The caste system in India is, in my opinion, one of the most evil creation. Dividing people based on their caste and treating them as something lower than oneself is something that did not make sense to me even as a child. Urban Indians may deny the relevance of the caste system in modern times, yet it continues to exists deep in the our psyche and a lot of our institutions. To eradicate casteism, the government of India has taken up various measures such as introducing reservations for the under privileged sections. This was done with to provide more opportunities to these underprivileged sections and to help alleviate society’s bias against people from lower caste. This has worked to a certain extent, yet I cannot claim that this step has removed all of the bias against individuals from lower castes. Even today graduates from lower classes are looked down upon in their places of work. Many a times have I heard classmates talking down the achievements of students from lower castes. Comments like “he/she got admitted just because she’s from a lower caste” or “I don’t think that students from lower castes can go on to become good doctors/professors” etc. Biases against people from lower castes, in India, has just been pushed underground. No one wants to admit it,forget about talking about it. Would a student from a high caste, who barely scrapped through college get the same comments directed towards them? Absolutely not.
Coming from such a system, I was not completely blind to the inequalities that exists in academic institutions. In a recent study by Milkman et. al. (2015) 1, the authors show how professors display implicit bias in responding to emails by prospective students seeking future mentors. Even minority professors seem to display the same biases. In this light, it is hardly surprising when I read that individuals of color are under-represented in tenure track positions in universities and over-represented in non-tenure track positions 2. I learnt a new term – “Presumption of Incompetence”. Apparently that’s a thing. There goes my tenure (“assuming that I get a job in academia off course”). Other studies have shown instances of gender inequality. Cohen and Duberley (2017) summarize this very succinctly when they say “Anyone who sincerely believes that academia is a meritocracy must be either deluded or in denial.”
In the face of this, we as aspiring future faculties, must learn to identify inequalities at workplace and stand up for our colleagues and co-workers. A simple example may be dress codes at work place. I have heard from female colleagues and colleagues of color that they have to dress more “formally” in order to gain the same respect. How about having the same dress standards for both sexes. Inequalities in terms of pay could be addressed by making salary information openly accessible. I must admit that I cannot imagine how I would react if I was to gain “undeserved benefits”, benefits that arise due to my race, gender etc. Would I be able to turn them down? Probably not. Would I take steps to correct it? Definitely. Although, I am uncertain as to the exact course of action. What I am clear about is that we need to talk about the existence of these issues in academia in order to find solutions.
For a brief introduction about the caste system, please read the wikipedia article here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caste_system_in_India
- Milkman, K. L., Akinola, M., & Chugh, D. (2015). What happens before? A field experiment exploring how pay and representation differentially shape bias on the pathway into organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(6), 1678.
- Flaherty, C. (2016, November 29). Separate and Not Equal. Retrieved February 05, 2018, from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/11/29/book-argues-faculty-members-color-going-tenure-are-judged-different-standard-white
- Cohen, L., & Dauberley, J. (2017, February 01). Gender equality: universities are still all talk and too many trousers. Retrieved February 05, 2018, from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/comment/gender-equality-universities-are-still-all-talk-and-too-many-trousers#survey-answer
Where do you call home?
1) Kolkata, India. Additionally, Blacksburg (I have great room mates).
– When people ask you questions like “what’s your background?” or “what’s your family ancestry?” and other similar questions about your inherited and/or chosen background, what do you usually tell them?
2) In India, due the prevalence of the caste system, family history is a common topic of discussion. It is expected that everyone knows their caste. I have been strongly opposed to it from my childhood. In the majority of cases, I respond to questions like this saying that I had no idea and that I was never interested in knowing it (kind of white lie). Although people can typically tell one’s family background by our surnames. Basically, we made it really easy for people to categorize each other.
– Do you feel you have a community here at Virginia Tech? Why/why not? — and/or — When do you feel you have a part in a community at Virginia Tech?
3) Indians by nature, tend to be more interdependent on others. We keep our friends and family close. Fortunately, for me, I have great room mates. We typically cook food together, have meals together just like a normal family does. I can say that we are a family away from home.
Coming from India, one of the things that surprised me the most was the cost of undergraduate education in USA. Having had the privilege of studying in subsidized public universities for both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, the net cost of college was a fraction of that here in America. During the three years of my Bachelor degree, my yearly fee for college was the equivalent of $15. This was cheap even by Indian standards where private colleges charge a fortune.
