WTF Friday, 1/29/2016

There’s been a lot of ludicrously implausible stuff going on lately. So quick quiz:

Speaking Out of School

I’ve spent a lot of time these last few days talking with other academics about this NYT article by philosopher Carol Hay. Titled “Girlfriend, Mother, Professor?”, it decries the extra emotional work female faculty do as a consequence of students’ difficulty figuring out how to process women as professors and authority figures.

Many of these conversations went something like “Man, she’s strangely approving of the ancient Greek sex-with-boys approach to pedagogy, huh?” But the others suggested that Hay’s argument rings broadly true. There’s the YikYak problem. There’s the teaching evaluation disparity. And then there’s the Kleenex box Hay mentions, which many female academics keep on hand for the inevitable midterm tears.

Hay is correct that female faculty often bear the burden of providing emotional support to students. And that it’s a no-win situation. Falling behind on your research agenda due to time spent performing emotional labor results in penalties at tenure time. Declining to play the role of nurturer leads to punishment in your course evaluations.

But that’s not the whole story.

This isn’t simply a gender issue. Minority faculty members perform tremendous amounts of emotional work. For any student whose natural life cycle is not likely to include a phase as an middle-aged white man with elbow patches, seeing someone who looks like you in the professoriate is valuable. Developing a relationship with them is even more valuable. Faculty who come from under-represented communities know this. And even though they also know that being a role model and a support system for students will eat into their research productivity and may hurt their chances for tenure, many of them do it anyway. Because it’s important to them.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s ostensibly important to the schools, too. Almost every university and college in the U.S. has a publicly stated goal of increasing diversity in their student body. The emotional labor that female and minority (and particularly female minority) faculty perform is critical to this mission. It’s a rare 19 year old who doesn’t occasionally need a sympathetic adult ear. But for college kids who are the first of their family to go to college, who are working two jobs to stay there, or who are facing racism, sexism, or homophobia from fellow students, this need is even greater.

Emotional support from faculty can make the difference of keeping these students in school and ensuring that they succeed. But universities don’t seem to value this work, compounding the already higher rate of tenure denials among women and minorities. Which again, only makes the academy a whiter, more male place.

So maybe these schools aren’t that serious about being a welcoming environment for everyone, after all. If they were truly committed to diversity, they wouldn’t have policies that penalize labor that is disproportionately performed by female and minority faculty, and which disproportionately benefits female and minority students.

 

PSA: The Return of Mass Atrocity Monday

Big(ish) news: I’ve joined Justice in Conflict as a regular contributor and I’m bringing Mass Atrocity Monday back. (The 2014 run is compiled here.) So stay tuned for brand new lesser-known atrocities the first Monday of every month.

If you can’t wait until next week for your fix, check out this Nature article reporting on archaeological evidence of a (technically pre-)historical atrocity near Lake Turkana in Kenya. The findings suggest that humans were already massacring each other 10,000 years ago, and critically, that warfare may predate the transition to settled agriculture.

WTF Friday, 1/22/2016

We have a lot to get through today, guys.

In addition to all their other great inventions/discoveries, North Korea announced that it has developed hangover-free alcohol. I’ll say this for them, they’ve got their research priorities right.

Tanzanian president John Magufuli believes, for some reason, that a nation-wide ban on miniskirts will be an effective means of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.  (Update: The Tanzanian government has said that although “H.E. President Magufuli and his government are strong proponents of decent dressing”, reports of a mini-skirt ban were false. H/T: Felix Reimer.)

El Salvador’s government has asked its female citizens to please refrain from reproducing for the next two years to avoid birth defects caused by the Zika virus. (Note that there is no implication that El Salvador’s men might have a role to play in achieving a national pregnancy rate of zero.)

Oh, and apparently Sri Lanka has decided that a good use of police resources, and reasonable thing for a democracy to do, is to embark upon a nation-wide “crackdown on suspected lesbians“. Ugh.

And finally, if you missed this yesterday: discriminatory rules on blood and bone marrow donations from gay men are making it harder to save lives, for absolutely no good reason.

A Matter of Life and Death

Chances are, you recently saw this plea for a bone marrow match for a young woman named Lara Casalotti.

Lara is only 24 years old and has acute myeloid leukemia. She desperately needs a stem cell transplant. But because she is of mixed ethnic background (Thai-Chinese and Italian), it’s hard to find a match.

Her family has launched a concerted push to find a donor for Lara, and to improve the diversity of bone marrow registries worldwide. It’s gone viral, even earning a tweet from the Reigning Queen of the Internet, J.K. Rowling.

People all over the world have signed up for their national registries in the hopes of saving Lara’s life. But some of them have been turned away.

Gay men are still restricted in their ability to donate blood products and bone marrow. In both Australia and New Zealand, any man who has had sex with another man in the previous 12 months may not donate blood or bone marrow. In the U.S.the U.K., and Canada gay men can donate bone marrow, but are still prohibited from giving blood if they are sexually active. The U.S. recently (last month, in fact) shifted from a lifetime ban to a 12 month deferment, a change the U.K. made in 2011. Canada, which currently requires 5 years of abstinence (!), will likely follow suit soon.

