Interview: Talking Feminist Sociology

Drawing of several women dressed in historical STEM outfits

In case you missed this on my other social media, in January 2019, Lady Science published a podcast about my career and feminism.  I was interviewed in late 2018 by Leila McNeill, one of the editors-in-chief. Below is an excerpt where you can learn a little about my professional history. I discuss how racial minority sociologists are challenging knowledge production in our field. I show how the concept of otherness is feeding the overt political resurgence of White nationalism. Then I cover the importance of intersectionality in sociological practice.

My face is drawn Brown, with red lipstick and red lines shining out of my top of my head
Portrait of me commissioned from the feminist and artist, Tyler Feder

Leila: To kick off our series I’ll be talking with Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist from Australia, about the history of sociology, how the work of Indigenous and minority sociologists is changing the field, and how intersectional feminism influences her work. Leila: Without further ado, I’ll let Zuleyka introduce herself.

Z. Zevallos: Yep, so my name’s Zuleyka Zevallos. I’m a sociologist, and I’ve got a PhD in sociology. I started off doing research on the intersections of identity from migrant background women. I was really interested in how their experiences of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and also religion made their sense of identity, and how that also interconnected with their experiences of racism and multiculturalism, and how all of that affected their sense of belonging to their communities, as well as broader Australian society.

Z. Zevallos: After I finished my PhD I’ve been teaching the whole way through, and then I was an academic for a little while. I taught the sociology of gender and sexuality as well as leading courses on ethnicity and race. I also looked at the impact of technology on society…

Z. Zevallos: I spent the first few years working with an interdisciplinary social modelling team. That was a really great experience because it really taught me different applications of sociology, but also how to speak to scientists from the natural and physical sciences, from computer sciences, and how to blend their disciplines with mine.
Continue reading Interview: Talking Feminist Sociology

Interview: Queer People of Colour, Racism and Dating

A Black man hugs a White man from the back with another man hugging them from the side

I was interviewed on Triple J ‘s ‘The Hook Up‘ program (listen from 1:12:49) about sexual racism in queer communities.

Nat Tencic: We’re talking about racism and the experiences of queer people of colour in dating. And to answer some of those more big picture questions, like why are we seeing this internal minority struggle, we’re joined right now by sociologist, Dr Zuleyka Zevallos. She specialises in issues of gender and sexuality, culture, discrimination and diversity. Dr Zevallos, welcome and thank you for joining us.

Zuleyka: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Nat: I think that first big picture question is something that really interests me: why do we see this happening in the queer community? Why when you’re already discriminated against do you see that next level of discrimination come through so loudly?

Zuleyka: I think for some people it seems counterintuitive because, obviously, queer communitites are facing discrimination along sexual lines. But at the same time, all of us live in the same society that is dominated by whiteness. We have a long history of discrimation against Indigenous communities and against migrant people, especially migrant people of colour. When we look at it in a social context, LGBTQIA communities are surrounded by the same social influences when it comes to race, [same] as straight people.

Continue reading Interview: Queer People of Colour, Racism and Dating

Interview: How to Deal with Microaggressions

Image of a Brown woman in the background with white paint smeared over her eye area

I was interviewed by SBS News on microaggressions. Below is an excerpt featuring my comments.

“When people point out the impact of microaggression they also hear ‘I didn’t mean it like that’ or ‘can’t you take a joke?’” says Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, an applied sociologist who has studied microaggressions in Australia. She says confrontation isn’t the best way out of these situations.

“There’s a lot of psychological stress when you’ve been injured by their comments and then they tell you what you experience is invalid.”

The best way is get the other person to be reflective. “Questions stop the other person because they have to think, rather than be defensive.”

“And you shouldn’t expect a minority to always speak for themselves, it’s on all of us to tackle together.”

Another effective way is to express disappointment if it was done by someone you know well.

“We know from research most people hold a positive view of themselves,” says Dr Zuleyka [sic].

“When you say “I always thought you were a reasonable person” or “I can’t believe I’m hearing this for you” it turns the mirror around.”

Read more on SBS News.

Learn more on racial microaggressions on my blog.

Sexual Harassment in the Academy

Trigger warning: this post describes an investigation and experience of sexual harassment.

