Promoting gender equality and diversity

Promoting gender equality and diversity

Tue, Jan 14, 2020
Promoting gender equality and diversity

Institutions can cultivate inclusive environments in which diversity and equality are the norm. Resources they provide (or do not provide) affect students’ and faculties’ experiences at the institutions. Institutional support can encourage introspection and empathy toward different narratives. Hence, they provide learning experiences and enable the school community to expand its views and values on issues of gender equality and diversity, both professionally and personally. Students have the opportunity to explore their identities (a vague but an all-encompassing term to describe one’s sense of self). In doing so, institutions can also learn about how to support students and members of the community.

On November 29, Professor Frances Rosenbluth, Vice President of Waseda University and Damon Wells Professor at Yale University, gave a talk on gender, sexuality and equality from academic and social perspectives. She introduced the audience to various concepts related to gender equality, sexuality and diversity, acknowledged the grim realities of discrimination, and compelled the audience to establish resources—at both individual and institutional levels.

Professor Rosenbluth’s talk demonstrated the ways in which institutions could learn from each other. Her talk about Yale resonated with many students at Waseda, in terms of what resources they would want at their universities, but also added new insights— Title IX being one of them. She introduced the Office of LGBTQ Resources, a facility on Yale campus available to all students that resembles Waseda’s Gender and Sexuality Center, to explain the ways in which institutions and students could collaborate to promote diversity. The Office provides services and support for students, faculty and staff across the University, in part by providing training and support for the programming, organizations and initiatives of students, faculty, staff, alumni and the local community. Events there also enhance one’s understanding of gender and sexuality because they provide opportunities for students to interact. At Yale, the Office of LGBTQ Resources, the Chaplain’s Office, and Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life work together to encourage an inclusive environment through inter-organizational exchanges.

Such facilities create space for students to learn about sexual orientation and sexuality, thereby fostering opportunities for self-discovery and identity-building. Miranda Cohen (ES ’20), a senior and Global Health Scholar at Yale University, said “They [the queer community spaces] need to make room for tough conversations and give people time to heal.” She admitted that “It’s hard work, and it’s something I feel a lot of people are afraid of starting because it doesn’t lead to immediate positive results.” However, she added that “it’s completely necessary.” “Our community cannot sustain silence about these divides, and people subjected to bigotry deserve better than surface-level diversity initiatives.”

Yale’s campus has become increasingly inclusive of people of all genders, thanks to student engagement. Many, if not most of the campus’s restrooms are gender neutral bathrooms—bathrooms that are open to all regardless of gender. Therefore, if one identifies with no gender or multiple genders, they do not have to choose between women’s or men’s bathroom. One of the main purposes of installing such bathrooms is to make the campus more inclusive and safe for people of all genders, especially for people who identify as “queer”. As a visiting student at Yale College, I, too, became accustomed to gender neutral bathrooms. They were daunting at first. I would walk into the bathroom and find a man standing there. As someone who had not used gender neutral bathrooms, I felt uncomfortable at first. However, my discomfort waned as I made friends who identified as queer and learned more about sexuality and gender diversity. Understanding the bigger picture—the purpose of such efforts—can foster inclusivity.

This term “queer” is prevalent on liberal campuses in the United States and especially at Yale, but it has yet to gain traction in Japan. This is part of the all-encompassing acronym LGBTQ+, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and more, to discuss the diverse genders and sexual orientations. An audience member asked what the “?” in LGBTQ+ (LGBTQQIAAPPO2S) stood for. The second Q in the acronym means question mark— that one does not know the gender with which one identifies. “Queer” is a term with so many different definitions. It’s a reclaimed word, one that used to be derogatory and is now embraced by much (but not all) of the LGBTQ+,” said Cohen. She said she appreciates the term queer “because it is unifying rather than divisive” and “makes room for people who identify as many things as once, whose identities are more fluid and changing, or who feel like existing labels don’t suit them.”

