Fin.

This entire semester, I kept thinking how interesting it has been taking this class and “Engineering Ethics and the Public” (Ethics) simultaneously. I have been able to use what I have learned in one class to shape assignments in the other, even the required blog posts. I now have realized it makes perfect sense that they are both fulfill the course requirements for the “Preparing the Future Professoriate” certificate offered by the Graduate School.

“Contemporary Pedagogy” has expanded my understanding of some of the vital conversations that happen among futuristic academics and upper-level administrators, often providing concise terminology for some of the concepts discussed in Ethics. Ethics helped me to give a context for these ideas within my own field of study.

Parker J. Palmer’s text, A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited, illuminated that one last time before the semester came to a close. Parker walks readers through 5 “immodest” proposals to help transform the institutions that dominate professionals’ lives:

 

  1. We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us, as if they possessed powers that render us helpless – an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue.
  2. We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects.
  3. We must start taking seriously the “intelligence” in emotional intelligence.
  4. We must offer students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support.
  5. We must help our students understand what is means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them.

I found these suggestions made by Parker to be spot-on–especially the understanding of how, as a society, we overvalue the emotions of “anxiety, anger, guilt, grief, and burnout” in our professional lives over emotional intelligence, even in our personal lives. My friends and I say it all the time: “Americans love to seem busy.”

 

Two more things jumped out from Parker’s text that I believe summarized what I’ve taken away from both courses.

Contemporary Pedagogy: “The lesson our students learn is to stay safe by keeping quiet…small wonder that they carry their passivity into the workplace. They have not learned, because we did not teach them…”

This highlights the one term that I feel I obligated to subscribe to if I am fortunate enough to be an instructor: critical pedagogy. The next generation of professionals NEED it. We NEED it.

Ethics: “How do I stay close to the passions and commitments that took me into this work–challenging myself, my colleagues, and my institution to keep faith with this profession’s deepest values?”

Believe it or not, although my field’s primary value is to protect public health, people have acted pretty unethically and I never want to be in the position to do the same.

 

Thank you for contributing to my blog this semester.

Fin.

During the last phase of our final ethics project, I set out to interview one of two residents I had identified from news articles pertaining to the sanitation crisis in the Black Belt region of rural Alabama (you will hear more about the issue when you watch my video). One component we are supposed to consider when selecting interview candidates is to consider someone “who seems to have limited professional, political, and/or economic power, and whose voice is not usually captured prominently or accurately in official reports about the case.”

These residents, then, seemed like prime interviewees because they definitely had limited power and surely they would make time to share their story.  Then I started to ask myself if I’m worthy of their time.

Of course, I genuinely care and would love the opportunity to be let in, but I’m no journalist. For now, or in the near future, I have no plans of writing a book illuminating the struggles of these individuals. The best I can guarantee is that my classroom community will come to a basic understanding of the issue–given their brains aren’t too fatigued from the other 18 presentations.

If I thought I could make an impact on getting this story out to the people who would and could do something, there would be no hesitation on that end. I, have even grown tired brainstorming how I could incorporate these efforts in my own graduate research. If not this issue specifically, then at least taking into consideration communities whose realities are often overlooked in the mainstream classes in my field (e.g., decentralized wastewater treatment)–in my own research and even the curriculum I may have the chance develop if I become a faculty member. I have actually had to transform these ideas into concrete plans in a class I am currently taking through the graduate school titled: Contemporary Pedagogy–highly recommend!

I think exploring the project until this point has helped me to realize the ultimate goal, which is to step outside what I have been trained and dig deeper. And I have been able to do this, without having to interview these residents. I also think having taken the class, I am even more prone to consider the ethical implications of my actions. In this case, I cannot say I support asking someone who is going through a real-time struggle to make time for my ethics project because I have to find someone with limited power. It’s just giving me exploitative vibes.

To clarify, I think the interview does challenge us to listen and tell an accurate narrative–this is not the part of the final project that I am questioning. I have no doubt incredible projects have emerged from this project. I, on the other hand, decided to change course and decided to reach out to two people that were a little further removed, but perhaps still have limited political and economic power in the sense they have to work hard to be heard–a community activist and an assistant professor, both natives of the region.

I don’t know, maybe I did the residents a disservice by not allowing them to tell their stories. However, it’s not like I would be the first to do so–I mean, I had to learn about them somewhere.

