Promoting Rigorous and Inclusive Seminars
We asked a dozen women and minority graduate students and faculty at UC Berkeley (ARE, Econ, and Haas) about their experiences and suggestions for wannabe allies. Here, we've compiled their suggestions for creating seminars that are inclusive while still being intellectually rigorous.
Please note that these resources do not necessarily reflect the views of WEB. The intention is to hold an inclusive space for ongoing discourse. We thank the authors for sharing suggestions gathered from their interactions with students and faculty who have had identity-specific experiences in academia that obstruct their productivity. We welcome any feedback, additional contributions, comments, or questions on these issues. Please feel free to e-mail the authors or WEB directly.
Keep asking tough questions! However, consider the following suggestions to help ensure that all speakers and seminar participants are treated fairly.
- Set the tone at the beginning of the seminar.
- If you run a seminar, consider protecting the first and last five minutes of the speaker’s time by making them free of questions. Alternatively, designating a Q&A period at the end in addition to allowing questions during the presentation can help encourage people to wait to see if their question is answered rather than interrupting the flow.
- State guidelines for respectful interaction at the start of a seminar series each semester.
- Help keep yourself and your peers accountable to these standards. Don’t interrupt the seminar to call people out, but if you notice someone behaving poorly, consider having a discussion after the fact. Here are some prompts:
- “Why did you give her such a hard time?”
- “Did you think she answered your question?”
- “Why did you give him the benefit of the doubt?”
- Faculty in senior roles should recognize their advantage here—calling out bad behavior is easier when you have tenure.
- Taking time in a seminar has a high opportunity cost—that time could be used by the speaker, or by another person in the audience.
- If no one else will find a question interesting, write it down and send an email, or talk to the speaker afterward.
- When asking a clarifying question, ask yourself why you need clarification.
- Is it because the speaker was unclear and everyone will better off hearing the answer? Or is it because you came in late?
- Don’t be difficult for the sake of being difficult.
- Only repeat questions if you expect it to lead to fresh and useful dialogue.
- Don’t repeatedly ask questions hammering the same point when the speaker has clearly not had time to integrate the critique.
- Ask yourself whether you are more likely to badger speakers who are women or people of color.
- Credit the original questioner when you build on a question. Avoid repeating without crediting the original questioner.
- Often, women’s questions are repeated later in the seminar, without any credit.
- Take every question seriously.
- Our judgement about question quality can be biased, with white men's questions seen as profound where another's question would seem "out of left field."
- Distinguish between confident answers and competent research.
- Men often reply with an abundance of confidence, which is easy to overinterpret.