By Katharine Webster
Changing any campus culture is hard, but UMass Lowell has made inroads under a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that aimed to remove career barriers for women faculty in science, technology, engineering and math.
Now, the grant is winding down – but the institutional transformation it promises is just getting started.
The brand-new, permanent ADVANCE Office for Faculty Equity
will carry it forward, with support from the provost’s office, by working with all faculty to improve equity for underrepresented and marginalized groups within their ranks.
“It’s by faculty and for faculty,” says Psychology
Prof. Meg Bond
, who is serving as faculty director of the new office. “We want faculty from across the campus to help us build upon our success and develop new programs that promote equity.”
The new office, with Program Director Brita Dean
, a leadership team of full-time faculty and a broad advisory board, builds on programs that were created and tested under Making WAVES.
Making WAVES research led by Bond and Psychology Assoc. Prof. Michelle Haynes-Baratz
included campus climate surveys of full-time faculty and daily bias surveys both inside and outside UML to better understand what issues presented barriers to faculty success.
The Making WAVES team also created and tested practical interventions to address gender bias, including training faculty “bystanders” to intervene when women faculty are subjected to subtle bias in the form of microaggressions – everyday slights, stereotypes and indignities that seem minor when viewed individually, but that can add up to make the recipient feel like a misunderstood or unwanted outsider.
Faculty equity leaders helped to develop and now lead the bystander trainings, which have been expanded to address other marginalized identities and groups, including faculty of color and LGBTQ faculty.
Making WAVES also provided alternatives to traditional mentoring programs and worked with UML’s colleges and departments to bring greater equity and accountability to their hiring, promotion and tenure practices. Likewise, it identified and addressed university-wide structures and norms that can contribute to discrimination and inequality.
Among the research findings by Making WAVES was that the bystander training was effective in teaching faculty how to intervene when they witnessed a microaggression. In follow-up surveys, faculty who had gone through the training reported intervening more often, says Tugba Metinyurt
, a post-doctoral fellow who also worked on Making WAVES research as a master’s and Ph.D. student.
“The subtlety of microaggressions can mean people have a hard time putting their finger on them and knowing how to respond,” she says.
While targets of more explicit discrimination can seek redress through UML’s Title IX coordinator
and the Equal Opportunity and Outreach
office, microaggressions – which may even stem from apparently good intentions – need to be addressed differently, says Haynes-Baratz.
“Ignoring this more subtle and insidious form of bias can be equally harmful. Due to chronic stress, it can cause physical problems and mental health problems,” she says. “That’s why it’s crucial to address the workplace culture by establishing new social norms within the classroom, the workplace and society.”
Now, Bond says, the ADVANCE Office for Faculty Equity will institutionalize successful WAVES initiatives and expand to include faculty across the university.
“We’re looking at how we can create the supports and resources for some of these things to emerge organically,” Bond says.
One widespread concern the office plans to address is equity in faculty service assignments, such as advising, directing undergraduate and graduate programs, and serving on committees, Bond says. Another is the need for more places and groups where faculty can share their personal and professional challenges – and find support.
“We want to help faculty find spaces where you can bring your whole self, so that as you think about your professional development, it’s not so segmented from who you are as a whole person in the world,” she says.