Presenting the Present State of Writing Statements

Our statements on diversity and inclusion focus too intently on the past and the future while neglecting the present moment completely. What I really want to know is what an educator is doing here and now, day by day, minute to minute, and second to second; to question and improve his or her own attitude toward diversity. I want to see more awareness of and challenge to the innate biases, the hidden prejudices that plague us all blindly and chronically taint the lens through which we see the world. What I have written below is the present tense version of Berkeley’s “Guidelines for Applicants Writing Statements” .

I have nothing against UC Berkeley. I was actually at Berkeley this past weekend while out in the Bay area for a conference and I have to say it is one of the most forward thinking, progressive campuses I have ever visited. There is an overwhelming sense of pride in acceptance of diversity and you can outwardly sense it not just in the students and the faculty but also in the youth that grow up in the area. Diversity is boldly embraced and exalted all around. But the intro of the statement shared in the schedule for this week mentions the past and the future and planning five times without referring to the present moment even once. It is a reflection of how these types of statements are written and reviewed not just at Berkeley but at universities across the country and the world. They encourage the have done’s and will do’s much more than the grounded, active am doing’s of potential candidates.

 

“The Contributions to Diversity Statement should describe your past experience and activities, and future plans to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, in alignment with UC Berkeley’s mission to reflect the diversity of California and to meet the educational needs and interests of its diverse population. Some faculty candidates may not have substantial past activities. If that is the case, we recommend focusing on future plans in your statement. A more developed and substantial plan is expected for senior candidates.”

My statement would look more like this:

Present Experience:
In each moment when teaching a class I remain as aware as possible of each individual student’s needs. This is why smaller class sizes are so crucial. The ability to dynamically cater to different learning styles and different backgrounds is what I find to be both the most difficult and the most rewarding element of teaching. I believe there is a certain improvisation required in good education. I know that classes rarely go according to the scheduled syllabus, and I pride myself on my ability to adapt in the moment. Though I recognize the potential distraction that computers constantly pose to students, I also believe that they can be used intentionally as powerful tools to assist human ingenuity. Much like chess masters consult computers and merge with them to become “centaurs”, or doctors use electronic medical records (EMRs) to distinguish each patient’s unique medical history, I believe electronic educational records (EERs) can give teachers a more constant awareness of student learning preference, educational history, and active, real-time, engagement in any given course material. Computers also connect us with people all over the world- making education accessible for billions of the world’s poor and breeding a new opportunity to empathize with different cultures and customs. The key is that students meditate on each task- serial mono-tasking rather than distractedly multitasking- and only engage with their screens when it is appropriate to do so.

  • Research Activities: I research the meditative mind in an effort to better understand consciousness and the physiological processes of learning and emotion. A person sitting in meditation becomes the perfect research subject. Static and still, meditators can often use newer mobile sensing techniques without generating too much noise. Global Vitals, for example, offers a respiration rate tracker that works by using a smart phone’s accelerometer to track the rising and falling motion of the abdomen. It would be nearly impossible to capture this data cleanly on a moving subject, but the steadiness of the meditation allows for these less intrusive methods of data capture. Since Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is typically done in a lying down position, it can be recreated in a functional MRI scanner (fMRI) without fundamentally altering the experience for the participant. This allows me to capture detailed 3D images of the brain as a fly on the wall, without the documentation itself significantly altering the practice and therefore the physiological state of the subject. The main hypothesis of this research is to prove the possibility of learning and retaining information when in the deeply focused, subconscious state of yogic sleep.
  • Other Activities: I am the active founder of an immersive mindfulness collective whose mission it is to make the benefits of meditation more accessible to those that need it most. Transp0.se works with inner city youth from Southeast Washington DC and other unprivileged areas to take real ambient sounds and turn them into soundtracks for guided meditations. We travel to different cities to exchange creative energy and experience, connecting people from different places together in the present moment. We use social media and technology as both an educational tool for STEM programming as well as for connective empathy generation. We are actually in the middle of an event as I speak on the National Mall- and we always stream our sessions live to increase immediate accessibility. See video from the experience below.