The primary argument for subsidizing undergraduate education is that India being a developing country, needs a highly trained generation of youth who will go on to aid further development. What is often overlooked is the fact that subsidies in public colleges also aids in promoting diversity among students by allowing economically underprivileged students to gain education and to participate in India’s development.
Although India has made huge strides in reducing poverty, at present, the poverty rate ranges from 15 to 20 percent.1 A lot of students from underprivileged sections (for example the Dalit community in India) have gone on to work for the betterment of their community. Devanand Londhe,2 a Dalit entrepreneur faced discrimination early on in his childhood. Subsidized education allowed him to break the shackles of caste. He along with a group of similar minded Dalit entrepreneurs now work tirelessly to improve the conditions of their communities and fund other Dalit students.
With the rise in a publish or perish mentality among researchers, academia has observed an increasing trend in the number of retracted research articles over the years. Furthermore, researchers have also adopted the technique known as p-hacking in order to obtain statistically significant results.
The field of marketing and psychology has been rocked by allegations of unethical research practices in recent times (Read more here and here). Investigations conducted revealed unethical practices including the use of fictitious data, p-hacking and plagiarism. In a recent article, a group of researchers attempted to replicate results obtained from previous studies in psychology (link here). The authors were able to replicate only 36% of the studies which were examined. Although this does not immediately point to unethical behavior, this does raise a very important point. We must make our research readily reproducible. Non-reproducible research only serves to raise suspicion about the quality of research.
This is where the role of open access comes into play. If researchers made research materials readily available, others would be able to reproduce previous research more readily. This will serve to increase the credibility of academic research.
One can argue that research has become non-inclusive. Research does not welcome a lay person to its inner circles. Why does that matter? The general public has been increasingly growing disenchanted with research conducted by academicians. A case in point is the debate about vaccines in the USA. Furthermore, private corporations have adopted high standards of research in recent times. Under these circumstances, academia will struggle to continue being relevant.
In the past, the popular opinion was that faculty and researchers associated with educational institutes would conduct research as they had the best access to resources. At present this comparative advantage has been lost. The level of research conducted by corporations rival those in universities. Furthermore, as corporations experiment with innovative features such as crowdsourcing contests to obtain solutions to business problems, academia is being slowly but surely left behind.
The only way to address this is to tackle the issue heads on. We, as a field must take active steps to educate the public about our research. We must reach out to the common public to explain to them the importance of our work as well as the implication of our research in their lives. For example, research in marketing has shown that consumers are more attracted to branded products and avoid buying generic products, even in cases when both contain similar ingredients (Bronnenberg et. al. 2013). The authors estimate that consumers spend over $166 billion in branded products where cheaper generic versions are available. This is a very important research finding in my opinion. Consumers must be educated about how they can make smart purchase choices and increase their savings. This is easier said than done. But one of the easiest ways to do this would be to maintain a blog just like the one that we did for the purpose of this class. A blog will help us reach out to the general public and interact with researchers outside of our working group. Additionally, maintaining a blog will help us introspect about our research. A win-win for everyone, won’t you say so?
This was an issue that I was actively trying to avoid writing about. Why? Well people may point out that being an international student, I should not comment on events taking place in another country.
“You’re probably never going to experience it,” you say? Well dear sir/madam I know several students from India who have been abused during their time here. The other reason why I wanted to talk about this here is my inherent fear that I would have to deal with an inconvenient situation in a classroom with students displaying certain offensive symbols.
Ever since the events in Charlottesville, I have played out such a situation in my mind a number of times. I had never been able to determine what the correct course of action would be. I decided to ask a group of my cohort mates to play out a situation among ourselves with me acting as the offending student. We were unable to reach a consensus about the best possible action. With this in the back of my mind, I decided to ask Dr. DePauw about the best course of action in such a situation. Her advice was straight and simple. Do not publicly confront a student. But do not let such an action go unnoticed. Talk to the student after class in an effort to make them realize the implication of their actions. This is something that we do not learn explicitly in classrooms. I believe that the school and graduate students must communicate about situations like these in classrooms. We may choose to ignore situations like these and only deal with them once we are face to face with them. However, it might be too late by then.