The language around gender, sex, sexuality, race, and ability is constantly evolving, and it can be difficult to keep up! The objective of this workshop is to help attendees learn to talk about different dimensions of identity. Everyone will do a quick, individual activity to reflect on what dimensions of their identities are most salient. The intended audience is for those who are interested in expanding their understanding of current terminology related to identity. The session will also debut an NCWIT resource that introduces similar content through short videos and discussion questions. Attendees can share these videos and discussion questions with their colleagues.
Beth Quinn: Welcome to NCWIT Conversations for Change, an online thought leadership series. My name is Beth Quinn, and I’m a Senior Research Scientist and Director at NCWIT. It’s my pleasure to welcome you to the continuation of our series featuring speakers with a diverse range of opinions and world views, and who may hopefully challenge us with some provocative ideas. We wouldn’t be here today without our sponsors. Thank you so much for supporting our work. I also want to thank in advance the viewing audience for your patience, should we experience any bandwidth or other technical issues.
The title of today’s session is Learning About Intersectionality. To explore this concept and related ideas, we have invited three faculty members to join us, all of whom are doing innovative work in diversity, equity, and inclusion in computing and other technical fields. In a minute, I’m going to turn things over to them and let them introduce themselves, but first, let’s do a little bit of housekeeping. Please submit your questions using the Q&A function. You’ll find the button to open the Q&A window at the bottom of your screen. The panelists, myself, and a team of helpers will be monitoring the stream of questions as we go along. Note that all questions are submitted as unpublished, so, as a viewer, you’re not going to be able to see other people’s questions unless they are specifically published. If you do have technical or logistics questions, submit them as well through the Q&A function, and an NCWIT staff member will respond to you privately. Knowing these presenters, it’s likely they will answer questions as we go along, as they can, but please note that we have set aside the last ten or 15 minutes of the session for a formal Q&A session. If needed, the panelists have graciously agreed to stick around for a few minutes after the top of the hour to continue answering questions. Please join us if you’re able. Finally, get a piece of paper and a pencil or pen ready. The presenters are going to ask you to do a little work, and I want you to be prepared.
But before I turn things over to the presenters, they’ve actually asked me to give a brief introduction to the concept of intersectionality. I’m a law and society scholar by training, and the emergence of the concept of intersectionality is widely attributed to a law review article from the late 1980s. In that article, Law Professor Kimberle Crenshaw discusses a curious phenomenon she saw in US discrimination law. Black women were being denied remedy for blatant discrimination against them as Black women. Their sex discrimination suits were dismissed when employers could show that white women were not being discriminated against. They would lose their race discrimination suits when employers could show that Black men were not being discriminated against. Clear evidence of discrimination against Black women as Black women was invisible to the law, because it saw race and gender as separate forms of discrimination.
This pattern was reflected in the title of a 1982 Black feminist anthology that influenced Crenshaw’s analysis: “All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave.”
So in her article, and in her subsequent work, Professor Crenshaw argues for the use of an intersectional lens, one that can account for the particular ways that bias and discrimination play out for Black women. In the years since the publication of Crenshaw’s article, the concept of intersectionality has been taken up not only in the law, but in the social sciences, education, and social justice movements.
At NCWIT, we strive to use an intersectional lens in all that we do, including how we present data, and in the design of our programs and initiatives. We know that it’s important to understand and respond to the ways that bias may vary across the intersection of gender, race, class, age, sexuality, and other social identities. In this session, our presenters will introduce some foundational concepts and then lead you through an exercise to explore your own intersectional identities. One final point, the subtitle of this session, if you noticed, is called “Videos that Spark Discussion.” I’m sorry, but we are not actually going to show you any videos today. We are going to introduce you to a new NCWIT resource of curated videos and reflection questions that you can use in your organizations to have similar conversations about these topics. So, with that, let’s turn it over to our panelists. Colleen, I’ll let you take it from here.
Dr. Lewis: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Can we go to the next slide? So, I am Colleen Lewis. I bet we’ll get to the next slide with a photo of me in a second. One more slide, please. So, I am Colleen Lewis, and I’m a Computer Science professor right now at Harvey Mudd College. In the fall, actually I’ll be an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign. And my research focuses on Computer Science education, particularly equity and inclusion. You’ll see my Twitter handle there is @CSteachingtips. We’ve got tips for equitable and effective education in Computer Science.
Kyla is our next presenter.
Dr. McMullen: All right. Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining. I’m Dr. Kyla McMullen. I’m at the University of Florida, and my research is in 3D audio, augmented reality, virtual reality, and how we can make realistic sound there. But also, as a Black woman in computing, I have a passion for increasing all types of representation and diversity when it comes to computing.
I’m also a faculty member who has dealings with iAAMCS, which is the Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences, and I have been the conference chair for the conference they have held for the past four years, and that’s been really fun.
Another thing that I do is on the next slide, which is really fun, it’s called Modern Figures Podcast. Can we have the next slide, please?
Some of you may have heard of Modern Figures Podcast already. It is a podcast whose purpose is to elevate the voices of Black women in computing, so this is a collaboration between NCWIT with iAAMCS, and we interview Black women who are in the technical space. They can be Ph.D. students, they have Ph.D.s, they’re in industry, they’re faculty, industry researchers, just the whole spectrum.
And we want to just find out, you know, what kinds — how did they get where they are, because I think storytelling is the biggest way that you can compel people to be encouraged, to be inspired, and to be motivated. Your eyes are not deceiving you with this picture here. Yes, I’m standing next to myself. We decided after the first season, hey, I never was actually interviewed. We brought everyone in, and that was a picture from me telling my own story, and my cohost is Dr. Jeremy Waisome, who is the person who is not me pictured here, and we have about 26 episodes that we have done now, and we have people who are also allies. We have had a man come on, and we have also had Colleen come on, which is featured on the next slide, and she did an excellent job talking about just these really tough conversations, about how people can become allies in this space. You don’t have to be a Black person or a woman to care about Black women in computing, so this is all of our jobs. Yea it’s really — this is my little spiel for the Modern Figures Podcast, but, yeah, I really encourage you to take a listen. But, part of what we do is we have these really tough conversations, and some of that we are going to talk about today, too.
And my colleague that’s going to present today is Dr. Darryl Yong.