 

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7 thoughts on “Presenting the Present State of Writing Statements

  1. Doesn’t a description of the past and goals for the future, along with a good dose of the present tell a story of the personal development of the scholar? Probably very few of us grew up and entered the academic and working world with a well developed understanding of social, political and economic factors that contributed to diversity, equality and inclusion? Even if we did, no one is perfect and will still have improvements to make. I think that being aware of where you came from and how far you have to get where you’re going is important and a part of being mindful and in the present. Otherwise the present has no context.

    I don’t feel like I have very much to contribute to increasing diversity and inclusion around me, except to say that I’m aware of it now and I’m thinking and learning. Because I am somewhat limited in the choices I can make right now in my teaching or research, for example, I would not have very much that I am doing right now to talk about, so I might focus more on what I will do.

    Where do we find the balance, between past, future and present?

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    1. It is a great question, Bethany. I agree we need past and present to place us contextually and give us an opportunity to adjust and learn as we go. My post is more of a commentary on the fact that the present is completely ignored in the prompts for these types of writing statements. A balance is definitely needed and ideally it is a balance that includes the proactive present as well as the past and the future.

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    2. Ooohhh… good points, Bethany. I haven’t read what Zach wrote below, but I think it is definitely a good idea to utilize guidelines and frameworks to create the *best* response/outcome for yourself. I’m kind of with Zach in that focusing on the past and the future doesn’t really provide much insight into who I am and how I think about diversity at the moment. But I also can see that reflection and projection would be an excellent way for you to create a profile that makes sense for you.

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  2. Thank you for your post. I really appreciate your discussion of the importance of what people are doing now. But for me, it is important for people to demonstrate continued engagement in efforts to advance diversity and inclusion, and this includes past, present, and future efforts. Many times, I have heard stories where one act is intended to represent a commitment to diversity. For example, I am in engineering and I have heard stories of people indicating that since they have a female student in their lab group currently that they are engaged in efforts to advance diversity. This, to me, does not demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion. I hope that people are engaging in discussions and efforts related to diversity (as demonstrated by past and present activities) and that this work continues in the future. So from my perspective, when writing a diversity statement, I want to demonstrate a continuation of efforts that includes past, present, and future activities.

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  3. Yes Amy I agree completely that the continuity of a commitment to diversity is crucial! As I mentioned in response to Bethany’s comment, My post was more of a commentary on the fact that the Present is often left out of the picture completely. I am just ‘filling in the blanks’ so to speak- emphasizing the present tense because it is so often omitted completely. I agree thought that the past and future are also crucial in demonstrating the full arch of an educator’s commitment to inclusivity in the classroom.

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    1. Ok, we’ll get off your back for being so focused on only one aspect of diversity statements and the journey. You have some very interesting and unique work and perspectives and I image that there is an interesting story of about how you got to where you are.

      One think I really liked is that when you wrote your statement in the present tense you avoided all the passive, impersonal style and tone that we tend to adopt in academic writing. By thinking about writing your statement in the present it is easier to read and feels more genuine, I think. I am going to think about having this perspective when I write my statement.

      What would be a good balance between past, present and future?

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  4. Thanks for addressing the issue of present attitude/thinking when it comes to presenting one’s views/actions on diversity, Zach. I have a hard time following rules, generally, so trying to write a statement that started with the past and ended with the future was frustrating and flat for me. When I thought about the objective and then wrote from my heart I did much better at capturing the values and thinking that motivate me to attend/address/look for diversity. I think I can go back now and craft a ‘statement’ around past actions and future plans.

    So, the other part of your post that mesmerizes me is your research focused on learning through Yoga Nidra and with Transp0.se. I’m fascinated and want to know more! (I will try to get back to your link this evening after class …)

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