Thursday, June 3, 2010

Diversity - its a fine balance

So most of you may have heard about the shit storm the newest member of the science blogging community has gotten into. Isis, I think rightly, took offense to some of the stuff that GMP wrote on diversity. I will say that personal hygiene comments DO NOT belong in a post about cultural diversity, full stop. I live in a city where probably 80% of the worlds countries are represented and I have not seen a case where lack of cleanliness was part of the culture. A lack of cleanliness is a personnel issue not a cultural diversity issue. I know Whitey McWhitersons who have come into the lab dirty and smelly and I've been around people of my own community where I've been fuck buddy you stink! Sorry GMP that was a huge mistake to lump that into a post about cultural diversity.

Lets talk about the fine balance of cultural diversity

I read the original post, but did not bother commenting because as I read her response to comments it appeared to me, that she wasn't actually listening to why it pissed people off. I read upto AA's second comment and up until then GMP's attitude was its my lab, its how I choose to run it, I'm ESL and its how I had to be and oh God the Arizona example...just bad.

Lets agree on somethings. Having a strong foreign accent isn't necessarily a black mark. I know many people who are quite successful despite being difficult to understand because of their strong Irish, British, Australian accents. In general, <- not true across the board, certain accents are perfectly fine and non-threatening. Its the Mexican, Latin American, Indian, Asian accents that tend to piss people off. Because you know, we're don't really belong here.

Let also agree that not all people have the same opinion or experience, but can we say that we don't want to become the Borg and assimilate? Assimilation does not lead to diversity and when you preach conformation, you're preaching assimilation.

We can all agree that command of the English language is important to succeed in North America. Many large cities have china towns, little india's etc. These communities are great because new immigrants have an established community they can join. But its a double edged sword. It also discourages integration. My parents frequently complain about the recent Punjabi immigrants who haven't learned English and don't expand their circle of interaction past the large Punjabi expat community. It leads to barriers for woman and children who need to access services or rights that they didn't have in their countries of origin. The idealistic image of integration was my son's first birthday party, which was a traditional huge Indian affair. All our friends and family (of various shapes and colours) were in a hall, with tons of food and drink, dressed in our colorful outfits, dancing to bhangra. On all the big screens the hockey game was on and we were all watching. The CBC has hockey games with Punjabi play by play. That is awesome.

The negative is that many "traditional" attitudes exist and are hard to break down because some immigrants are not embracing the best of what Canada offers. I have been heard complaining of relatives who have lived here for >5 years yet don't speak English. They have no incentive because they can work for an Punjabi run company, bank where there are Punjabi speaking employees. But what happens if they have to access the legal or health system? They argue against giving rights to women/ gays / lesbians, using the same argruements that were used against giving my parents rights. Again this is not a blanket statement because everyones' experiences are DIFFERENT

I can understand GMP's desire to encourage strong command of the English language, but she muddied the waters when she brought in the food and cleanness issues. In one of my comments to Isis's post, I commented how I am still hesitant to eat my Indian food in the lab because of all the negative commentary as I was growing up. True Diversity is celebrating both our similarities and differences, working toward blending to make a better environment for everyone.

I'm not sure I personally agree with an English only policy, mentoring is a challenge. You can know what you went through and say that your students have to do that OR you can recognize that what you went through is bullshit and work to ensure your students don't have to go through it to.

28 comments:

Becca said...

two tangential things:
1) I am about to go to an Indian family's son's first birthday party. Thanks to your post, I shall see if I have something colorful. I hope I get to dance, although I probably won't know what I'm doing
2) My lab is 4/6 Indians. They are constantly eating smelly things for lunch. I hate it. HATE it... That much drool from hunger is bad for my samples. (actually, seriously, sometimes it is strange and I don't really like it; but I do have to admit it's like a million times less offensive than Whitey McWhiterson's bathing in cologne in ex-lab)

ScientistMother said...

Becca - you crack me up! I am only now getting used to my supervisor wanting to tackle me for my curry chicken...which I think I will go warm up now:)

Lab Rat said...

