Suzanna Rose has a plan to level the playing field. The psychology Ph.D. remembers how as an undergraduate in the late-1960s an administrator explained that women had to score higher than men on the SAT exam to earn university admittance. And how as a graduate student she received no mentoring while male counterparts played poker and tennis with the all-male faculty to build lasting networks. At FIU since 2000, she is today associate provost of the Office to Advance Women, Equity & Diversity and administers a $3.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to educate employees on unconscious attitudes that keep certain groups down and how individuals can intervene, either on their own or another’s behalf, when confronted with such attitudes.
Your Bystander Leadership Workshop tackles issues related to diversity and inclusion. Who should attend? Everyone, because everyone has implicit biases. All cultures emphasize certain associations, and those can become part of our psyche through repeated exposure, whether we agree with them or not. Harboring unconscious biases does not mean someone is prejudiced, but it can affect one’s ability to evaluate others fairly or to notice and interpret situations that are unfavorable to others. Our workshop helps people recognize their own– and others’—biases and, more importantly, provides opportunities to practice intervening in positive ways to create a climate where everyone is valued.
How does bias rear its head on campus?
People’s resumes are judged not on content but on the associations others make based on names or backgrounds. Women at a meeting offer a suggestion that is ignored, but later, when a man makes the same suggestion, he is praised for his contribution. The scenarios we discuss are drawn from real experiences. Bias occurs at universities across the country.
How do you teach people to combat bias?
We present skits that allow attendees to interact. For people to intervene in situations where gender, racial or other bias occurs, they must have the skills and confidence that come with experience. Intervention methods range from changing the subject to reporting the issue to a higher authority. The important thing is that everyone, no matter their rank or situation, has a way to respond.
What is your ultimate goal?
We want the workshop to raise awareness about the interplay between power, privilege and bias, and we want to provide a toolkit of responses so that everyone will feel empowered to intervene when they see a situation play out. The ultimate goal for our office is to achieve and sustain faculty equity and diversity as an essential element of FIU's academic excellence.
Why does the NSF provide grant support?
Research has shown that women role models have a powerful positive effect on young women’s performance in math and science classes. Seeing more role models with whom students identify can help them imagine a similar career trajectory for themselves. And we want more people from underrepresented groups to go into STEM fields. A diversity of perspectives enriches the sciences, mathematics and engineering, and it makes professionals more responsive to global needs. Engineering and science are increasingly important to our economic competitiveness, and we need a diverse pool of science and engineering faculty to fuel our future.
Read what a faculty member has to say about his experience in the Bystander Leadership Workshop.