Throughout my time at Duke, I have heard countless students say things like, “I wish Duke had a resource for what to do when I encounter discrimination” and “It’s just so hard to know who to go to for help reporting harassment.” For my first couple years here, I felt the same way, unclear of where to turn for help should I find myself in one of these situations. That all changed when I started participating in the Graduate and Professional Student Council. In my third year, I was a co-representative for my program, Cell and Molecular Biology, and this past year I was elected to the Director of Community Outreach position. Through both of these roles, I learned that Duke has an abundance of resources to address a wide array of student needs. So why didn’t students know about these resources? And could I help create something to connect students to the resources they need?
As a scientist, my approach is to use data collection as the first step to addressing any problem. Developing a project to connect students to Duke’s resources is no different. Through Duke’s Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI), my interdisciplinary team was charged with developing and implementing a project that would improve the Duke campus environment for graduate students and postdocs. My team conducted over 20 interviews with graduate students, postdocs, and other key stakeholders to determine what issues people felt lacked resources. From these interviews, we determined that graduate students and postdocs wanted resources to help them identify and address issues of discrimination and sexual harassment. Upon further research and meetings with a variety of Duke experts in units such as the Office for Institutional Equity and the Office of Student Conduct, we found that Duke has many well-developed resources to address discrimination and harassment. In fact, there are even clearly outlined policies and steps for what action to take when a member of the Duke community is faced with these situations.
To begin to address this disconnect between students and postdocs and Duke resources, my ELI team decided to create a paper guide. We noticed that many of the resources are spread among several Duke websites, and although there are a few pages that conveniently group many resources, these are hard to find unless you happen to know very specific search terms. Additionally, it was particularly challenging to distinguish which resources were only for students and which could also be used by postdocs. With multiple scientists on our team, we also noted from personal experience that the paper guides for emergency response procedures posted in all laboratories conveniently listed resources in an easily accessible location. Combining these observations, we landed on the idea to create a paper guide for responding to harassment and discrimination at Duke with clear distinctions between resources for students versus those for postdocs. We posited that when students and postdocs find themselves in a situation involving harassment or discrimination, they may be in a state of panic or emergency and may not know where to go for help. In such a situation, much like during a lab emergency, students and postdocs could easily turn to a paper guide for quick reference and direction.
In light of this goal, we divided our paper guide into different tabs: Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, Diversity and Inclusion Strategies, and Dialogue and Conversation Facilitation. Each tab includes a brief synopsis of applicable Duke policies along with contact information for relevant Duke resources. These resources are divided into two columns, one for students and one for postdocs. Overall, this guide provides a quick reference for students and postdocs who may find themselves in a difficult situation. To address the possibility that users may not want to alert passersby to their situation, we included QR codes on each tab that can be scanned quickly and from a distance. These codes direct users to the right resources at Duke to handle the situation.
Now that we’ve completed the Emerging Leaders Institute, we plan to work with the Graduate and Professional Student Council and departments across campus to print and distribute our paper guides, after receiving a stamp of approval from the Duke offices whose resources we recommend. Our hope is that seeing these guides all over campus will raise awareness of the many resources Duke provides, and that the simple and concise presentation will make it easy for individuals to locate and use these resources when they find themselves in a tricky situation.
The other members of this ELI team:
- Tiffany Farr, master's student, Graduate Liberal Studies
- Saraswathi Subramaniyan, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Associate, Anesthesiology
- Feichen Yang, Ph.D. student, Chemistry
Ph.D. candidate, Molecular Genetics & Microbiology
Hannah McMillan entered Duke through the Cell and Molecular Biology program and is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. Her research examines how pathogens interact with host organisms, with a focus on how small vesicles released from bacteria interact with plants to elicit immune responses. Learn more about Hannah at hamcmillan.com or follow her @mcmicrobes.
Professional Development Tag
- Collaboration and Teamwork
- Emerging Leaders Institute