Listen and learn – Workshop recaps from Allies 101: LGBTQ+ and Inclusive pedagogy at Plant Biology Worldwide Summit

It was the last day of the Plant Biology Worldwide Summit, and the rainy Friday morning made me nostalgic. I started to reflect on my various interactions with ASPB.

The first Plantae webinar I attended was called “How to be an effective mentor,” and I liked it so much that I wrote a blog post about the webinar (The power of listening in mentor-mentee relationships). The most powerful and essential element in the webinar was – listen.

Listen was once again a core concept in the two workshops I attended live at the recent Plant Biology Worldwide Summit: Allies 101: LGBTQ+, and Inclusive Pedagogy.

Allies101: LGBTQ+

In the Allies 101: LGBTQ+ workshop, Sterling Field started with the commonly used terminology, including LGBTQIA+ and SOGI, to bring everyone on the same page. The umbrella term queer can be used to address the LGBTQIA+ community.

Biographies, autobiographies, or biographical sketches consist of pages of words, and they might not give a complete view of a person. Therefore, when it comes to addressing the queer community, the LGBTQIA+ terms are descriptions, not definitions; the LGBTQIA+ terms are adjectives, not nouns. For example, “If talking about someone, say they are a transgender person or trans. Do not use the term ‘a transgendered’ or ‘a transgender.’” I highly recommend taking some time to read over the slides from the workshop to make yourself familiar with the terms and the topic.

“Coming out is a series of decisions,” and it should the person’s decision, not anyone else’s. When in doubt, ask and listen. “A student or colleague might be out to you, but not other students/faculty/family.” We need to make conscious word choices, especially when writing recommendation letters to avoid accidentally out the person to future employers.

Representation matters. LGBTQ students have a higher school drop-out rate, and we can help by bringing up examples like 500 queer scientists and promoting safe zone training. Simply knowing the existence and location of the local pride center is powerful enough to increase the sense of safety and increases the student retention rate for the queer community.

The workshop also addresses how to improve classrooms and labs to be more inclusive, such as using the correct pronouns, avoiding gender-biased words, and advocating for all-gender restrooms.

“Pronouns are not preferred, they are established,” described Sterling. Using the correct words/terminology is crucial in professional fields. Making everyone feel included and respected should be seen as every person’s profession, so we can apply the precision of word choices on pronouns and normalize asking/using them. When making mistakes, that’s ok; apologize and move on. Don’t dwell on a lengthy apology.

In the Chinese language, all pronouns pronounce the same (sounds like “ta”), which is why people who speak Chinese as their first language often misuse he and she when speaking. Although it might not be possible to change the English language to be more gender-neutral, we can avoid gender-biased words. For example, use everyone, folks, or y’all.

More than half of trans people reported refraining from eating and drinking to avoid using public restrooms. When using the restroom becomes a source of stress or danger, it is difficult to maintain basic school and societal experiences. Where is the closest all-gender restroom to the classroom where you teach or to the lab where you work? If you are not sure about the answer, now is a good time to find it or advocate for it.


Inclusive Pedagogy

Mentors and instructors have strongly influenced my academic achievements and directions; enthusiasm in teaching and preparing class materials, as well as efforts in making personal connections, dominated how well I liked the class.

In the Inclusive Pedagogy workshop, three speakers (Mary HeskelJennifer Robison, and Christien Russell) shared their experiences and the importance of interacting with students and creating an inclusive classroom.

While scientific knowledge is important, personal connections with scientists and instructors are equally crucial for increasing student’s motivation and success, especially for underrepresented minority students. Speakers and participants in the workshop provided many ways to enhance these personal connections. Here I list some of my favorite strategies from the workshop.

First, use a “pre-class survey” to get to know your students (described by Mary). The survey can be used to discover students’ knowledge of the field as well as providing “a window into their lives.” At the end of the survey, but open-ended questions like “what is something you want me to know about yourself?”, which can give students a space to introduce themselves or discuss accommodations when they need them.

Expand connections between students. Although students see each other in the class, they might not know each other at a personal level. Activities like “minute mingle” can ease the tension of the classroom (described by Mary). Before starting the class, give students topics like “what is your phone’s lock screen?” and encourage them to have conversations with people they have not interacted with yet.

Include research and personal stories of scientists and choose scientists not only based on science but also in order to reflect the student composition in the class (adopted from Christien’s “culturally responsive teaching” and Jennifer’s work in “writing scientist biographies”). Role models are crucial for personal development; when students see themselves as featured scientists, they are more likely to stay in the scientific fields.

Many participants of the workshop shared their strategies. For example, use “low-stakes quizzes” to increase class participation; this is especially useful given the increasing distance learnings. Also, use a “color-blind friendly” color scheme on the slides. Web-based color-blind simulators (e.g., Colblindor) can help improving color usage.

When we listen to the needs of students, when students feel that they are a part of a greater good, they are more likely to learn and succeed. I hope you will adopt some of these strategies and share your favorite strategies with us!

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