Sciencewomen

I’m at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, MN at a completely fascinating (so far!) conference on feminist science studies. Because of the free Internetz, I’ll try liveblogging the sessions I’m in, but may get distracted as it is (as I have mentioned) completely fascinating.

Here’s some of what I’m hearing:

  • Marlene Zuk, talking about the problems with using males as model organisms and how the use of model organisms seem to result in making those model organisms role models for humans, and the problems with the scala natura constructing the most complicated (and therefore good) organisms at the top of the ladder.
  • I gave my talk (whew!) on how we might use the metaphor of a boundary in addition to those of pipeline and chilly climate to help understand women’s persisting underrepresentation in engineering. The idea is that boundaries differentiate this from that, and maybe the work that women have historically done and still do the majority of does not count as engineering in the context of engineering education. Why not? What does the fact that domestic contexts and problems don’t count as engineering (it’s home ec, don’t you know, and that’s not even a “real” major) mean for seeing engineering as a gendered discipline?
  • Amy Hilden and Cecilia Farr providing a primer on feminist theory and how it can inform how we do science. They suggest we ask four questions: 1) Where are the women? 2) Where is the power? and whose interests are being served? 3) Where am I standing? and how does that inform what we are looking at or how we can work for social justice? and 4) Where are the connections? Meaning, how can we understand all these identities and oppressions interact and connect, and how can people from different backgrounds, experiencing different oppressions support the overall project of reducing overall oppressions and social inequities?
  • Nancy Heitzeg, and Pamela Fletcher on race as a social construct. Race is a socially constructed project through laws, public policies, and social practices, but has a social reality. They read excerpts of a play called Venus, by Suzan-Lori Parks on the “Hottentot Venus,” a woman named Saartjie Baartman of the Khoi people and who was a slave of Dutch farmers in South Africa and who was coercively paraded around Europe like a zoo animal. They also read parts of Beloved by Toni Morrison, “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” They recommend watching the PBS series “Race: the Power of an Illusion” which seems like it has some parts on YouTube.
  • A breakout session with Susannah Sandrin and Tammy Salmon-Stephens on their workshop for K-12 teachers learning about STEM, Susan Goetz on the College of St. Catherine’s STEM minor for K-12 teachers, Lecretia Buckley’s ideas on teaching math educators using problems situated in social justice contexts, Marian Hehre and some students and teachers associated with GEMS (Girls in Engineering Math and Science, a program in the Minneapolis, and my talk on blogging.
  • Sue Rosser, speaking about gender and patents. The drivers for commercialization in higher ed are prompted by, in particular, lower state funding of research universities, but women are receiving disproportionately lower patents than men, even taking into account their lower numbers, and it also seems to be a problem across North America and Europe. She made a great point that a socialist feminist critique of patents might focus on the fact that public funds (in the form of government grants) are being used to develop products and ideas, but once they are patented, that public investment is privatized, and perhaps the public should be upset by that. But then she went into an argument about how women should still participate in patenting because then, as insiders, they can critique it, in contrast apparently to outsiders. I’m not sure how I feel about this argument. Actually, that’s a lie – I don’t like that argument. But I’m trying to decide what validity it may have even if I don’t like it.
  • Donna Riley, on liberative pedagogies in engineering. We started with a brainstorm of the opposite of what can help us learn, which will tell us something about how we would rather learn. In other words, we brainstormed about what exclusive science might look like to help highlight what inclusive science might look like. She also referred to King and Kitchener’s (1994 and 2002) model for reflective judgement, what are students assuming about how knowledge is “made.” She introduced the room to liberative pedagogies, which include feminist, critical/radical, anti-racist, post-colonial pedagogies that help students learn to question power in the classroom, decenter Western and hegemonic science or practices, and do engineering in integrative and not reductionist ways. The jist: power influences knowledge and what “counts” as truth, and Donna teaches a fascinating course on thermodynamics which decenters Western technology.
  • Cynthia Bauerle regarding her experiences teaching biology at an HBCU for women. She started with four statements to consider: The practice of science and science education is 1) gendered; 2) in a racialized context; 3) global; and 4) involves tremendous poverty and tremendous privilege. She encouraged us to use a logic model (also thought of as reverse engineering) to set out what skills we want students to develop in order to be culturally competent. What was particularly cool was, the folks who were in Riley’s talk which ended in talking about student resistance (both positive and negative) brought that into this session, and started questioning the parameters of the question. What counts as competent? What do we mean by skills? Very cool outcome.
  • Devavani Chatterjea, about the simplistic and potentially harmful metaphors in immunology of the battlefield, the border patrols, attacks, quarentines and such. She argues that these metaphors aren’t all that accurate, as, for example, they imply that you can differentiate self from other, even though 80% of our body’s cells are not our “own” coming instead from bacteria, mitochondria, fossilized viruses and such. Instead, how about thinking about immunology as a way of sensing environments, of communication, of regulation of action and responses and of the coexistence of other organisms.
  • Rellen Hardtke, talking about a women’s studies course she teaches on gender issues in science. She is talking about some great examples where heterosexism prevents scientists from seeing animal behaviour, cases where women’s scientific work was stolen from them by men, and intersexuality. The course is a gen ed course, as well as one where about half the students are women and half are men.
  • Lynne Gildensoph and Deborah Wygal spoke about publishing inclusive science, in particular the story of their trying to publish a textbook on women’s biology that includes feminist critiques of science. It will be offered through Copley Publishing, ISBN 9781581525496.
  • Yvonne Ng and Sharon Doherty about blending engineering and women’s studies. They started by pointing out that both engineers and women’s studies scholars are all about theory to action. Women’s studies framing areas of interest include epistemology, theory, thinking about why we study what we study, and action – how do we research, teach, communicate to influence the world. They shared an intriguing idea, finding parallels between Sue Rosser’s model of inclusivity [and the]/ engineering design process:
    1) Absence is not noted / Life is good, nothing needed; 2) Imbalance is accepted / Life is difficult but we put up with it; 3) Identification of barriers / Define parameters of the problem; 4) Learning from examples / Identify existing relevant designs; 5) New perspectives shaping science / Brainstorming, prototyping, testing (and repeat); 6) Science redefined / New standard of living. They also talked about some more results of their partnership, including Re/Composition (a poet and an engineer working together); NSF STEM scholarships; and an Assistantship Mentoring Program.