I accept that I may be missing the point. So I ask, what are your thoughts?

Fin.

Talk.

I recently attended at workshop led by the ombudsperson at the graduate school. Thus, I want to take the time to share some resources to help engage in critical conversations with you all. It seems that many of the ethical dilemmas we may face in our graduate and professional careers may be caused in large part by the inability or unwillingness to approach difficult conversations constructively. I hope this helps.

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Note: violence in this sense is not necessarily physical violence, but rather responding destructively to difficult conversations.

Here’s a worksheet to help facilitate this:

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Lastly, it is important to prime opportunities for feedback by:

  • Know yourself.
  • If overwhelmed by feedback, ask for one to two key takeaways in which you could benefit from the most.
  • Coach your coach.
  • Invite people to really get to know you, so that they can give appropriate feedback according to who you are or who you have the potential to be.

I am tired, y’all.

As a woman, I feel that I am always on the lookout for gender biases.

As a black woman, racial bias gets added to the investigation.

As a black, Muslim woman, I can’t forget to search the grounds for traces of Islamophobia.

I am a detective for the people–always ready to call out BS when I see it.

I am tired, y’all. 

When listening to Dr. F’s story, the MAIN thought that crossed my mind was “Dr. M wouldn’t have pulled that mess if Dr. F wasn’t a woman.” (God forbid she was pregnant!) When I make observations such as this, I am often met with blank stares or even feelings of discomfort. Sorry. I am not necessarily concerned with whether or not that can be proven and upheld in the court of law. I am sure there have been many instances that would prove otherwise for other people. The point is that as a gender minority, in any male-dominated field…we need to be extra cautious when interacting with our counterparts. We should not be so quick to think that we will be equally respected, just because we are occupying the same space and have likely followed a similar path. This advice applies to any minority in their respective fields.

Gender bias does exist, even if we do not recognize it. Please don’t get me started on the myth that is “post-racial America.”

People that I interact with, coming to the conversations from places of privilege, do not often understand why I am always so quick to get out my magnifying glass, fired up and ready to investigate. I feel bad for a split second, then I reflect on what my good friend (in my head, obviously), James Baldwin had to say about rage:

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious,

is to be in a rage almost all the time.

So that the first problem is how to control that rage

so that it won’t destroy you.”

As I continue to grow, I will try to heed his advice–to funnel my rage into efforts that will impact change. Forget passive comments during class. I got work to do and I need all of my energy.

“Tell me who you loyal to” – Loyalty by Kendrick Lamar ft. Rihanna

[Kendrick Lamar]
Tell me who you loyal to
Is it money? Is it fame? Is it weed? Is it drink?

Is it comin’ down with the loud pipes in the rain?
Big chillin’, only for the power in your name

Tell me who you loyal to
Is it love for the streets when the lights get dark?
Is it unconditional when the ‘Rari don’t start?
Tell me when your loyalty is comin’ from the heart

[Rihanna]
Tell me who you loyal to
Do it start with your woman or your man?
Do it end with your family and friends?
Or you’re loyal to yourself in advance?
I said, tell me who you loyal to

[Kendrick Lamar & Rihanna]
Is it anybody that you would lie for?
Anybody you would slide for?
Anybody you would die for?

[Kendrick Lamar]
That’s what God for

Anybody who doesn’t know me (probably doesn’t help that my page is anonymous) should know that I am, and probably forever will be, a lover of the culture that has been formed by hip hop and rap. That does not mean I love everything that the culture has become, often I find myself in strong disagreement. But don’t get me wrong, I still will dance to just about any dope beat–forget the words.

I digress. To me, hip hop in its origin is not about drugs, violence, money, objectification of women–but that’s what sells and ultimately appeals to people who would otherwise have no connection to the true realities that continue feed the culture. People do not want to hear about and will not pay to hear about oppression, depression, poverty, or really anything sad. Everyone’s just trying to have a good time.

In this day of everything about hip hop I do not support at the forefront and referenced as the reasons people do not like hip hop, great artists still emerge: the Kendricks, the Coles, the Sabas, the Joey Bada$$es of the rap world. Who have not only have mastered the art of lyricism, but also address issues that are real to the culture and the world beyond.