Random and not particularly serious comment: I brought the remains last-night curry in to work once. Heated it up in the little work microwave and for the rest of the day everyone was going "oh wow, what's that awesome smell - hope its the canteen!"

Although this is probably just because my fiance makes awesome curries :)

Kate said...

Thank you so much for writing this. It's perfect.

chall said...

SM> I think you nail a lot of things on the head!

My part would be to be oh so careful on how to phrase things in blogpost, especially the BO thing and the food... I know that "some people" is a connotation that some people will read" immigrants" but seriously, that is still better than stating "cultural diversity" since it is an individual problem rather than something else.

(I might be a bit sensitive to the whole "cultural" concept though. I still don't know my "specific culture" - gloomy and suicidal with quiet tendencies? [northern Europe/Scandinavia])

I was quite surprised to see a post that didn't have "context" but maybe that is because I over write my "context/disclaimers" like "being a female immigrant in US I can state this and that as part of my experience"??? But I think it makes a bit of difference to what she states. Not the smelly part though.

And one last ranting thing. My food is never being called "smelly good". My Scandinavia cultural food is either "bland with no taste" or "yack, what is that smell" ;)

[wv is mulla,. maybe appropriate?]

Isis the Scientist said...

I had a party at my house not too long ago where I cooked traditional Latin food. One of my colleagues asked me what the kids were supposed to eat.

ScientistMother said...

Lab Rat - welcome to the blog, glad you had a yummy lunch too :)

Kate - welcome to the blog and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Chall - thanks! I think GMP just plain fucked up by putting hygiene issue and the cultural diversity issue together. I can't comment on your specific culture as I still haven't figure out what Northern / Scandinavian country you're from. Would I be way off base if I'm thinking viking? I agree that context is so important. Whether we like it or not, an immigrant making comments based on his/her experience is not as offensive as someone who has never been there and is preaching. Though even though she is speaking as someone thats been there, I still found her position as very contrary to my own opinions

ScientistMother said...

Isis - My first instinct was just jaw dropping disbelief? WTF, children don't eat latin food? However, the saner side of me is wondering if its because the colleagues children haven't been exposed to it and won't eat? I don't know, monkey if a foodie and I'm lazy, if my food is has to much hotness to it, I throw him some yogurt and make him deal....

Namnezia said...

Thanks for writing a thoughtful post, I think you summarize the way a lot of the commenters fell about GMP's post.

Isis, I think you really hit upon a very important thing with your comment about the Latin food. It seems like here "diversity" is something that seems to be only for adults to discuss and learn about. Somehow I get the feeling, even from some colleagues of mine that I would consider accepting of diversity, that its OK to homogenize children's culture in order to "protect" them. I'm not sure from what.

I think that whether your are a minority, immigrant, or white american, your kids should be exposed to lots of different traditions, cultures, foods, and lots and lots of people different than them. This, I think is the only way to create a culturally diverse society.

chall said...

haha SM, it's more the thing that we've tried to describe "what is Scandinavian/Swedish culture" since the right wing (nuts) are talking about "diversity is changing out culture" but in general it is so hard to define what the "culture" means.... getting hammered every Saturday and fight with knives? i.e. not sophisticated sipping wine on a week day. or is it being "neutral and not loud but resonable"; or having a really long summer vacation as everyone up in the north has. But is that really specific for that one culture?

Anyway, you might understand what I mean? And since I'm no super tall blonde Viking model, people usually tell me "no, really; you're a Swede? but you don't have blonde hair and look like the bikini team" .... duh. yey, thanks. not.

GMP (GeekMommyProf) said...

If I may chime in belatedly, although I am sure everyone is quite tired of the whole discussion.

Most people are outraged by the post regarding the smell/hygiene and say that it is inapproriate in a culture post. I actually think this is quite appropriate, because I view culture not as American vs non-American; that's too narrow a view. There are many economic, social, and ethnic groups in America and every country in the world. And the post is about different cultures and how they impact work in a lab.

