Diversity and Inclusion: Reflections from GWHT on our Journey Towards Anti-Racism

Part 2

Our lab met this Thursday for the second of our lab discussions about moving GWHT towards anti-racism. The conversation was led by two of our grad students, Robert Morhard and Megan Madonna. For this discussion, Rob and Megan asked the lab members to engage in materials prior to the lab meeting.

We began our discussion by engaging in a recap of the 2014, “I, Too, Am Harvard” photo campaign exploring the diverse experiences that black students at Harvard have to face. Our team responded to several of these pictures, which led to a group discussion.

“I have heard so many people in my life say this and I know that their intentions may mean well but I find myself frustrated that the first response is to be defensive rather than to perhaps listen to someone else’s perspective.”

“Black people and women have been and still are systematically oppressed in our society. On top of that, women are criticized for having emotions in a way that men are not.”

“Statements like the one in this picture invalidate the person’s hard work and imply that they only got into college because colleges are trying to diversify.”

While the #itooamharvard campaign happened back in 2014, our team was saddened to think that many of these comments are still being used to degrade the experiences and lives of black students and faculty members.

What would it look like if students at Duke University and students within our Pratt School of Engineering where supposed to participate in a campaign similar to #itooamharvard?

It is unfortunate and upsetting that because of systemic racism and systems that exclude minorities, many Duke students would likely respond to this campaign with similar remarks, despite the 6 years that have passed.

Our lab members shared their thoughts below on what our center and other offices across Duke and other universities can do as we move away from being racist and complacent and take a step towards being anti-racist.

We ended our discussion by thinking about the GRE exam. At Duke University and many other graduate school programs, the GRE is required for every application. In recent town hall discussions across the engineering department, there have been conversations about whether or not the GRE is an effective way to make a decision on inviting a candidate to a visit day or to an interview. We talked about socioeconomic and racial disparities that may cause some students to enter the BME graduate school application already at a disadvantage. For example, some students may not have had the opportunity to attend a more prestigious BME undergrad or have access to pay for costly GRE prep classes. Our GWHT motto is, “Innovate with passion, Deliver with Compassion.” If we are going to train passionate innovators, we have to start by being compassionate in the way that we view candidates and potential applicants.

Our current grad students play a key role in determining which students join GWHT each year and a few had some thoughts to share about the GRE, specifically when thinking about the exam and scores through the lens and approach of becoming an anti-racist center.

https://www.fairtest.org/gre

As we seek to become an anti-racist lab and center, we are committing to continuing this conversation about the ways that the GRE and our application process can be a means of excluding students. While we may not be able to change the way that Universities ultimately decide to conduct their application process, we are doing our best to take actions that will make our center inclusive and anti-racist.

These are the questions our lab will be reflecting on this week and we encourage you to do the same:

  1. Within our lab or broader community, how can we facilitate inclusion and open-mindedness?
  2. How does the media portray black culture?
  3. A lab member pointed out that, “some elements of black culture are so praised, but seemingly only when it’s white people engaging in them.” Have you noticed black culture being praised when white people are engaged? What can you do to center the culture of BIPOC instead of committing cultural appropriation?
  4. What actions can our lab take to show solidarity and support? Both for students who have experienced racism and international students who are experiencing many unknowns about the 2020 academic year?
  5. One our lab members said, “It can be easy to do the intellectual work without actually confronting the reality of your biases.” What is a practical step that you can take in confronting a bias that you have?

Innovate with passion, deliver with compassion. www.DukeGWHT.org