Gender, Sexuality, and Taxis: An Interview With Elliot James

A person, Elliot James, wears a navy blue blazer with a blue shirt and yellow and blue tie. He is facing the right, and holds a stack of papers in one hand while he gestures with the other.

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

Why should we pay attention to gender and sexuality in something as benign as setting up a business?

Elliot James, Assistant Professor of African History and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota, Morris, looks at how gender and sexuality are not typically factored into business models, and yet they play a significant part in normal operations.

“For instance when Uber was being internationalized,” says James, “in various parts of the world, from England, the US, India, South Africa, they noticed that a lot of women were complaining of being harassed and in some instances they were being violently attacked. My study looks at how, in the process of being set up, it almost created the conditions for things like that to happen.”

Similar to the Uber model, discrimination has historically been part of the ride-sharing taxi business in South Africa. James explores how the taxi business became successful, under political conditions that didn’t want it to survive.

During apartheid, blacks weren’t allowed to own businesses. However the government looked the other way when it came to taxi businesses. “It was seen as something that didn’t threaten the state” and so became pretty much the only option for blacks to run their own business.

“They were successful not just because of the political climate, but because it became a sort of this masculine industry that became seen as what respectable African families do . . . [and] it was able to thrive under those conditions.”

But this masculine model has had unintended consequences. James tells us, “In the historical record there’s always these kind of stories about rape – or that women were not able to own those kind of businesses because they needed to be at home, not bread winners.”

The taxi industry is a shared economy. “Drivers and passengers encounter all sorts of people every day. However, South Africa’s underrepresented minorities report some gender-based discrimination.”

“The industry was developed for normative, sexual presenting individuals and because of that history, it’s made it very difficult for queer people to feel safe within that,” James explains.

His goal is “to see how their discrimination came about historically, what was a product of that, and what are the best ways to change or challenge that situation.”

Who influenced him in this work?

Growing up in New York City, James was always interested in public transportation. His family relied upon it to get around, plus James’ father made his living as a bus driver. “He always talked in terms of driving a bus as a way to teach me about how to be good to people.”

As an undergrad at Carleton College, he recalled how Professor Harry Williams liked to expose his students to “really unconventional material” and make them think about its past. “I like to do that now, bring in songs and materials you don’t encounter … It brought [history] to life for me, and I like to teach that.”

“African Queer Studies was a way to look at different African histories in new ways, in ways that prioritize the concerns of gender and sexual minorities.” It brought together several of his interests.

James feels queer studies are very focused on the United States and Europe because they are seen as more progressive in valuing human rights, “while in places like Africa, the majority of countries kind of criminalize homosexuality and embrace very traditional African values. So queer studies overlooks Africa.”

However, on the African continent, ”South Africa is the only country that has enshrined in its constitution protections for gender and sexual minorities.” So South Africa seemed a likely place for James to research a queer studies topic on the African continent.

How does he conduct his research?

The ability to explore history through a broader, interdisciplinary scope serves James in his research. To learn the history of the taxi industry in South Africa, James digs into old taxi applications, business ledgers, newspaper articles and advertisement. He collects oral histories of taxi veterans who were foundational in setting up the business. He also journals, continually recording what he observes, engaging an anthropological perspective.

His research is almost entirely qualitative. But, he says, “The field of transportation studies is almost entirely quantitative.” So he is broadening the information they have.

“It’s not just how many riders from point A to point B – but what kind of experience did they have?”

James focuses deeper into the human experience , that’s not reflected in the data. ”My concern is the same as the feminist concern. I want to be sure that it is equitable for people of different gender and sexual identities.” 

How does his work impact the local community?

Learning about the rest of the world helps James strategize how to engage the local community. And when he lectures, he is able to bring in international perspectives.

“Having people in South Africa caring about what’s happening in the United States and having people in the United States care about what’s happening in South Africa, I think that’s a good starting place for getting traditionally underrepresented students into international affairs and international relations and being interested in things beyond the United States.”

