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    Ecological Systems Theory and Practice: Complexity Lexicon

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    by Dr. Michael Wright

    As part of my ongoing series on ecological systems theory and practice, this week I will be discussing complexity lexicons. Complexity grows exponentially due to interactivity, and interactive effects are present at each level and every context of assessment and intervention. In the sociological context, interactive effects mean that individuals in groups often influence one another toward homeostasis. In environmental practice, interactive effects result in ability of systems to predict choice behavior by intentionally structuring the choice calculus—increasing or decreasing options by managing awareness and expectation of role, culture, access, and capacity.

    After reading this section, you will be able to:

    1. Utilize a new lexicon for discussing change in human systems.
    2. Articulate how purpose and rules impact perception, construction, and mechanism in human systems.
    3. Articulate operational methods to structure human systems to predict outcomes and control outputs.

    The Short Version: Perception, Construct, and Mechanism

    As a blog post, this post is rather lengthy. I emphasize the most important points in bold, but I did not want to short change the curious. For my other friends, the whole post in a nutshell: Whether you are working with an individual client, a community change effort, research or consulting 1) all these activities are related through ecological systems theory and practice; 2) begin your work with a consideration of agents, institutions, and environment that impact the choice behavior of your clients.

    In order to set the lexicon for prediction of choice behavior, we must move from “individuals” to “agents,” from “groups” to “institutions,” from “environment” to, well, “environment.” We also introduce Sociocybernetics. Sociocybernetics is the study of the social contracts that result from the interaction of institutions, agents, and environments.

    What do we call an individual that operates within a system for a specific purpose based on rules of engagement? AGENTS. Agents are both intentional and unintentional.

    What do we call a collection of individuals who convene for a purpose and produce a charter and standard rules of behavior? INSTITUTIONS. Institutions include social constructions like marriage or volunteerism.

    What do we call that convening space that influences social roles by virtue of its own rule that either highlights the strength of the individual or exposes the weaknesses of the person? ENVIRONMENT. Environments are physical and metaphysical. The physical we call the environment. The metaphysical we call culture.

    Agent Complexity

    Agent complexity is focused on the agent profile as well as the agent perception. Agent profile includes the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual characteristics of the individual. Agent perception recognizes that these characteristics influence a construction of meaning within the client that either highlights or obscures options. The combination of biopsychosocial-spiritual characteristics also means that each client has constructions and distortions that impact meaning and behavior choice. The job of the worker is to manage both the constructions and the distortions to increase the sustainable options perceived by the agent. The point here is that these complexities in the agent are useful. They are not simply annoyances that presuppose dishonesty, they are powerful tools toward creating a new reality that supports sustainable choice behavior even in the absence of a complete comprehension of the theoretical frame. Once a habit of sustainable choice is practiced, the work of increased comprehension can proceed in earnest. The worker must support empowerment of the agent to intentionally select sustainable choices. The agent is made more complex in that the examination of complexity must account for both constructions and distortions. Said another way, the prediction must incorporate ways that clients lie to themselves.


    106567388Constructions

    A number of theorists and scholars have contributed to our understanding of constructions. Among them Carter and McGoldrick (1999) informs family contexts, Greene (2012) informs resilience, Erickson (1980) remains a seminal work on identity and social perception, Bandura (2001) informs social agency toward action, and Rollo May (1975) must be included for his work on creativity.

    Each of these has in common the concept of the “lifespan.” Santrock (1999) presented the constructs of the lifespan approach. You need to know them because the lifespan approach allows social scientists and practitioners to understand and apply stage theories and structural conceptions in a review and modeling of individual choice. In one way, the lifespan concept is the “it depends” answer to a question of individual complexity. We can model this complexity because we can identify the variables upon which the answer depends.

    Behavior, cognition, and meaning are the three domains of assessment. In the spaces between those three, we find more nuanced or complexity-producing concepts. These introduce time, the chronology to events, into the discussion of individual agency. In other words, clients make choices (behavior) based on what they think (cognition), and expectations (meaning), but these result from history/experience, perception/awareness, and meaning/sense-making.

    History/Experience. Each individual experiences life events, and those experiences shape future behaviors. That much is common knowledge. But, the social scientist must add that the individual constructs schema for choosing how to apply the knowledge gained from experience. That is, whether it is conscious to the individual or not, behavior has a mechanism. This is useful because we can discuss the prediction of behavior as a function of the mechanism of choice rather than attempting to discern the intention of the individual. Work toward behavior change begins with this foundational exploration of the patterns that make up a profile of the individual.

