PostNormal Times: Teaching to Transform
PostNormal Times is a podcast for our complex reality and unpredictable world—a world where the stakes are high and innovation is crucial. Andrew Vosko, PhD, associate provost and director of transdisciplinary studies at CGU, and his guests explore ideas that transcend traditional academic boundaries and address our most pressing needs. Get ready to challenge your assumptions.
In episode 6 of PostNormal Times, Andrew Vosko and guest Gloria González-Morales, associate professor of psychology in the Division of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences and director of the Worker Wellbeing Lab at CGU, share their thoughts on transcending and transforming traditional disciplines, as well as the university itself. Listen to the full episode below and subscribe via Spotify, iTunes, or RSS.
ANDREW: Welcome to PostNormal Times, a podcast for our complex reality and unpredictable world, where stakes are high, and innovation is crucial. In this series, I get to sit down with some of my favorite minds to explore new ideas that transcend traditional academic boundaries and address our most pressing needs. I’m Andrew Vosko, associate provost and director of transdisciplinary studies at Claremont Graduate University. Welcome to the show.
I would like to welcome you all back for this week’s episode, where we don’t discuss business as usual, we discuss business in an ever-changing transdisciplinary world. And I am very, very happy to introduce our guest, Gloria González-Morales, who is in our Division of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences at Claremont Graduate University. Is that correct? It’s a lot of acronyms here at CGU. And your formal title is associate professor of—?
GLORIA: Organizational psychology.
ANDREW: Okay. So, my first memory of you was when I was presenting something at a board meeting, I remember you sticking your face out from that very long table at the other end and asking “What is transdisciplinarity?” Or you wanted to know more about the program. Who is this person that I’ve never met before, but whom I’m very happy to know here?
And how did you become interested in what we were talking about? What piqued your interest in it even to ask that question? I know many people come here for that reason, but I hadn’t met you before you got here. So how did you come to be interested?
GLORIA: I’ve always been interested in the idea of interdisciplinarity. That is different, as we all know. And a lot of people are confused by it. But I have always been interested in crossing those boundaries between disciplines. And you know, right now I feel like I’m a psychologist transforming into a sociologist because I have these questions that I feel that I need to answer with different methods, different approaches. You know, I’ve always loved history and the history of art. Every time I’m thinking about, like, “Oh, how is this connected to that?” And so, I’ll say that I have a transdisciplinary way of thinking and inquiring about the questions I’m interested in researching.
So, I had never heard about this transdisciplinary concept before you had said that. I saw it on the website. And I said something about it in my job talk. But I was assuming that it was just a fancier word for interdisciplinarity. And then when you started to talk about it and explain it, I said, “This is actually very cool.” I love the idea of wicked problems. And I love the idea of, you know, including human-centered design or systems design. All these more complex ways of thinking about problems really fascinate me.
Because I think all the problems that we have in humanity … they are in grayscale. Nothing is black or white. And half of my time, you know, debating with my father or with other people is trying to get to the idea that there is a shade of gray … that, you know, things are not black or white, things are not simple. They’re complex. And for complex questions, we need complex systems and complex solutions.
ANDREW: You know, it’s funny, what you said is something that resonated so much with me: Everybody had heard about interdisciplinarity. But we hadn’t heard about transdisciplinarity. But it sounds so much cooler when you can say that at a cocktail party because that must mean you know more about it. …
And it really clicked with me when I read or heard in a conversation somewhere: It’s not about the discipline. That’s the entire message of transdisciplinarity. You recognize that you have disciplines, but the whole point is to not focus on them. The whole point is to focus on the issue. Because a discipline is a manufactured thing. The problem is the thing that’s actually real, that really exists out there. But a discipline exists only because we created it to study something., And it’s a very different thing.
So, when you start doing that, and you start realizing you can give yourself permission to be a sociologist, a historian of art, and an activist, plus you bring situated knowledge and experience to what you’re doing. You could bring your experience as a daughter or as a sister. Those things all matter in the inquiry that you’re doing. And you realize it’s inquiry and not discipline that’s the most important thing.
Now, the thing that always got me in trouble was when I would try explaining that to a bunch of people who’ve been in their disciplines for the past 40 years. Because there’s a little bit of, like, “So what are you saying about me?”
And so how have you reconciled that? Because you’ve been a psychologist for a long time. …
GLORIA: So, how do I reconcile my identity as a scientist in a specific discipline?
ANDREW: How have you been able to accept the transdisciplinary idea while also having this identity to which you’ve devoted a lot of your life, by being a psychologist in the training and the culture of it, essentially? Because you have to do quite a bit of acculturation and being allowed into that space. There’s a lot of effort that goes into that. And then you’re like, “What if I’m not following the discipline anymore? What if I’m following the problem instead?” How did you start to think of yourself in that way?