Tomorrow, I head to the National Women’s Studies Association conference, and will try to liveblog through the feminist science sessions. But this was a cool conference, and they’re hoping to have it again in 2 years. Keep your eyes open!

Comments

  1. #1 ScienceMama
    June 16, 2008

    What an awesome conference!

  2. #2 hypoglycemiagirl
    June 16, 2008

    Oh yes, Prof. Zuk rocks!

  3. #3 Zuska
    June 16, 2008

    Oh my! how I wish I’d been able to afford to attend this one! It sounds absolutely wonderful! Please do keep us updated!

  4. #4 kamote
    June 17, 2008

    Nice job yesterday, Alice – and thanks for liveblogging!

  5. #5 Gina
    June 18, 2008

    It was great meeting you at the conference. Enjoy the National Women’s Studies Association Conference. I enjoyed both of your talks. As I continue to think about the issues raised at the conference the “boundary” metaphor keeps popping up in my mind.

    I can also say that you have taught me all I know about blogs!

  6. #6 Donna
    June 18, 2008

    In Alice’s absence, I thought I would add a summary of the rest of the conference….

    From this morning’s session: Beverly Daniel Tatum‘s keynote was an engaging review of stereotype threat research – summarized in Chapter 2 of her latest book, Can we talk about race? Her storytelling made it come alive anew for me. She did a great job of breaking down take-home messages for increasing persistence of students of color in the sciences and engineering. Here are the highlights:

    1) Giving “wise feedback” – not straight criticism, not the “criticism sandwich” where you say some nice things, some criticisms, then some nice things. Both of the latter can derail student effort. Rather, setting high expectations, emphasizing the potential of the work, then offering the criticism is more encouraging. Students of color persisted more under the wise feedback approach.

    2) Normalizing help – Making it so all students, or some set of students identified as needing help by grades, say, are required to attend help sessions can overcome some stereotype threat.

    3) Diverse perspectives – both in the classroom and in the office, when a white faculty member can show interest in the work of people of color, this helps.

    4) Avoid tokenizing – in teaming, do not assign one student of color to each group…

    5) Avoid isolation – a related point. The more students of color can find community, the better. She spoke of the EDGE program at Bryn Mawr College and Spelman.

    6) Finally, she talked about adjusting the way we think about intelligence, in particular to recast it as something that can be improved through “effective effort.” Setting up an expectation that hard work makes one smarter increases students’ performance. Conversely, when students attribute good or bad performance to innate ability or luck, this does not result in their persisting to invest additional work in the subject going forward…

    Then I attended a creative reflection workshop with Wendy Morris, director of the Creative Leadership Studio. It was a great way to reflect using theatre, movement, visual art, et. Dynamic and transformative! A fabulous way to close the conference! Now during the afternoon we have time to connect and plan collaborations….

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