Q&A with Dr. Elizabeth Holman, winner of Inclusion and Diversity Award
BGSU College of Education and Human Development presents 2021 EDHD Faculty Award
The Bowling Green State University College of Education and Human Development presented Dr. Elizabeth Holman with the 2021 EDHD Faculty Award for Excellence in Inclusion and Diversity Award for her efforts with social justice and inclusion issues, both at BGSU and through research.
Holman, an associate professor in Human Development and Family Studies, has focused on DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) work, which she defines as the ongoing process of analyzing social systems and systemic issues that demean, discriminate and marginalize particular groups of people.
What follows is a question-and-answer session with Holman about her work at BGSU.
Q: What social justice work are you involved with at BGSU?
A: As a faculty member who is focused on social justice work, and a member of the BGSU College of Education and Human Development whose core value is creating “a community of inclusion, collaboration and respect,” I am committed to these goals in all my academic endeavors. Over the years, I have restructured my courses to focus not just on understanding diversity, but taking a critical role on the impact of inequity and injustice on the lives of diverse families. I push students to consider what it means to support healthy development and family functioning within the context and framework of social justice. I have also created specific population-based classes relevant to my area of study, LGBTQ families and communities.
Beyond my work in the classroom and with research and scholarly activities, I try to address social justice issues within the BGSU community as well. Specifically, I have been involved with the EDHD Peer Anti-Racism Team, I have led the EDHD Inclusion and Diversity Committee in the past and I have taken part in the EDHD Anti-Racism Learning Community, led by Drs. Starr Keyes, Kristina LaVenia, and Kate Brodeur. Activities prompted by these college-wide groups involved assessment and adjustment to campus signage, college programming and policies, as well as increased dialogue and education. I have further worked with colleagues within the HDFS program to publish an anti-racism statement which holds us accountable to programmatic reviews, curriculum enhancements and policy changes that will increase access to previously marginalized communities and support all diverse students, faculty and staff.
Q: Your past research has focused on sexual minorities in the workplace. What role does workplace culture play in creating inclusion?
A: Workplace culture can also have huge implications on individuals’ lives, including their overall sense of well-being and life satisfaction. Consider that most adults in the United States over the age of 18 spend one-third of their day in the workplace. Feeling supported (or not) as an individual during that time can change the entire course of your day. Research shows that workplace stress can and does spill over into family time. Chronic stress in this environment can certainly lead to marital discord or family disharmony. This is no different for sexual minority employees and others with marginalized identities.
The main difference is that these folks can face additional stressors in the work environment. Above and beyond work stress that many people experience, those who face systemic oppression in the work environment show disparate health and work outcomes. For example, LGBTQ individuals who face homophobia and heterosexism in the work environment report less commitment to that work environment, greater number of sick days taken and more work turnover as well as individual health disparities.
What makes workplaces and other organizational settings unique is that they are often regulated in ways that public and private settings are not. Prohibitions on discrimination and policies that determine what is acceptable behavior in the workplace have the potential to create more inclusive and supportive settings for all.
Q: In recent years, how has your field of study adapted as many workplaces and schools have put more thought into inclusion?
A: This is a great point. DEI has definitely become a buzzword in education and employment sectors. This is fantastic. The more people are working towards an inclusive and just society, the more we will start to see large, systemic shifts in ways that support all diverse individuals and families. What is concerning is when organizations stop at "diversity" alone without considerations to inclusion, equity or social justice. I once heard a metaphor for DEI that I’ve always appreciated: Supporting diversity is ensuring that different folks are present at the table; inclusion is ensuring that all of those diverse folks feel welcomed at that table.
I think one of the biggest adaptations I have encouraged in my field of study is giving consideration to both hostility and support simultaneously. A supportive environment is not simply one that lacks open hostility. Support is beyond "neutral" in that a supportive environment is one that promotes equity; that encourages and enhances diverse voices. Many environments can be perceived as both hostile and supportive, given the complex intersection of policies, practices and attitudes that exist within those spaces. A recent publication I co-authored actually articulates a better way of measuring the co-existence of hostility and support in workplaces to guarantee we are capturing this complexity in research (Holman et al., 2019).
Q: How do you promote inclusion within the classroom?
A: The goal of all my teaching practices is to create citizens of the world who not only value diverse cultural contributions from others, but intentionally create space and opportunities for those contributions. I enjoy working with students who are as passionate about issues of inclusion and equity as I am. I have had the privilege of supervising several undergraduate Honors projects focused on equity and social justice issues. In all my courses, I try to teach BGSU students to think about serving diverse communities from an intersectional perspective and encourage them to take steps toward a more equitable society for those communities. Assignments range from having conversations with people who have different identities and perspectives from them — with the goal of making connections across differences — to writing policy briefs and developing advocacy plans.
I also work to make connections for students to individuals across campus who are doing this work. Specifically, I would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Starr Keyes, associate professor in the School of Counseling and Special Education, who helped co-found the EDHD Anti-Racism Learning Community; Dr. Katie Stygles and Shevonne Nelson Dillingham, both in the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Education Resource Center; and Alexis Lankford, newly appointed coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion in the College of EDHD. All of these folks, among others, work diligently to create a community of inclusion and equity at BGSU for all our students.