Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice

As a sociologist, my research focuses on examining inequalities experienced by underrepresented and marginalized groups, even in well-intentioned, “inclusive” environments. As such, my commitment to equity work manifests through examining the ways in which my research, pedagogy, and service are not only inclusive or about inclusion, but also in the constant reflection of the ways in which they may (re)produce barriers to students’ full and meaningful participation. 

My experiences teaching at multiple institutions have allowed me the opportunity to work with and learn alongside a diverse range of students. It is important that students and I recognize that diversity and inclusion is not merely about difference, but about addressing unequal power relations in our classroom interactions and class materials based on gender, race, class, nationality, sexuality, (dis)ability, and age. At the beginning of each semester, we begin by co-defining the expectations of our classroom, focusing on ways to support one another’s learning rather than creating rules about what not to do, while discussing how power works both at an interactional and structural level. Because my courses often touch on controversial topics, this activity creates an environment of mutual respect and common language, while also fostering opportunities to grow, even when we inevitably make mistakes. 

Through teaching, I have also been challenged to hold myself accountable to continue to learn and grow regarding diversity and inclusion. For example, in one course lesson on intersectionality, I displayed an iconic photograph from the 2017 Women’s March on Washington wherein a group of white women in “pussy hats” are taking selfies and a woman of color holds a sign reading “Don’t forget white women voted for Trump.” I read students a quote from that day’s readings, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins,” asking them to discuss how we can understand intersectionality as displayed in the photo. One white student described the woman of color using outdated, racist language. I could see quick glances between my students of color recognizing the tension in the room. Though I promptly reminded the class to be mindful of their language, upon further reflection I came to the conclusion that, because of my commitment to diversity and inclusion, I should have used this as a teachable learning moment. I adjusted my teaching plan for the next class period to talk through how language and categories of identity are imbued with power, and related the discussion to current issues on campus with race, immigration, and policing. Later that semester, multiple students reflected upon this discussion in final papers for my course, explaining how they integrated strategies to support one another in social justice work, particularly in campus organizing and student demands. By being open about my own reflection and growth, this created a classroom environment dedicated to learning about inclusive practices.

Additionally, because I teach my students about intersectionality and inequality of opportunity, it is important that the structure of my courses and pedagogy are intentional about social justice. For example, in my Introduction to Sociology class, I specifically designed my syllabus to only include authors who are members of underrepresented groups, and I used non-traditional texts such as memoirs, online blogs and vlogs, and local activist zines. While attuned to not tokenizing such the identities of the scholars, this challenges students to rethink contributions to the field typically considered within the “canon” and to examine how inequality can be reproduced through the establishment of disciplines. Similarly, when I teach students about social problems in education, for example, we examine not only the quantitative achievement gaps between men and women, but also examine the qualitative inequities of multiple student groups through applied learning. In this activity, students practice empirical research skills through semi-structured interviews with their peers to investigate students’ experiences with  institutional “buzzwords” including access, achievement, diversity, and inclusion. In the end, students produce a sociologically informed analysis of class concepts while also geared towards improving the environments in which they are embedded. Students are stunned to realize that hard work is not a guarantee for educational success, and they begin to understand the importance of looking at how different statuses intersect in shaping social experiences.

 

In my research, I am further committed to addressing inequality through intersectional coalition-building practices, wherein I facilitate and center the inclusion of marginalized voices through collaboration and make space for those who are already doing such work. For example, I maintain lasting relationships with my research participants and involve them with each stage of the research process, from data collection to analysis to writing and distribution. Participants are given access to their transcripts, as well as the ability to read over, offer edits, and approve ongoing drafts of work. As a result of these collaborations, participants are able to take ownership in the ways in which findings from my research are used to impact their lives. With the assistance of my NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, I also gained the opportunity to employ two participants, both of whom are transgender,who showed interest and promise in social science/humanities careers to provide hands-on experience and training in collaborative, qualitative research skills. In my hiring practices, I paid particular attention to the race/ethnicity, socio-economic, sexuality, and nationality of the assistants, to ensure that the composition of the research team is as diverse as the larger communities within which this research focuses. Through this research relationship, I will continue to work with the students in developing their own research projects out of the data, which will be submitted for presentation at their campus research symposia during Spring 2020. At the completion of this project, my research will be made accessible to community members beyond peer-reviewed articles in order to support community-level work including making data available on ICPSR and in public archives, helping develop workshops and trainings on campus, as well as publishing policy memos, community reports, and public scholarship in newspapers and online. 

Moreover, my broader service uses my training to advocate for interventions at the community level. As Co-Chair of the Sociologists for Trans Justice Advancing Trans, Intersex, and Non-binary Scholarship in Academia Committee, I led the publication of the #TransJusticeSyllabus, a open source syllabus of transgender scholarship and teaching resources. I have additionally participated in optional training for diversity and inclusion pedagogy and mentorship, including the American Sociological Association’s Section on Teaching and Learning pre-workshop “Inclusive Pedagogy for a More Just World,” am an active member of the American Sociological Association’s Section on Teaching and Learning, including participating in the annual Teaching and Learning in Sociology symposium, as well as attend Virginia Tech’s annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy and monthly departmental roundtables regarding teaching in Women’s and Gender Studies. From these trainings, I have learned skills on how to teach a diverse classroom, thinking through not only teaching techniques but also how power functions within the classroom and thus my role in the reproduction or challenging of such hierarchies through my policies, practices, and very structure of the course. Finally, I also collaborate with community organizations, such as the Campaign for Southern Equality in Asheville, NC. Rather than merely contracting out data analysis for publication, I train their staff on statistical reporting, thus allowing the organization to grow in their ability for data-driven advocacy and funding. These reports are then shared with regional stakeholders to improve healthcare access for LGBTQ+ individuals in the South. 

Researching, teaching, and serving a diverse student population involves a constant learning process. I continuously look for ways to become a better mentor, particularly for students from underrepresented groups, as those students often lack access to the same opportunities as students from more privileged groups. By bringing marginalized students into critical scholarly and policy conversations, I believe we not only equip them with the tools to be successful students but also with the tools to be well-informed citizens able to respond to inequalities in their everyday life.

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© 2020 By Megan Nanney