    Perception/Awareness. Each individual attends to life events in ways that are specific to that individual. This may seem to introduce a level of complexity that cannot be overcome. But, conscious or not, each individual approaches events with discernible logic and observable methods that provide a window into perception and add predictability to what she will have the capacity to be aware. This is useful because we can use the typical intervention of psychoeducation, but also, discerning the logic (or dismissal of logic) we may introduce the intervention of cognitive restructuring. A common example of cognitive restructuring is when you ask a client to begin to use positive self-talk. Instead of referring to himself as “idiot,” you may ask him to speak of himself as a “learner.”

    Meaning/Sense-Making. Humans choose to do what they expect will give them what they want. This is why despair is so dangerous. Not because it signals a metaphysical dearth of hope, but because it signals a lack of predictability. Sense-making also points to variability in the conclusions drawn from observing the same event. Meaning is not only a function of historical prediction and perception, but humans make sense of events in comparison with what they expected prior and what they are motivated to continue to believe and expect later. This is useful because we can use it to facilitate new realities demonstrated in new behaviors the client could not make sense of prior and therefore could not, in his mind, achieve.

    HL9112-001

    Distortions

    Theorists and scholars also exist to inform our discussion of distortions. Among them Brené Brown (2012) informs vulnerability and shame. A host of seminal authors like Freud, Rogers, and Bateson who describe ego defenses. Logic is considered one of the ancient arts. As such check Aristotle for original quotes Socrates. Fowler (1981) adds faith. These highlight the ability of the human mind to disregard evidence and context and create a new reality. It is important to realize that this function of the human mind is useful when all evidence suggests failure. To believe in something unseen and illogical is sometimes needed to overcome the fear and trepidation toward learning and acting to overcome a seemingly impossible challenge.

    I divide Ego Defenses into three categories. I tend to focus on the grouping of defense mechanism that Vaillant (1977) calls Neurotic, but it would be interesting to expand my categorization with listings from other authors.

    Consider my categories, whatever the actual ego defense, as characteristic ways to distort reality to your needs. AVOIDANT (Resistance) Characterized by a subconscious (non-aware) resistance to the anxiety producing stimulus. “I will not believe it. I have not seen it. It is not true.” REACTIVE (Decoupling) Characterized by action to decouple evidence in behavior from labels and meaning when faced with the anxiety producing stimuli. “Look at my actions. That PROVES that I am what I say I am.” PROACTIVE (Restructuring) Characterized by an intentional or unintentional activity aimed at restructuring the meaning implied by behavior in response to the anxiety producing stimuli. “You are mistaken. To be like this means to act like this.”

    Ego defenses can be useful, for example, in a situation of client self-doubt by trading on Proactive Ego Defense. We cognitive restructure client meaning by pointing out that the client has made positive progress. We encourage, “You are making progress, more successful days than challenging days. Progress IS success.”

    Logical Fallacies are seemingly systematic ways of “making it up” as you go along. They are often presented in the form of substantive arguments, but any review of the structure of the argument reveals flaws. The fallacies also do not hold true to transfer.

    For example:

    1. I like red cars.
    2. I have seen many red cars today. (Implying that others also like red cars.)
    3. Everyone is buying red cars.

    This can be useful because logical fallacies suspend logic and the requirement for things to “add up.” It can be especially useful when a system of self-defeating logic has been employed by the client. The client says:

    1. I have not been able to find employment.
    2. The economy is depressed.
    3. I will never find a job.

    The worker rebuts:

    1. You have employable skills.
    2. Our community is recovering economically.
    3. You will find employment with help.

    The work here uses faulty logic to move the client’s focus away from the economy, which he cannot control to encouragement and help, which the agency can provide. Again, logical fallacies are not sustainable in the long-term, but they can move a client out of a rut of despair.

    Faith is my favorite of distortions. Faith confidently states, “I believe even if I cannot see any evidence. Further, my hope is all the evidence I need.” Faith is a powerful tool to be shared with clients.

    For example, a client who feels some anxiety about her performance in a job interview speaks with a worker at an employment services agency. She has practiced with the worker and at home, but she has never been in a real interview situation. The worker counsels, “Trust me. You have prepared. You’ll be amazing.” The client calms and performs well in the interview.

