What’s in the bag? Why are we all at different tables? The class has never been set up in tables before. Sasha and I are the only two at our table. Every other table has three or four people. If this is a competition, then we are already at a disadvantage.
Needless to say, I had no idea what to expect from the somewhat cryptic nature of how the first five minutes of class played out. When the instructions were given to prepare a mobile using the items provided in the resource bags at our desks, my mind immediately went I have to win. We were simply given instructions to create a mobile in an allotted amount of time. I made it a competition. Sasha and I quickly grabbed the bag and started to rummage through it in search of useful materials. We had brainstormed ideas, but we knew that our plans would probably change given the time constraints. We had ten minutes. We put our heads down and got busy. To say we were focused would be an understatement. The timer rang and we were forced to drop whatever was in our hands. I looked around at the rest of the class to scope out the competition: it was the first time I picked my head up for the duration of the exercise. We began sharing our mobiles, but it wasn’t until the third group shared their own mobile that I realized we each were each given different resources.
How had it taken me so long to realize?
For example, one of the groups was only given hangers and construction paper. At the same time, Sasha and I had an abundance of pipe cleaners, scented stickers, multicolored construction paper, and every imaginable color of markers. Long story short, we could have started a mini JOANN Fabrics store with the supplies we were given. After everyone presented their mobiles, we placed them back into our bags and put them away. I am biased, but the competitor within me felt that Sasha and I crafted the best mobile, but at what cost?
Immediately following the conclusion of the exercise, I felt a sense of guilt. First, I felt guilty for choosing the table where we made our mobile. Fortunately, I chose one of two tables that had been gifted the largest amount of resources, yet the table to our immediate left had probably half of the resources and supplies we had in our bag. While some groups were struggling to put together a mobile with a single hanger and piece of paper in their bags, I was struggling with what to do with the overabundance of supplies.
Do I use the pipe cleaners for decoration or structure? Would adding stickers make the mobile seem clowny? Maybe adding some glitter glue would add some flare.
This feeling then transpired into a sense of failure: a failure to notice and a failure to act.
How could I have gone fifteen minutes without noticing that each of us had different resources? Why had it taken me that long to become aware? Would I have been aware of this inequity if we never presented our mobiles?
The sad truth that this exercise made me realize is that there is a correlation between awareness and action: if one is not aware, then action will never be taken. Had I taken 30 seconds to check my surroundings and notice the three groups who were given the bare minimum of resources, I could have distributed the surplus of stickers and construction paper in my resources bag. Had I recognized that there was a need to help others who were less fortunate with supplies, I could have provided the extra set of scissors and glue sticks in my resource bag. While I argue that the increase in awareness could hypothetically lead to action, I also have to be realistic. Would I have actually donated or shared my supplies? There was technically no verbal rule against it. But there was also no formal directive to say that sharing was permissible. In other words, would I have let the external pressure of an unspoken rule dictate my action, despite my having awareness of an unequal situation? I like to think I would have gone for it and offered to share my supplies, but there is no way of knowing for certain. Regardless, the resource bag became my next victim.
I was angry at the resource bag because it unfairly distributed resources to equally deserving groups. There was nothing special about my group to validate us having a mini fabric store in our resource bag. Each student should be born with access to the tools we need in order to achieve our academic goals, hopes, and desires. But the unfair truth is that we are not. To me, the resource bag represents this unfair reality. We each have a resource bag, but some of us are gifted with high schools that includes AP and IB curriculum, gifted with natural intelligence, or gifted with a skin color that equates to opportunity. My anger for the resource bag also comes from its outcomes. For example, a peer in my class who chemistry class who was diagnosed with a learning disability felt unable to reach out to the Disability Resource Services to be granted extra time on exams due to social and cultural pressures. As a result, each exam only caused more anxiety, as each score got lower and lower. Hindsight is 20/20 and I should have offered to take my friend/peer to the William Pitt Union to schedule an appointment with the DRS. This circles back to the idea that it becomes every student’s responsibility to take 30 seconds to recognize when help is needed and to take action.
As UTA for Biology, I feel that creating an inclusive classroom for every student is the foremost priority. In order for students to learn, they must participate. And in order for students to participate, they must feel included and part of a community. By foremost goal as a UTA is to ensure the integration of diverse cultures into biology learning communities. According to Kimberly Tanner in her article “Structure Matters: Twenty-One Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and Cultivate Classroom Equity,” the integration of diversity among cultures and perspectives relevant to biology can demonstrate to students that diversity is valued in a biology classroom. For example, during recitations reviewing case studies of famous scientific experiments could be a method of incorporating diversity. I.e. How Rosalind Franklin’s contribution of images of DNA using X-ray crystallography were largely responsible for the determination of the structure of DNA.
This semester, my CUTF project focused on bringing unique biology learning skills to the forefront of our focus during recitation. The goal is to provide each student, irrespective of a biology background, with the tools necessary to succeed in BIOSC 0150 in all future STEM courses. With the help of my mentor, Dr. Zapanta, and Graduate TA Morgan Webb, we created creative and unique interventions to target building skills such as quantitative reasoning, concept mapping, figure analysis, and drawing. In speaking with students, I am reminded that there is always something more to give in my service as a UTA. The exercise, “the resource bag,” made me realize how important it is to meet each student where they are at and provide them with the supplemental material to build these biology skills that promote equity. I am excited to start analyzing the final survey results following the conclusion of my project. This process has been incredible for me in learning how to create engaging material and being given the platform to express and implement my ideas to improve the learning experience in Foundations of Biology I. Most importantly, I have recognized that it only takes 30 seconds to identify and act to help someone.