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Noelle Malvar

The Graduate Center, CUNY


Diversity in Practice

I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity, the enduring buzzword in industry and academic circles, specifically how it manifests in my own work and how I use it as a yardstick of others’. I can cite the numerous diversity research, follow all the diversity gurus on social media, and keep up with the conversation with statistics thrown in as needed. But in my day-to-day work, what does diversity look like? And how I can justify saying that diversity is one of my core values as a scientist?

Last semester, I was listening to a Brown Bag presentation about inferring personality from spaces (e.g. people’s college rooms). The speaker was saying that spaces can connote with a degree of accuracy one’s openness to experience. I thought to myself how intuitive this finding felt, and then I thought some more and remembered words in Tagalog/Filipino that simultaneously describe both a place and a personality. Then, I started thinking about the idea of feng shui in Chinese philosophy, which then got me thinking about cross cultural variations in how personal space is defined. I sat there thinking how I knew these things not because I read them in a journal article, but because I grew up where I grew up, and I was now sitting in a room with people who grew up in a culture that construes space in a different way. And I once again appreciated being from a diverse background.

Diversity is a grand idea. It can be defined in dimensions like race, gender, age, or religion, or evaluated as variety in ideas and values (regardless of the factors mentioned). Because all these characteristics exist in multiple combinations in each individual, it is messy and difficult in practice. For instance, minorities are frequently called upon to represent the views of their group, and this is all well meaning. But there is a fine line between fair representation and tokenization, and every time I move into a space where I don’t look or sound like the majority, I am acutely conscious of this. I admit I’m still not sure how to think about diversity as it should play out in organizations and companies, I just know that mere presence is not enough.

Diversity is also a personal idea. Beyond coming up with alternative contexts when listening to others’ research, I’ve realized that diversity will naturally influence my work if I let it. For example, one line of my research focuses on Filipino and Filipino Americans because that is the underrepresented population I know and strive to advocate for. However, being systematically attuned to one non-W.E.I.R.D population (Western, Educated, from Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic countries) has led me to research questions applying to other non-W.E.I.R.D samples, and also to questions about how all these populations interact. Practicing diversity has meant being more thoughtful in how I listen to others, and being more proactive in seeking out a variety of opinions. In teaching to the very diverse CUNY classrooms, it has meant being conscious of how I prepare my materials, such that making sure that the images (and memes) in my lecture slides include minorities, or that the studies I cite include underrepresented samples.

In short, integrating diversity into my scholarship has meant doing all the usual activities of a grad student, but with the deliberate inclusion, consideration, and encouragement of others’ viewpoints, contexts, and experiences. In this regard, practicing diversity has only enhanced my work.

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