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Reflections from a Polish Roundtable

When I began planning a faculty discussion on gender, sex, academia and society, I had no idea what the University of Szczecin would have in store. With the work of my co-organizer, Barbara Braid, we gathered a group of humanities professors to host an iGIANT® roundtable in Poland.

Our group contained men and women from around the world. The Polish voices were punctuated with Canadian, Welsh, American, and other influences. This meeting was the first of its kind at the department in recent history, and the open forum provided a platform for professors to speak about how larger ideas of sex and gender influence their teaching experiences closer to home. In speaking with one another, we found that gender permeates elements of the university itself, such as the design of the rooms and the way students sit or interact. For example, the traditional lecture hall promotes a more masculine-dominated way of interacting instead of a collaborative, circular approach; furthermore, in the professors’ experiences, male students often sat in the back and participated more while female students sat in front but remained silent.

By fostering a more equitable class design, we can promote conversations and eye contact from multiple people, hopefully welcoming more participation. In these discussions, we also began to realize the importance of promoting women in leadership positions and STEM to address concerns such as the following: office space design, breastfeeding rooms, childcare and maternity leave, publishing policies, and related funding. We discussed intersecting concerns such as elevator access.

Before releasing the participants, I asked one final question: “We cannot control students or their personal thoughts on gender or sex. Sometimes these students may claim that we are trying to indoctrinate them with ‘leftist ideology’ when we try to bring up even scientific, much less sociological, distinctions in the lived experiences of different genders. Furthermore, we can’t control institutional policies to force these changes to take place. What can we do, today and every day, to help our female students?”

The answer was singular and resounding: “We will keep on keepin’ on. We will continue our work educating our students and each other, and we will continue meeting like this to confront our own oversights about gender and sex in innovation, society, policy, and other elements of our lives. We will recognize how gender and sex impact ourselves and those around us, and we will continue initiating ideas for accommodations and awareness.”

Overall, I was so honored and proud to be in a space of people who were actively endeavoring to transform their environments and their classrooms.

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