In class last week we talked about loyalty, and how loyalty to the truth should come before loyalty to one’s self and one’s people. Kendrick and Rihanna want to know who you’re loyal to–so they know, and you can’t make a fool out of them. At the heart of an otherwise fire track, listeners are being asked to question they’re own loyalties. Do people even know who/what they’re loyal to? When loyalty is not intentionally reflected upon, it is not long before others may realize that they’re loyal to nothing but their own desires: to be rich, to be powerful, to live carefree.

Take the time to think about where your loyalty, explicit and implicit, lies. To push even further, decide if this is something you are willing to lie for, slide for, or die for. Because your loyalty will be tested one day, and my only hope is that you have the strength to move forward in the world when you choose to not lie, slide, or die for the sake of loyalty.

Consider taking an Implicit Association Test which explores implicit biases–which I believe can be seen as misplaced loyalty. I will not say I am a strong supporter of these tests or that I understand the research behind it, but at the very least it gets ya thinking.

How much should alter our own behavior to not be poisoned?

In chapter 2 of The Young Professional’s Survival Guide, titled “Toxic Bosses and Colleagues,” C. K. Gunsalus references advice from Michael Maccoby’s article in the Harvard Business Review, “Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons.”

It is my understanding, as C. K. Gunsalus has explained, the central thesis of Maccoby’s theory is that a narcissistic leader can be a good thing for a team, as they have desirable qualities of a leader (e.g., great vision, ability to attract followers). However, in order for this leader to not wreak havoc, this person has to be put in check allowing for the positive aspects this leader to outshine the negative impacts.

That makes sense, even as we consider our individual places in society. We should be constantly trying to illuminate our own positive qualities–not to say this is easy or readily achievable.

C. K. Gunsalus proceeds to say:

“[Maccoby’s] advice to people with such a boss: ‘Always empathize with your boss’s feelings, but don’t expect any empathy back; give your boss ideas, but always be prepared to let him take credit for them; hone your time management skills…disagree only when you can demonstrate he will benefit from a different point of view.”

My reaction: “ummmmmmm, can we say exhausting?”

In my opinion, reacting in such a way enables toxic behavior. That is an entirely one-sided relationship, a relationship we would hopefully be less willing to tolerate in our personal relationships.  I understand that work is work (i.e., not a place for personal relationships), and people have bills to pay–especially when the narcissistic boss determines whether one has the ability to pay one’s bills. However, most people spend more time at work during a work week than with those in their personal lives.The work load can be demanding enough on its own. Thus, it is important that healthy, non-toxic relationships are maintained at work.

The advice to “be prepared to look for another job if your boss tips over to unproductive or destructive narcissism,” does not seem like a solution. In lacks accountability. If I , my work, and my reliability are being supervised and evaluated–how is it beneficial for me to be more empathetic to my boss than my boss is to me? If I show up work late, perhaps due to a family problem, I will be held accountable. If my boss consistently shows up to work late, no questions asked.

What are your thoughts? How can we cultivate the positive qualities of narcissistic leaders and perhaps actually get them to be less narcissistic? Is it even possible? Should these types of people be leaders, despite their positive attributes?

 

Note: this is not me speaking from experience, I am fortunate enough to have amazing advisors with more empathy than I could have ever imagined. 

A Reflective Post on Academia and Activism–and Perspective (but that starts with a P).

I’ve given much reflection on Thursday’s class led by Sid. There was concern about how some people are unwilling to believe Flint is getting better although there is data from multiple institutions showing otherwise. My main thought in response was “it is reasonable for people whose trust has been totally violated to not believe in the ‘power in numbers.’” Perhaps for them, they see it as the more scientists/engineers that get involve saying things are getting better, the more people involved in the cover-up. Especially if they feel the injustice was based on racial bias. Others argue that it has more to do with poverty than race, those who claim the white people in Flint are just as poor as the black people. After all, how many agencies were involved in the DC Crisis?

However, this morning I had a conversation that made me reflect on how considerate I was being of other people’s perspective.

The topic of discussion: academia and activism, with a sprinkle of politics (the topic which seems to follow me inside and outside of ethics class). I recalled the topics of a guest speaker, Dr. Emily Satterwhite, in my contemporary pedagogy class. Dr. Satterwhite is an Associate Professor in Appalachian Studies, Department of Religion and Culture.

This is Dr. Satterwhite.

