Growing in Diversity and Intersectionality

At a meeting discussing diversity earlier this week, I was essentially called a racist.

By a complete stranger who completely misinterpreted my comment – “So, should we include these folks?”

I was talking about “folks” in other states in the region, which was the topic we were discussing. She was talking about “folks” in terms of the lack of diversity in the room, which was disturbing to me too.

At first, I felt attacked. I was the token community college person in the room (the rest of the attendees were from the R01 university down the street) and I had already been attacked once for stating something I thought was pretty obvious (it wasn’t). So, I was feeling pretty powerless by the time this comment was made.

After being called a racist and clarifying that I was talking about regionality, I just shut down. The only other comment I made was to amplify the comment by the one Native in the room, for which I was immediately attacked by one of the white guys in the room.

I was pissed. And I thought “I give up” several times. And after the meeting was over, my friend who had originally invited me to the meeting asked if I would ever attend another meeting he invited me to. 

I, of course, said yes.

In the midst of processing the meeting and my ensuing reaction, it struck me that maybe my position of powerlessness in this meeting was important. Because, as my friend @DrRubidium says regularly, white privilege is a hell of a drug. I had not experienced this kind of powerlessness before. So I did not know how to process it well.

Maybe this experience gave me the slightest glimpse into what many diverse voices on Twitter have been stating for years. 

Maybe, just maybe, if I listened closely and tried harder to be more intersectional and more inclusive, I could turn this experience into something more positive. Something that helps me understand and look for those with less power than I have. And to amplify and give them as much power as I can.

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My Yearly Reflective Essay 2016-2017

This year was a bit of a mess honestly. In the Spring, I was significantly overtaxed by the combination of my graduate classes, including the hardest class I’ve encountered in this latest iteration of schoolwork – Statistical Inference – and teaching Organic Chemistry II for the second time ever. This is not a repeatable semester; in fact, I’m hoping that it is the semester I look back on and say, “Spring 2017 was worst semester in this round of graduate school.”

The Fall was more of a regular semester, although I did participate in the Fall 2016 ConfChem conference, the “oldest continuously operating online conference on chemical education” (http://www.ccce.divched.org/ConfChem) and I did spend some time meeting with UNM folks to discuss potential grants that UNM and CNM could collaborate upon.

How did all of this affect my teaching? I returned student emails in more like the 72-hour timeframe (instead of the required 48-hour timeframe), unless re-prompted by students for a more immediate response. I relied on class emails and our class use of social media to communicate and respond to issues individual students sent, but that I thought were broader and class pertinent (without naming names and without specifically issuing a reply to the individual). I was a bit more scatterbrained overall so I tended to forget small administrative tasks (like submitting my office hours on time), but was not scatterbrained in the context of my lectures and such as, after 15 years of teaching this material, my explanations have a bit of permanent organization within my brain now.

Of course, the lack of immediate response on my part became an issue in my student evaluations. While my scores were decent (centering on agree to strongly agree as they always do), my students’ comments mainly centered on my lack of communication and my course’s disorganization. And while I’ll fully admit to the former, the latter continually disturbs me, mostly because I don’t think of myself as disorganized in the slightest. When I reflect on my teaching practices with my colleagues, they also agree that I am nothing like disorganized.

So what’s the disconnect with students?

I think I’ve finally figured it out. I think my students mistake flexibility and a willingness to evolve as disorganization. Yet, I have worked on incorporating flexibility and continuing evolution into my teaching practice for almost a decade. And so, my students who believe I am disorganized (a small percentage I hope!) and I are at an impasse: my most effective pedagogical practice incorporates these two qualities and my students who cannot embrace these qualities will always mistake them for disorganization.

Ah well, I think I can live with that impasse.