    Institutional Complexity

    Humans when in groups exhibit behaviors that are not necessarily expected from any one of the individuals in the group TOWARD stability, purpose and order. These types of systems are termed Complex Adaptive Systems. They are driven by heterogeneity: the more different the individuals, the greater the impetus for change toward homeostasis.

    Institutions have specific processes for transmittal of environmentally supported culture and enforcement of rules. The resultant culture and rules are expressed in values, beliefs, and expectations linked to environment and events over time.

    This means that hierarchies naturally form as the goals, standards and norms are agreed upon implicitly or explicitly. The leadership and culture that results is primarily dependent upon individual expertise. It is not necessarily competence for the tasks at hand. Without clear qualifications for leadership or evaluation of fit with goals, leaders will hold operational expertise or political advantage. It is always true that individual expertise is most important to leadership and culture change in institutions. The question is does the group have the structural policies in place to support sustainable change? It is not enough to answer this question with a Yes or No. Examining the complexity asks HOW the structural policies influence choice behavior.

    Quick Thought on Choice

    The primary motivation of all individuals is toward purpose and order, predictability and homeostasis. But, agency is a complex choice (Bandura, 2001; Bertalanffy, 1969; Csikszentmihalyi, 1998; Miller & Page, 2007). Humans are not unique in their ability to both make decisions and articulate their process as a pattern for observers. Other animals can teach and learn. But, humans (other than marketers and salepeople) seem unaware or at least passive toward their ability to create physical embodiments of expected choice behavior. Creating institutions is about INFLUENCE through the physical space and culture—reinforced behaviors, norms and beliefs about the knowledge, relationships, and social roles.

    Environmental Complexity

    Environmental complexity is our entry into the emerging science surrounding behavior, mental health, well-being and their connection with the physical brain, neurology, and the fundamental mechanisms underlying “humanness.” What may surprise you is that the social work profession has advanced models beyond the diagnostic statistical manual (DSM). What I hope excites you is that application of these models within the context of statistical/mathematical models combined with neuroscience portend an expansion of our understanding of choice behavior and monumental improvement in service to clients.

    128074523The Sociocybernetics of Culture and Contracts

    Person-In-Environment was presented by Karls & Wandrei as an alternative model of client profiling (as opposed to diagnosis). The framework is supported with evidence and implementation history as far back as 1983. At its core, the detailed taxonomy provides a basis for contextualizing the interactive effects of social role, environmental factors, and strengths of the individual (See Karls & Wandrei, 1994;1983).

    Ecological Perspective of Gitterman & Germain, not to be confused with the ecological systems theory of Bronfenbrenner, was presented as early as 1973. The framework describes how transactions with Environment and Culture impact behavior (See Gitterman & Germain, 2008;1973).

    These add to Agent and Institutional complexity another variable. Humans make “deals” or contracts functionally with the environment. More specifically, humans perform based on role perception and adoption specific to culture outside the individual or the institution, and resulting from the interactive effects of person-to-institution and person-to-institution in the environmental context.  This means that examining complexity must include a careful articulation of the physical environment and metaphysical culture. This is not just a description. Careful articulation suggests a connection between agent, institution, and environment-culture. The agent perceives a contract. The institution supports a contract. Both contracts operate within a larger structural context that impacts whether any certain real outcome is possible.

    A simple example. An annual race is organized with a reported $500 prize. Individuals train all year for the event. The town gears up with industry supporting the annual race. The agents are ready to run. The institutions are supportive. What no one counted on was the flood that would envelope 75% of the town under 3 feet of water. It is impossible to run the race in these conditions. Though this example illustrates an act of nature, consider that other environmental (and even acts of nature: meteorology anyone?) are predictable if we account for them in our examination of complexity. To simply abdicate predictive capability is at least ignorant of available technology. At most it is negligent of due diligence. Neither are good looks for a social worker.

    Using ABM to Handle Complexity

    Group behaviors are unexpected but predictable if characteristics are known: Agent profiles, Institutional Structure and Policies, Cultural Environment, and Interactive effects. The outcomes of systems can be modeled through a process called Agent-Based Modeling (ABM). Control systems provide the structural policies that influence agent choice. A well-formed control system can provide a predictable output each time it is executed. Though human inputs are more complex, a well-formed control system will account for the variability with new operations that adjust to the needs of the agent perception, the institutional construct, and the Sociocybernetic mechanism—the environment control system in execution.