Dr. Yong: Hi, everyone. I’m Darryl Yong, a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College. I am serving now as our Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity and the Director of our Mathematics clinic program. Can we get the next slide, please, and probably the one after that, too.
Dr. Lewis: I think even next up is the poll, right?
Dr. Yong: Oh, that’s right. So, we do have a poll that we’d like everybody to complete. You’ll see a poll pop up on your window now, and it just has some basic information that we’d like to find out about who is participating in the workshop today. So, would you just take a moment and complete that survey, please?
Dr. Lewis: As people are filling out this poll, I just want to say that I’m really excited that everyone is here with us.
Dr. McMullen: Yeah.
Dr. Lewis: We are really excited to get to talk about these things with you, and so thanks so much. Okay. Should we stop the poll there? And then we can look to display results to see who we’ve got there. Darryl, do you want to draw our attention to anything?
It looks like we’ve got a lot of faculty and staff, 43%. I think everybody can see this. And we have actually got a lot of folks who are familiar with a lot of the terms that we are going over, and we have got a question coming in from the Q&A, of how many people are on the call, and I’ll get that information from our NCWIT team in just a second.
Yeah. That’s great. Thank you for filling out that poll. It’s really helpful for us in thinking about how to customize this to what you’re interested in hearing, and it looks like we have got 186 people on the call. Okay. So — Isn’t that great? Like I said, I’m Colleen Lewis, and the slide that’s up right now is actually a new NCWIT resource that was actually released today, and I feel super lucky to have gotten to work with the NCWIT team on this one, and it’s called “Videos That Spark Conversation: Let’s Talk About Gender, Race, and Identity,” and it’s designed to try to help people bring discussions about intersectionality to their teams and institutions. Can we go to the next slide?
On this next slide, you’ll see that the resources is structured around five short videos, and those are broken up into three sections, and the resource is actually a Google Docs presentation, so the idea is that it is really easy for you to bring it into your team meeting. Can we go to the next slide?
So, this next slide shows a picture of the Google presentation view, so that you can see multiple slides at once, so it has nine slides on there, and, as I mentioned, each section has a short video or a pair of short videos. And then after the slide, the videos include — the slides include reflection and discussion questions, and then the slide after that has resources for learning more.
So, since the resource is broken up into these three parts, you can actually do one part at each team meeting that you have, so you can show a quick video and then put up those reflection and discussion questions as a really easy way to integrate it, and in today’s session, we’ll actually cover many of the same topics, drawing on some of the same resources, and we hope this session gets you super excited to try out this NCWIT resource within your team.
Okay. So, now I’ll turn it over to Kyla to talk us through some of the first pieces of our topic today.
Dr. McMullen: Yeah, thank you, Colleen. So, generally, when we think about intersectionality, we tend to think of it as just race and gender. Those tend to be the two that we talk about. But in reality, we all exist at the intersection of lots of different identities, race, class, language, culture, everything that you see on this slide. These are the ways that we differ.
And I think it’s our differences, actually, that make us unique and that make us humans, and we shouldn’t shy away from acknowledging these differences. You know, we should be aware of them as well, so if you think of yourself on all of these different axes — I don’t know why this is like a chart to me or like a graph or something — these are all of the different dimensions that we can differ on.
So we want to make sure that this is a safe space so that you can talk about these kinds of things. Just for myself, I teach a class called Computers and Modern Society, and there’s a part where we talk about algorithms and algorithm bias, and there’s always this apprehension to talk about these hot button issues like race, and sexuality, and gender, and ethnicity, because no one wants to get labeled as an -ist or an -ism, you know.
But, the purpose, I always tell my students is that we are not doing a witch hunt to say, oh, who’s the racist, who’s the misogynist, who’s this. We want to see, you know, just how screwed up the world has made us, and what has the world basically put into our brains. There’s a really cool thing Harvard has called the implicit bias, I believe it’s a test or assessment, I forget what they call it. But, it’s really cool, because it shows you what associations that you have, because we are not here to demonize anyone, but just to make ourselves aware of these different axes that we can differ on and be able to then have a conversation about it.
So I just wanted to reiterate that this is a safe space. We don’t get it all right all the time. And some of these words are pretty new, new terms. Can I see the next slide please?
Dr. Lewis: As we are going to the next slide, a Q&A question came in, thinking about where disability or ability falls, and we’ll talk about that, I’ve got my slide real small maybe it’s missing from that particular picture. But, it is a really important dimension of people’s identity.
Dr. McMullen: Oh, yes, definitely. I believe it’s on there, but ability also, because we can tend to — as computer scientists, we can design things that don’t even take into account the different abilities that people may have as they are encountering your system. So I like to use that chart that’s on the previous slide when I design anything to say, okay, how would someone who is on either end or the middle of this perceive my system, and if you can go around and make sure that you have addressed all of those, I think you’re doing pretty well there.
So, as I mentioned, some of these words are kind of new, and we haven’t grown up with these. So this is called the Genderbread person, and it’s a really cool way to help conceptualize a lot of the conversation around gender, especially since a lot of us are in academia. We may have students who have different identities, so gender identity is what do you feel that you are yourself, in your head. And then gender expression is how do you actually operate or demonstrate your gender in the world. Then your biological sex is what have you actually been born with. Are you an XX or an XY, and then your sexual orientation is completely different from that, because it’s who do you feel romantically or just attracted to in general, and so we have an entire spectrum with all of these different ones.
And so you may have heard the words like transgender, so that’s when your gender identity, who you think you are inside your head, doesn’t match with what you were born. So that’s a different word. And also, you may have heard cisgender, when the two are aligned, where you feel like you are a woman and you were born with the woman parts.
So this is just a quick sort of resource, reference for you to be able to know what these words are, to be able to have the language and have the conversations. I think that the more we do this, the better we’ll be able to discuss these kinds of things and even just make students, make everyone we are around actually feel more home and even just more open there.
All right. Next slide, please.
Dr. Lewis: Awesome. And I think we are getting a little bit of a delay on the slides appearing, but we’ll just work with it, so just be patient with us.
So the Genderbread person is featured in one of the videos in the new NCWIT resource, and another video in there is from Vox, “The myth of race, debunked in three minutes,” and the video explains that the idea of race was developed by a German scientist in 1776. Can I get the next slide? And that scientist identified or made up five races based upon the physical characteristics and geographic origins of those people’s ancestors.
