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There's more to all of us than meets the eye

Diversity Week talk shows how invisible and uncounted identities can transform our reality
March 21, 2017
Jacob McWilliams' talk at the University of Calgary is entitled (In)Visibility as Revolution: A Manifesto for Social Transformation — Queer(ing) Identities in STEM.

Jacob McWilliams' talk at the University of Calgary is entitled (In)Visibility as Revolution: A Manifesto for Social Transformation — Queer(ing) Identities in STEM. 

Never judge a book by its cover — old advice that we can sometimes fall short of living each day. However, humans carry numerous identities, from race, ethnicity, sexual or gender identity, to personal experience and history. Some of these might be easier to see than others, but they should all be considered, contributing to the unique makeup of a person. 

On Wednesday, March 22, as a part of Diversity Week, a talk on campus will explore the impact that invisible identities can have on the rhetoric and realities of diversity, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and in education more broadly.

Jacob McWilliams, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education, will be on campus to discuss how disciplinary scholarship can be greatly amplified by enabling and empowering our invisible identities in the STEM classroom in a talk titled, (In)Visibility as Revolution: A Manifesto for Social Transformation – Queer(ing) Identities in STEM.

McWilliams was invited to participate in Diversity Week by Pratim Sengupta, Research Chair of STEM Education at the University of Calgary. Sengupta teaches a PhD course for Learning Sciences students in the Werklund School of Education, where students examine the historical foundations of knowledge, learning and educational design.

“A key issue that we examine carefully in that course is how scholarship on gender, sexuality and critical theory in general can greatly deepen our understanding of experience and education. One of the papers we read was by Jake (Dr. McWilliams). It was the students, led by the wonderful Chris Ostrowski, whose own research bears on critical identities in STEM education, who requested that I invite him to campus,” says Sengupta.

McWilliams’ research focuses on issues of gender and sexual diversity in education, and draws on queer and transgender theory for understanding the dominant discourses of engineering education.

“Our backgrounds and identities, especially the unspoken ones, are usually regarded as extraneous to the scholarship we pursue, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. It is impossible to understand each other in the campus community without realizing the centrality of such discourse as a legitimate part of our scholarship, not as something that happens on the sidelines. Jake’s research and activism focuses on making this discourse visible,” he says.

Sengupta says that the white male heterosexual perspective has dominated academic knowledge production in STEM fields, through textbooks, research papers and even the pronouns and verbs used — and have typically excluded voices of colour, gender and sexual minority.

“We must learn to recognize how the invisible hand of our collective histories are constantly shaping our experiences, and this is easier said than done,” he says. “Education is life itself, as John Dewey reminded us, and if we leave ‘who we are’ out of our work and scholarship, we turn away from life itself.

“If we voice who we are and who we want to become, we can connect across our life, work and classrooms.”

The talk takes place on Wednesday, March 22 from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., in TI 118 – Learning Studio B, in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. All are welcome.

Diversity Week is an initiative to celebrate diversity and inclusion on University of Calgary campuses through a variety of events, open to all community members. From March 20 to 24, we can embrace our differences, get involved and create safe and inclusive campuses for everyone. Find an event for you here.