Graduate Teaching on Diversity: Week 6

Today, we held a discussion specifically on (overt) sexism in sciences.  I assigned three readings on recent-ish occurrences describing Nobel-Prize winner Tim Hunt’s comments, Satya Nadella’s advice to women to not ask for raises and Larry Sommer’s views on women’s ability in STEM fields.

I used a spokes council discussion, as I described two weeks ago, to have students work on the following task:

You have come together to decide if and how to respond to sexist statements made by notable academic, industry and political leaders. Try to build consensus in the classroom on the proposed responses. Use the three articles as examples in your discussions; that is, how would you respond to these incidences as part of a group effort.

Some observations this week:

  • It was clear that the students did not as universally read the given articles and strayed far from the task.  I decided not to steer the conversation back to the task at hand, but let it flow.  I am not sure I would do this again.  Of course, this is a common difficulty with having readings being necessary for a discussion.
  • As I wanted to get at least three rounds of small group + spokes council discussions, I tried to moderate the length of time in each: 10 minutes + 5 minutes.  I think the discussion two weeks ago was a little more interactive without light time moderation, so I am not sure I would do this again.  To me this points again to the necessity of having a longer class period.  1.5 hours would be better and possibly sufficient.

The opinions that were voiced during the spokes-council were mixed at first;  there was an opinion of protecting free speech and one that ‘damage control’ should be sought to detach the commenting individual from the institution.  There was some discussion around why these statements are still made (which points me to doing more work in presenting arguments why this continues to happen).  While a specific consensus action was not decided upon, opinions did converge on acting, noting that the statements by notable, high-profile people rises from ‘protected free speech’ to the creation of hostile environments.  This sets my mind at ease, that given time to discuss issues people will generally agree with supporting minority rights.


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