And the video explains how this concept of race that was invented was used to justify slavery, and the video also tells the story of this shifting definition of applications of racial categories. So, starting with these five in 1776, these racial categories have continued to shift. Can I get the next slide?
So, this slide shows the 15 options for race on the 2000 US census, and, actually, the 2000 US census was the first time that people were able to identify as more than one race, so, frequently, people use the term biracial for someone who identifies as two races or multiracial for someone who identifies as two or more races.
Okay. But even within these new 15 categories, there’s huge variation for folks, like each of these check boxes doesn’t mean that that’s a homogenous group. They are quite heterogeneous, and then, you know, we need to think back to that picture that Kyla showed us.
Okay. And so even though these are made-up things, race has been and is hugely consequential in American society, and another piece from this video, the video introduces a related term called ethnicity, which is often confused with race. Can I see the next slide?
So, this slide shows a question from the 2010 US census, and this separates race from ethnicity or, more specifically, from whether a person is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin, and within that idea of ethnicity, the video in the NCWIT resource talks about the ways in which Mexicans have been classified as white or not white, and flipping and flopping back and forth between that racial classification based upon political attitudes towards immigration and labor needs and things like that like that.
So, the key take away is that we as a society have created and defined and redefined these categories of race and ethnicity. They are hugely consequential, but they are made up, and you might hear people summarize this general idea as race is a social construct, which is there is no physical reality to it. It’s just something that, as humans, we have been defining and redefining. Can I see the next slide?
So, to the question of ability and disability, this figure from Inclusion London challenges this idea of disability where a person is a problem that’s typically referred to as the medical model, and instead, through interactions with the social and physical environment that is not accessible, a person becomes disabled, and so the problem is centered around the world.
And, of course, there are many different dimensions of people’s identities, but ability is a really important one to consider, because of ableism, which is bias related to ability.
And now I’ll turn it back over to Darryl.
Dr. Yong: Thanks so much, Colleen. So, could I get the next slide, please? Just a reminder of the picture that Kyla started us off with, we are now about to launch into an activity together, and I really hope that you will try this activity and not just listen to us talk about it. It will be a lot more impactful for you if you do it yourself.
This activity is going to help us to explore this idea much more deeply, the idea that we live our lives as a combination of these different identities that are overlapping on top of us in our daily experiences.
One thing that we wanted to try to understand in this coming activity is how all of these overlapping identities, even though we inhabit them all the time, how they might occupy our consciousness in different ways in our daily lives.
So if you would like to participate, and we hope that you will, to the extent that you’re able to, please get a piece of paper and something to write with, and here’s the activity: You’re going to draw a circle. You’re going to create something like a pie chart.
You’re going to divide up the pie chart among the different aspects of your identity that you choose to include. You might include things like your race, your ethnicity, your social class, your gender, age, ability, your religion, your sexual orientation, or any other identities that you feel are salient or important to you, and when I say the word salient, what I mean there is the degree to which that particular aspect of your identity is prominent or important. So, for example, you know, in your work environment, in your usual school or work environment, as opposed to, let’s say, when you’re going grocery shopping, your identities may occupy a different portion of your brain space. It may be less prominent than other specific aspects of your identity.
So what we are asking you to do is to imagine you in your usual school and work environment, maybe not right at the moment because of the school and work environment might be a little bit different since we are all in strange, isolated worlds, but imagine maybe a couple of months ago, when you were in your usual school and work environment; what would you do if you were to create this circle, and apportion up the pieces of the pie according to how salient or important that particular aspect of your identity is. Okay. So we are going to give you about three minutes to do this activity. So again, you’re going to get a piece of paper, draw a circle, and create these pie slices for different aspects of your identity, the size of the pie slice will be roughly proportional to the amount of salience that particular identity has in your usual school or work environment.
You can choose any of the identities that are listed on the screen, or even ones not listed there, and this is really importance to you, so how important are these things in your daily experiences.
So I see a question that’s popped up here, whether it’s important to us or important to others. Maybe start with important to you. It could be that it is important to other people, and, therefore, it is important to you, but let’s just start with important to you personally.
So, by chance, if you happen to finish early, feel free to make another pie chart, maybe for a different environment, so maybe in your synagogue or church or place of worship or perhaps in your — in the grocery store. But start with the one for your school and work environment. I’m going to start the timer now.
So, in about 60 seconds, Colleen, Kyla, and I are going to share a bit about our pie charts. But don’t worry, we are not going to ask you to share yours. So this is just for you, maybe in about 30 seconds.
Dr. Lewis: Great. So, hopefully, we gave you enough time there. So the big pie that you were seeing on the previous slide, that was actually my slide, and actually, two of the questions that came into the Q&A — and, sorry, you can’t see all of the questions that are coming in, so we are trying to integrate them in, but you might not see questions as they are popping in. So one of the questions that came in was related to how our, the salience of our identities really shifts because of COVID-19, and for me, my pie was really informed by that, so I’m not a parent, and I am very conscious of the fact that during my workday, I am not also caring for other people. I’m just taking care of myself. It really makes my health more salient to me. It helps me recognize my financial privilege. Other people might not call me rich, but since I have worked at Harvey Mudd, I have not had to worry about money, and particularly right now, that allows me to not worry about losing my job, not worrying about paying for grocery delivery. I can just stay in my house because of that financial security.
We’ll talk more about the role that race plays in our respective pies, but for me, I think there are lots of things that are missing from my pie. You might notice that I don’t have my sexuality on there. It’s not something that is particularly salient for me, but being a woman is, and I have been growing in how much I think about and am aware of my racial identity as a white person.
Dr. McMullen: Yeah, I can jump into mine too. So mine definitely differs a lot. I would say like about 50% of mine is the fact that I’m Black, and I think most of this is because when you walk into a space, you think of, okay, what part of me is different than what’s in the room right now? That’s usually the most prevalent sort of thing, you know, I’m in the South at a predominantly white institution. My city is predominantly white, so that’s the difference that I feel every time I go out, and it also makes me conscious of how I appear in the world, especially now, because, you know, there has been so many cases, especially rest in peace to Ahmad Aubrey, where just being Black in a space where someone feels like you shouldn’t be can cause harm or death. So I’m hyperaware of the fact that I’m a Black person, and I try to govern myself accordingly so that I can get out of the situation.