He also encourages his students to use their own social realities to empathize with people across the globe. There are active students of color who are passionate about social justice who are focused on the US. “But if the University of Minnesota wants to engage in global affairs and have a global perspective, they need to reach students of color and attract them to this.”

What attracted him to teach in Morris?

“I grew up in New York City and now I live in a town the size of the apartment complex I grew up in, in the Bronx.” The differences between his home town and his new home are obvious, but the choice was easy. The students drew him. James was very attracted to the student profile at Morris: the fact that 18% of the student body is American Indian. The vast majority is also low-income and first generation.

“In my experience here as a teaching fellow [initially], I found the students to be kind of less entitled about what they need to learn in your classes but really open about wanting to learn… So I really enjoy the students, they are really interested in learning.”

He also appreciates the small class size in Morris and the proximity to the Twin Cities, which he says he loves. “It’s the best of both worlds. A small teaching environment and the support to develop professionally.”

[Header Image Credit: Kari Adams, University Relations, University of Minnesota, Morris]

Advertisements

Discovering & Reconnecting to an Ancient Culture: An Interview with Bianet Castellanos

A person, Bianet Castellanos, stands in front of an altar. Bianet has dark hair, wears glasses and a red and black shawl.

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

Beginning in high school, Bianet Castellanos had an interest in the history and the culture of the indigenous people of Mexico. That particular history wasn’t easy to explore.

Growing up in San Joaquin Valley of California, all she learned about Latinos in history was the Mexican American War and the conquest of the Aztecs, Maya, and Incas. And that’s all she could find in the library.

As an undergrad she became interested in the art of the indigenous people of Mexico. But art history seemed to focus on European traditions and there too, she found very little written about Mexico and South America. Her instructors focused on the Renaissance. “That wasn’t what I was passionate about.”

Professors at Stanford convinced her to study anthropology, instead of art history. And that was the beginning of a journey eventually leading her to a position as an anthropologist and core faculty member in the American Studies department, focusing on indigenous communities in the Americas.

Castellanos began by spending months learning the Mayan language at Stanford, followed by spending her summers working with a Maya community in Yucatán. She smiles as she recalls discovering years later, there was a large community of Yucatán Mayans much closer to home, in San Francisco. She needn’t have traveled to Mexico to learn the language.

“This story is just one of the interesting ways in which we imagine indigenous people to be rooted in one particular place because that’s where they’re from. But we forget there are also diasporas.”

Castellanos still travels to Mexico and has spent over 20 years working with the same communities and developing relationships there. She also works with Maya immigrants in Los Angeles. Among other insights, studying both groups allows her to explore “how race is constructed across time and space.”

Racial systems in the United States are very different from those in Latin America and Mexico. The experience of being indigenous gets reconfigured in the U.S. as indigenous migrants settle into this space. “When they are defined as Mexican or Latino, their history as indigenous peoples is erased.” Castellanos has found that for “indigenous people in the U.S., race impacts their lives in subtle but significant ways.”

Race in the U.S. is based on blood quantum. You’re defined as indigenous mostly based on how much blood you have, your bloodline. Castellanos explains that in Mexico indigeneity is based on language. If you are 5 years or older and speak an indigenous language, then you are classified as indigenous.

Informally in Mexico, race is also determined by your phonotype, your dress, and where you live. “In Yucatán, how you dress can determine whether you are defined as indigenous or not.“ So in coming here, indigenous people are exposed to very different ideas about race and its impact on their lives.

“These ideas do not easily translate across cultures.” Castellanos had to find “basically new vocabularies – and I’m not talking about just words,” in order to tease out how race is understood in Mexico and in the United States.”

“Excavating that history is really important for Mayans migrants and their children to feel that they are valued.” Castellanos’ work helps them do that.

