Advice on organising climate meeting?

Query from a reader:

I am a graduate student in the process of organizing our first ‘climate meeting’ to discuss issues specific to under-represented groups in the department, as well as general congeniality and respect among all students and faculty. I am new to this and want the meeting to be as productive as possible. I would love concrete suggestions from anyone who has done this kind of thing in the past. For instance, how can we share information about people to avoid (if there are any) without fear of retribution? How can we encourage those who feel marginalized or excluded to say so without feeling further excluded? These are very sensitive issues and in a profession where so much depends on reputation, we need a system for anonymously and/or safely expressing concerns. If we hit upon any good strategies at the meeting, I will be happy to share them (and indicate if any seemingly good strategies turned out to be problematic). Thanks!

4 thoughts on “Advice on organising climate meeting?

  1. I’m not sure that this will add anything substantial to the discussion, but I was very put off by the first example of a concern with regards to a climate meeting “How can we share information about people to avoid without fear of retribution?” This seems like exactly the wrong kind of question to ask if your goal is to make the department a more inclusive place. It seems like “How can we reach out to those who may contribute to hostility within the department?” or “What can we do to raise awareness about how one’s speech and actions contribute to the department climate?” or even “What steps can we take that might lead to a change in behavior (or position) for a particularly hostile department member?” would be much better questions. Just telling everyone to avoid Dr. Creepypants because he makes sexist/racist comments or won’t keep his hands to himself doesn’t seem like it’s going to solve any problems and may in fact make the overall climate worse for everyone.

  2. If the department actually had a Dr. Creepypants doing that, then surely the climate problem wouldn’t be the fault of the climate committee for exploring routes of complaint of harassment.

    Graduate student organizer, consider starting by distributing a questionnaire, a loose and prompty one, asking participants, “Which topics or issues would you like a Climate Meeting in the future to address?”

    At UW-Madison, the ‘best practices’ include the following issue prompts:

    What can I do about discrimination or harrassment?
    What are some of the other problems departments/centers are experiencing? Am I the only one feeling ________________?
    How do I know if we have a problem at my department?

  3. Try to integrate the “discussion” aspect with positive workshops about how to deal with specific types of situations. Maybe a good place to start with the workshop aspect would be to read over MIT’s Active Bystanders website.

  4. I don’t know, obviously, whether this is supposed to be a meeting of the whole department or just grad students or just some sub-section of grad students. Perhaps undergrads are included?

    I think these meetings are very tricky politically. The faculty are not going to be wild about hearing some or all of them are sexist piglets. There are probably going to be some grad students who disapprove of trying to change the department, the faculty and/or other grad students; if faculty are not invited, they may tell faculty what went on. (I’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions, so this is not mere conjecture.)

    I think Matt’s suggestion is on the right track. Start off with positive projects based on the mere conjecture that somewhere in the university unfortunate things may be happening. So looking at:

    a. what do you do if you see a student hit upon by an agressive faculty member in the library.
    b. how can you respond if you hear someone crying in a bathroom stall and think the person feels excluded because she is overweight/a person of a different religion or nationality/painfully shy, etc, etc. Are there ways for the department to be pre-emptively more inclusive?
    c. how can we combat stereotypes? There’s a really nice post at about how certain young men can get chosen to be the up and coming grad student/faculty member, and how this involves stereotypes (if I remember correctly). We’ve mentioned it here, and you might find it by searching under “schwitzgebel.”
    d. you might ask whether, since philosophers are supposedly really good at taking tests, how people do on the relevant IAT tests at Harvard. You could set up a way for people to report their grades anonymously and develop a profile of bias in the department. (This might be an activity for a second or third meeting.)

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