UROP panel discusses race and gender in research careers

Associate Research Scientist Sara Alderstein Gonzales discusses women in color in research and academia with UROP students at Haven Hall on Thursday.

Associate Research Scientist Sara Alderstein Gonzales discusses women in color in research and academia with UROP students at Haven Hall on Thursday. Buy this photo
Kevin Zheng/Daily

 

Thursday, March 9, 2017 - 6:42pm

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Discussions surrounding issues of race and gender in the world of University of Michigan research and academia were prominent during a lecture for undergraduate researchers held Thursday afternoon.

Around 40 students gathered in a classroom in Haven Hall to hear a panel of speakers discuss issues of gender and race in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, the University of Michigan’s program for involving undergraduates in research projects with faculty.

The panel was moderated by one of UROP’s social science peer advisors, LSA senior Adedolapo Adeniji who asked the panelists questions. At the end of the discussion, the students were allowed to ask the panelists their own.  Adeniji sought answers that would help students learn more about research, including how to find a mentor, how to seek out support and how race and gender have played a role in the paths of the panelists.

Panelist Sara Adlerstein Gonzalez, an associate research scientist in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, discussed what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated research field.

“Being a person of color and a female and younger, you get questioned a lot in terms of your research or your ideas,” she said. “You get challenged in ways that maybe your male or white counterparts aren’t challenged. So, if anything, you learn to push back, you learn to defend your ideas.”

American Culture Prof. Yeidy Rivero, another panelist, discussed mentorship in research and how it relates to race.

“Because I am a woman and I am Latina does not mean I am the perfect mentor for a Latino person, you know what I mean?” she asked. “My first mentor was a white male. And he was wonderful and I adore him and he was my dissertation adviser.”

In an interview following the panel, Rivero discussed the importance of talking to undergraduates.

“We as scholars should devote a lot of attention to our undergraduates and part of that is to talk about what is going on in society, and gender and race are key issues today,” she said.

In the interview she also commented on the way the University addresses racial issues higher up in the research community.

“I think the University is trying very hard to tell you the truth, to deal with those issues,” she said. “I think each department is different, of course, but I think the University is putting in a lot of effort and funds for that … I think many people are unaware of their own sexism and racism. They make comments and you are like ‘Oh my god.’ Believe it or not, I think people should be trained. It doesn’t matter that you have a Ph.D.”

Kinesiology junior Riley Engstrom commented on the diversity within UROP.

“There’s no issues I would say,” Engstrom said. “I would say it’s probably the most diverse program on campus and I’d say it’s very inclusive.”

Engstrom also talked about the event itself and how it was received in the UROP community.

“I think that it had to be pushed a little bit to get people here, like they offered extra credit for the UROP students, but I don’t believe it was something that was just ignored for the students that were in there,” he said. “I thought it was motivating in a way and it was insightful for people to see other people’s experiences and it gets people thinking.”

Another UROP student, LSA freshman Hannah Ginsky remarked on diversity in the research field.

“It’s important to acknowledge because people of all races and genders are participating in research and they deserve to be treated fairly,” she said.

She also spoke of measures UROP takes as an organization to help address gender and racial issues.

“We had to go to an MLK symposium and they send us information about women in research communities.”