Gender Equity group starts series to encourage research discussion

The group hosted the first of four "equity exchanges" for this year on Tuesday

In an effort to encourage discussion among researchers, ASU's Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology held its first equity exchange on Tuesday at West Hall on the Tempe campus.

Focusing on feminist epistemology and methodology in the digital age, the event, the first of four for the school year, encouraged discussing the importance of recognizing assumptions and potential biases when conducting research.

"Feminist is a very meaning-laden word nowadays," said Sabrina Weiss, the event's main speaker. "It's got a lot of meaning and it means different things for different people. When I refer to these feminist theories, I'm specifically referencing a recognition of certain scholars who ask a lot of questions about our assumptions of things."

Weiss, an assistant research professor within the gender equity center, defined feminist epistemology as asking questions about assumptions that stem from hierarchies of power including those around gender, race and ethnicity, class and other social identities.

She said that by asking these questions, scholars can conduct better research.


"We are interested in gender equity, we aren't specifying women," Weiss said. "Why do we assume things about gender? Why do we not recognize when gender has an impact on how we do our research? At its core, it's about doing better science." 

Nine people attended the event, most of them ASU professors. While some of them specialized in traditional science fields like engineering or astronomy, professors who teach within the music and dance schools were in attendance as well. 

Weiss said having a diverse set of scholars at the event is important as it allows researchers to see their colleagues' work while at the same time validating research some might dismiss as "too soft."

"Dance and music are often times coded as being very feminine and being very subjective," Weiss said. "Someone who subscribes to the hard sciences might dismiss that because it is seen as too soft or subjective and that you can't do hard research in it. But as we're seeing, there's a great deal of impact from technologies measuring sound and how the body interacts. Part of the feminist methodology question is to recognize that everything has value and impact on society."

Chris Mead, an assistant research scientist in the Center for Education through Exploration, attended the event to help with research on student success in some of ASU's online science classes. In some of these classes, Mead said, women earn lower scores than men and he wanted to research why. 

"I really wanted to get more context on the way people in gender studies and how other experts think about this," Mead said. "I wanted to see how they could theoretically frame these issues so I can make sure I'm writing my results in an intelligent way."

The center is holding three more discussions throughout the semester. The next meeting, taking place in November, will focus on making more inclusive science books for children.

Sharon Torres, program coordinator for advocacy within the center, said these discussions expand on previous events, meeting a need to have more conversations on topics ASU researchers were interested in.  

"We want them to ask 'what have I not considered yet,' and (to ask) that question as a self reflection and as a dialogue with other researchers," Torres said. "It's about furthering their research and addressing road blocks they may have. And more importantly, how can we collaborate with others?"


 Reach the reporter at  Emmillma@asu.edu or follow @Millmania1 on Twitter.

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