GLORIA: I have a perfect transdisciplinary example. So, there’s this painter—I don’t know if you have heard of him—he’s Spanish, his name is Pablo Picasso. Most people know his work based on, you know, the Cubists, right? All these lines—he has Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, these three women, but they don’t look like women, everything is distorted, it’s cubic or linear forms. So, he has broken the mold by, you know, starting with Cubism. And it’s not only with Picasso, like, there’s many, many Cubist artists.
But you need to understand that because he went through his Blue Period and Rose Period before getting into Cubism. He needs to learn the art, the craft, all the bases, how everything works, and be excellent at it—as he was—to break the mold and to create something totally different that changed how we understand art after that time. And not only him but everybody else. And that’s the other part, right? I don’t want to highlight Picasso as a genius, we also have problems with certain behavior that he conducted.
I think that also we need transdisciplinarity to allow us to understand knowledge, inquiry, art, and expression as a collective effort that we do. Nobody does anything, nobody’s a genius by themselves, right? Picasso is nothing if he’s not living in Paris around all the other artists. So now, I’m going to compare myself to Picasso!
ANDREW: … I think that is a great idea.
GLORIA: To transcend the boundaries of your own discipline, you need to learn your discipline well, you need to understand it well.
What I explain to my students in organizational theory is that you need to understand the ontology and epistemology of what you are studying for a long time, to then start to understand that there are other ways of knowing and our other ways of understanding reality, ontology, and epistemology, and what can we figure out through them.
So, this is how I reconcile that. I feel like I’m growing up, I’m being transformed. But I’m not breaking up with psychology. That’s still my identity. But I’m so excited, for example, to go to a conference on qualitative methods in organizational research with people from a lot of very different disciplines next week.
ANDREW: Again, I think you’re telling me something that I really can relate to because, in the effort to be more transdisciplinary, you have to look at the “trans-” prefix in at least three ways. One of them is transcending the discipline, which means you have to have a very strong foundation in that disciplinary space so that you can transcend it. Otherwise, you’re just dilettante-ing. And I think dilettante-ing is really fun. I love it. But you need rigor.
And so, I often will compare it to knowing a language. And so, you have to be fluent in at least one language. And if you’re going to be doing the transdisciplinary thing, you need to be conversant in at least one or two more. And so, you learn fluency first. And that helps with your conversational disciplinary speech in other languages, and that gives you the basic tools to understand how to understand other disciplines.
Because once you look at things as a psychologist, if you go into something sociological or historical or whatever it is, you still know some basics about critical inquiry, like you understand how to be skeptical in a healthy way and—I think it was called the hermeneutics of suspicion—be like “Is this really right? How do I know if this is really right?” And you can bring that to anything.
The thing that I hold on to most about my own undergraduate education was that I studied Japanese language and literature first and then I got into the neuroscience world second. And I viewed my education after that, actually, as foreign language acquisition. So, that’s the metaphor, in my mind. I think for complex ideas, going back to complexity, metaphors have been very, very useful for me.
But you know, because I remembered what it felt like when I started to learn enough Japanese to learn a lot of Japanese, and then I tried learning Korean, which, for the record, I failed at. And I tried reading more Chinese, which I also failed at, but I understood. … I mean, had I really put the time in and like, I know, I could have become more educated. I mean, people who study this stuff do become more educated in Korean and Chinese if they are studying Japanese because there are links to move forward, and you know how to study the language in that way.
So, when I learned science, I realized that it itself was its own language. And once I became fluent in one version of that, I could then speak some others. And I think that a lot of what we’re doing in disciplinary spaces is like learning a foreign language: You’re learning a foreign culture, you’re learning of a bunch of things that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of in that way.
So, I want to add to that, because you did your grad work in Spain. You did your postdoc work on the East Coast. You then lived in Canada. And then you moved back to Southern California because you missed our rainy weather.
So okay, in terms of learning, certainly, I mean, if your first language were not English, you had to learn English as an additional language, but you’re multiculturally versed as well in this process. And in addition to learning the culture, the disciplines, you’ve had to learn the cultures of different research institutions, different regions, different countries, at least three or four, and then you had a lot of other travel going on in between. So your scholarly identity is very interesting. How do you hold on to all of that? And how does it find its way into your work now?
GLORIA: So let me add to all that you have said about me that while I was in grad school, every single summer, I traveled somewhere. So, the first time I spent a month in Paris, maybe that’s why I was thinking about Picasso. The second year, I went to York University in Canada, in north Toronto. And then after that, I went to Germany, in the third year, and I worked at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.