The second is that I have a Ph.D. That’s also very different from most as well. Next, I’m also a woman, and I don’t think about that part of my identity as much. I’m like, okay, Black struggles are already hard [laughter], so woman struggles — the struggle is there, but that’s where intersectionality comes in, because the two of them interact together. They are not separate things to me. And then also the fact that I am middle class I would say, you know, we are comfortable. We are not just popping bottles at the club, but we are comfortable, so I do think that that’s a smaller part, but as Colleen said, COVID has definitely showed me how fortunate I am that I don’t have to worry about, okay, what if my hours get cut, what if I can’t go in.
But, yeah, so that’s my pie.
Dr. Yong: For my pie, I chose to put about half of my pie to reflect my own identity as an immigrant. I moved to this country from Singapore, and I consider myself an Asian-American person, since I have lived here for more than half of my life now, but it does really enter a lot into my head space. A lot of times I’m talking with people at work, and they make references to maybe like, cultural figures or things that I don’t know about or am not familiar with, movies or things like that. It reminds me that I’m not home. These are not the places that I grew up in. And being Asian is also a thing that I think about a lot. There is a lot of pressure especially in the sciences for people to live up to the model minority myth, you know the myth that all Asians somehow are good at math. And I happen to identify and embody that myth, so it’s a strange pressure to hold, to think about how I inhabit the space in which I work and live as an Asian-American person.
You’ll notice that I also put on different little categories here for being a gay individual and an able-bodied individual. I should also say that I hope the activity doesn’t prompt you to feel judged in any way. The pie that you created is the pie that you created, and there’s no right or wrong answer there. And what the prompting here might also lead you to think about is why certain slices are bigger and smaller than others, and in this case, I definitely think about the way in which I’m able-bodied but not to the degree to which I think I should. There’s so many assumptions I make in the way in which I move around the world, I don’t have to worry about going up and down stairs, I can type, I can see, and I can hear, and everything is so easy for me. I never have to think about those things, and yet I would like to be able to understand better the experiences of others who don’t have those same experiences that I do.
So, the activity for me is not one that makes me feel bad, but in a way, it reminds me that there are certain pieces of my pie that I don’t think as much about, and the fact that I don’t have to think about them as much is already a form of privilege.
Dr. Lewis: Totally, and just a quick announcement. You’ll see now that we have started making all of the Q&A questions live, so I think everybody can see those now. I wanted to mention that. And one of the questions that maybe happened before that was noting that my pie doesn’t include the fact that I have a Ph.D. and just picking up what Darryl was saying, I think there are pieces of our identity that end up being invisible to us, and in particular, my parents and my sister all have Ph.D.s, and that’s coming from a particular place of privilege that, you know, it may be doesn’t change how people interact with me at the grocery store. No one knows, but it definitely shapes my experience, and it shapes my sense of at-homeness and belonging in the academy, I think in really important ways.
I have some other questions for us to think about. I noticed that none of us put on there like sort of our pronouns and thinking about the pronouns that we use as being particularly salient, and, again, what you put on your pie is not a judgment, but I think it’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the ways in which other people might have different experiences.
So, let’s just start with like why pronouns are so, I think, important. It seems like more of a new thing. Can either of you share some advice about that or et cetera?
Dr. McMullen: Definitely. That’s something that I have implemented, and I am sure you have as well. In my classroom, in general, I introduce my pronouns on the first day, and in a small enough class, I will ask everyone to introduce their pronouns if they would like to, and students thank me at the end for that.
It’s just amazing how they come up and really, really appreciate it, that it’s important to show, hey, even though I’m cisgender, and I’m all of these things that aren’t different from the quote/unquote, “norm,” I’m still sensitive to this, and I think it is showing that you are sensitive to people’s pronouns that may be different from how they present in the world, and it definitely helps as well. What do you think, Darryl?
Dr. Yong: I totally agree with you. I love that practice too. Another thought that I had was recently, when I misgendered a student, I knew that they wanted me to use they/them pronouns, and I misgendered them. It was a mistake. I didn’t make a huge deal about it, just later I said, “Hey you know what, I really am sorry, I am not sure if you heard me say it, but I just used the wrong pronouns, I’m really sorry.” They were like, “Oh, no, no worries, it’s all good.” I think just having that openness, to be real and a little bit transparent with your students is helpful too.
Dr. Lewis: Yeah, I think not exploding and being like, “oh, I’m so sorry, I messed up,” is a good response. The other thing that I tell my students is you totally don’t have to share your pronouns, and if you don’t share your pronouns, we’ll just use your name. You definitely have to tell us what name you want us to call you. That’s a normal thing to have to do when we are introducing ourselves in a small class, so if you don’t list your pronouns, we can just use your name. And what I do is I practice with my sisters or other close friends, where I know their pronouns, and I just practice constructing sentences that don’t use their gender pronouns so I can sort of switch into a mode where I’m only using someone’s name. That’s one of my strategies.
Dr. McMullen: That’s really good. That’s really good. I think one important part that Darryl brought up is that, you know, we get it wrong sometimes. This is a very new thing for a lot of us, and I had like a very similar thing happen. You know, I have a friend who is also a student, and I constantly call them “her” by accident. And I just text back, “sorry, they, them.” But they understand that it’s something that I’m, you know, getting used to, and it’s not something that I do on purpose. So I think if you come from a place of this is me trying, versus I’m — hey, just in conversation, for example, with other faculty members, they will not use their pronouns, and I make a point to do that, in that moment, just to show, hey, this is what they prefer to be referred to as, so let’s just respect that. Even in places where the person isn’t, I think it’s also important.
Dr. Lewis: Totally, and I think you hit on an important piece, and then we’ll go to Beth with a question. I think you hit on an important piece on the difference between our intention and our impact, where you know, our intentions, I think, are going to be good. We are not talking on this webinar to people probably who want to have a negative impact, but it doesn’t mean our impact is going to be positive. So the extent to which we can say “I’m sorry” I think is really powerful. And sometimes when I have had a negative impact, I feel super defensive, but it’s really — I think that’s normal. But I think it’s really important to say sorry and make sure to not center my emotional experience of guilt or defensiveness but to be like, “Oh, like, that was hurtful. I’m sorry,” and the feelings that matter right now are not mine.
