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Diversity is main focus of research presentations

On April 9, 2014

Inclusive Excellence, a national group promoting diversity and science, was featured as part of USU’s annual Research Week for the first time.

The event included poster presentations and speeches by Dana Sanchez, assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University, and John Dehlin, an LDS blogger. Scott Bates, professor of psychology and associate vice president and associate dean of the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, said the idea to include Inclusive Excellence with Research Week came after the event was first held in the fall.

“For Research Week, we try to fold in interesting events and opportunities that have some cross-department pull, and diversity is one of them,” Bates said. “We had this in the fall and it was well-attended, and we thought it would be interesting to pull out some content and try to get a booster shot on Inclusive Excellence.”

Dana Sanchez promotes diversity and understanding in academia

Sanchez a, member of Society for Advancement of Chicano/as and Native Americans in Science, gave a talk explaining reasons why diversity in academia is important and what universities and community members can do to encourage the participation of all people in science.

Sanchez said diversity is important in order to have more access to ideas, more influence from varieties of cultures and groups and to make science more relevant to communities.

“I would posit this: that part of the issue with resources and folks not trusting the data we produce and the conclusions we bring to them for their consideration may be that they don’t see themselves in us,” she said.

Sanchez said more people are starting to value the contributions science gives, but scientists do not reflect the diversity found in the U.S. In her field, for example, researchers are overwhelmingly white and male.

“Folks are joining with us. Are we ready to keep running? Do we have all the perspectives and talents we need?” Sanchez said. “I’m not saying that we are deficient, but we are probably not fully accessing the richness that we could be.”

Bates said USU could benefit by having more diversity.

“Utah State, and all the colleges in Utah, aren’t diverse,” he said. “They’re less diverse than the rest of the state is. The mission of a land-grant university is to educate the population, not a part of the population, and the demographics at the university don’t look like the rest of the population.”

Bates said while the university encourages and wants diversity, it is not a part of their selection criteria.

“For example, we don’t just look for a Latina that is lesbian, but we want to make sure any pool of applicants is diverse as we can get it,” he said.

“The sex of someone doesn’t factor into the selection of candidates, but we work hard to build a diverse applicant pool and make sure that the opportunity exists,” Bates said. “So it’s not a factor in decision-making, but it is certainly a factor in trying to build what this campus is all about.”

Mormon John Dehlin defends gay marriage

Dehlin, studying psychology, presented a defense for gay marriage at TEDxUSU.

Since then, the video has received more than 35,000 views. For the presentation Tuesday, the video was shown before audience members where Dehlin shared additional research and gave the opportunity to ask questions.

Dehlin explained his own transformation from homophobe to LGBT ally and how anyone can become outspoken allies. He said his transformation came from getting to know members of the LGBT community personally and realizing they were not different from himself.

In addition, Dehlin said after learning about the high rates of suicide among them and about the many homeless LGBT youth in Utah, he realized he needed to do something more.

Interviewing 1,612 LGBT Mormons, he found the average gay Mormon realized they were gay at about the age of 14, long before most had their romantic experiences. They found 66 percent of those surveyed attempted to change their orientation, but none of them reported being able to change. The largest group of of these, he said, tried to change orientation through prayer, fasting, studying scriptures and speaking with church leaders.

“Teaching people ‘Just be closer to Christ and you’ll be OK’ is the most damaging message you can send,” he said. “The second-most damaging message you can send is ‘Go talk to your bishop and he’ll help you.’ Bishops aren’t trained for this.

“It turns out that on average that people spend 11 years trying to use personal righteousness to change their sexual orientation,” Dehlin said.

For those who are LDS and LGBT, Dehlin said the options the church gives them is to be celibate or be in a mixed-orientation marriage.

“What we asked was, ‘Does the data say that those are the best choices or does it say that those are harmful?’” Dehlin said.

He found the LGBT community members are the happiest when they are married and the least happy when they are celibate.

His data also has a positive side.

“Here’s the exciting news: Our data also revealed that participants who entered into legal same-sex marriages had quality of life scores higher than the healthy average for the entire population, including heterosexuals,” he said. “For this sample, it appears that legal same-sex marriage is an essential component of obtaining the highest possible quality of life, if we let them.”


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