These regulations are discriminatory and unnecessary. They categorize all sex between men as inherently risky, on par with intravenous drug use. And they don’t just harm the dignity of gay men. Earlier this week, a friend of a friend tried, and failed, to register as a bone marrow donor in Australia. He’s a gay man, of mixed Chinese and Italian heritage, who thought he might be a match for Lara.

So please, if you can, register to be a donor. And if you live in Australia or New Zealand, tell your government to revise its bone marrow donation rules. The fate of someone like Lara, a young person who should have her whole life ahead of her, may hang in the balance.

WTF Friday, 1/15/2016

OMG, you guys, Zimbabwe’s president-for-life Robert Mugabe is dead, or dying, or maybe just on vacation with his family. (Seriously, that’s the entirety of that story.)

In more actually newsy news, Kampala’s police chief has fired all of his intelligence officers for “failure to prevent crime, alleged connivance with criminal gangs, drunkenness and negligence“. Seems like reasonable grounds, but I can’t help wondering what kind of mischief hundreds of drunk, out-of-work, well-connected-to-the-criminal-element cops are going to get up to.

And meanwhile, why isn’t it a bigger deal that sharks can reproduce asexually?

WTF Friday, 1/8/2016

Welcome to 2016, everyone. Here’s how the first week of the new year has gone:

North Korea says that it tested a hydrogen bomb, a technology that it totally, definitely, absolutely has. Other things North Korea claims to have include: a cure for Ebola, unicorns, and a functioning economy.

Ben Carson, who is somehow still a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, despite his militant ignorance of policy, politics, and interior design, humiliated a small child at a campaign event yesterday. If you don’t know that when you ask a roomful of 5th graders who the dumbest kid in the class is, they’re all going to point to the same kid, you’re probably not equipped to govern.

And in Gambia, perennial spouter-of-ridiculous-nonsense (and president) Yahya Jammeh has ordered all female civil servants to cover up their hair. The directive is presumably pursuant to his unilateral announcement last month that Gambia is now an Islamic republic. Because I guess that’s a thing the president can do.

 

WTF Friday, 12/18/2015

I can’t even with this thing about Denmark trying to seize asylum seekers’ valuables. So instead, let’s talk about the patriarchy.

This week:

Japan’s highest court ruled that spouses must have the same last name, effectively requiring women to either give up their maiden names, or forgo the legal benefits of marriage.

The UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice paid a visit to the U.S. and did NOT like what they found here. In what may or may not be news to anyone, they concluded that the U.S. is failing to uphold the human rights of women, and that the situation is particularly dire for poor women, ethnic minorities, migrants, LBTQ women, women with disabilities, and the elderly.

And 46 year old millionaire Ehsan Abdulaziz was acquitted of rape charges by a London jury, which apparently accepted his story that he tripped and landed with his penis inside of a sleeping teenage girl. (Seriously, I am not exaggerating this one AT ALL.)

So things are looking pretty good for the ladies.

‘Tis the Season

Who else felt super bummed last night watching the Republican candidates compete over who could be the biggest dick to refugees and war-affected civilians?

A number of people have asked me what they can do to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem (and again, the problem is opportunistic and ill-informed bigotry). If, like them, you’re looking to direct your end-of-year charitable giving towards the refugee crisis, consider the following organizations:

Syrian American Medical Society – SAMS is on the ground delivering medical services to people displaced by the conflict, both within Syria and throughout the region. They also report on the situation and lobby for humanitarian aid. Donate here.

Civilians in Conflict – CIVIC operates in conflict zones around the world, talking to civilians in order to tailor their advocacy to what those affected by war actually want and need. (Weirdly, this is kind of an unusual approach.) They’ve been working in Syria since 2012. Donate here.

International Rescue Committee – The IRC are first responders and advocates for civilians affected by conflict and natural disasters. In the U.S., they play a large role in the refugee resettlement process, and, in fact, were recently sued over it by Texas. Donate here.

If you’re interested in working directly with refugees (from Syria and elsewhere), the IRC has offices all over the country where you can pitch in. Or check out Refugee Council USA’s list of other ways to help.

Finally, if you’re looking to get a bit more meta with your donations, check out AidGrade’s new funding call.  (Note: I am on their board.) AidGrade’s mission is figuring out when development aid actually works by performing rigorous meta-analyses of aid interventions. Your tax deductible donation will go towards integrating machine learning into the process, making it faster, more precise, and more futuristic than ever before.

WTF Friday, 12/11/2015

Remember that time we lived in a “post-racial” America?

Me neither.

Because this week a sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice suggested that black students belong at “less advanced” schools where the classes won’t be “too fast for them”. (!)

Justice Scalia’s comment was directed to counsel for the University of Texas during oral arguments about the school’s affirmative action policy. The lawyer, more than earning his paycheck by refraining from lighting the Justice on fire, pointed out that (1) the students granted diversity spots in fact outperform minority students admitted through the normal, race-blind procedures, and (2) it might not be such a great idea to “set up a system in which not only are minorities going to separate schools, they’re going to inferior schools”.

Also this week, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination proposed that we hang a big “No Muslims Allowed” sign on America’s front door. A shocking number of Americans appear to be on board with this plan. And, predictably, some have decided to show their support with hate crimes.

It’s all basically the worst, so let’s just sit quietly and watch this gif of Trump getting pecked by a bald eagle.

via GIPHY