Beth: There’s a question from the Q&A that’s related to that.
Dr. Lewis: Perfect.
Beth: So if I could — it’s talking about how the exercise of sharing pronouns ended up outing someone who was transitioning and felt pressured to adopt neutral pronouns before they were ready. Does anybody want to comment or react to that?
Dr. Lewis: I find that when I invite students that they can share their pronouns, I find that like 75% will, and so I think it is not uncommon, in my context, for people to not share their pronouns, and so I hope that that would make it a more positive welcoming space, but there might sometimes be things that we do to be inclusive that have a negative impact.
Dr. Yong: Right, and I’ll just add there’s another comment here about someone suggesting that we could use index cards and have students fill them out privately with you. I choose to use a different approach. I use name tents in my classroom, so everybody has their own name tents, and we add stickers to them every time, and they can choose to write their pronouns on them if they want to. Another thing that is really helpful at our institution and I would recommend this to you, if this isn’t available yet you can ask about it, so in our learning management system, our student information system, students are able to go in and pronounce their name with a recording and also indicate their pronouns in the system, and so that’s a system-wide decision that you can choose to do, and then instructors don’t have to ask them over and over again about that. So, what I usually do is I download my student roster, and it has those pronouns on them already, and then I also have an individual survey that I ask, and then there’s also the name tents, and all of those things are all optional.
Dr. McMullen: I think that’s a really good example of how change starts at the policy level, because once you have something that is a construct, it’s like, this is something that now, everyone, it’s the blanket —
Dr. Lewis: And I think that really closely ties into thinking about, you know, we don’t want to be called an -ist, like Kyla mentioned in the beginning, and thinking about if we think about racism, that we could think about structural racism or sort of intentional racism, or unconscious or unintentional racism, and so I think we can look at racism as an example for ways in which it can be unintentional and small and instituted into policies and practices, and neither of those are the sort of like KKK instantiations of racism. Maybe we could give some examples to folks of some structural racism or some implicit bias or individual unconscious bias?
Dr. McMullen: Yeah, definitely. I would say with the structural racism, I would even talk about college recruitment, at the undergrad and the grad level. Institutions sometimes have lists where they would prefer students to come from, and oftentimes it’s based on, oh, the students who came from this place did very well, but you may not have had a Black person from an inner city school actually apply to the school, and you have already X’d them off the list. It’s not because ths person sat down and said “all of the Black people are stupid at that school,” it’s because they don’t have enough data about that. So it’s an example of how there can be some sort of structural racism, but it’s not anyone in the particular office that said that thing. That’s why it’s important always that you are including everyone in everything.
Dr. Lewis: I think another example of that is the selection of CS students based on whether or not they have taken AP Computer Science, and if you look at some analyses of the AP Computer Science test taking rates that Barb Ericson has done, or the Kapor Center for Social Impact has done some analysis specific to California and, students who were underrepresented in computing because of their race or ethnicity are much less likely to have taken an AP Computer Science test. And then the California analysis by the Kapor Center, led by Alison Scott, looks at the extent to which Black and Latinx students are much less likely to attend a school that offers Computer Science, and then even when the course is offered at that school, are less likely to be enrolled in that AP computer science course. And none of these are like, oh, my gosh, those are bad people. It’s just like, oh, you can understand someone being like, oh, do you know there’s a way that someone could show interest in Computer Science? They can take AP Computer Science; we should select for that. Like, no one is talking about race in that decision, and that’s why we need to like infuse topics of people’s identities and is this differential impact into all of those policy and practice decisions. So, Beth, what were you going to say?
Beth: There’s a question, and I know that you’re particularly good at this, which is — it’s like sometimes when you — and Darryl, you were talking about this, slipping up, you make a mistake, and in all of these contexts, right? And sometimes — what are ways of responding that you use in your work or in your life when you slip up? Or, when someone slips up and you want to let them know that they have slipped up, what are ways that we can do this in a civil and productive way?
Dr. Lewis: Yeah. You know, the advice that I give my students in a software engineering class I think relates. So if you feel — if you receive constructive criticism, you want to ask a follow-up question, because you’re going to feel defensive. If someone tells me I have said something racially problematic, I’m going to feel defensive. I think that’s good. Those are the right feelings. But I want to hide those, because it’s not about my experience, and so a key strategy is to ask a follow-up question, even if just I can eke out, like, I’m sorry or, oh, tell me more. Others?
Dr. McMullen: I would definitely say I like to address things as soon as I realize that it is the problem. It seems like the longer you wait, the less important it may seem to be to you, and like you said before, Colleen, don’t say “oh, I didn’t mean to.” You know, you still have the same impact to that person, so you can’t be too big to apologize to someone because of how your actions, intended or unintended, actually affected them. And then to the other part of the question, about how do you let someone know that this is happening, Colleen and I do this, and also Catherine, we have done this thing called microaggressions, various flavors of microaggressions and the game, how to act if you are microaggressed and how not to be a miscro-agressor. But, one part of it is questioning what happened, can you please explain? For example, people will tell me, “oh wow, you grew up in Northeast DC, how did you learn about computers?” And I’m like, what do you mean by that? You know, just trying to get out the rest of what they are trying to say. Sometimes through the conversation they realize how ridiculous the question is, and they wouldn’t ask someone who didn’t look like me the exact same question, just getting at questioning the question and asking the person about their assumptions or beliefs that guided them to ask you those things.
Dr. Lewis: And we have got a question in the chat about what do you do when someone is angry, and I think for me, it makes me feel more defensive when someone is angry, but at the core, I feel defensive because I understand their anger, that, you know, it’s one thing if something happens once, like if say someone misgenders you once or mispronounces your name once, probably no one is going to get mad. But if it happens to somebody over and over and over again, that this is their daily existence, of no one being willing to get it right, that’s really hurtful, and maybe I’m the straw that broke the camel’s back, but I — you know, sitting with their anger, do you know what I mean, that all I can do is be — I say “I’m sorry.” I want to say that I didn’t mean to, but I don’t say that, because I don’t want to distract from the impact that my mistake has had. But it doesn’t feel good, do you know what I mean? And after I have sat with someone’s anger, I will go and talk to somebody else who, you know, has never had someone mess up their gender pronoun, and I will tell them about how bad I felt and how much I didn’t mean to hurt them and dump, dump, dump, dump, dump. But in the moment, I just sit with their anger, because it’s valid.