In a comment to the original post, I specified:
"Regarding hygiene, there is BO, cooking O, banana left in bottom drawer for 2 months O, clothes unwashed for weeks O, smoking 2 packs a day O, smelly perfume making people wheeze O. All these O's are unwelcome, as they will be unwelcome in their workplaces. None of these are restricted to foreigners, and apply to different cultural groups (e.g., percent of smokers drastically varies in the US with economic status; students who smoke face significant prejudices)."

For instance, imagine a white student reeking of smoke and ask yourself what's your first association/stereotype about his socioeconomic background. If you say "I hold no stereotypes," you are lying. Pretending people don't have prejudices is just that -- pretense; but, even though you have no control of how others view you, there are things you can do to avoid or minimize being stereotyped. You cannot do much to hide your gender or skin tone, but you sure can do plenty of other things in the realm of appearance/first impressions. Language and hygiene fall into this category.

I am sorry, but working with 20-something men all the time, there are many from the US and all around the world who don't smell well; some are really offensive that way, and why should I pretend it's not an issue when it comes up repeatedly? Should I let my excellent student go to an interview reeking of sweat, just to be politically correct? I think it's better that I tell him to take care of it.

ScientistMother said...

GMP - yes culture is not just american vs non-american and encompasses various socio-economic issues, can you name a single culture group where bad personal hygiene is accepted or part of the culture? I really don't know of one. You're claiming that personal hygiene issue are part of the cultural diversity issue and they're not.

Second - you're not encouraging cultural diversity but telling your students to fit and be like the majority - you're promoting assimilation and you're attitude "things you can do to avoid or minimize being stereotyped" tells it all. I'm the one that is supposed to be polite and quiet and oh don't be too demanding otherwise you'll get labeled the bitchy grad student or thats bullshit plain and simple. Should we pick our battles, but people in positions of power like yourself need to step to up to the plate and change shit. I"m not saying you should fight the man, but you can creat your own little oasis. My PI is doing just that. In her lab its OK to have a kid and work 9-5. She can't change all of academia but she will do what it takes to make sure I can succeed and that the fact that I have a child will not hamper me.

If a white grad student that reeks of smoke is around me, i will think I fucking hate the smell of smoke. Sorry i'm so ignorant too assume he's poor white guy, plenty of rich people smoke.

Again if people around you smell, tell them but DO NOT say its a cultural thing.

GMP (GeekMommyProf) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GMP (GeekMommyProf) said...

ScientistMother,

I think what's considered "bad hygiene" does vary a lot with culture, and that's what I consider a cultural issue. I am sorry, but there are a number of countries (in the developed world too) where daily showers are not a strict norm, or may be in some urban but not in rural areas, or may be in some economic strata but not all. What may be considered bad hygiene in the academic world in the US and elsewhere may not coincide. Learining about expectations of the community you want to join is important.

And about avoiding stereotypes: I think it's about picking your battles. In many cases, you can advance a big cause (your career, for instance) by perhaps being accommodating on some less important ones (say, dressing up for an interview).

Say, I am totally a jeans-and-sneakers person. But, when I became a professor, I also didn't like being talked to as though I was a student, especially by students. So a small change is that I wear dress pants and shoes at least on days when I teach in the classroom. It's small adjustment I was willing to make, and I think it made a difference in how students viewed me. Should I have stuck with my right to dress however I like? Perhaps, but I decided doing something little to preempt important issues emerging later on. There are plenty of people who would say "You should not be judged by how you look" but we are. The question is how willing you are to battle the stereotypes; you cannot enlighten everyone every time, but you can often make small adjustments that make for smoother sailing.

I am certainly not saying that stereotypes should be encouraged, however not all stereotypes are made equal: some are really debilitating and should be addessed head on, but some are more like a nuissance and can be maneuvered around. I think it's not possible to addess every bias one comes across, every time you come across it. I am for picking battles...

chall at work said...

(sorry to jump in but it just bugs me.... and I'm waiting for a gel at the moment.