When asked to consider the future of her work, the political climate comes sharply to the front. It won’t just affect her work. Castellanos is also deeply concerned for the wellbeing of the communities she is working with, both in this country and in Mexico.

“If Mexico pulls out of NAFTA, that’s going to have repercussions for all Mexicans, especially for indigenous communities, because they … have the fewest resources available to them.”

“Most of the people I work with are in the service industry and tourism. If there is any kind of impact on tourism, it effects how they can feed their children. So you can see the repercussions of the United States government’s stand against Mexico, how that’s going to effect people in their daily lives.”

She’s also concerned about the Maya migrant community in Los Angeles due to the political climate against immigration. Some of them are documented, but some are undocumented. Changing policies will have a huge impact on these communities.

“You have a lot of families that are mixed status, where somebody has their green card or is a citizen but other family members do not.” Sometimes the kids are citizens and the parents are not.

Just like other immigrants throughout history, migrants come to the United States for a better life. Some are escaping violence due to sexual orientation, or other dangerous situations. It’s complicated, but Castellanos feels “the policies that are being proposed don’t take into consideration those issues at all. The translation is that they end up harming a lot of people and creating a lot of structural violence.”

“A lot of these folks are just living at the margins. What are the lasting, generational implications for families who are living in an already precarious status and then having to undergo these experiences and shifts in policies?”

“In the media people are talking about how these protestors are politically motivated. Yes, they are politically motivated but not because it’s a Democrat or a Republican, but because these policies are going to affect people’s lives. These are not just protests for protest’s sake. People are protesting who have never protested before because fundamental rights are at stake.”

“So this is the kind of work we need to be moving forward with – it’s important. There are some of us doing it, but we need more support for more of us to do it.”

[Header Image Credit: Amelie Hyams, 2017]

Introducing the New IDEA Faculty Development Fellow: A (somewhat surprising) Interview with Sean Garrick

Sean Garrick Photo

The Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA) is proud to present these profiles highlighting our faculty’s outstanding research and community engagement around grand challenges.

by Amelie Hyams

There are three things you should know about Sean Garrick, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and incoming Faculty Development Fellow for the Institute for Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy (IDEA). Some of them might surprise you.

  1. He once wanted to be a writer or a poet (and still kind of does).
  2. He wasn’t always good at math.
  3. He credits his academic success to a couple of wonderful mentors and a smart sister.

Garrick has an incredible understanding of fluid physics and computational fluid mechanics. And he truly enjoys his work. He recalls exactly the class he was in when he “fell in love with fluid physics.” It was in his first fluid physics class in his junior year of college. This, and the course he later took in Computational Fluid Mechanics, amazed Garrick. And he was hooked.

Given his love of engineering, it’s not surprising Garrick was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study the effects of fluid turbulence on atmospheric aerosols. He is looking forward to working with an elite group of scientists in Finland.

It might surprise you however to learn Garrick started out as an English major. He loves poetry and essays about the human condition. “My dream job was to be able to write those things.” He still seems a bit wistful when he talks about it.

But by his second year of college he came to believe his enjoyment of science and technology made engineering a better fit for his career pursuits. “I just really enjoyed it – looking at theory and the fact you can combine mathematics and programing and see these wonderful things.”

As a gifted engineer you might assume Garrick has always been good at math and science. “That’s not really true,” he says. He actually struggled with learning algebra in ninth grade. With obvious fondness he recounts how his older sister spent hours tutoring him everyday after school. She stuck with him until something just clicked.

Once he got it – math wasn’t a problem for Garrick again. In the dedication for his Ph.D. he said, “This is to my sister, who taught me all the math I ever needed to know.”

Garrick’s attributes his love of science and technology and his ultimate success as an academic to the influence of two mentors: Associate Professor Ching–Shi Liu at SUNY Buffalo and Professor Peyman Givi, currently with the University of Pittsburgh.

Between them, Garrick says these two taught him how to work harder than he thought was possible, and how to be a professional. Working with Givi as a graduate student “was like a finishing school,” he says. “It was a fantastic environment to be in.”

