How to manage a racially diverse lab group

July 15, 2013 - 5 minutes read

Human ElementSo there’s this Neil deGrasse Tyson interview that I just recently watched and it got me thinking a lot about my own background and the diverse backgrounds of the science community.  I think that many times, we forget about the stereotypes and its influences on particular groups. These stereotypes actually cultivated my own life experiences. It all started because of a TA (teacher’s assistant) in my AP Bio class back in high school placed an assessment on me. All it took was his comment, “Oh I get it! You’re smart because you’re half asian.” Funny thing was, he genuinely meant no harm in his statement, but he just made an observation that made sense to his misguided foundations. Unfortunately, for me, it really affected my own psyche. I think that set me on a path to pursue a horrible truth in our society; the misguidance of racism.  I made career and academic choices based on this kid’s statement.  (I say kid, because in hindsight, he was only a year older than I was.  He had just as little life experience as I did) I shunned from Biophysics, because I thought it was difficult because of the level of mathematics in it.  It was so difficult at the time that I figured I didn’t have the mathematical aptitude because of my racial make up.  I didn’t have it based on my work ethics, but that of a statement of person I saw as a mentor. His position held a spot of authority that heavily influences those who are impressionable. Who knows, I could’ve been a biophysicist.  I really did liked biophysics.

We are too often misguided by these stereo types because of what ever experiences that we’ve been subjected, too.  A lot of it is making assumptions based on incomplete observations. For example, some asian students are good at math, so therefore all asians are good at it.  What we don’t realize is that if we put this in historical context, the 1960s and 1970s saw a lift on anti-immigration  of asians into this country.  This law invited a slew of academic elites from Asian countries where the culture surrounding these families developed in academic circle stressing the importance of studies. Although, these american born asians acclimated and developed similar american perspectives on lifestyle and aspirations. Therefore, not always meeting the familiar stereotype no more than any other 1st generation American.

Another example of this harmful mis-infomation, many young black men rob and steal. What many of the privilege take for granted is the lack of access to education and information in rural and oppressed neighborhoods , furthered by institutional racism and the perpetuation of popular media’s images of these portrayals.

Last example is that all gays are promiscuous. We forget that heterosexuality and sexual education has been forged out of moral conducts and taboos set forth by a religious backdrop, where gay youth have developed out secrecy and lack of guidance about sexual identity. Current studies show that gays are no more sexually curious or adventurist as their hetero-counter parts.

I use these examples to shed light on the fact that an opinions based on incomplete facts and perspectives will never hold true.  Therefore it should never be used to place judgement on others and their actions. This holds especially true in scientific research labs where cultural diversity is the norm.  Management motives should never be based on social norms or personal biases.

The way to manage this is simply speaking directly to people on a regular basis (one on ones) to get to know who that INDIVIDUAL is.  Their cultural, racial, spiritual, etc, backgrounds are only variables that make up their overall identity.  So, allowing people to divulge personal information is a great starting point.  This will hopefully develop into a dialog that cultivates a progressive relationship. The way to do this, is to ask questions, not to make statements. Making un-sound statements is a hastened move when referencing INDIVIDUALS. It’s to assume. My father always told me…”To assume, it to make an ASS of U and ME.” So don’t do it. It can have long lasting un-intended affects on impressionable individuals who look up to you as their mentor.

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