GMP wrote> "I think what's considered "bad hygiene" does vary a lot with culture, and that's what I consider a cultural issue. I am sorry, but there are a number of countries (in the developed world too) where daily showers are not a strict norm, or may be in some urban but not in rural areas, or may be in some economic strata but not all."

I don't think this makes sense. First of all, not having a shower daily doesn't mean bad hygene nor body odoer. (I know some people in US thinks that only shower = clean but that is simply not true.)

Not washing genitalia, hands and armpits (and feet) if sweaty will probably make you smell after a few days but in general that's because people don't change clothes!!! AND neglects to wipe these areas that creates the smell.

And I've met poor people from strange places and continents as well as rich people and under and over-educated etc.... I'd say that most,if not all, were interested in keeping their person tidy and clean. Then it differented if they wanted tonne of eau de cologne, soap or nothing but all of them cared about their smell. The exeption would be some teenages so called gamers, from my own clean country.

And for many people outside of US not taking their shoes off when entering someone's home and walk around indoors with outdoor shoes is unclean and bad hygene. I don't say that US has bad hygene due to that. It's the idea to lump it as a cultural thing rather than seing the individual behind it that is annoying.

But I have to admit, I am very curious on which "culture" you are actually referring to as smelly. And no, don't answer since it is a purely rethorical question.) )

GMP (GeekMommyProf) said...

chall,

Just so you know, I have had two very smelly students from my own home country, which btw is in Europe.

I have tried to argue that culture does not equal nationality. And there are many different customs within every country. I do not call some countries smelly and others not. Culture comes primarily from your family and your local community, it's not defined on a national scale. And yes, I am sure that Americans as a nation, on average, do many things that are offensive and gross to other nationalities.

However, we are getting off topic. The post was about rules in the lab that facilitate working smoothly alongside one another. Again, this is a lab located in the USA, where students get a PhD and presumably go on and work in the USA. You have to instill some rules that make work comfortable for everyone, and believe me, people get uncomfortable for all kinds of things. My lab rules are no more bizzare than what most companies would require. And a number of my collaborators have similar rules in their labs. You think you don't need them (the rules), I certainly didn;t think I did when I started on TT, but then stuff happens and students complain and you realize you are enforcing rules you never thought you'd have to.

Balancing Act said...

On the food topic - my lunches are leftovers and I eat with someone who also brings leftovers. Our leftovers range from "traditional American" food (I guess similar to chall's) to what passes for Mexican, Indian, Thai, and Chinese in America. We routinely receive compliments on how good our lunches smell and look in the common area. There are members of other labs who microwave stuff in common areas that smells like fish and things I am allergic to. Nuked fish rarely smells good. Things I'm allergic to usually evoke a certain reaction from me, even if it isn't the right "type" of exposure. While I complain to my lunch friend and, obviously here, I never say anything to the people with stinky lunches because it's rude. And it's been rare that someone has told me my lunch stinks - and only after I'd already decided there was something decidedly wrong with it.

As for kids, too many kids are raised on kids meals at restaurants. So what kids like and parents think is acceptable is dictated by the cheap meals provided at fast food places and restaurants. I do have one fickle eater and one eater who will eat almost anything. We really didn't do anything different between them. There's no accounting for some people's taste!

ScientistMother said...

GMP - Bullshit. Is the entire science blogging full of idiots? Your post was not about rules for a smooth working environment. Your post was about cultural diversity and in it you equated cleanliness as part of personal hygiene. Why you can't acknowledge that is fucking annoying. You preached assimilation, as you said you "beat them at their own game". Fine it worked for you but assimilating can't work for all us. I'm not growing a penis anytime soon or losing my pigmentation, so I can not conform. Sorry I"m not going to be like my parents, you had to makes sure they were also model citizens so they didn't get picked on. When you preach fitting in, you imply (whether you want to or not) that being different is bad.

Just so you know, many dermatologists recommend against showering daily as soaps are very harsh on skin. Daily showers aggravate eczema, rashes and dry skin.