He also credits Liu with encouraging him to give back by being a role model and helping others. “He knew I was very passionate about working with other people. He led me down the road of making sure I did something for the betterment of society.” This goal still guides all of Garrick’s work.

As the incoming Faculty Development Fellow for IDEA, Garrick looks forward to finding ways to support faculty and help them advance. But he’s aware there are many challenges.

Relevance is essential. “How do you come up with the right mix of programs that will be useful for a significant number of our population?” Garrick starts by asking them. He is connecting with faculty from other parts of the University to learn about what challenges they’re facing and what they need.

He’s aware his experience is different from faculty in other disciplines and their challenges are also different. “I think we have to be careful in thinking every story is like our own.” Talking with colleagues provides insights to help shape programming.

A sense of community is also important. Within a single department or unit, the number of underrepresented faculty may be very small. But not when added up across campuses. Garrick feels if underrepresented faculty were more aware of their colleagues at the U, they could build a stronger community.

“You don’t need to be working on the same thing because these are our colleagues. These are our resources that we can all utilize to help improve our sense of community.”

Garrick points to a story from his own experience about how he came to collaborate on a proposal with Jigna Desai from Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies (GWSS).

“What would someone from GWSS and Mechanical Engineering have in common, subject-matter wise? Nothing.” Not true. He met Desai while working together on a committee and learned they share an interest in getting more underrepresented students into STEM.

“The more you bring people together, the more their commonalities become apparent and the more they can find solutions.”

Time is another challenge in bringing faculty members together. Faculty are very busy. So it’s difficult to find the right time to schedule things. “This sounds like a small thing but you have to make sure that a significant number of the folks who would like to be there, you’d like to be sure they can make it.”

In addition to helping faculty who are already here, Garrick wants to help our potential faculty: Ph.D. students and postdocs. He’s working on a plan to provide learning opportunities and insights on academia for these underrepresented students. “This informs the path they choose.”

He has more ideas he hopes will “contribute to deepening, furthering and broadening the pipeline . . . ensuring we have enough faculty from underrepresented groups at the U.”

This is just the beginning.

What excites Garrick about this new role as IDEA Faculty Development Fellow? “I don’t think you have an option but to be excited because the need is so great.”

“I really love this university. This is an outstanding university . . . [but] to a certain degree the absence of underrepresented students and faculty, to me it’s a gaping hole that needs to be filled. And I think I can help do that.”

[Header Image Credit: Amelie Hyams, 2016]

Sharing A Great IDEA

Drs. Michael Goh and Priscilla Gibson

A Conversation with Dr. Michael Goh & Dr. Priscilla Gibson

“The idea around IDEA – pun intended – is that we can grow a community of scholars who care about equity, diversity and social justice issues.”

That’s how Associate Vice Provost Michael Goh answered the question, “What is the Institute for Diversity, Equity and Advocacy, (IDEA) and what does it do?”

Dr. Goh is a professor in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development in the College of Education and Human Development and he is just beginning his second year leading the institute within the Office for Equity and Diversity. Dr. Priscilla Gibson in the School of Social Work serves as the IDEA Faculty Development Fellow and is just concluding her third year in that role. They talked about the work being done through IDEA.

As with all units within the Office for Equity and Diversity (OED), Goh tells us his work with IDEA follows the tenet that “at the University of Minnesota, diversity is everyone’s everyday work.”

IDEA works behind the scenes through Bridge Funding and in pre-doc and post-doc programming, towards their mission to recruit and retain a diverse faculty.

But Goh feels these terms are inadequate in defining the goals of IDEA. He prefers the terms “attracting and thriving.”

“Attracting means more than just putting out a job ad and looking at applicants. It’s about actively seeking out diverse candidates through colleagues and national networks and developing relationships with potential leads,” Goh explains. He feels that that faculty candidates need to “feel that there’s a future at this university, in this community, for them to succeed.

