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DEIA Beginnings

A protest in support of Trans people.


A mixture of nerves and enthusiasm filled my body. Moments before any presentation it’s the same thing. I'm excited about the topic, concerned about the reception, and eager to begin.

Last Thursday, I arrived twenty minutes before the scheduled time to lead a faculty development workshop on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA). While students from the previous class left, I logged into the computer and waited for PowerPoint to load. Surveying the space, I decided to place the instruments on a table near the front.

“Are we dancing today? Am I in the right workshop on DEIA?” As faculty members from various departments entered the room, they asked questions.

“Yes, you’re in the right spot. The instruments will tie in a central idea of today’s workshop,”  I smiled and replied.

They nodded and took their seats. I turned back to the computer and waited for an update to finish. A few minutes passed, and more colleagues joined us.

“What’s the difference between acceptance and tolerance?” My co-presenter started with a question and two images projected onto the screen. Hands shot up in the air.

Faculty members from various disciplines discussed the terms and how they perceived them in their work. Then, I displayed the school's mission and followed up to hear interpretations of acceptance and tolerance in the university’s written commitment to students from underserved communities. This additional layer sparked the interest of many, but we only had time to hear a few responses.

We proceeded to discuss pronouns in higher education and the Merriweather v. Shawnee State University case.

Are you familiar? Here are the slim facts of the controversial case that left the professor’s pockets fat with cash.

Jane Doe was a transgender student in Professor Nicholas Merriweather’s political philosophy course at Shawnee State University. In Merriweather's class, he called students by Mr. and Ms. to answer questions. Because of his religious beliefs as an evangelical Christian, he refused to use female honorifics and pronouns when addressing Jane Doe.

After class, Jane Doe asked the professor if he could refer to her as her. He refused and reiterated his religious perspective in the course syllabus.

Feeling discriminated against based on gender identity, the student filed a Title IX complaint with the university. The university reprimanded Merriweather. Merriweather sued, saying the disciplinarian action violated his freedom of speech rights and the right to practice religion.

When the case reached the court, the 1st judge dismissed the claim. He didn’t stop. Professor Merriweather appealed the decision and won.

The university paid Merriweather 400,000 to settle the case but maintained its stance against gender discrimination and compliance with Title IX mandates.

Introducing this case to the faculty development workshop caused one professor to voice his support of Merriweather. He stated God made humans male or female and dismissed notions of gender as a social construct. Furthermore, he correlated "sin" with misaligning pronouns to sex.

I disagreed with his perspectives but allowed him to share his beliefs. Modeling the acceptance of different viewpoints preceded an ego trip to engage in a public debate. I offered a counterargument, allowed other faculty members to share their opinions,  and proceeded with the workshop’s content.

Eventually, my co-presenter and I connected the introductory discussion on acceptance and tolerance to a musical conclusion. I provided multiple percussion instruments to a group on one side of the room and placed a small drum with another faculty member on the opposite side. They attempted to play together for a few seconds until I asked them to stop.

I explained how the cluster of instruments on one side of the classroom reflected acceptance, and the solo drummer represented tolerance. Acceptance is working together, recognizing and appreciating our differences to achieve a common goal. Tolerance is equivalent to being put up with.

What type of work environment do you want? Do you feel more comfortable and empowered to do your job in a workplace that preaches acceptance or tolerance?

After the presentation, my co-presenter and I recognized the need for future sessions on DEIA topics. In addition to teaching the graduate course Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in Medical Education, I will push for additional faculty development workshops.

These conversations and actions are only the beginning.

Last weekend, I received an email from the faculty member who supported Merriweather's stance. With the university’s faculty copied in the message, his post-workshop comments confirmed the need to do more. I will share parts of the email message in next week’s blog post.  

Do you work in education? Here are the four accessible, actionable steps I left with colleagues to consider in helping cultivate a more inclusive campus.

  1. Look for DEIA implications in your committee roles

  2. Make an effort to use gender-neutral language in lectures and group advising appointments, e.g., instead of "you guys," say ya’ll,” “you folks," or "all."

  3. Increase your support of one student who failed last semester - i.e., tutoring or advising.

  4. Add pronouns to your email signature. They convey acceptance and awareness.


Subscribe here to read future posts about DEIA in education. Watch February's vlog episode below to see footage from the faculty development workshop discussed in today's post, athletic highlights, and outreach work that made this Black History Month special.

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