Beth: I’m looking at the time, and it’s about ten till. I just wanted to do a time check, and that we can, as I mentioned in the beginning, continue this conversation after the top of the hour, but I also know that a lot of people need to leave. I have a question. So, we have — like in the introduction, I talked a little bit about intersectionality, and you have set this really nice foundation of these different concepts, these different identities. How, do you, in your work, work with the intersectional lens? So, the ways in which these different identities are intersecting in different ways, in classrooms and workplaces? Who wants to take it?
Dr. McMullen: I can start. I don’t know why, but all roads point back to that little stick figure with all of the different identities, you know, poking out. And like with everything that I do, if I’m making a presentation, if I’m talking to my class, if I’m doing research, I try to think about every person who exists at every part of those spectrums. Sometimes, it might not be possible to address every single thing, but I do make sure, you know, if my students have, you know, an ability difference, we have contacted the DRC; I have asked them multiple times, you know, for assistance things. I make sure that there is a captioned version of my slides or things that happen in class. Like, you can turn on an assistive tool in PowerPoint that will live caption what you are doing or talking about, so I’m just making sure that I’m thinking about all of these different ways that we can differ in life, to make sure that no one feels left out.
Dr. Yong: Yeah, I love that approach, Kyla, too. And these principles of Universal Design for Learning are really great, and I think we could do a lot to incorporate that into our own practices in our own institutions. I’ll just also mention that one thing that I think is helpful is to try not to assume people’s experiences just by what you see. There are so many other hidden identities that you don’t know about, so that’s what the intersectionality work reminds me of. It’s not just this idea that people have these identities and they overlap and everybody is unique, oh great. That’s not the end of the story. The end of the story is that, yes, that happens, and people experience biases and incidences against them because of these overlapping identities, and that those incidences and biases are not merely just the sum of the individual identities. There are overlapping constructs of these identities that cause, for example, Black women to experience a different kind of discrimination than just women and just Black people. That was the opening example that Beth used. So when you imagine that being possible, you clearly understand that there is no way for you to generalize based on what you can see, and so by trying to understand and get to know your students better or the people around you that you work with better, you open yourself up to a greater possibility of what they can experience, and that also helps you to then understand how you might design your work environment or your learning environment so that more people can be successful; and not just the ones that typically have been successful in your spaces.
Dr. Lewis: I think another piece about that is just continuing to learn. There are all of these different dimensions, and the extent to which I’m reading authors who identify in particular ways who are sharing their experiences with me so that I can become more sensitized so that my own privilege, and privilege is an unearned and unasked for advantage, my own privilege becomes more salient to me and that I can become more aware of other people’s perspectives, I think is really key. That I’m not going and asking my friend who has a disability to explain what it is like to live in the world with a disability, that I’m finding scholars who talk about disability or people who have written books or articles about their own experiences, that have already done all that emotional labor, that I should be reading and learning and consuming a lot of media about different dimensions of identity, which can get me to feel more comfortable talking about it, and recognizing when I should be asking questions about like, oh, we are not decomposing or disaggregating this group; let’s talk about ways in which we should be.
Beth: I want to share a question from the Q&A. It says, please clarify the power dynamics of intersectionality, as Crenshaw defined it, that — your examples seem to be more about overlap, instead of the fact that intersectionality is about more than one minoritized social identity. Does anyone — yeah, I don’t have to answer any of these questions.
Dr. McMullen: I think the person who asked that question definitely hit the nail on the head. It’s not just the fact that they overlap, but there can be compounding factors in a person’s identity. When you say power dynamics with intersectionality, yeah, even your own position in a power dynamic is an intersectional identity, because if you are on the low end of the totem pole for —
Dr. Lewis: Another way I think about it is the book “Stamped from the Beginning, the Definitive History of Racist Ideas,” the first part of the title is correct, by Ibram Kendi, and that book talks about the ways in which narratives specific to Black women were invented to justify violence, and talks about specific narratives justify violence against Black men as well, but thinking about the narratives that were invented about Black women to justify violence and the ways in which those play out in everyday situations, whether they are micro things, so one-on-one interaction things, or broader structural things. So one thing that I think about is as a white woman, talking about racism, no one has ever told me that I’m angry, that like I’m angry about racism, but because the idea of Black women being angry was an invented narrative about Black women that was not invented about white women, I have particular power, not just because of my whiteness but because of the specific narrative about Black women in talking about issues of racism. So, I think there’s interesting complexity there, as it relates to power. But maybe, Beth, as a sociologist, there’s another piece that you want to add in?
Beth: Actually, what I’m putting my hat on is as the NCWIT person and how does this play out in technology, specifically how these intersectional identities, what have you seen in your work. But I may have to pause you for a moment, because we are at four minutes to the hour, and I want to — I just want to do some concluding remarks, and then anybody who can stay, please stay, and we can continue having these conversations. Oh, first thing I want to show you is that NCWIT has several resources about intersectionality. The first one is the one that we talked about, where you can actually take these videos that talk about these same concepts that we discussed today, and we have reflection questions. And we have some advice on like kind of how and who you might want to do this exercise with, and then we also have “Intersectionality in Tech 101,” if you really want to dig into the concept of intersectionality, and that will take you to a lot of other resources. There’s a blog post, “The Importance of Complexity in Attending to Intersectionality,” that my colleagues wrote, and then there is also a “Critical Listening Guide,” which is a little bit broader than that, but it actually gives you some practice in talking and thinking and seeing some of these things emerging, say, when you’re at a conference, if we’re ever going to get back to going to conferences, or in the classroom or in the workplace. But I — before we go, I really want to make sure that before the official end, to thank Colleen and Kyla and Darryl for such a thought-provoking and inspiring conversation. They will be staying around at the — after the top of the hour. I want to make sure that you don’t forget to join us for our next conversation in this series, which is this Wednesday, May 13th, from 5:00-6:00 p.m. Mountain Time. Dr. Brenda Allen will host a conversation with award-winning writer Tommy Orange, where they will talk about his latest book “There There” and themes related to urban Native Americans and Native American history and culture and implications for technology context. Please go to our website, NCWIT.org/summit/ncwit-converstions-change, which I think we can probably put in the Q&A so you all have that. And then evaluation is a core practice for NCWIT and our member organizations, so, in that light, please complete the short pop-up survey you’re going to get when you get off Zoom to provide feedback on this session. We really use that information to assess and improve our work. And, finally, I want to thank all of the people behind the scenes who made this webinar possible, our Q&A and room monitors, our communications and technical staff, the research team and NCWIT leadership, and, of course, our sponsors. So, with all of that said, let’s dig back into the conversation.