On 19 January 2018, I wrote to the Presidents and Executive leaders of the Australian Academy of Science asking them to address the University of California Berkeley investigation finding that Academy Fellow, Professor Terry Speed, had been found to have sexually harassed a woman postdoc over a two-year period. Prof Speed was also found to have created a ‘hostile environment,’ for the postdoc and a second complainant, Professor Lior Pachter, who made the findings of the investigation public.

This sexual harassment of the woman postdoc (‘Barbara’) included several months in Australia, when Prof Speed invited her to his Australian institution, WEHI, where he was still leading a lab at the time that the investigation was made public. Not only is his position as Fellow notable, but he is also a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Science 2013 and was awarded the Eureka Prize for Scientific Leadership 2014. Prof Speed is also one of the founding sponsors of Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE), which is being co-managed by the Academy of Science. SAGE is running the Athena SWAN Awards, a pilot of the UK initiative to increase gender equity and diversity in science and academia. Almost 90% of Australia’s universities are signed up to the Athena SWAN program, along with other government research organisations and medical institutes.

I was employed by the Academy as the project manager for SAGE, and was tasked with getting the program off the ground prior to its establishment and launch (April 2015). I left the Academy after July 2016. I am proud of what my team achieved, and I will always treasure The Work, but I faced many hardships trying to make internal changes on equity and diversity. This includes, but is not limited to, not being listened to on improving internal processes, lack of organisational support under stressful conditions (magnified for me as a woman of colour), and leadership resistance to the intersectionality dimensions of the program.

My email in January 2018 came one and a half years after I left. From the outside, it seemed that very little had changed on gender equity and diversity. I asked the Academy to address a number of basic steps, including a public statement about Prof Speed, and policies to address sexual harassment and discrimination.

As I write this, it has been six months since I contacted the Academy about Prof Speed, asking them to increase visibility of their gender equity and diversity policies and practices.

Below, I reproduce my email in full, without the names of the Executives to whom I addressed this, and omitting the name of another ex-employee. I then discuss what’s happened since and the responses on this case.

What follows is not just about this one case, but more about how this situation has been handled. Specifically, the culture of silence and inaction. What does it say about the state of academia and science that prominent men who buy a stake of equity programs are not held accountable by their professional associations when they harass women?

Continue reading Sexual Harassment in the Academy

Interview: Decolonise Space

Sirenum fossae, a qudrangle of Mars. It looks like a giant crator on the bright red landscape

I was interviewed by Newsweek on the inequalities embedded into the way people imagine colonising other planets. I discussed how the language we use about ‘colonising’ Mars whitewashes the history of colonialism on Earth:

‘“Language is one of the ways in which we shape our social reality,” Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia, told Newsweek. That means using terms like colonise carries real risks. “The history of colonialism has taught us that there is no democratic way to colonise other lands,” she said. “It is about profit, and profit always marginalises minorities.”’

Read this insightful article featuring other experts, here.

Event: Making Science Inclusive

A group of conference delegates stand for a group photo. They are smiling in front of their chairs in a lecture theatre

A quick note to say that I’ll be on a panel at the Science Pathways conference on 23 April 2018, in Brisbane.* The event is run by the EMCR Forum (Australia’s Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum). The panel is titled, ‘Making Science Inclusive.’ I will speak about how to use intersectionality to refocus diversity initiatives to be more inclusive. My co-panellists are:

  • Ms Kimberly Olsen (CEO Trans Employment Program Australia),
  • Ms Rachel Ranton (Inclusion & Diversity Consultant, Westpac),
  • Dr Andrew Siebel (Assistant Dean, Diversity & Inclusion, Faculty of Science, University of Melbourne), and
  • Dr Soressa Kitessa (Senior Research Scientist, SARDI).

The panel is facilitated by Dr Carly Rosewarne (Research Scientist, CSIRO).

A description of the panel from the conference website:

Discussions around how to improve diversity in science are often centred on ways to encourage those from underrepresented demographics to consider career paths in STEM. To ensure success, these well-intentioned initiatives need to be underpinned by effective policy and ongoing support to ensure individuals are given an equal opportunity to thrive. In this session, the concept of inclusive science will be explored from the perspective of EMCRs, with examples of best practice from academia and industry.

