Fall 2021

On DEI Work

9 November 2021

This post is based on a Twitter thread 🧵, which has been rolling around in my head all week. I finally got it down on “paper,” but I still can’t let it go. So, I’m turning it into a blog!

My university has a pilot fellowship program where faculty fellows are trained to advise and support tenure-line faculty searches to ensure that they’re evaluating applicants with a DEI lens. I am one of the 1st cohort of fellows. I applied because what I see all the time, at my university and elsewhere, is that “DEI” means “D”; there’s not a lot of equity and inclusion. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to make sure that this program is keeping disability at the forefront of their minds, and not as an afterthought, as it so often is.

As with any new process, there are some kinks to work out in the fellowship. There are logistics with the program itself (i.e., we are overworked; we’re give 3 units of reassigned time when this is easily twice that amount of work).

But the bigger issues are issues of ableism. Several times within one week — one several times within one meeting even after I corrected it once — others on the faculty search called me by the name of the interpreter. That’s not a problem with the program itself, but it speaks to the kinds of issues disabled faculty face in their quest for equity and inclusion.

The thing that really got me thinking this week was our most recent fellowship “check-in” meeting where we met someone new in the DEI office. He presented on some of the language we should be using as we interact with our search committees.

This DEI “expert” was not only specifying the words we should use in certain situations but also the specific tone and inflection we should use. My immediate thought was, “Ok, how am I going to coach the interpreters on this? How much prep time is this going to be (that I do not have)?”

I shared my concerns with the head of this program, she responded with, “Oh we’ll just ask the staff interpreter!” That left me feeling...a way. After I’d slept on it, I found the words to explain that this is not a me/staff interpreter issue. This is an issue of ableism.

I went on to elaborate how fellows (in this cohort or in future cohorts) may speak English as a 2nd, 3rd, 12th or whatever language. We may also have fellows who speak English natively but in a dialect/accent very different from American English. Their word choices and intonation may be different.

So, in the process of doing DEI work, we’re being tone policed? Our word choice is being policed? That’s not equitable. Suppose a future fellow uses AAC. Depending on the type of system, they may have no control over the tone of their device. This is an issue of ableism and linguistiticm.

And, y’all, I’m tired. I’m tired of addressing this.

Going a ways off topic, but bear with me: I recently watched Deep Space 9 season 2, episode 6, “Melora”. It originally aired on Halloween in 1993. Melora is the first Elaysian to join Starfleet. Elaysians are from a planet with what seems like gravity more like our moon. As such, they have a hard time with earth-like gravity, essentially disabling her. Non Elaysian worlds are not designed for her.

She uses adaptive equipment, special braces, a trolly car (wheelchair), and her quarters have an anti-grav option so she can be free of these devices for a time. (It kind of sounds like taking a listening device off at the end of the day.) One of the characters tells her she doesn’t have to come out “attacking” all the time, like assuming people will be unaccommodating or will end up doing something ableist. I feel like this is how I have to be all the time with my DEI fellowship.

I have to be ready to “attack” at a moment’s notice because something ableist is bound to happen.

There are so many quotes out there about how if you’re in DEI and not considering disability you’re doing it wrong. Despite that, I’m prodded to ask the following question:

Does anyone do DEI right?

Tips on ethical research: Reflections on a recent conference talk

2 November 2021

I went to a conference talk recently. I’m not going to give too many specifics because this is not intended as a specific call-out but something that’s important to keep in mind generally.

A little bit of background context.

I see conversations on Twitter all the time about ethically doing research in a community one is not part of. I’m also co-chair of my college’s Educational Research & Inquiry committee and right now we’re talking about putting together some “skill builder” workshops. A popular topic that several people brought up is related to ethically doing research in a community again, especially if one is not a part of that community.

The presentation I’m talking about is by a person not part of the community, really two communities, they’re researching. That, in and of itself, is not problematic if the work is done ethically. But, to my mind, not talking about a community using the words they use to talk about themselves is an important part of ethical engagement. This person didn’t do that. And further, some of the facts and figures they shared were from an organization that members of this particular community regard as a hate organization.

In addition, despite this person’s training (which I am familiar with), their talk had a very strong bias which I would not expect from a person with this type of training. So rather than being someone who can disrupt and challenge this bias, he just reinforced it.

Watching this presentation, I was so upset, so disappointed. So here’s my word of caution: to students who may take an interest in research down the line, remember to engage with research ethically (beyond just “getting IRB approval”) and to show respect for the community you research, especially if you’re not a member of that community. The bare minimum here: use the language members of the community use to talk about themselves.

2 devices is not the answer

1 October 2021

Hello and welcome again to my bilingual ASL-English vlogBlog. My last blog was about the problem with the phrases “sign language interpreter” and even “ASL interpreter.” Now I’d like to talk about another issue that was brought to my attention recently. And my feeling about this suggestion is absolutely not!

Before I get into that, I want to talk about something seemingly off-topic: the TV show Queer Eye. Maybe many of you watch, and like that show. I enjoy watching it, seeing them interact with different people in different cities. I’m brought to tears in just about every episode. As you do.

