Using social media as a way to expand your own reach on campus was one of many topics discussed during a University of Michigan panel on how diversity scholars have mastered the tool.
The webinar — hosted by UMich’s National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) — was held Tuesday and moderated by Edmund Graham, NCID’s associate director.
Social media, namely Twitter, can provide scientists with a platform to interact with a variety of individuals inside and outside of academia, potentially with those who might not otherwise have access to scientists’ work, said panelist Dr. Laila McCloud, assistant professor of educational guidance and counseling at Grand Valley State University.
Posting scientific ideas on social media can be one way to bypass lengthy and bureaucratic publication processes and ensure that scientists can share their ideas and receive timely feedback on a topic before it becomes dated, McCloud said.
Such platforms can lead to building communities and networks where resources can be shared, said panelist Dr. Aireale Rodgers, a Project HEAL postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who will become an assistant professor of higher education this fall.
“As a faculty member, I was always either the only black person in my entire school or department. And so thinking about using social media to build that sense of community was everything to me,” McCloud said. “I think there’s a way to use that to make it authentic. … We share our scholarship, but we also share little pieces of who we are as people. My work is not my life. Other than that, I have a full life. … I think it’s important for people to see the fullness of who we are as people, that we’re not just teachers or researchers writing these books. … We are well-rounded individuals, and all of these experiences influence the work we do.”
These platforms can also provide an easier way for scientists themselves to be informed about the work and publications of colleagues, said panelist Dr. Antar Tichavakunda, Assistant Professor of Race and Higher Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“Twitter or LinkedIn serves as a way for me to keep up with a lot of scholars that I love and respect for the work they do in advancing my thinking,” Tichavakunda said.
But with an online presence comes certain concerns, risks and uncertainties, the panelists said. Concerns like whether their words will be twisted and what assumptions will be made about them that have “real consequences for my health and my ability to take care of myself and my ability to live,” McCloud said. She talked about taking the time to really think about where best to present her ideas—perhaps in her work instead of online—and being mindful of her word choice.
And if someone wants to be critical of authorities and those in power, they should be prepared for the backlash and “focus” that will come their way, Tichavakunda said. Because of how social media conversation can miss the tone, he suggested that direct messages and requests to speak in person can be more productive.
Amidst the stress of academia and social media, the panelists talked about finding joy and taking breaks from online life.
“At times when we’re being heckled, we’re dealing with trolls, when I was dealing with trolls, it was very important for me to have my friends to lean on,” Tichavakunda recalls of the time he was convinced. a colleague who tweeted about receiving hate mail. In the end, he received overwhelming support from loved ones and random people.
Rodgers also found joy in seeing the happiness and success of others, she said.
“I think it gives me a lot of joy to be able to witness and celebrate all the wonderful things that happen in people’s lives, professional and human,” she said.