    Consider that the combination of agents and institutions in action, constrained by culture is a control system: inputs, system activities, outputs, and feedback. Consider what could be done if you exercised a level of influence within that system. This is what social work has that no other profession has in the combined mandate of individual, social, and environmental practice…the scientific and ethically-grounded framework to utilize sociocybernetic constructs to promote sustainable gains in health and well-being. What did you think you were learning?

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    Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.

    Education

    Project-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom

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    Project-based learning (PBL) may not be the first thing that teachers consider when planning for remote or hybrid lessons. However, with a little creativity and an organized approach, project-based learning can engage students in a way that may be lacking during typical virtual instruction. So what is it, exactly? PBL, simply put, is an approach to learning through exploration of a real-world problem or question. Ideally, students choose to investigate a problem or challenge that means something to them – something that impacts their daily lives. Then, through research, collaboration, and exploration, students gain a deeper understanding of the issue or challenge and how they can contribute to a solution. Even more important is the fact that, through project-based learning, students gain a better understanding of who they are as learners and critical thinkers. With being said, let’s look at how instructors can utilize PBL in virtual settings.

    How to Organize PBL for Remote Learning

    “Embrace the chaos of now” by asking students to discuss what is currently troubling them. When students have a vested interest in their classwork, they will obviously be more inclined to engage in the work and follow through on the assignment. Ask about challenges or problems they’ve been having, such as:

    • What has been your biggest struggle with adapting to virtual/remote learning?
    • What needs are not being met in this “new normal?”
    • How has your daily routine changed since the start of the pandemic?
    • What is a problem that you see your peers, neighbors, teachers, community struggling with?

    After students have identified an issue or challenge that they personally recognize in their day-to-day lives, ask them to do a little preliminary brainstorming about the problem using a standard KWL chart. The KWL chart is an old favorite in the classroom for any sort of introduction to a new topic, concept, or unit. For project-based learning, the KWL chart provides students with a visual starting point and a trajectory for where their research is headed. The graphic organizer, for those who have not used it before acts as a simple t-chart to organize what students already know (K) about the topic, what they want (W) to know about the topic, and what they learn (L) throughout their research process. This simple visual aid acts as the foundation for critical thinking by visually, yet simply, organizing a student’s thoughts.

    Next, you can help students with backward design or backward mapping by outlining objectives first. Again, project-based learning is all about allowing students to explore a challenge and identify a resolution or fix for the problem. In order to adequately lay out the groundwork, students must have a clear and definitive end goal. Therefore, in planning for success, teachers need to help students employ backward mapping strategies by beginning with something like a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.) goal—then working backward from there to achieve that goal.

    Instructors can also utilize haptic engagement or hands–on learning by encouraging students to physically try out or experiment with their ideas. Teachers can model this experiential learning by choosing their own PBL to focus on while kids are working. Show students that, in order to truly solve a problem, people must occasionally get their hands dirty. It is also important for teachers to note that success stories are almost always trial and error—a sound solution will not come right away. By testing hypotheses and modifying approaches, students truly understand the value of hands–on, experiential learning. Not only are these demonstrations helpful for getting closer to a solution, but haptic engagement also teaches students about grit, perseverance, and strategies around error analysis.

    Another great skill set that students may develop while participating in PBL classroom activities involves retrieval practice. Since students are focusing their work on one primary challenge, they are able to hone their focus and truly absorb new information as they learn. Teachers can help foster retrieval strategies with activities such as Cornell note-taking, peer teaching, and Socratic seminars, in which students take the lead in delivering information to one another.

    Try some of these PBL strategies out in your next lesson, whether it be virtual or in-person, and see the results for yourself.

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    Education

    New Preschool Program in Oregon is a Model for the Nation—But Challenges Remain

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    By Mary King and Lisa Dodson

    In November 2020, voters in Multnomah County, home to the city of Portland, resoundingly approved the creation of a new, universal preschool program—a program that could serve as a model for desperately needed preschool and childcare investments for the entire country. All three- and four-year-olds in Multnomah county will be able to attend a free, year-round, universal, high quality preschool program that meets their needs as well as those of most families, providers and staff, and local businesses. Key elements include a wide range of choices for families as well as living wages and professional supports for providers and workers. The program is slated to be equitably funded by a local income tax on the highest income households.

    Two big challenges remain: ensuring that families with “non-traditional” work schedules are included, and significantly increasing public investment in facilities to allow preschools to expand well beyond church basements and providers’ homes. Those working non-traditional hours are disproportionately low-income, women, people of color, and often “essential workers” without whom our society and economy would not function. Federal childcare initiatives must address the needs of families with such work schedules, or the families that most need public child care will be left out.