One mini-series was set in Japan to interact with people there. Something I noticed about this series is that it seemed like the Queer Eye team would speak English, and the Japanese people would speak Japanese, yet magically (and puzzlingly) they understood each other. But how is that possible? At some point later in the series they explain that an interpreter was there for these interactions -- behind the scenes -- and they’d interpret between English and Japanese, but in the editing process, the interpretation portion was deleted. The result is that on screen, it appears as if a fluid conversation is happening between people who do not share the same language.

Poster of the Queer Eye "we're in Japan!" mini season

That relates to today’s topic because what recently came up on my radar was a suggestion that, in this age of covid and Zoom, etc., we should adopt the 2 device model for interpreting. This means that if a deaf person joins a meeting with hearing people on Zoom, they’d use a 2nd device to connect with the interpreter. The interpreter listens through the deaf person’s computer and interprets into ASL. Then when the deaf person wants to add something, they do so, and the interpreter (off screen) interprets into English. The thought is that this will create a more smooth interpreting process in which it’s like the interpreter isn’t even there, not at all part of the interaction. There are some who feel this will help address issues like hearing people calling the deaf person by the interpreter’s name (which did happen to me twice this week).

But my feeling is this will create more problems than it will solve (and perhaps it's done more to placate hearing people who wish interpreters weren’t there rather than actually solve issues of access). Taking the interpreter out of the equation isn’t the solution. It does remind me of a quote that’s been going around lately from Alexander Den Heijer: “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

People need to get used to working with interpreters, and they need to understand the role of the interpreter and need to understand how the dynamics of an interpreted interaction are different in a meeting. Removing the interpreter, or creating the appearance that the interpreter has been eliminated, doesn’t solve anti-deaf discrimination, it just perpetuates issues of communication by making it seem more smooth than it really is.

Communication is always messy. We’re complex beings and the ideas and feelings we want to convey are complex. Adding an interpreter makes it more complex because the interpreter has to take in (messy) information in one language and put it out in another (remember how I stressed that interpretation is between two languages?). Again, removing the person from that interaction is not the answer. I hope as we move forward with our Zoom + some in-person events, I hope that we can remember that interpreters -- while perhaps a bandaid -- are a necessary bandaid for (more) equitable access to information, until the systematic issues can be addressed.

What's wrong with saying "sign language interpreter"?

30 September 2021

Hello and welcome to my bilingual ASL-English vlogBlog. Today I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind lately and came up in a recent Twitter thread. I want to talk about the use of the phrase “sign language interpreter” or “ASL interpreter.” These phrases may not be as “informed” as one might think. I’ll see if I can do justice to these explanations.

Let’s tackle “sign language interpreter” first; what could possibly be wrong with that? The first problem is it fails to specify which sign language is in question! Shouldn’t we specify which language we’re talking about? Give the language a name. Saying “sign language interpreter” perpetuates the misconception that there is only one sign language worldwide (a topic I covered in a recent Instagram post).

Ok, so, I said “name the language”; then what’s wrong with “ASL interpreter”? It makes it seem like all of their work is one-way, that they only interpret into ASL. But this isn’t always the case (as was the case with the Tweet noted above and why I commented on it on Twitter). While other countries and even have the UN may have different models, here in the US, most ASL-English interpreters are just that, ASL-English interpreters who work between both languages. When we say “ASL interpreters” we’re perpetuating the misconception that (signing) deaf people never present (and the OP of the Tweet admitted to this bias). Of course they do, and when they do, the interpreter is not interpreting into ASL, they’re interpreting into English.

We have to adjust our framing when we talk about interpreters. Interpreters work between two languages, and we need to name both. So, going forward, I hope we’ll all do our best to remember this, and specifically, I hope that interpreters will not call themselves “ASL interpreters.” My hope is that doing this will help people not only better understand the profession but also not erase the possibility of a (signing) deaf presenter. I hope this results in more language parity.

Setting Boundaries

3 September 2021

Happy Fall 2021 semester, to all my fellow faculty here, there, and everywhere. This is my first vlogBlog produced in my office! I started this endeavor during early covid, so obviously I did not film in my office. Anyway, this is my new office and I love it!

Now accepting masked visitors 😊

I want to share two techniques I’m trying out this semester to help me with boundaries. Since always, I’ve had email on my phone. Actually, when I first started working at Sac State, it took several days to set up email on my phone and I remember feeling really stressed about that.

But now, entering my 6th year as faculty, it’s time to reexamine my boundaries. So my first technique is making a point to not do email on my phone. Maybe down the line, I’ll even be brave enough to delete work email from my phone, but I’m not there just yet.

The second technique -- and maybe many of you are already doing this -- is blocking time off to grade. One thing that tends to happen, especially later in the semester, is I’m grading at all hours. I’m hoping that by blocking time off during the work day, I’ll be better able to close the computer at a reasonable time and stop work.

Is this a perfect system? Probably not. Will I struggle to stick to it? Probably. But I’m going to try because boundaries and self-care are important.