ScientistMother said...

GMP - Bullshit. Is the entire science blogging full of idiots? Your post was not about rules for a smooth working environment. Your post was about cultural diversity and in it you equated cleanliness as part of personal hygiene. Why you can't acknowledge that is fucking annoying. You preached assimilation, as you said you "beat them at their own game". Fine it worked for you but assimilating can't work for all us. I'm not growing a penis anytime soon or losing my pigmentation, so I can not conform. Sorry I"m not going to be like my parents, you had to makes sure they were also model citizens so they didn't get picked on. When you preach fitting in, you imply (whether you want to or not) that being different is bad.

Just so you know, many dermatologists recommend against showering daily as soaps are very harsh on skin. Daily showers aggravate eczema, rashes and dry skin.

GMP (GeekMommyProf) said...

ScientistMother,

I am not saying that being different is bad. But being different means you are different and it is hard. Some battles are certainly worth fighting, such as for gender or race equality, because you are right, you cannot change your gender or skin tone. But on some conforming is fine by me, such as enforcing one language in the lab or requiring that politics not be discussed (because in the past people would get too worked up and passions get high and people are offended and no one does any work for days) or that yes people throw 2 week old bananas from their desks.

I am not going to acknowledge anything that I haven't already explained copiously in the post and many comments. I wrote that post, and I know exactly what it says. Perhaps people should not stop reading when they see the word "smell". I stand by the fact that I can enforce rules in my lab that are the lowest common denominator that will make *everyone* able to learn and work productively, and which I believe will serve my students well when they leave. It is not possible to accommodate everyone everytime on every aspect, because sometimes accommodating one person means putting the other at a significant discomfort. If for you that means I don't support diversity, fine. Think what you will. I have had mutliple issues arise in the lab that bothered some students and I had to address them as they arose. It's easy to make blanket statements about how diversity is to be accommodated in someone's work place when it's not you who is responsible for accommodating the often conflicting needs and wants of a whole bunch of different people.

I am now officially done with this topic. Thanks for the discussion.

ScientistMother said...

GMP - no on said that a PI doesn't have to set rules in order for a lab to run smoothly. I've seen in my own lab that you can bring in rules to try and get members to behave in a more considerate manner, sometimes it works sometimes it didn't. I don't think that is the issue. If the post was about lab management and dealing with personality / personnel issues, it would be different. Again, leaving your banana out in the common space for 2 weeks isn't cultural, its bad manners and inconsideration. I could be sexist and say I"m not surprised because you work with so many men, but I know my fair share of considerate, thoughtful men. Again these are not cultural issues because these are not traits common of any one group. I don't know if you promote diversity or not. If you noticed, I didn't have an issue with any of your english only policies because although I don't agree with them, I understood the motivation - hence the lets all agree on the need for a command of the english language. My issue is you muddy the water by putting in personnel management issues in with diversity issues. Whether you meant to or not, the implication was there that those us who look different are the ones with hygiene issue. It doesn't matter how much you explain after the nuances if you don't acknowledge the original grouping of the issues is inappropriate.

ScientistMother said...

GMP - no on said that a PI doesn't have to set rules in order for a lab to run smoothly. I've seen in my own lab that you can bring in rules to try and get members to behave in a more considerate manner, sometimes it works sometimes it didn't. I don't think that is the issue. If the post was about lab management and dealing with personality / personnel issues, it would be different. Again, leaving your banana out in the common space for 2 weeks isn't cultural, its bad manners and inconsideration. I could be sexist and say I"m not surprised because you work with so many men, but I know my fair share of considerate, thoughtful men. Again these are not cultural issues because these are not traits common of any one group. I don't know if you promote diversity or not. If you noticed, I didn't have an issue with any of your english only policies because although I don't agree with them, I understood the motivation - hence the lets all agree on the need for a command of the english language. My issue is you muddy the water by putting in personnel management issues in with diversity issues. Whether you meant to or not, the implication was there that those us who look different are the ones with hygiene issue. It doesn't matter how much you explain after the nuances if you don't acknowledge the original grouping of the issues is inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

But there *is* a cultural group that smells like what GMP describes: it's called "20-something geeky men from all over the world"

This cultural group likes "Big Bang theory" and online games and they never get laid. :)

GMP (GeekMommyProf) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

GMP @ "but, even though you have no control of how others view you, there are things you can do to avoid or minimize being stereotyped."

