The Ally Spotlight is a new project from the Diversity Committee designed to celebrate staff, faculty, and students who have taken the initiative to develop their allyship skills to help foster a more inclusive department. This month, we are featuring Associate Professor & Melchor Fellow Joaquín Drut, who started working in the department in July 2012 & has completed the HAVEN training.
Why originally were you interested in taking the HAVEN training?
I noticed walking around in the department that many of my colleagues had several of these trainings, even some of the students. I have not had the chance or I had not made time to go to any of those. And I thought, I’m a reasonable guy. I think if somebody comes to ask me for help that I could help them, but at the same time, these trainings are there for a reason and other people are doing them so I should probably see what this is about. Eventually what actually made me really do it was the informal push from the students after the climate survey.
If you can recall the training specifically, what information stood out to you that you learned?
One of the most important things is that when somebody comes to you with a problem, there’s a whole structure in place of people that are willing to help. That you can reach out to find those resources and connect whoever needs help in any kind of violent situation they find themselves in that falls under the umbrella of HAVEN. And I remember that it doesn’t fall on us as faculty to get major training in sort of conflict resolution or psychology or what have you to help the student but actually, we can pass them on in a good way. Not just getting rid of the problem right but actually finding the people that could help them best.
It sounds like it was almost a realization that this is less stressful than you thought it would be because so much support exists and now you’re aware of it.
Yeah, it was informative because of the structures, but it also was interesting to see the way that other colleagues view all this. I did the training with a bunch of other people and it was interesting to see how our faculty view this and what their thoughts are.
Can you talk about what your biggest takeaway was from the training and how it’s changed your work practice.
During that training the issue of domestic violence came up and things that are outside the realm of the university affect students so I think I have started paying attention to potential signs of something without asking directly.
What kind of training do you think could benefit you or other colleagues that you wish you could see happening on campus?
I see people have completed Mental Health First Aid and I think that would be good too. I often worry about that when students come in. I know that every graduate student I’ve had at one point or another comes in under a lot of stress, feeling like they are not doing enough or their career’s not going fast enough and you need to contain them a little bit to help them out. I don’t think that we have any training for that other than our own experiences.
It sounds like a lot of faculty could be going into the same type situation and can lean on each other for skills.
Yeah, and it’s especially bad for high-achieving students, because some of them are used to being at the top of their cohort and then they come in and they hit real research, which is at the edge of humanity’s progress not at the edge of taking the final exam in a course. They feel the full force of the problems that we’re facing and realize this is tough and they get super stressed out. I worry about that.
How do you feel that your personal identity and your position (being a male faculty member) affects your ability to be an ally in the department. Are there times where it’s made it more difficult to be an ally or are there times it’s made it easier to be an ally?
I’m not sure I have a straight answer to that. I am male but I also consider myself a Latino so a little bit of both. I think being male helps, in some sense, because again it’s a male dominated area of science. It’s less so in astronomy and chemistry but definitely physics is mostly male, more than the other ones. But at same time I’m a Latino and in that sense, I’m a minority. So I can say is it’s a bit of both. I think it helps to be an ally if you’re in the majority. And the other way around: it helps to be in the majority if you want to be an ally.
What would you recommend to faculty members that want to get more involved with doing these trainings or allyship in general?
I’d say that it’s much more interesting than you think and it doesn’t take that long because you only have to do it once. You don’t have to do that every year or every month, or anything like that. Then you can review the materials and if you want to learn more, there’s all sorts of resources online.
Overall, It’s a good thing for the department and it’s interesting because you get to see what your colleagues think about this and that’s important. It connects to who we are socially as a department and being in an environment where you can have those kinds of discussions with your colleagues and with experts (the training instructors), that adds to the experience of what it means to be a member of this department. It shouldn’t be regarded as a chore. It should be regarded as an experience.
If you would like to nominate someone for the next Ally Spotlight, please contact Sheila Kannappan at firstname.lastname@example.org.