Goh adds that he feels the term “retaining” has a survival feel to it. He prefers to be proactive in helping faculty to “thrive” here.

Gibson is helping faculty to thrive through her Faculty of Color writing workshops and through social events to help create a sense of community. “I love this term ‘thriving’”, she declares, “because I feel it is connected to welcoming and belonging.”

Gibson shares that the literature shows that faculty of color don’t always feel they belong. But forming relationships helps. And bringing people together helps form relationships.

“That’s why I think the writing group is so important,” says Gibson. “We are asking them to leave the convenience of their office or their home to come and write as a group.” Research has shown that this kind of activity, routinely gathering to work on their writing, helps writers to be much more productive and successful.

One of the most prominent programs IDEA supports is the Multicultural Research Award (MRA). This award is open to all faculty engaged in research on equity and diversity issues. Since it began in 1996, the MRA has been awarded to more than 180 faculty members. For many junior faculty, this award is often a springboard to larger, external research awards.

The MRA research is presented each spring in the Diversity Through the Disciplines Symposium, scheduled this year for May 5, 2016. These presentations highlight the interdisciplinary breadth of multicultural research and are open to the public. They provide the presenters a forum to share their discoveries with colleagues and engender future research collaborations.

Faculty seeking guidance in adding diversity into teaching methods, find it in the Diversity in the Curriculum workshops. These sessions are offered twice a year and represent a partnership between Gibson (IDEA) and Dr. Anita Gonzalez at the Center for Educational Innovation.

Recently Goh and Gibson have been working with Virajita Singh, Assistant Vice Provost with OED. They are trying to learn more about faculty’s perception of the work of equity and diversity in higher education, how have they been involved, where are we now and – what does this indicate for the future?

Goh is pleased that, “there is a lot more interest from administrators, faculty, staff, and students,” about equity and diversity work. Goh explains that, “student, faculty, and community activism clearly signal different ways in which we all seem to go about this work.”

This research project, says Goh “is not trying to intellectualize the issue but is a genuine attempt to learn about what motivates the different ways we engage in equity and diversity work so that we can potentially coalesce rather than collide in our efforts.”

Their findings from this research will be presented at the upcoming Keeping Our Faculty Symposium VII (April 17-19, 2016). This biennial conference has been held since 1998. So – why is this gathering still so important?

Goh tells us the symposium founders recognized the need to work together to create change. “And they recognized that no one university, no one office, no one group of scholars has the answers. Hence, the need to confer nationally about how to address this issue.”

“Issues continue to be identified,” adds Gibson, “as people become a little more comfortable, a little more empowered to talk about their lived experience as underrepresented faculty”

This makes Gibson especially excited that for this symposium “we have some of the best minds coming here to discuss, to critique and to analyze.”

“We are bringing up the next generation of scholars, and university administrators”, Gibson says. “We still need to develop that cadre.”

Goh feels, “there are a lot of good ideas being generated by higher education scholars locally and around the country that we can learn from. We need to cultivate the wisdom that is already out there and we need to be committed to moving to action.”

“Our goal for this symposium,” Goh says, “is to provide a space for scholars, campus leaders, and students to critically and honestly engage on urgent issues confronting faculty diversity so that we can discover meaningful, practical, and effective solutions for our campus and beyond.”

 

Keynote Speakers Announced for Keeping Our Faculty of Color Symposium

Keeping Our Faculty of Color Symposium VII Banner

The keynote speakers for the Keeping Our Faculty of Color Symposium VII have been announced:

Nancy Cantor 
Chancellor
Rutgers University, Newark

Alicia Dowd
Co-Director and Associate Professor
Center for Urban Education
University of Southern California
Rossier School of Education

Susan Phillips
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, SUNY Downstate
Vice President for Strategic Partnerships, University of Albany, SUNY
University At Albany
State University of New York

Learn more about the symposium »