If you can’t make it, you will be able to watch it free on livestream! Register here.

* Note that the conference continues on the next day but I won’t attend on the 24 April.

Sexual Harassment in Australian Science

I’m featured in the ABC investigation into sexual harassment in Australian science. “It’s important that they [Academy of Science] don’t stay silent because silence tells the rest of the science community that any woman who speaks out is going to be met with a wall of nonresponse, non-action, that she’s alone and it discourages survivors from coming forward and reporting…”

Racial Preferences in Dating

A White man leans into the ear of a Black woman who is laughing with he eyes closed

In October 2017, I was interviewed about racial preferences in dating for the Triple J show, “The Hook Up,” along with Dr Denton Callender, a research fellow at the Kirby Institute, and Dr Ian Stephen.

The podcast included calls from listeners who shared what it’s like to be fetishised on dating apps, as well as the racial biases that White people exercise.

I am featured at the beginning, when host Hannah Reilly asks me to comment on ethnic preferences. (Note that ethnicity is about culture, and race is about physical traits. To illustrate this distinction: there are Black Latin people – they’re classified as Black in terms of race, and Latin in terms of culture.)

Below is my transcription of the segment that features me.


[From 2.19 mins] Hannah: I asked sociologist, Zuleyka Zevallos, where these ethnic preferences might be coming from.

Zuleyka: It goes back to the way we think about beauty. We’re socialised from a really young age to be looking out for certain types of physical traits – and a lot of them are associated with Whiteness. It’s about: having very light skin; having a particular type of nose – various types of features that are more common amongst people who are White.

Hannah: So you think beauty is a cultural idea, not a physical one?

Zuleyka: It is very much shaped by culture. We know that because there are patterns. You talked about the patterns on dating apps. There are patterns in which people couple more generally, in marriage – those types of patterns. If it wasn’t culturally shaped, there wouldn’t be patterns because everyone would have an equal chance of hooking up with people, and having relationships with, people outside of their own racial group. Continue reading Racial Preferences in Dating

Interview: Intersectionality and Identity Politics

In September 2017, writer and social justice coordinator with the American Humanist Association, Sincere Kirabo, interviewed me about misunderstandings of intersectionality and the problems with the term “identity politics.” He writes:

…White identity politics go “undetected,” as we’re socialised to regard the sustaining of dominant culture as “what is expected” or “the way things ought to be.”

Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos, sociologist with Swinburne University, echoes this sentiment, stating:

‘If the phrase has any value at all — and it really doesn’t — “identity politics” calls attention to the ways that people from majority groups, especially White people, do not “see” how their identities are governed by politics.
This is how Whiteness works: White culture is embedded into all fields of public life, from education, to the media, to science, to religion and beyond. White culture is constructed as the norm, so it becomes the taken-for-granted ideal with which other cultures are judged against by White people.

‘Hence, White people do not recognise how their race shapes their understanding of politics, and their relationships with minority groups.’ Continue reading Interview: Intersectionality and Identity Politics

Research Equity in New Zealand Aotearoa: a Suffrage Day Conversation

On Tuesday 19 September, I’m giving a keynote talk on Research Equity in New Zealand Aotearoa, in honour of Suffrage Day. The event is held at the Royal Society Te Aparangi in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ll talk about how to improve equity, inclusion, access and diversity in research communities. The event is free to the public: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/research-equity-in-new-zealand-aotearoa-a-suffrage-day-conversation-tickets-37440952898

From the event description:

In this Suffrage Day event, Dr Zevallos will reflect on national approaches to improving the hiring, promotion, retention, recognition and participation of all women, specifically including Indigenous and transgender women, as well as other under-represented minorities in science. She will then be joined by panelists for a discussion of the specific needs of the NZ research community.

Panellists include: Prof Anita Brady; Di Tracey; Izzy O’Neill; A/Prof Joanna Kidman; and Prof Richard Blaikie.

The event is co- sponsored by the Dodd-Walls Centre, The MacDiarmid Institute, and Te Pūnaha Matatini.

Light refreshments from 5pm. Come along and say hello