Dr. Lewis: And maybe a first thing to do there is to reflect back on that activity. So,we did the activity of the pie and asked you to do that and reflect, but I would love to hear from Kyla and Darryl about thinking about the ways in which this might go if you adopted the pie activity in some other context.
Dr. Yong: I can jump in there. So, the pie activity is a really lovely one, if you want to help people understand a bit more of the idea of intersectionality as it relates to their own personal experience, and then also there’s this bit about how, you know, there’s a realization of why certain pie pieces are maybe smaller than others, why some are missing, that could prompt you to remember, oh, this is a place of privilege for me. Now, the thing about this activity is that, often, it’s best if it’s done sort of reflectively. If you do it in a group, you want to be really careful about the way in which you ask people to share out. So, you know, Kyla and Colleen here have both been so generous in the way that they have shared, but just keeping in mind that there’s emotional labor there involved in having to share your experience, and you don’t want to also put people on the spot to, for example, speak on behalf of all disabled people, right? That wouldn’t be fair to them. So if you deploy this activity, I would just caution folks to be really careful in the ways that they ask people to share, and, of course, Colleen and Kyla and I were here, and we definitely shared our own pie pieces with you, just to model and to talk through the activity with you. But that was because we all agreed that we wanted to do that. You know, if you’re in an activity, and you just ask somebody, to turn to a neighbor, to share the pie with them, it could put them on the spot in an awkward way, so I just caution against that. Otherwise, the activity could be really useful, if folks want to dig into it with their colleagues and institutions, with their students.
Dr. McMullen: I would add too like in computing courses, most of the students take computers and modern society because they learn how to make things but they don’t ever think about the people behind it and the impact of the things they make now and in the future — so I have a version of this where I asked them to describe themselves, and then talk about how a certain piece of technology would affect a person who is the exact opposite or how something they have made affects someone who is the opposite, like is this something that is ability-prohibitive, is it gender-specific, like what assumptions does this technology make about a person. So they can start to — they don’t have to divulge everything about themselves, but they can, you know, flip the equation and start to think okay someone who’s not me, cause we tend to design things based on what we would do, what we would like, what we would have, so flip it, and think that someone not exactly like me may not have the exact same experience. So that may be a lower level way of not making a student have to give their whole pie but to say, “someone different from me might have these sorts of dimensions.” What I found from these activities — I don’t make them share with the class when we do the Harvard implicit bias assessment, but they can choose to share with me and their reflections of themselves and what their results were, and we’ve had really good conversations just about things that have been unwrapped there. So, yeah, it will take just a little bit extra as a professor or an advisor or someone in the academic space to do this, but I think it’s worth it. I really think it’s worth it.
Dr. Lewis: Totally, and I was thinking, as Beth was presenting the resources for intersectionality, I think the Harvard implicit association tests cover a lot of different topics that can then intersect through this lens of intersectionality, but I think it’s a really helpful tool for becoming more familiar with some of the stereotypes that exist about each of these dimensions, because I think, actually, there’s power in knowing the stereotypes so that you can better recognize subtle manifestations of them, in language and in interactions and things like that, and so I think the implicit association test from Harvard that Kyla mentioned is another really helpful resource there. And the other piece I wanted to mention is it’s really important, for me particularly, if I’m doing this in a classroom, as a white woman, that I’m not — the pie chart piece, that I’m not expecting my students of color to explain racism to their peers. That’s not my students’ job, and so I like the strategies that Darryl and Kyla shared to make sure that I’m not putting undue burden on students. And Darryl and I co-teach a class about social justice in STEM, and that we are just going to be talking about all of these different dimensions, and sometimes people are going to know more or less, and we talk about this concern explicitly, that people aren’t expected to teach us about the systems of oppression that affect them. They are always welcome to share their experiences, but as a practice, we don’t ask somebody, “oh, but what is this one like,” do you know what I mean? So we invite people to share but don’t expect people to share; that’s not their job. Okay. Beth, do you want to redirect us with a question?
Beth: Yeah, so, to think about this broadly, both in academic contexts and in the workplace, speaking to our NCWIT Member Representatives. So, these are people who are in their organizations, working to increase women’s meaningful and impactful participation in computing, right? So, a lot of what we talk about, we talk about lots of ways and techniques, but, ultimately, you need data. So, you need to be able to measure how you’re doing. And I don’t know, but how do you in your context, and maybe I can talk about how NCWIT does this as well, thinking about intersectionality when it comes to data and how do you know how you’re doing with whom. Anybody want to take that one?
Dr. McMullen: It’s kind of a double-edged sword, being a double minority, like just anecdotally, one of my — my roommate and I from grad school were the two Black women in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, so they give an exit interview, and if we check Black and woman, they know it’s one of the two of us. So a lot of times, if you do look at intersectional data, it is at a point where it has deanonymized whoever the population is, so I want to make people aware of the lack of information just because of the lack of data points as well, and I believe if there are under five, you’re not supposed to report, so I think that contributes to why there isn’t a lot of data, measurable data on the effects of intersectionality.
Dr. Yong: I totally wanted to add on to that. That’s a really great point, Kyla, and also one that we have to be careful of when we are trying to extrapolate from data when you have small n’s. So even if you have more than 5, you can’t expect 6 to be that very representative. I think listening to people’s stories is important. I think there’s also a place for doing research outside of your institution to figure out what the broader patterns are, within the field of computing, within the field of mathematics, what can we learn, because there may be larger n’s there that you can then take back to your campus. So, for example, something that we did recently was to dig through the literature about — I’m sorry. I’m using an academic-specific example again. Forgive me for that, but what are the experiences of people of color and women and the intersectionality of these identities when people go up for tenure. What does that tenure process look like? In general, there’s a lot of research out there, and so we wrote a white paper for our reappointment and tenure committee to understand. So we are not asking the people on our campus specifically, because if we were to ask the Black women, there would only be one that we could ask, right, but we can learn from other people’s research and then draw from their experience and then try to learn from that.
