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Presented By: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

EEB Tuesday Seminar Series - Spheres of influence: being a queer mentor, advocate, and activator in biology and higher education

with M. Rockwell Parker, Associate Professor Department of Biology James Madison University

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This event is part of our ongoing Tuesday Seminar Series.

Preview: As a cisgender gay man, I lacked accessible role models throughout my training in STEM who could serve as lenses on the academy. I also did not see spaces or networks in which I could grow as a professional and find community with other LGBTQ+ colleagues, particularly given the power of heteronormativity. My queer identity was solidified long ago along within a rich population of radical queer family, but I often felt alone in the wide world of biology. I learned to facilitate educational panels on queer identities and to be vulnerable about sexuality and gender with auditoriums full of college students. As an activator, I sought to transform my discipline however I could; however, I lacked an awareness of how my identities would influence my practice as a mentor and professional. I worked first within my safest place, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, to grow a culture of visible and proud queerness. I also formed my mentoring strategy as a faculty member from inclusive practices focused on empathy and identity. Across my time as a professor, I became more vocal in hierarchical systems and joined broader causes driven by people from historically excluded groups to work at the roots of inequity in higher education. It was then I realized the contexts for driving change: I could only be effective within specific spheres of influence. In this presentation, I will discuss how understanding those spheres evolved from hard lessons in seeking justice in higher education via inclusive and equitable practice. I will also highlight the importance of decision-making from an action-based model that can be deployed by LGBTQ+ scientists as well as our true allies.

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