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And this is Dr. Satterwhite being removed from construction equipment by state police after 14 hours. It took two hours to cut through the steel pipe in which her arms are locked. She was arrested, and later released on bond.

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Despite being in liberal arts and human science, even Dr. Satterwhite reaped the negative consequences for her involvement in act of protest. This particular story in her chapter is complex. I do not wish to get the details wrong, so I do encourage you to look into it yourself or reach out to Dr. Satterwhite personally.

The short take-away provided by the other person engage in this conversation: bias. Being too committed to one side of the story. I am not saying that is true for Dr. Satterwhite, but that is the perception and root of said negative consequences.

I asked where does that leave us scientists, engineers, academics in regard to activism? It’s not an easy answer, as you know from numerous class discussions. In this morning’s discussion, this person expressed concern that academics are seen as on the left (of the political spectrum), thus skewing others view of their work. I followed up by asking why it is that the problem is that the work academics are involved in are considered to be on the left in the first place. My example: global climate change. I said that I believe this was an example of an issues seen as an issue on the left, thus anyone who believes in this phenomenon and/or does science supporting this is viewed as “on the left.” I was quickly schooled when my breakfast mate pointed out that the opposing view is not disbelief in the science behind global climate change, perhaps they spent time to do the research and genuinely believe the data—but rather the opposing view is that investing resources to combat this issue is a lower priority than other social issues (think hunger, poverty, illness).

It’s not as if I hadn’t heard this argument before. Yet why is it that because it is not an opinion of my own, I do not readily consider it before contributing to the conversation?

It’s something that takes practice, but acknowledgement is the first step.

What a failed attempt at empathetic listening looks like for black graduate students at Virginia Tech

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Disclaimer: the segments in bold are my attempts of paraphrasing some of the perspectives of an intense conversation held at a particular student organization’s general body meeting.

Sitting around in a circle doing arts and crafts isn’t going to make our problems go away!

This essentially means the speaker believes if Virginia Tech really wants to do something, it’s going to take more work than a group dedicated to talking about our problems. For others, they’ve been here before. It’s a walk down memory lane and they would rather discuss what the administration did to address previous issues raised before tackling new ones.

This group makes it seem like black students at Virginia Tech have the problem, as if we need support to work through our problems. But the problem is not with us, it’s with the culture at Virginia Tech that makes us feel the way we do.

In other words, Student Affairs should be creating a space to inform the dominant culture on campus of ways to not make underrepresented groups feel marginalized (e.g., training in diversity and inclusion).

We are already having these conversations in our own safe spaces.

I can understand this particular viewpoint; however, I can also see how Student Affairs may have wanted to create a safe space for people who have not already found one of their own. Perhaps due to not being aware of various student organizations on campus or not quite feeling as if they fit in the particular ones they have explored despite their desire to do so. I can relate.

One member’s research focuses on better understanding the experience of African-American students at Virginia Tech, especially those in agriculture-based fields of study. She explores how these students exist within the community in addition to how internal and external mentorship shape their experience and degree progress. She says:

“African American students at PWIs are sometimes faced with the challenge of being classified as a marginalized group. With that marginalization can sometimes result in automatic assumptions made and a generation of stereotypes.”

For this particular person, she believes the flyer was a poor example of outreach because the facilitators assume the problems of its target group by emphasizing particular emotions and experiences, instead of just asking. The board of the flyer reads:

Threat. Emotional wellbeing. Academic stress.

Family issues. Pressure to prove yourself.

Racism. Sociopolitical climate. Pressure to fit in.

Microaggressions. Stereotype threat.

In her research, she learns this is incredibly ineffective.

Furthermore, many of the members did not quite grasp why the facilitators believe “grouping them together” would encourage participation. They questioned if the facilitators knew that African Americans are statistically less likely to seek individual help in regards mental health. How is this any different?

When the previously mentioned member reached out to Student Affairs, they asked her to meet with them to see how they could make the support group more effective. She came to the rest of the members to get feedback. Their responses:

Throw the whole event away.

Dead it.

In other words, they do not want it or feel they need it. We shall see how this all pans out.

Finding My Authentic Teaching Self

I believe I have several traits that would benefit my authentic teaching self. I am laid-back, I am warm, I am a good empathetic listener, I have the ability to project when I need to, I can be quite charming when I rely on safe, light-hearted humor. I say safe because I am not one to tell jokes, rather I know the kind of comments to make that may cause the audience to chuckle. Since I don’t invest much time in setting up the joke, I am okay if they laugh or choose not to. For me, this is a good way to diffuse tension/nervousness in the room and on my end.

