Dealing With Discrimination: The Workplace & On Campus
Discrimination within the workplace occurs across the United States on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this is not an issue of the past— issues such as racism and sexism are very much alive. Being discriminated against can create dangerous environments. Women, people of color, those who identify as LGBTQ, the disabled, and other minority groups have experienced discrimination at one point or another in their lives whether it was at home, school, or the workplace.
In late February I sat down with Dr. Esmilda Abreu, Ph.D., Pratt Institute’s Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Title IX Coordinator, to discuss injustices in the workplace and the classroom, why discrimination still occurs, and the importance of inclusivity.
Career Ambassador: In 2017 people still experience injustices at work, due to their race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and age. Why do you think this still occurs?
Dr. Esmilda Abreu: Schematas are preconceived notions people have about certain groups of people. Since discrimination is often learned unconsciously, we have to unlearn our bias consciously and with intention. This can be difficult, but can be done. People tend to become open to accepting those of different backgrounds through genuine connections, rather than pushing differences upon them. Unfortunately, discrimination will never go away. Humans will always find a way to categorize others based off differences.*
CA: Why do you believe it is important to have an inclusive and diverse workplace?
Dr. Esmilda Abreu: The goal for the workplace is inclusion, not diversity. This is because to have a diverse work environment means to have an eclectic group of people. Meanwhile, inclusivity includes the idea of diversity and equity. It is important to have an inclusive environment within the workplace since it allows everyone to feel comfortable and represented.
CA: What are some examples, or red flags that a student should be aware of if they (or a co-worker) are experiencing discrimination at their job?
Dr. Esmilda Abreu: A red flag situation would be if there is refusal or lack of willingness from a supervisor to address an employer’s concern. An example of this would be if there is no outlet or system established for employers to address complaints. Another red flag situation would be if there is tokenism occurring. Tokenism occurs when employers are recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups, in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce. It is essential to know the process for lodging a complaint about discrimination, and to be aware if no process exists.
CA: For students who have faced racism, sexism, or been degraded by others for who they are, it can be daunting to begin entering the professional world. How can a student who is seen as a minority begin to carve their career path?
Dr. Esmilda Abreu: When someone who is considered a minority begins to make their way into their career path, they usually seek a mentor. Someone they can talk to. An inclusive workplace allows for this conversation to happen naturally. Remind yourself that intersection matters and makes up who you are!
CA: What resources does Pratt Institute offer when a student encounters discrimination?
Dr. Esmilda Abreu: There can unconscious oppression between students and the professor. Students come first. Our goal is to educate, empower, and advocate. Any student can make a report to me knowing it will be answered and remain confidential. We offer a good infrastructure to reach out and complain.
CA: How is Pratt currently dealing with issues of diversity and demonstrating inclusion amongst the student body?
Dr. Esmilda Abreu: The first step to take when dealing with issues of discrimination is to have a conversation. Pratt is currently working towards the Diversity Strategic Plan which has outlined several initiatives: Bias Education and Response Team (BERT), the Diversity Advocates (safe space program for all identities), and The Center for Equity and Inclusion. All are under the mission of Student Affairs Office. By August 2017, their new designated space will be completed. Although in 2014, Pratt was one of the first NYC campuses to offer gender neutral housing, we continue to actively take steps towards equity. Such that, we can reach our goal of a truly diverse and inclusive campus, which will empower students and create global citizenship.
CA: Any final thoughts or advice for the Pratt students reading this?
Dr. Esmilda Abreu: Remember everything you are and everything you are not, and how you can positively contribute to your work environment.
For further information or questions, visit the Student Affairs Office in the Main Building, across from the Center of Equity and Inclusion! If you have experienced discrimination on campus, contact Dr. Esmilda Abreu, or Jazmin Peralta; both of their offices are located in the Student Affairs Office.
*These are paraphrases of Dr. Esmilda Abreu’s answers, not direct quotes.
Written by: Michelle Olivo