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MSU Guide to Virtual Meetings: Never Tell Your Coworkers You Have a Family, It’s ‘Transphobic’

Are you white? Are you heterosexual? Do you have a family and a job?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you could be unwittingly "triggering" your coworkers with your privilege, and you need to stop. 

That's according to a set of guidelines for "inclusive" videoconferencing during the coronavirus pandemic that Michigan State University sent out last week. 

In MSUToday, the university newsletter, social scientists Amy Bonomi and Nelia Viveiros explained how to purge "unconscious bias" from the virtual workplace, thereby making it safe for those with "minoritized identities."

Here are some of their tips.

Hide photos of your wedding or your family from your colleagues.
  • Images of conventional families promote exclusion of gay, transgender or otherwise gender-nonconforming people, the researchers said. 
  • "[W]hen the virtual background of a Zoom meeting attendee has pictures of his or her wedding, it unintentionally reinforces the idea that marriage is most fitting between opposite sexes," said Bonomi, a professor at Michigan State.
  • “To mitigate the potential of exclusion, some organizations are guiding participants to consider background choices to reflect the organization’s values, as opposed to personal choice,” Bonomi said.
Avoid admitting that your family is alive and sometimes happy.
  • Gardening with your spouse or having dance parties with your children are "valid" experiences, the researchers said.
  • But mentioning "fun family things" can "erase" nonwhite identity groups whose family members have been killed by COVID-19, they added.  
  • Viveiros, the interim vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion at the University of Colorado, said she recently witnessed "several Latinx" people being excluded from a videoconference in this way. 
  • Instead of a standard icebreaker asking how people are doing while "sheltering in place," Viveiros recommended videoconference hosts ask participants about hardship in their "communities."
Shame anyone who commits "microaggressions."
  • "Microaggressions are brief, commonplace verbal, behavioral or environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights," according to the researchers. 
  • "Be a strategic ally in calling out microaggressions when they occur," they advised.
Give victimized employees extra time for "self-care."
  • Recognize that socially disadvantaged identity groups may have greater needs, the researchers said. 
  • “Due to a variety of factors, such as the need to care for self or for a family member with a disability, participants may need frequent breaks,” said Viveiros.

The big picture: “Unconscious bias includes using language, symbolism and nonverbal cues that reinforce normative social identities with respect to gender, race, sexual preference and socioeconomic status,” Bonomi said. 

“Without paying attention to how unconscious bias and how dominant paradigms get reinforced, we risk unintentionally alienating and potentially harming minoritized people."

Michigan State faculty, staff and students may find the guidlines relevant as all classes are being held remotely due the coronavirus outbreak. It remains to be seen whether the university will be able to sustain its high level of commitment to social justice amid a resulting financial crisis

Further reading:

"It’s Not Just You: In Online Meetings, Many Women Can’t Get a Word In": NY Times 

"Stress was already killing black Americans. Covid-19 is making it worse": WaPo"

"Coronavirus isn’t transphobic. But America’s economic and health systems are.": Vox

"Rutgers prof: 'F*ck each and every Trump supporter'": Campus Reform