Students are not the only one to experience gender biases. Gender-based challenges persist and biases exist in the workplace as well. Hence, equality is still a goal rather than an achievement. Professors, too, are subject to such biases as well as explicit and implicit discrimination. Professor Rosenbluth said implicit biases (i.e. “unconscious attitudes, reactions, stereotypes, and categories that affect behavior and understanding” according to the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning at Yale) hinder people women from getting positions for which they qualify. She explained the current gender biases that dictate academia. Women are more likely to give up their careers to care for their children than men. Therefore, men are more likely to become senior professors than women, according to Professor Rosenbluth. Even a compliment can be perceived as discrimination, otherwise known as benevolent sexism. Problems regarding gender equality occur worldwide. However, bringing such issues to the fore—and being transparent and honest about them— is the first step to closing, and eventually eliminating, the gender gap.

Although biases persist, Professor Rosenbluth said she was hopeful that Waseda, and by extension, Japan, could solve this problem. Individually, clarifying our own implicit biases—by taking the implicit bias test, for example— could help us identify our subconscious expectations of ourselves and others. Institutionally, she said the most effective way for students to make changes at Waseda was to seek funding from those around us. She recommended students to request donations from parents and alumni to create organizations that could partner with, but not heavily rely on, institutional endorsements. At Yale, undergraduate organizations can receive funding from academic departments such as the Macmillan Center— a sponsor for The Yale Globalist, an undergraduate publication that focuses on global affairs. Likewise, the Undergraduate Organizations Committee (UOC) is an undergraduate organization led by students who provide student organizations with grants. Because they are student-led, institutions and students are not hierarchical but are instead, partners. This system allows students to speak up about issues that matter to them, including issues regarding gender, sexuality, and diversity.

Equality and diversity are priorities at Waseda University. The greater challenge, however, lies in whether institution can normalize it, not only within its institution, but also in Japanese society. Professor Rosenbluth showed statistics that revealed how women, compared with men, are more likely to quit their jobs after childbirth; hence, men are more likely to pursue senior professorships than women. The professional gender gap exists both in the United States and Japan, among all OECD countries, Japan ranks the lowest in terms of the proportion of female researchers and college educators, according to the IMF. No institution is perfect, and the gender gap in professorships exists at Yale as well, not just in Japanese institutions. However, Professor Rosenbluth demonstrated the importance of acknowledging the reality and addressing it by making institutional changes.

Institutional change is possible and much needed. Although Japan recently ranked 121st in the global gender equality index— a decline of 11 places since its last assessment—institutional changes can close the gender gap. It can provide opportunities and resources for students, faculty, and other members of the community to discuss gender, sexuality, and identity. The Gender and Sexuality Center at Waseda is an example of the university’s efforts to promote an inclusive environment. The Center has both private and open consultation rooms for students, faculty, and parents and/or guardians. It also hosts events relevant to gender and sexuality to encourage discussion about issues that the community has yet to address. Such facilities can facilitate broader discussions about gender, sexuality, equality and diversity. They are the backbones of institutional morality.

Institutions can promote and strengthen equality and diversity. Therefore, they have a profound role to play and responsibility to optimize their resources. Vice President Rosenbluth’s talk was encouraging because she encouraged engagement among students and the entire community, in which people can be open about gender equality (and the lack thereof). Her insights were inspiring, not only because she gave specific suggestions about how students could push institutions to improve its resources, but also because institutional support, too, could mobilize the community to foster inclusivity and diversity. I walked away hopeful about cross-institutional discussions about gender equality, sexuality and diversity. Professor Rosenbluth’s talk gave me a renewed sense of purpose to advocate for such issues both in and out of Waseda, which champions the motto: “Respect each other, respect equality and diversity.”


*This article was written and contributed by the following student.

Student Contributor
Marina Yoshimura (4th Year Student)
School of International Liberal Studies

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