So, it was funny because I was in Germany, but I started to see the culture, the American culture of science, because we were doing research at Walter Reed. And then after that, and the following year, I went to Sweden. So, I spent the whole summer at Lund University, and I took the train all the time to go to Copenhagen to have fun there, too.
So anyway, just to say that it is so much part of my identity to collaborate with other people. Because every time I went to this place, it’s not that I just decided that I was going to go, I had to put together a scholarship proposal, to get the funds and to really justify why I had to go to all these different places.
When I went to Walter Reed, for example, it was to work with Paul Bliese, who at the time was a director of the unit there for mental health research, to learn multilevel analysis from him. But when I went to Canada, I was working on gender studies in health with Esther Greenglass. So, my mentors back in Spain really helped me and told me like, you know, you need to get out of here, you need to see other ways of thinking, other ways of doing things, and to build your network of connections. Because as an academic, that’s how we work and how we grow: through collaboration. And I think that that’s a good seed to be planted for someone who then can start transcending not only their own culture or country, but also disciplines plus they can think of more complex problems to answer through research scholarship.
ANDREW: So, has it always been easy for you to collaborate? Do you find that the cultures of collaboration in American academia are readily amenable to that? Or do you find that it actually has a different set of challenges than you expected from your own training during those summers?
GLORIA: It’s interesting because I think that in the end, it is just a question of choosing the right co-authors, and not so much a culture issue. Academically, there are different ways of collaboration, when you compare Europe with the United States, in terms of how there’s, you know, there’s more hierarchy in academic departments in Europe. In Germany, actually, to be a full professor, the previous one has to either retire or decide to leave academia or die for you to become a full professor. So, there’s a lot of hierarchy and a lot of pressure to conform to the norms of the department. And so, the collaboration is kind of forced.
Here, in the States, collaboration is more for tenure and promotion as an academic, when people want to see what your work is. What is your independent work? How do you think—you, personally, as an individual? And that’s what I was referring to before: Picasso didn’t become Picasso alone. No artist, no scholar can say that they have created all this knowledge by just thinking in their own heads, alone. So, I think that that’s a fallacy: the whole thing about the superhero scholar, reading all these papers, and they are like these academics.
The more we collaborate, the more we exchange ideas, the more complex these ideas become, and the more useful, too. So that’s going back to the transdisciplinarity. And if we continue in the States, there’s that rewarding of only individualism in terms of like, “What is your career? What are your first authorships?” Then we are preventing people, especially more junior scholars, from going toward that interdisciplinarity at the very basic level. But then with transdisciplinarity, when you work in a transdisciplinary team, who’s the first author?
ANDREW: This is one of the big issues, which a lot of people have written about and have tried coming up with different compromises for, namely, what is one’s value. How can that be determined if you’re doing a transdisciplinary practice in an individualistic culture? Because you’re evaluated on your impact factor, your first-authored publications, and these issues end up becoming, without question, institutionalized issues. So, how do you change your institution to promote more collaborative work?
And this is where another interesting point comes up. You can say transdisciplinary on one side, and you can say interdisciplinary on the other, and everyone’s like, “Yeah, yeah, we’ve been hearing that for 100 years.” And there has been a movement to be interdisciplinary, a very strong movement for the past 75 years in the United States, where we’ve had politicians working with our higher education system saying, “We have interdisciplinary needs, do it, do it, do it!” And then you know, eventually, it kind of transformed. We’ve called it a bunch of things: ”Implementation sciences needs” or “team science”—we have a whole bunch of different jargon around it.
But then, when the rubber meets the road, an institution will gladly say that it’s inter- or transdisciplinary. And then you say, “How? What are you doing?” And what that often translates to is, “Well, we have lots of different departments.” Oh, that’s news! I’ve never heard of a university with lots of different departments!
But there are other questions like, “What is your tenure structure like for people who collaborate?” That’s a really good question. And I’m not sure there’s a single university that has tackled that successfully because of the legacy problem of tenure and promotion that’s based on people with a full professorship.
The original question I asked you was, “How did you ‘Picasso’ yourself into your current scholarly identity?” But take somebody who has been doing the same scholarly building over a much longer term. So, they’ve been doing this for six or seven decades now and they have a full professorship and they’re occupying that committee, because in tenure and promotion, that’s how this stuff works. And so now you have to ask yourself, this heart of a system, how do you chip away at it?
It’s one of the really interesting things that we all have to work with in this world—that is, how do we change universities? I have to tell you that I’ve had the ear of people who’re interested in this at every school that I’ve been involved with, but I have not been able to overthrow this system. That one’s a very embedded and wicked problem.
That’s not to say that disciplines are bad—and I always make that disclaimer because they’re also the foundation of a university. You have to have disciplinary allegiance, too. And it’s the tension between the disciplines and the institution itself that often gives shape to the university.
The problem is when you forget that the discipline is an artifact—it’s not real, it’s just a construct of other things. Everything that the university is trying to address must acknowledge both the existence and nonexistence of that discipline in reality.
The world has problems; universities have departments. That’s one of the transdisciplinary phrases that I love so much.
So, if you were to look at this as an organizational scientist—because that’s what you do—and you see an institutional system problem that has a legacy to it, it’s going to have a feedback loop that keeps it going. How would you look at this from your own grounding in understanding organizations and behaviors? … If you’re into sociology, you probably understand frameworks and power. … How do you look at a system like this? And what kind of insight would you give about where there could be changes made?
GLORIA: That’s a million-dollar question. … Some things are going to change because they’re already changing. … Things are going to change by kind of osmosis (something is going to break at some point, but it’s not going to break all the systems), and then there are other things that we could move, through design change, towards a system that’s more sustainable.
But given how we’re hiring right now, in higher education, there are fewer tenure track positions, and there are more adjunct positions. I would love it if instead of adjunct positions, those were clinical positions. And at CGU, I think that we’re well-positioned for something like that and we should be thinking about it.
We already know that there are states in this country that are already thinking about not having tenure in the state universities anymore, abolishing tenure, and worse. But there has been a little bit of a debate in academia saying, “Well, yeah, this is enough, you know, let’s take out the idea of tenure.” And then by doing that, yes, you’re removing one of the good things … about academia, that safety, comfort, and feeling of, “Ah, I’m tenured,” right? And I feel like a lot of us are in academia because we never wanted to go to the real world. And we were like, “Okay, I will suffer for seven years until I get tenure. Because then after that, I’ll be fine.”
So, I understand that the people who have suffered, and people who are full professors now who have suffered over many years until being tenured, being promoted to associate professor, and promoted to full professor—I understand that.
This is very similar—you know, here’s a transdisciplinary metaphor—to the idea of debt via education loans. A lot of people are saying, “Oh, so if you’re going to ‘pardon’ them, what about all the money that I paid back?” Right? I see that problem in a very similar way. So, I feel like this problem is going to break itself down at some point. Universities are not going to be what they are right now. We are having less enrollment as well, with fewer people coming to universities, not only at the undergraduate level but at the graduate level, too. This is going to “un-structure” by itself.
But then we have options, right? Before that happens, we can, for example, start thinking about how we promote and support clinical and adjunct faculty if they want to do research, for example, especially if it is collaborative and transdisciplinary. How can support that? How can we think about creating a process in which the tenure and promotion guidelines are revised by everybody in the faculty, and not only, you know, the higher-level professors? And what does it take to do that? And that’s going to be context-specific. Each organization has a very different structure, you know. For example, some organizations have a senate in which you have to pass regulations. There are very different ways of doing it.
And also, I think that there’s going to be reconfiguration of the ranks. I just wrote an essay about relational practices in academia a couple of years ago. And I talk about how we just have to lift each other up, especially minorities in academia, and not become queen bees, right? Queen bees are queen bees because there’s a hive, not because we’re bees. So, if we don’t become these people who’re trying to step on top of each other, but instead lift each other up, I think that there could be progress in the academic ranks to allow for more collaboration. But it’s going to take forever, the same way that DEI efforts take forever.
ANDREW: I want to go back to something you said that really just like, wowed me because I forgot how that felt. So, you said a lot of people go into academia because they don’t want to be in the real world. And I thought about what a paradox that is because that’s not how it feels at CGU, we’re very different than that here.
But I remember people who would stay in academic lifestyles—people whom I went to grad school with—forever because they said they had to do this because they could never wear a suit and tie. That whole statement—I can see the error in its analysis, in that idea of a real world that’s highly professionalized such that people feel like a corporate structure is the only alternative to whatever it is that we’re doing in higher ed. But higher ed is extremely diverse so you can be both very corporate and in higher ed.
GLORIA: I was going to say, you may have to wear a tie.
ANDREW: I like wearing a suit and tie. Too bad this isn’t videotaped. I come in a suit and tie every time. But I think that that concept that there’s this space and then there’s the real world is one of the more problematic concepts out there. Because if you ask yourself, “What is the point of the university? What is it supposed to do? Is it to create, discover, and produce knowledge, essentially—and if so, for whom? For the ‘not real world’? What’s supposed to happen?”
And if you’re not thinking about it in terms of its applications to the “real world,” then are you trying to transcend yourself? … Have you gone so far past everything that you’re not realizing that this world is the thing that you’re in, and not the haven in that metaphor of the university? It is a special space, certainly. But I think the haven idea is a little dangerous. …
GLORIA: And it’s not true. … I was thinking about this other dichotomy of basic and applied science. And again, think of people who do basic science, thinking that they’re in the haven, like in their own lab and doing their own thing and not worrying about anything because they are just doing basic science and they just want to learn how things work for the sake of learning how they work. And then someone else doing applied science, won’t think that they’re a real scientist because they do applied science.
And I have seen that across a lot of very different disciplines. I have a friend who’s an astronomer who specializes in building instruments, and the other astronomers don’t think of her as a scientist because she builds the instruments that then they use to, you know, find out dark matter. … So that’s another dichotomy, right?
And actually, that’s one of the reasons I became an organizational scientist or organizational psychologist. Because from the beginning, when I decided to do a doctorate, I wanted to do something that had an escape route. You know, like, when you have Plan B, just in case academia doesn’t work out.
ANDREW: I’m glad that you were so fastidious.
GLORIA: Yeah, I always thought, no, no, I have to study something that, you know, if applicable, is then easy to transfer. And I’ve always had that backdoor. And it’s such a relief. And that’s why, you know, I wanted to do transdisciplinary research, and I wanted to do collaboration, and I have always done collaboration. You look at my CV, there are very few first-authored publications and a ton of publications with a ton of people. And it has been hard. It has been interesting sometimes. But hey, I’m here! Am I queer?!
ANDREW: You know what’s interesting, you reminded me: I used to be chair of basic sciences at Southern California University of Health Sciences a few lifetimes ago. And I was a basic scientist in clinical education. There were people who were in the health sciences who were clinicians, and I had to teach them neuro and sometimes physiology or histology.
If you’re teaching neuroanatomy, you’re literally teaching them which neurons in which parts of the brain, or the spinal cord, or the peripheral nervous system are related to others. And you have to give clinical relevance to what you’re doing. But then they would have other classes called clinical assessment or clinical neurology that would present no idea of the basic foundations of what they were teaching.
And they would say, like, “Well, if somebody comes in and their pupils are dilated it means this, and if somebody comes in and they’re unable to raise their right leg and reflex it means this…”
GLORA: Without connection.
ANDREW: There was zero connection. So, one time I said, “Has anybody in the basic sciences faculty ever just gone to a clinical classroom and asked the students—as they’re going through these exams that they were tested on—‘Why did you do that? What happens if it looks like this instead? What does that mean?’” And they do that later on, they do that in their rounds when they’re residents and things like that kind of training. But in their basic training—
GLORIA: Very siloed.
ANDREW: Extremely siloed.
And it’s hard, because I learned neuroscience on a very different model than a living, breathing human. I learned slides, I learned molecular anatomy and pathways with microscopes and things, and here you have a living, breathing human.
So, I would have to be like, okay, learn this, learn the clinical stuff, review the basic science stuff and make the jump, and come up with a way to get students on board. And that’s really what got me to realize this huge silo problem—similar to what you said about the basic and applied sciences and the realization of how many people live in that dichotomy.
They live with the dissonance, like, “I learned foundations, and then I live in reality.” And it’s like, no, no, no, no: Foundations connect to reality. You have to understand how things work so that you can use that knowledge in the world. And I think that this kind of problem is one that’s more appropriate than ever to be addressed because you have a world that’s in deep need of problem-solving, and you have less and less effort being devoted to foundational ideas.
So, you go to school to become, you know, an aerospace engineer, who just does one thing. And … there’s a moment where something changed. … There’s a moment when we really shifted from like being capable of doing a bunch of different things and then specializing to going straight into the specialty.
And it almost requires us to reevaluate our foundations, again, because we never learned them that well in the first place. And that’s why they were able to justify just going straight into a specialty. But now you have people who are making political decisions who know nothing about science, for instance. And we see it all the time. And we’re so encouraged to be specialized because of the world that we’re living in, in which you tend to make really misinformed decisions because you don’t have the basics to be conversant with other people even though you might be fluent in your one thing.
GLORIA: … This is where I’m going to plug diversity and inclusion. If we are so specialized, what does that mean? We have to bring the talent together—all this diverse talent—and put it together and have conversations. So, not only do you need the ability to converse, but you also need the ability to bring people to a table where everybody arrives from different directions, different places, and different identities, and make them feel that, you know, they all belong at that table. And that’s the other problem that we’re having here in thinking, “Oh, because I’m a specialist on this, I can do this, and I don’t have to talk to anybody else.” And when we need to have a lot of different specializations or different people, they come from very different backgrounds, and we’re like, “Well, you don’t look like me. How do we do this together? And actually, I don’t feel comfortable because you don’t look like me, so I don’t think that we can work in this team?”
ANDREW: Deep, deep disciplinarity runs the danger of exclusivity: “I’m only this kind of person. I’m only this kind of thing.” Deep specialization also runs this danger of exclusivity. One of the things that I think is largely lacking in the literature around inclusivity is how it combats these problems of exclusivity, and not just in an equity-oriented way, because it certainly is necessary for equity-oriented conversations. … But inclusion itself is necessary for the complexity of the world we’re in. And because of that, it’s a strong transdisciplinary concept, too. And we don’t look at it as “Inclusion just means inclusivity” or “It just means ‘butts in seats.’” That’s such a half-baked approach to inclusivity. And it can get worse if you just are exclusive.
We actually want to look at it like, “Okay, as you said, ‘I’m coming from an ontological space that looks very different than the person next to mine. And both of us are going to have something valuable to contribute to this problem-solving. How do we create those bridges between us, so that we can then both find the common ground to work on this together?’” Instead of like, “I hate working in groups with people who aren’t like me because nothing gets done?” That’s exactly the wrong way to think about it, because, I got news: The real world is like this.
And if you look at everybody as a nuisance, then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: Yes, you’re right, they are a nuisance. If you look at people as potential, and you understand the necessity of inclusion and inclusivity as a principle, then you understand how powerful—to come back to that idea of power—the transdisciplinary world would be by … merging in those kinds of conversations because I think, in some senses, we’re really stuck on sustainability, which is also super important. But I’m not sure that we’ve really bonded well with the scholars who are coming from organizational theories, from cultural theories, from a lot of these different disciplines where they’ve done great work with inclusion and understand it in a more sophisticated way. To bring that back to the transdisciplinary tip, I think it’s one of the things we do here, too.
GLORIA: And we should be doing more of that, I think. I’m working with Shamini Dias on a course to think about belonging and inclusion and allyship in a way that transcends that. …
I’ve also been working with one of the students in my lab, Cecilia Dotzler, who’s defending on Tuesday. Her work is pretty cool because we came up with this idea—well, we didn’t come up with it, we read it and we put it in the dissertation—to find out a little bit more in terms of the difference between inclusion and belonging: Inclusion in terms of behaviors, and belonging in terms of experience, and I will get to what you were saying that way.
So, I am an insider of academia, and you may be an outsider of academia, for example, or of a research project, or whatever. For you to feel that you belong in this space with me working with me and sharing ideas at the same level, and feeling what we call psychological safety, to be able to feel that you can make mistakes when you say things because that is going to help to continue inquiring into the problem. For you to feel belonging as an outsider, I, as the insider, have to do some kind of inclusion behavior to bring you in.
So, I found this very simple concept very interesting, because it puts the responsibility, effort, agency, and labor on the people who should have it and do it. Because so far, whenever we say inclusion, diversity, and equity, and we throw belonging in there, it feels like the minorities are the ones who have to do all the work, or the outsiders do it. Let’s call them the outsiders. And we never think about the insiders. The insiders are the ones who are in and have to do the including. And the outsiders of course will do their work because they want to feel like they belong. … That’s why Cecilia’s dissertation is great because she ends up with enough evidence to show that we can create a workshop or some kind of intervention to teach people how to include and she did it in a STEM context.
ANDREW: That’s very interesting. I also was reminded of allyship. Allyship is a similar mirror to that, in that the burden of the work should be, in the idealized world, on the person who wants to be the ally, which is sometimes a tough pill to swallow. Because there’s a little bit of grace involved with that. You have to like, say, “I’m in the position of power, I’m part of the dominant group, I need to recognize that space where I’m given more power in this context, and I need to use that as an ally would use that.”
GLORIA: And what is interesting about allyship—and I would love our listeners to really get this—is that it’s not an identity, it’s an action. It’s to be an ally. It’s to behave as an ally. And that’s why, you know, the dissertation with that intervention is crafting that. How do you craft your own allyship practice? We just don’t use the word allyship, because, you know, nowadays—
ANDREW: Allyship lost its meaning very quickly because the burden of work was put on the minoritized group to say, “Tell me what to do,” rather than understanding that allyship is a process of entrustability, whereby people can learn to believe that what you are doing is in their interest as well, and not via the historical relationships that that power dynamic had led to.
GLORIA: … It’s continuous work. And doing allyship means making mistakes, and doing allyship implies taking risks. If you don’t take a risk, that’s not allyship.
ANDREW: I want to bring this back to something you said about academia also, that essay you wrote, that paper you wrote a couple of years ago about relationality. Because this is the dichotomy I keep seeing pop up, this conflict between how you do things in a relational manner and how you do them in a transactional manner.
In a relational matter, you allow yourself to screw up sometimes. And people forgive you for that, and they understand it’s the long-term trajectory of what you’re doing together, which is what good collaboration is about. That’s what a good boundary crosser is. A transactional version of boundary crossing is one where power dynamics are very clearly set. The idea is that you need to each be getting something out of this, ultimately to gain more power in whatever realm you’re in. And if it puts both of you at risk for one being over the other in terms of power, then you will not collaborate. And it encourages you to stay in your silo if you’re going to collaborate. So, it becomes strictly transactional, because it’s mutually beneficial for you to both gain power in your own space when you’re done, so it stops the collaboration after that.
Both of these things are problematic when you have a problem like sustainability, racial equity, or health care. If you think that what you’re going to do is a transaction to solve healthcare, what planet are you on? Come on, wake up, you know?
And so, I think that this kind of mindset shift—and this something that Shamini Dias and I talk about a lot—is about how do you actually get yourself to become an earworm for a forming scholar, to be like, “Don’t ignore the obvious. Don’t let the acculturation into a disciplinary mindset be the thing that dictates the rest of your career. Do the disciplinary thing because you have to become fluent, but always remember that the point of this is something bigger because there’s a world out there.”
And you have to keep thinking and practicing and messing up and collaborating. And, I mean, we say “failing upward,” but, you know, learning the “why” of why someone else cares about this in a different way than you do and learning from every endeavor that you take on—because that’s the whole point of it, not to just show results. It’s not all transactional.
If you could see us here, we have a standing ovation from our audience with that soapbox speech—all of our audience being each other. But mindset is a much more difficult thing to change. It’s a much more long-lasting thing. It’s not a factoid. It’s not a multiple-choice answer on a test.
GLORIA: It takes a lot of work. So, another student, Alyssa Birnbaum, is working on high-quality connections, and how creating high-quality connections leads to more energizing relationships and then to more engagement and less burnout in the workplace. High-quality connections are those created between two people. And they don’t have to be relationships. They can just be moments of connection in which I value or show my value for you, as a human. I empathize with you. I do perspective-taking. I show that I trust you. I facilitate your performance, but don’t expect that you will facilitate mine. And kind of like building this connection that is not based on what we talk about, you know, like the theory of social exchange, and that is very, very, very American or Anglo. The idea that there’s a norm of reciprocity: If I do something for you, you will do something for me. And until you don’t do something for me back, you’re going to feel very uncomfortable. That’s the psychology of it.
Social exchange is … I was back in my other university helping a colleague of mine with their newborn baby. I was staying while he was teaching, so his wife could sleep. Because the baby was not sleeping … someone had to be there. So, I did that for a couple of weeks, so he could teach and everything else. And the reason why I was doing that was that they were my friends, and I wanted to create a stronger bond with them. When he stopped teaching, they gave me a very nice present, a massage. So, I went, I got my massage, it was great.
Then the baby made it to one year, and they didn’t invite me to the first birthday party. And I was like, “What happened? What did I do wrong?” And nothing, nothing is wrong. They’re not bad people, they’re not super good people … I was just coming from my cultural values of mutuality: By doing things for other people, I make relationships stronger, and I create my network of social support. And I was okay, I didn’t need a massage, right? But I didn’t need that reciprocity, right away. For them, they felt that it was a big favor that I was doing. So, they actually were like, “Okay, we give her this massage, we show that we’re super grateful. And then that’s it, there’s no tension anymore. It’s exchanging. And that’s great.” And for me, it was like, “Okay, you don’t want me in your life anymore.” So, it felt very instrumental.
It took me a while to figure this out. And you know, you were talking about that cultural awareness and living in different countries, right? So, this is something that once I realized, I was like, “Wow, my take on how I relate to other people comes from a very different cultural background than what I encounter here in North America, for example.” And from more Latin backgrounds or cultures, we have a sense of mutuality. And that’s kind of like the sense that Jane Dutton talks about when she talks about high-quality connections. It’s not social exchange, it’s the idea that we are committed to the growth of each other. And there’s a lot of relational theory about the idea of growth, not based on competition, but based on mutual growth and helping each other. The Stone Center for Developmental Studies is where they started all that relational theory.
So then, imagine how hard it is to get out of that mindset when your cultural base is really based on that idea of social exchange when your cultural base is based on a patriarchal, heteronormative society, where competition and toxic masculinity are kind of making everything move. So, it really is hard to change a mindset when the foundation that you’re working with is that. But I think that it’s going to be one person at a time and kind of spreading the love. I do that with my students.
ANDREW: It changes a lot when you mentor students because you create generations of people who also think like this, too, or understand the benefit. You don’t have to program someone, it’s just a matter of helping people see that it doesn’t have to be that way.
