Friday, October 2, 2020

Julie R. Posselt's "Equity in Science"

Julie R. Posselt is an Associate Professor of higher education in the USC Rossier School of Education and was a 2015-2017 National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation postdoctoral research fellow.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Equity in Science: Representation, Culture, and the Dynamics of Change in Graduate Education, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Equity in Science falls in chapter 5, which is titled, “Inclusive Design and Disciplinary Boundary Work in Applied Physics.” It is part of an extended profile of a powerful young Black man, Joe, working as an administrative staff member in a physics PhD program; in spite of the program having mostly white professors, it had earned a strong, positive reputation for serving Black students.

This reputation wasn’t an accident. On this page and the ones around it, we see how Joe’s presence and leadership enabled both more Black students to enroll and white faculty to learn how to best serve them.

Joe, on this page, helps the program chair understand a Black student's behavior in a closed-door, “heart to heart” conversation. “You know as much as I know that you care about students,” Joe says. "But I don’t think you’re quite getting it.” The chair, to his credit, is not defensive and at the end of the day, responds with gratitude. Joe’s work here is the work of cultural translation, which I define as sustained effort to decode, value, and apply perspectives that are different than the ones into which the mainstream has been socialized.

For illustrating an example of cultural translation, which is a core theme of the book, Equity in Science passes the Page 99 Test.

It also turns out to be a surprisingly good window into the book’s intellectual approach. The book presents a comparative case study of academic organizations that have been working to become more inclusive. I use these methods to build theory about institutional change toward equity in science, and page 99 presents both the examples described above as well as the following excerpt:
It is worth pausing here to ask why cultural translation is necessary. Decades of research indicate that it is not uncommon for white faculty to hold different expectations from doctoral students of color about what constitutes good mentoring and student performance, especially surrounding notions of rigor and support. These expectations are just one of many areas in science and graduate education where symbolic and social boundaries meeting can generate misunderstanding and friction…. Until the academic community institutionalizes a shared belief that ‘good science’ involves awareness of the ways that subject matter and social dynamics are entangled, those at the core of the academic community need cultural translators: people who make plain the social dynamics hiding in plain sight.
It was my hope in centering Joe’s role within the program to center the power and necessity of the invisible labor that people of color engage in daily without recognition or compensation. Case after case, I saw in my research -- and we can see our own workplaces daily-- how Black lives matter to the wellbeing of organizations. If we want a world in which protests and social disruption are unnecessary, white folks need to keep learning and provide for one another the cultural translation that is usually led by those who also bear the costs of interpersonal and institutional racism.
Learn more about Equity in Science at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue