Producing Outstanding Scholarship
Dr. Srividya "Srivi" Ramasubramanian is a Presidential Impact Fellow, Professor of Communication, Affiliated Professor of Women's & Gender Studies, and Director of the Difficult Dialogues on Campus Race Relations at Texas A&M University, where she has served as Associate Dean for Climate & Inclusion. We spoke to Dr. Srivi about her scholarship that addresses issues relating to media, diversity, and social justice.
What is the inspiration for your research?
Communications and dialogue can help people connect, understand one another, build empathy, and create bridges across different cultures. This is the basic principle that drives all of my research, especially with the Difficult Dialogues Project. Many times, we don't talk about race as a topic in families, communities, and schools. We don't talk about race and racism.
I feel that coming to college is a wonderful experience where people can meet others from so many different backgrounds. In a world-class university like Texas A&M, with students, faculty, and staff from all over the world, there are many opportunities to learn about other perspectives and how we live in a multicultural, diverse context and resolve differences. This is of great interest to me.
When minority students come to a campus like Texas A&M, they might feel lost. It can feel like being surrounded by an ocean of people from different backgrounds and can be difficult to process. What goes on, especially if they experience microaggressions or some racist incidents, is they might think it is only happening to them. Students, faculty, or staff who have not experienced similar situations may not be aware that such incidents occur. What I find is that when we create spaces for these conversations, we are able to increase awareness. I provide tools and strategies to process and respond to these types of events. We then work together to envision a future where we can be more inclusive and more welcoming to everyone. All of the participants work together to think about can be done individually and collectively to make Texas A&M more inclusive.
Tell us about your background and how it shaped your research?
I grew up in South India. Interestingly, communications as a degree was only offered in an all-male college. I was one of 18 women in approximately 2000 men. At that time, I became more aware of my gender identity.
When I moved to the United States for my Ph.D., I became much more aware of my race. I tried to understand where I fit into the U.S. society in terms of racial hierarchies. After I moved here, 9/11 happened. The impact of 9/11 was felt around the world. I felt that there were a lot of implicit biases, discrimination, and hate crimes against people who look like me and those who are perceived to be Muslim. I felt I would like to use my research and my teaching to focus on reducing biases, building bridges, and using communication to bring about more peace. That was what motivated me to do this work, and since then, I've continued to build on that.
How did you become interested in Difficult Dialogues?
The Difficult Dialogues Project started in 2016. I was the Associate Dean for Climate and Inclusion in the College of Liberal Arts, and there was a particular incident that happened where African American students from a high school in Dallas were subjected to racial slurs during a campus visit. I felt very upset by that incident because here we are trying to recruit these young people to come to our campus, and they experienced racism. That motivated me to start the first difficult dialogue session focused on campus race relations. At that time, I felt that we are being reactive to an incident -- we would talk about it and soon it would be forgetten. I was motivated to start the Difficult Dialogue Project to keep these conversations alive and remember those incidents so that we would not just forget. From that space of remembering, we can bring about change.
After receiving the Diversity Matters Seed Grant, we used this opportunity to communicate theories and apply dialogue theories and social identity theories to understanding the difficult dialogue. Thank you to the Office of Diversity for the Diversity Matters Seed Grant, which was very helpful in driving the research aspects of this project. The project was started to benefit the community but it has also contributed greatly to scholarship. The project serves as a model for other universities around the U.S. and I have been invited by many universities in and outside of the U.S. to present about it. I recently gave a talk virtually in Latvia on intercultural communication.
What are the most surprising things you learned from the research?
I received requests to scale up this project, make it mandatory, and make it available to everybody. I am pleased by the level of enthusiasm and interest for this project and surprised by the number of requests we have to host dialogues for different student groups and staff organizations. When I started the project, I planned to do one workshop but now five years after the project starterd, we have trained facilitators.
Another surprising thing is the effect these conversations have on the facilitators and the team members. Individuals from multiple disciplines and backgrounds come together to collaborate. Bonds have formed, and the positive effect it can have on the team members in the research team is noteworthy.
What career awards and achievements have you received?
First, I want to say that we do not do any of this work for the awards. When we receive an award, we celebrate the entire team. This work would not be possible without the excellent contributions of my students. Therefore, all of my honors are dedicated to my them.
I have been selected for the Chancellor's Summit on diversity award and will represent Texas A&M - College Station campus. This is only the second time that this award is being given by the Board of Regents. I was humbled to learn that Dr. Christine Stanley was given this award last year. I have received the Gerald M. Phillips award in my discipline in recognition of my community-based research, including the Difficult Dialogue Project. I am the first person of color to receive this award. It is a high honor to be able to represent Texas A&M in my given discipline. The award recognizes the impact of my work on the campus and in the community. It means a great deal when theory-driven evidence-based research is applied to improve lives. I am also honored to receive the Distinguished Teaching Award.
What do you like to do when you're not focused on research?
I come from a family of musicians and artists and believe everyone should have some community outside of work. I like to celebrate a lot of festivals and host parties. I am a yoga teacher and practice daily meditation. I also am a mother who likes to spend time with my family. I love cooking and traveling. After my recent photoshoot, I can add modeling to my list. It's a new first-time thing, but it is good to try out new things. It is all about work-life integration and finding joy and inspiration.
For more on Dr. Ramasubramanian and the Difficult Dialogues Project visit: https://www.drsrivi.com/ and/or https://www.difficultdialoguesproject.org/
Crystal S. Carter