Sociology professor Dr. Andi Stepnick and Dr. Kris De Welde of Florida Gulf Coast University were invited to give the closing plenary at the 2015 American Sociological Association Annual Chairs Conference held in Chicago, Illinois on August 21. The conference was designed to “help new and continuing department chairs gain insights and knowledge that will help them respond to the day-to-day responsibilities of their position, as well as the broader challenges of the changing higher education landscape.”
Their talk, “Disrupting the Culture of Silence and Fostering an Inclusive Departmental Community,” was based on their research with women academics across the country in varying ranks and fields. They found that a “culture of silence” exists on many campuses regarding issues of discrimination and inequality. This silence creates a sense of isolation for marginalized faculty who often internalize stigma about their workplace experiences. Dealing with these challenges steals time and energy from faculty and could result in depression, anxiety and other health-related problems. Some seek employment elsewhere, costing universities valuable faculty.
Addressing workplace inequalities and hostilities effectively will allow colleges and universities to instead pursue excellence in teaching, research and service. Stepnick and De Welde offered concrete suggestions to conference participants about how to foster inclusive departmental communities.