    A Universal Model that Serves Diverse Needs

    Universal preschool programs benefit all children and lead to better outcomes than means-tested programs for the most disadvantaged children. Means-tested programs such as Head Start seek to deliver services only to households with low incomes. Although means-tested programs “target the poor,” universal programs bring children and families from across the socioeconomic spectrum together, challenging ongoing race, ethnic and class segregation that erodes democracy. Universality also inspires broad support to maintain adequate funding. After fifty well-regarded years, Head Start is still available—but only for a fraction of eligible families, and even then, often only part-time and part-year. High quality preschool and child care is out of reach for the large majority of families who already face the high cost of housing, health care, and student debt with stagnating wages. Importantly, universal preschool is both a two-generation anti-poverty program and a powerful boost to economic development, because it returns $9.45 to the community for every dollar spent.

    Families raising young children are diverse and need a wide range of options. Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will offer choices of:

    • language and cultural contexts, including Afro-centric and other alternatives,
    • types of setting, including family childcare providers, public schools and free-standing centers, and
    • schedules, including school year and year-round, full and part-time, weekend days as well as week days, with up to 50 hours a week for families that need or want longer days

    Children with disabilities will be included, facilitating earlier identification of health issues and treatment. Expulsions, now too common in preschool settings particularly for children of color, will be prohibited, requiring that the system provide supportive interventions to meet all children’s needs.

    Fair Pay and Professional Support for Providers and Workers

    Currently, U.S. family childcare providers, preschool teachers, and childcare workers earn poverty wages with few benefits and often cope with difficult working conditions. The result is high turnover; the loss of skilled, experienced and dedicated workers to jobs that better support their families; and damage to the quality of care. High quality child care depends on the ongoing relationships caregivers develop with families, children, and co-workers.

    Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will pay teachers comparably with kindergarten teachers, doubling their current salaries. The wage floor for assistant teachers and other classroom staff will be set at nearly $20 an hour when the program starts in Fall 2022, with pay levels adjusted to reward increasing skills, training and experience. Continuing professional development will be geared to the schedules of the low-income working parents who are over-represented among preschool workers. Should workers wish to join a union, employers will be required to remain neutral.

    Funding universal high quality child care is within reach. Over the past 40 years, U.S. economic gains have been concentrated on an ever smaller group of the wealthy, while responsibility for paying for our infrastructure and public services has been shifted from the affluent to the working and middle classes. Reversing such trends, Multnomah County’s preschool program is to be funded by a county income tax on approximately eight percent of households at the top. Combined federal, state, and local income tax rates for such households will still fall far below the top tax federal income tax rates in place for the much of the 20th century, from the 1930s through the 1970s.

    Unmet Challenges

    Multnomah County intends to offer preschool up to ten hours a day and on weekend days, but has not committed to other “non-traditional” hours. Employers demand “non-traditional” work schedules for the three occupations expected to add the most jobs between 2019 and 2029: home health and personal care aides, fast food and counter workers, and restaurant cooks. Many retail and hospitality positions also entail low wages and employer insistence that workers maintain “open availability,” and healthcare, construction, and gig workers struggle with work schedules that make it very difficult to find child care.

    Multnomah County will pay fair wages to everyone working in the classroom, but will not supplement the pay of people working in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs that pay too little to retain skilled people in the face of a more attractive alternative. The county plans to support some infant and toddler programs, but won’t be able to overcome the severe shortage of affordable, quality care for these age groups, likely to be exacerbated by competition from a preschool system offering better compensation. Finally, preschool and child care is now crowded into inexpensive or public spaces; serving all children well will require a significant investment in physical facilities.

    Despite such continuing challenges, Multnomah County’s Preschool for All offers a national model, with its variety of choices to families, living wages for all classroom staff, and an equitable approach to public funding. Each of these aspects needs to be included in any new federal program. In addition, a new federal program should aspire to offer high quality child care to families struggling with difficult work schedules, until labor legislation is revised to place limits on such unpredictable schedules. Strategies will also need to be implemented to improve the wages of workers in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs.

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    Diversity

    Why Political Science Can and Should Lead Diversity Efforts in Higher Education

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    Diversity is big business in the academy. Foundations such as Ford, Carnegie, and Robert Wood Johnson support academic efforts to diversify the professoriate; and colleges and universities across the country are investing significant resources in diversity efforts. Furthermore, the academy has begun hiring chief diversity officers, following corporate sector trends — 60% of Fortune 500 companies have chief diversity officers among their top-executives.