Beth: At NCWIT, when we are reporting national level data, we try to disentangle it as best we can to see the different experiences of, say, Black women, Hispanic women, white women, Asian women in computing. It’s sometimes really hard to get that data, because a lot of places aren’t reporting this. Case in point, now, this isn’t related to computing, but I was looking up some data, because I was thinking — next week, we would have been in Detroit, Michigan for our Summit, if it weren’t for the pandemic. I started looking at statistics for Detroit, I could not find intersectional data, because we know two things are happening: Men are more likely to have really severe reactions and die, than women, and we know that it is impacting African-Americans at a greater rate. I can’t find any data, and I really want to know this, I can’t find anyone who is reporting that data; like, what’s the impact on Black men? Of the virus? Right? And, you know, we know a little bit about socioeconomic stats, but how is it interacting with other social identities? And we don’t have it. So, again, it’s like Kim Crenshaw encouraging us to keep asking that intersectional question. Because it can have profound — it can mask. To not do an intersectional analysis can mask processes that are happening. So, what other questions do we have? Or are we wrapping up?
Dr. Yong: I might take a stab at a couple that have a similar theme here. There’s a question here, how do you recommend college students coming from an underrepresented group have the courage to major a field in which structural racism might be present, and another one: what advice do you give to someone whose desire to be addressed using a non-cisgendered pronoun is ignored deliberately or by accident. I think the thing may be to consider here as much as possible when we are in our institutions, whether academic or corporate or other, we try to place the burden on the organization and the institution and less on the people, as much as we can. I know it’s not going to be possible to completely replace that burden, but the question about how we get students to have the courage, I guess, is an interesting one. Yes, they have to have the courage, but also the institution has to have the willingness to do the hard work to make the space inclusive and welcoming so that a person doesn’t have to have so much courage, right. It shouldn’t be the case that someone doesn’t major in the STEM field because they lack the courage to do so from being in an underrepresented group. We would love for that to not be the case, right, and yet we do know that bias and implicit and all kinds of microaggressions are going to happen to them. I think our current model in academia often comes down to, like, giving students some sort of extra study sessions or, like, peer groups. We are almost expecting students to inoculate themselves against all of the things that are going to happen to them, as opposed to thinking about how we can change our organizations so those things won’t happen or will happen less. So I think a shift in perspective is really helpful there.
Beth: And actually, we have a webinar, the last one of this series, which is next Friday, where our president or our CEO, Lucy Sanders, and some of our social science team is going to talk about some new tools that we have at NCWIT to do this kind of cultural assessment of your organizations, and we have tools both for the technical workplace and for academia, and it is — it starts with like what we are doing here, which is how much do people have a shared vocabulary so you can actually have meaningful conversations about these issues. That’s one aspect of it. Another aspect is do you have policies and procedures, do you have support of leadership to make these cultural changes, and it’s actually a set of tools that you can use to do this work, to actually do it in your organization, so I would encourage everyone to join us next Friday. Are there any other questions or comments that you would like to make?
Dr. McMullen: Yeah, can I add to the last question? The person asked it basically went back to 2001 and embodied me and asked my question for me about, you know, being — because I was so afraid to major in Computer Science, because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me, and from just retrospection and also looking at the podcast, all of the people, all of the Black women who we talked about were all the only one who looked like us or one of the few — the main theme has been community, like having community in your institution, whether it’s in your department, made up of people from other departments, it could be your family, it could be any sort of community, but sometimes that courage and that affirmation to do what you need to do, it may not come from your department, and that’s okay, but you do need to have some sort of community. And I think also for that same student, institutions tend to put their money where their heart is, so if the institution actually spends money to have a diversity and inclusion officer, someone who has an actual budget towards these things and is not just an officer by name, that may indicate to you that this institution actually cares about diversity, and this is a place that I can go and know that it’s not going to be perfect, because nowhere is, but if things do happen, there will be listening ears as well.
Beth: We are at about 13 minutes after, and I want to be aware of all of your time. Would you like to make final comments? Or…
Dr. Lewis: Thank you so much for having us on today, and thank you, everyone, for joining us for these important conversations. For me, I think becoming comfortable talking about different dimensions of our identity really can help me do a better job in creating the institutional change that we were just talking about, and while we are creating that institutional change, trying to support the individuals who are currently within the institution. Because we — I wish we could only focus on institutional change and just fix everything and we’d be ready, but we have got people in here now, and they need lifeboats, and so I think for me, learning the vocabulary, getting comfortable talking about it is an important piece of that. And I’m sorry we didn’t get to everyone’s questions.
Dr. McMullen: Yeah. I would also like to thank everyone for showing up, like just being here and listening to this shows that you want to be a part of the conversation for change, and let’s say you don’t get it right all the time. Someone may get their feelings hurt. Don’t be hard on yourself, because you have to have a growth mindset here. We are all learning this. This is something that is relatively new to a lot of us. Just making sure, as Colleen mentioned earlier, that in these conversations, you’re taking time to educate yourself about these new topics, and not rely on the person who is being marginalized to explain everything to you. Part of that is you coming here. So, thank you so much to all of you. I hope you make use of a lot of the resources that are here. They are really good resources, and NCWIT does a really good job of packaging together all of this material so that you don’t have to go all over the place to figure these things out.
Dr. Yong: One more quick plus one for Kyla’s comment about growth mindset. Maybe apply that in a slightly different way. Let’s all have the perspective no matter how much you know, even if you think you know a lot about these topics, there’s always more to learn, and that we never really quite get to being woke in a way, whatever word that you want to use in a way. I kind of hate that word, but we are all in the process of waking. If we take that perspective, we are much less likely to use this new-found language to then be jerky to other people, basically.
Beth: Exactly. Thank you so much, Colleen, Kyla, and Darryl for joining us, and everyone else who has joined us and is still with us, the over 70 people who are still with us. I want to remind you to join us on Wednesday evening at 5:00 p.m., Mountain, for a conversation with award winning writer Tommy Orange and host Dr. Brenda Allen, and please fill out the survey. Thank you so much, everyone. Have a good day.