However, after my experience this past summer with advising five incoming engineering students, I realized I may only be able to keep the audience attentive if they already perceive the topic as interesting or beneficial. I can be energetic when I present in class after much practice, but these presentations are infrequent. I worry I will not be able to maintain an appropriate level of energy for an entire class period, every class period. I do not have much experience with engaging the audience; not just getting them to listen, but also actively participate. This past summer, I tried to encourage participation by asking the students to read certain segments or share their perspectives, so I was not the only one talking. Mostly, I found that they were disengaged—perceiving the academic advising session as just another block of time forced into their already jam-packed days created by the summer transition program. I would like to ask questions to keep my students engaged—I think students are more willing to respond when the questions are open-ended and do not have one answer. Perhaps there is one answer, but the instructor does not actually know at that particular point in time. When an instructor relies on asking questions to which the answer is already know, it can limit participation because most people do not want to be publicly wrong. I’ve found that students will even whisper/mumble the correct answer because they are not entirely sure. Going back to my roots as a drama/musical theater performer, I would like to work on my enunciation and diction—even expanding my own vocabulary. This often makes me the self-conscious when I present or teach, depending on the audience. Being comfortable with the words that are coming out of one’s mouth is important to effective communication and overall confidence.

Touching briefly on the idea of using physical obstacles on teaching presented by Professor Fowler, I’ve often thought about this. I feel writing on the board with one’s back turned to the class is ineffective in maintaining connection and engagement. I personally like the idea of using a document camera, although this can be an example of an obstacle between the instructor and intended audience addressed by Professor Fowler, such as a podium. However, combined with guided notes that are available to print and bound, document cameras can be useful to fill in key concepts/equations while still being able to look up to interact with the students. I will continue to consider organizing the class in 15- to 20-minute segments to be mindful of the varying attention spans—I thought this was an valuable consideration raised by Professor Fowler.

I would say that I think it is important to cover the key topics in a class, especially an engineering class. Thus, in order to not prioritize coverage over meaningful learning (I cannot tell you how many times I have heard my professor say this semester “I have 45 slides to get through in 45 minutes”), it might be useful to plan a “condensed” and “extended” version of the class. The extended version of the class would provide additional topics the class can choose to explore, perhaps with a research or industry focus. It is also crucial to actually schedule in “workshop” classes/practice sessions, to work on problems throughout the course, not just the class before the exam. Scheduling them in allows the students to prepare problems and does not leave them with the feeling that the instructor “sacrificed” a class period to answer questions.

Consideration of Ethical Theories

Normative relativism: values and norm systems for each culture are equal; impossible to say that certain norms and values are better than others. We have to respect all value and norm systems. No universal norms.

The author identifies 3 flaws in the aforementioned theory:

  1. Contradiction between no universal norms and the universal norm to respect all value and norm systems
  2. Meaningful moral discussion hindered by defaulting to one’s own personal opinion
  3. Potential creation of unworkable or intolerable situations

To support the second flaw, the author asks: “should the torture of political prisoners be tolerated because this is customary within a given culture?” Quite an extreme example; I imagine the author wants this example to be thought-provoking. The author then goes on to describe an opposing position, universalism, which argues that there is a system of norms and values that is universally applicable. The authors raised these two theories and their imperfections to suggest there are more rational theories.

However, I find that there is a way to be more considerate of the key components of the normative relativism theory. Virtue ethics fits in well with this. Virtue ethics allows for moral judgment to be made based on not action or consequences of the action, but the actor’s characteristics. When considering these theories, I could not help but to think of the history between Colonial France and Algeria. Forceful unveilings, staged unveiling ceremonies, burning of women’s veils once they were removed, the propaganda—”to liberate Muslim women from the patriarchy, enabled by colonization.” Clearly, normative relativism was not at play here. But we can also see that not even virtue ethics made its mark. The action and consequences of Muslim women wearing their veils were not judged based on their qualities or characteristics. Perhaps for them, wearing the veil allowed for them to realize a good life—ascribing to the virtues of piety, modesty, integrity, courage.

Unveil yourselves

Translation: Are you not pretty? Unveil yourselves!