GLORIA: And I try to do that with the students in my lab, but also the students who come to my classes. I taught this “rainbow class,” remember? We call it the rainbow class: sexual and gender belonging. In that class, there were people from these different disciplines, but we were talking about belonging. Gender and sexual belonging were just an excuse to talk about diversity. And we talk a lot about different intersections. We talk about Gloria Anzaldúa and the Borderlands, right? And being Latina and being queer. We talked about a lot of very different aspects of belonging, and I had people transform themselves.
I had a student who was doing cognitive psychology, the most basic psychology, who, at the end of the course … was just changing his whole philosophy about how he was going to run his lab, and how he was going to bring his identity as Latino to the lab because he had thought that as an academic, he couldn’t bring his identity to research into academia. And I was like, “Yes!”
And I know that there were more students who had benefited from that class. But if it was only that one student that year, in all my time in CGU? Super happy.
ANDREW: I’d say a lot of our students and a lot of our faculty are open to this. And that’s the fun part. That’s one of the fun pieces of being here is that it’s easy to have colleagues who if, you know, I’m introducing myself for the first time and you end up poking your head out and being like, “I want to talk more about this.”
The other really cool thing about this and the conversations we’re having is that one’s version of transdisciplinarity doesn’t have to be the same as someone else’s version of transdisciplinarity. It’s your focus. It’s such a big thing. It’s such a challenge to our traditional version of scholarly life. And so, there are as many possibilities as there are people and how we want to reinterpret what that means. It doesn’t mean giving up the stuff that’s really beneficial. But it’s understanding the appropriateness of a model that was created with certain privileges in mind, with certain world views, with a certain amount of separation from reality as a privileged space that really hasn’t served us very well in our modern environment.
It’s not even serving us well, we can’t afford to do that anymore. As fun as it is to either get lost in something like a Netflix binge or someone else’s TikTok videos—and that’s all great—
GLORIA: No, it’s not great. I went in there for an hour last night!
ANDREW: It’s great to unwind, but it’s not all that different than getting lost in one of your favorite researchers if you’re not going to do anything about it. At the end of the day, yeah, you read it to self-cultivate, to become a part of another person’s world, to see things from a different point of view. There are benefits to all these things. But there’s the “And what?” question that comes after that. And that “And what?” is so big, you know, are you going to go “And what?” because you’re teaching people? Is that your “And what?” because you’re starting a nonprofit or because you’re going to be in charge of the corporate responsibility arm of your big company? You have so many options, but the one that will probably least serve the greater population of this planet, including animate and inanimate objects, is hyperspecialization.
GLORIA: And first authorship.
I actually think that what you’re saying is that, apart from your motivation and your goal—apart from the intrinsic motivation of knowledge and inquiry for the pleasure of obtaining it that for academics is almost pornographic—people should transcend that for a social, applied … I don’t know how to …
ANDREW: Well, it goes back to what you said about Picasso. Like, Picasso wasn’t born a genius. Picasso became Picasso because of a lot of other people and a lot of other influences in his life.
ANDREW: Experiences. And we’re all like that.
And I think that there’s a certain amount that we owe back to the things that have given us the capacity to do this specialized work in a specialized place, and to then reintroduce it to the world in a way that the world needs. It’s relational. It’s understanding the context of what it was and not just that, “I worked hard. I deserve this. I am doing my path.” And I think as long as we have that narrative, it doesn’t mean you have to all be Mother Teresa.
GLORIA: Oh, no, no, no … I think it was Joyce Fletcher, one of my favorite scholars, who talks about relational practice as “Please don’t do it as a mother.” Mutuality and helping each other grow is not motherly, not in a motherly fashion. Because the motherly fashion is, “I will do everything for my children, and I don’t need anything in return.”
ANDREW: It’s not cute.
GLORIA: It is what it is. It is in the end, exhaustion.
ANDREW: But I think in terms of what we’re doing as scholars, we have just a giant space to occupy right now. And to keep hiding from people who deny climate change, or to keep hiding from people who deny the efficacy of a vaccine, or to keep hiding from people who don’t allow you to talk about sex and gender. If you keep thinking that optimism is a strategy, you’re wrong. It is not. It never has been. And so, this is the whole point of what education can do. If we’re going to think about that, it’s helping us become the version of ourselves that can really give back in this way.
GLORIA: And that’s how optimism works. Optimism works through hope. You know, you have to be optimistic and hopeful that you will be able to transcend yourself to help and to make change.
ANDREW: Gloria, it is, as always, wonderful chatting with you. Thank you for joining us today. It’s a great conversation and I look forward to more collaborations with you.
GLORIA: Of course, thank you so much for inviting me. This was a real treat. Thanks.
ANDREW: Thanks for listening to this episode of PostNormal Times. Thanks to our guests, and thanks to our support from Claremont Graduate University. If you enjoyed boundary crossing with us and want to hear more, make sure you follow us, spread the word, and tune into our next episode.
This podcast transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.