Representation matters. Diversity matters. Equity matters. Inclusion matters. Belonging matters.
In every step of my career and personal life, I strive to cultivate others from all backgrounds, especially those who face adversity and exclusion. This is deeply personal to me as an immigrant, a first-generation university student, and a first-generation Christian. Growing up with disabilities (delayed sleep phase disorder and dyslexia) in a society that deemed people with family background like mine as “undeserving,” I know what it is like to have to work harder than everyone else to excel, or even just to “pass”, then still be denied opportunities. Emigrating to America provided me many opportunities that were not previously available. Yet, I have come to see the persistent inequity even within a society striving for diversity and inclusion.
I appreciate the dialogue about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) as a single, wholistic concept. The pursuit of making higher education accessible cannot be achieved by diversity alone. More than recruiting and admitting those from disadvantaged backgrounds, considerable effort must be invested to retain and cultivate them to overcome the culminative effects of inequity, and to persuade them that they are wanted as part of the canvas of human achievement. Being accepted into a university cannot heal someone who has been told all their life that they are alien and undeserving because of their personal history, cultural background, national origin, sexuality, religion, body shape, disability, or mental health condition. While current cultural winds are favorable, merely admitting diverse and historically underrepresented/oppressed people into the academic institution cannot achieve inclusion and belonging. Institutional and systemic efforts at every level is necessary to facilitate dialogues between disparate people, to cultivate enduring friendships, not in spite of our differences, but because of them.
Diversity and equity are highly valued when I evaluate prospective research assistants, employing several strategies. First, I recruited from local community and public colleges as well as the campuses I worked in. Second, whenever possible, I never deny any aspiring scientist an interview. While time consuming, hearing their stories allows me to evaluate them based on the resources available to them. Third, I try to always respond, with deep consideration, to emails seeking research opportunities—especially the “bad” ones that are poorly written or are unlikely to receive a response by others. Colleagues often tease me about this time-consuming and usually-unfruitful habit, but I always answer, “if not me, then who?” Who else would explain to them why they have not heard back from prospective research mentors? I see it as an important service to the individuals as well as to the scientific community. Aspiring scientists from disadvantaged backgrounds are often less equipped to seek opportunities, so I write long emails and offer meetings to coach them how to do so better, even if I were not to be their mentor myself. They are well worth my time.
Due to these strategies, as of this writing (Dec 2022) my 33 former and current mentees are from 17 distinct cultures or nations, 24 are women, and 23 from underrepresented, disadvantaged, low-income, non-traditional, or ethnic minority backgrounds. After forming a diverse team, I work hard to nurture a culture of inclusion and belonging amongst diverse mentees from disparate backgrounds. There were trial-and-error. My proposal of a cross-culture potluck, for example, served only to bring the team closer through laughter—that their mentor was silly enough to think they had time to cook. Successful strategies included a buddy system pairing mentees who shared some background but differ in other ways (e.g., two transfer students of different ethnicities and English skills led participant recruitment for my dissertation project; two tech-inclined students of different cultural and socioeconomical backgrounds led beta-testing for my project’s hardware integration). Another strategy is that I strive to help overachieving young people understand that occasional mistakes and conflicts are unavoidable, but to succeed both as individuals and as a team, these must be handled with professionalism, openness, and integrity.
In Faith and Community
It saddens me to hear people discuss diversity and related concepts like they are somehow against Biblical principles or the philosophy of merits. How could it possibly if we do our best to right the wrongs history has done? Should we throw the baby away with the bath water simply because we haven’t figured out how to implement it well, yet?
Do I really (seriously?) need to list all the examples in which our Christ draws in the rejected, the despised, the marginalised, the “discarded” — while scolding the religious and those who selfishly seek political power? Or the occasions in which God’s people were charged to care for the poor, the widow, the fatherless, the sojourners (foreigners, displaced people, or refugees in need)? How the Lord charged us with the sin of greed when we don’t give radically to these very same people? And how often the sin of greed and sexual sins are on the same lists? Why does the church pick one to woo and the other to judge? The Apostle Paul wrote,
“For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders (non-believers)? Do you not judge those who are within the church [to protect the church as the situation requires]?”1 Corinthians 5:12 (Amplified Bible)
(stepping off my soap box)
My faith guides me to serve people in my path, and no one is undeserving of my care—for there is no way to live out my gratitude to the God to whom I belong, except to serve and care for people he puts in my life, for God himself needs nothing.
Therefore, I have strived to serve my local community, especially those who are overlooked, or deemed “undeserving” like I was. In California, I volunteered weekly for two years to provide mentorship and practical/financial help to teenage girls with children in the under-served sectors of my community, many were survivors of abuse and other adverse life events. I offered academic guidance and advocacy to girls who wanted it, walking the thin line so that they knew there were resources to make college possible, but it was also not the only route forward. For three years in Baltimore, I volunteered weekly for a program serving inner-city youth, providing tutoring, hot meals, and mentorship. I also contributed briefly to a Chinese-language newspaper to help immigrant parents cope with living in an adopted culture. My writing addressed issues such as communicating with American-born or -raised children, interracial marriages, acculturation adjustments, and available resources for counselling and continued learning. I currently volunteer at No One Dies Alone, where I provide companionship to individuals who have no family or close friends to be with them at the end of life.
After becoming a Christian, I find myself identifying more and more as a Christian than an American, a Chinese person, or an immigrant from Hong Kong. Basically, I have “assimilated” as well as can be expected for someone who emigrated as a late-teenager, and have achieved a measure of success in societal terms. However, something in me still rejoiced to see, in the past few years, faces like mine showing up on the big screen not as “the kung-fu foreigner with a funny accent” but as normal people — empathetically portrayed as protagonists or antagonists who “belong” in the society in which they lived
DEIB in … Epic Fantasy?
Yes. If something is important in the real world, it must be important in worlds dreamt up.
See my Creative Writing Page for practical ways I craft my fictional worlds to cultivate inclusion and belonging, showcase diversity, with the hope of encouraging my real-world readers and contributing to equity in the real world.
Really enjoyed your blending of cultures — this was the first high fantasy novel I’ve ever read where people aren’t basically all British. . . . My mouth truly did water at your descriptions of their feasting.— Ellen Gravesmill, one of the best beta readers in the world