    Although the numbers of women in political science have shown modest growth over the last two decades, the number of women of color in the field has largely remained flat. Political science scholarship on minority representation in U.S. legislatures sheds light on this professional conundrum, too. This literature shows how organized women, racial and ethnic minorities, and their allies can promote diversity and inclusive practices to bring about lasting change in political science, other disciplines and higher education more broadly.

    An Opportune Moment for Political Science

    Research on social movements shows that, when windows of opportunity arise, activists must have the resources to change the status quo and push for policy breakthroughs. I suggest that heightened attention to institutional diversity across academia presents an opportunity that political scientists can and should seize by presenting themselves as credible stakeholders who are well-equipped to: steward institutions’ newly available resources, run innovative pilot programs, and produce returns on institutional diversity investments for both students and faculty.

    Student demands will be a key resource in these efforts, but administrators can often “wait students out” — stalling student diversity efforts until a new cohort must begin afresh. Political Science is uniquely positioned to lead institutional change by using research from the discipline to encourage student activists to investigate the issues, formulate long- and short-term goals, determine the scope of their influence, identify allies and opponents, construct informed arguments, and make specific demands with measurable outcomes. This informed activism can help students leverage their status over time as students, alumni, and donors to move towards shared goals for departmental, disciplinary, and institutional change.

    Political Science is attracting many undergraduate women majors. Women are faring as well as men on the discipline’s job market. They are approaching pay equity with male colleagues and increasing their presence in the ranks of full professors. In 2010, women of color comprised 13.5% of female political science faculty, more than double their share in 1980. Although this improvement remains relatively modest compared to the nearly 300% increase in women faculty over that span, the progress for women of color is promising and can act as a foundation for future diversity efforts. Nevertheless, many challenges must still be addressed — including burdens of balancing tenure-track and family responsibilities, “inhospitable” institutional climates, and research norms that discount women’s contributions to collaborative work.

    Building a Diversity Infrastructure

    Sheer numbers are the first requirement for building diversity infrastructure. With sufficient numbers, members of gender and racial caucuses can promote further change and build organizational capacities. Research on the impact of diversity in Congress shows that the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American caucuses encourage information and resource sharing, enhanced communication, and collective action on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities. Through caucuses, task forces, and organized voting blocs, minority legislators have kept low-salience civil rights issues on the congressional agenda despite waning public interest. Women’s and racial and ethnic caucuses in national and regional political science associations show that female political scientists can capitalize on their numbers to act as disruptive-insiders to further diversify faculties and challenge discrimination.

    Buy-in from political science department heads who name search committees and from faculty making influential recommendations will be indispensable for furthering these efforts. Departmental objectives can be linked to university diversity efforts. Male faculty members should be encouraged to serve on diversity committees and act as change agents.

    Thinking beyond individual departments, women’s caucuses and ethnic caucuses in political science associations could share resources and knowledge and coordinate agendas. If increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the discipline is to be achieved, then women’s caucuses will need to work closely with race and ethnic caucuses in the discipline. Although universal sisterhood may be a worthy ideal, faculty women of color cannot be cast as handmaidens rather than full partners in the work of transforming the discipline.

    Mentorship is Not Enough

    The number of women of color entering political science faculties has stagnated, and many minority faculty members leave political science departments for more hospitable interdisciplinary centers. Recruitment and retention should therefore be top priorities — and that is going to take more than just mentoring programs.

    Mentorship is a common answer to the challenge of recruiting, supporting, and retaining minority faculty. Mentoring, however, only teaches people how to survive in institutions. It does not necessarily attract more people to enter institutions, and it does not help them change institutions. Although the very presence of black women on academic faculties and in front of classrooms changes the academy, that is not enough. Despite widely shared good intentions, the discipline cannot rely on mentoring alone to help women of color overcome racism, sexism, and other systematic obstacles to their advancement. At best, mentoring will help women faculty of color expand their social networks, establish important professional relationships, and better navigate minefields. At worst, mentoring will help some individuals survive and advance, while maintaining longstanding power disparities in the discipline. Mentoring obviously cannot ameliorate the impediments that routinely challenge and undermine women of color at all ranks of the professoriate. Political science must lead the way in identifying and deploying all of the strategies that can bring broader progress in universities and disciplines.

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