk about how we could try to have more productive conversations about not just diversity, but this notion of inclusion. I was going to share how frustrated I was with the ways in which people in power casually acknowledge that there is a problem, yet in the same breath put the onus on us to fix it.
Instead, I allowed myself to be vulnerable by telling the story of how I had felt the previous night. All the while, contending with that feeling of isolation that borders on paranoia when you feel like somehow you don’t belong—I had a sneaking suspicion that many in the audience didn’t really know what that felt like: this feeling of not seeing anyone that looked like you and the annoyance of inevitably being the one that had to bring it to their attention that something was amiss.
The effect of my words was pretty immediate. Right after my talk, people came up to me to say how much they appreciated me speaking my truth. Women who said that they felt the exact same way, and men who said they had no idea what feeling excluded felt like in these spaces. I led a small breakout session that aimed to dissect what an inclusive environment actually looked like—people voluntarily showed up, notes were taken and really hard questions were asked. I felt great, this was working—me sharing my experience was bringing about productive conversation on the very thing I wanted to get more people to talk about.
Here’s the rub: later that afternoon, two other women who identified as individuals of color were approached by other people a mere few hours after I spoke and congratulated on speaking out on the lack of diversity at the conference—plot twist: one of them was pregnant, and the other actually did give a talk but about the limits of our language. I was wearing a crop top. And also, NEITHER OF THEM WERE ME.
You may be wondering how this still happens and yet, it happens ALL.THE.TIME.
We know diversity and inclusion programs don’t work, but still haven’t figured out what does work—and on a large scale. I raised this issue with the organizers who said that the attendee pool wasn’t reflective of who they actually invited. At the closing session, attendees were asked to look around, followed by a highly encouraged request to recommend people for next year’s conference who “did not look like them.”
But this request left me wondering how that actually helps when all they likely knew were other people who looked like them? This is not to speak poorly about my overall experience; I met some incredibly passionate people working on some insanely bonkers scientific concepts—self-assembling food is going to be huge. This conference was a reminder of why science will always be my first true love, of how much we know and how much we don’t.
I closed my talk with one of my favorite images: a snapshot of the tribe I built while in grad school—other graduate students who had experienced these same feelings, these same experiences, and who in front of I felt like I could be fully present and seen. This is the exact feeling I have thought about trying to replicate in other situations and that I believe the feeling of inclusion is based on.
Inclusion is about experiences, not demographics. It’s about being confident enough in a space to share your thoughts, ideas and concerns—and to have them heard in a meaningful way. It’s about building a culture where we can have engaging and critical discourse, and not feel ashamed to share our personal stories. Can we challenge ourselves and the people around us to be more interested in other people’s lived experiences without judgment or critique?
I want to change the entire way we speak about inclusion. I want to show that it has to do with more than having a diverse environment. When I say I don’t feel included, please don’t take that as a criticism against you. See it as an invitation to be more curious about someone else’s experiences outside of your own. These are critical times, and we must have honest and thoughtful discussions about inclusion and the idea of belonging (whatever that may look like) before, during and after, if the work surrounding increasing diversity is ever going to be as impactful and as powerful as we so desperately need it to be.
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Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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