Um, No. I have no control over men treating me like a fuckfantasy, and nothing I do (not wearing skirts; wearing oversized clothes; not prettifying my face every morning; duct-taping my chest; veiling) is going to minimize being viewed as a woman (fuck receptacle). I also have no control over anyone asking me "where I'm from" and what my ethnicity is. It's none of their fucking business. FULL STOP. If I dress like I'm going to a hoedown, I still get asked. If I dress professionally in dress slacks and blouses, I still get asked. People WANT TO put me in a category, in a little mental box. If the assholes suspect I'm not 100% white (whateverthefuckthatmeans!), then my success might be chalked up to "she's a minority, she gets handed shit, she doesn't earn awards or jobs". My success could also be "she's doing the boss" if I get a promotion while having tits. Trying to preempt discrimination, asshattery, profiling, rape etc doesn't work. And Others conforming is not an answer to battling stereotypes or discrimination. The Battle needs to be taken to the privileged, who put up a fight with every breath. It IS about control - the privileged controlling Others so the privileged can continue to bask in their privilege and control. This is not about PCness either.
jc

GMP (GeekMommyProf) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chall said...

GMP: so cultural in your meaning is something personal?

I'm only trying to explain that if you cut out the "cuture to have bad hygene" and say it for what it is "Some people clearly don't understand that they smell and therefore rules are good to enforce PRIOR to a problem".

See, I have no problem with that. It's the murky muddy waters of trying to ascribe something to a whole "class" of people that I am against.

The premise where I think you might be wrong; "PhD getting in US in order to stay in the US" I'm just going to leave. I think it is important to know what is needed in order to "fit in", but it is not up to you to decide if people should go that conformity route or not.

sure, this might be me and my things but if I would've conformed to the things I grew up with, I sure as hell shouldn't have had my PhD.... but I didn't want to become a kept woman as many of my friends. Guess sometimes it is good not to do conformity?

ScientistMother said...

GMP - I don't know why you've deleted your last comment, but whatever its your business. I will say that I have not treated one here and another way on Zuska's blog. I called bullshit on your implication that new immigrants should conform, both in my post and in my comments. I clearly said "you're not promoting diversity by telling the minority to fit in with the majority". You've just chosen to engage on the whole body odor food smell. No I have no talked about your agreement that Teaches with accents can not teach ESL, because fucking mad that I"ll end up calling you names and making personal attacks, things I try not to do. I am choosing not deal with because, to do so would piss me off and quite frankly I don't have time for that sorta shit any way.

Preaching conformity is anti-thesis to encourage diversity. If you believe that new comers should conform, than you're enemy number #2, if you don't than you're not. I don't know what you are. You've haven't made that clear. You've muddled up lab management issues with diversity issues, so where you stand isn't clear. Where I stand is very clear. I believe in diversity, in recognizing our differences and not judging people based on them.

I don't know where you stand. You claim you want diversity but you've instilled rules against it. I understand that some of those issues come down to management issues, I also understand that some the rules - ie English only are not necessarily an anti-diversity rule. I understand and have no issues admitting that multi-cultural ism is a tough balance because you have to figure out how to balance policies that can both promote inclusiveness while discouraging integration (notice I don't use the word assimilation).

When you start preaching that people should conform, hide there accents or whatever that is anti-diversity. Especially when no one has acknowledged that the type of accent you have dictates whether is bad or not a problem.

I'm sorry you've felt you need to pick up your marbles and go home. I'm also sad to see that you can't acknowledge a mistake just because you don't agree with another topic.