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Overcoming the Foreigner Bias

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By Jessica Orlando

You might know Dr. Angineh Djavadghazaryans from taking German at Oakland University or being involved in the women and gender studies program. Her initiatives to make not only her classroom but the community campus a diverse and inclusive environment remains one of her biggest ambitions as a professor. 

We decided to talk a bit more about Djavadghazaryans’ own personal experiences with diversity and inclusion as well as how her strong relationship with her family has allowed her to overcome any obstacle. 

JO: Describe the members of your family and their relationships.

Djavadghazaryans: My immediate family consists of my mother, my father, my brother, and my sister. My mother is 67 years old. She is a fantastic cook and she loves to host dinner gatherings. She loves to dance, getting together with her girlfriends for coffee, and, of course, being a mom. My dad is 66 years old. He is the most loving person I know. He loves to eat, enjoys gardening, and going on walks. My brother is 37 years old. He is a musician and a computer program coder. He loves to surf and go climbing. My sister is 28 years old. She works in social work. She enjoys salsa dancing, and nothing will get in the way of her self-care days. 

My siblings and I have a very close relationship with my parents. I talk to my parents every day on the phone.

JO: What important experiences has your family shared? How did each person feel about these experiences?

Djavadghazaryans: One big and important experience was when I moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., for a job. This was the first time in 15 years that I was close enough to my family to see them a couple of times a month. This had a big effect on the relationship between my sister and I. It really allowed us to connect. Thus, it was so hard when I had to move to Michigan. My sister was less understanding. It was really hard on her, she was not willing to understand why I did the move and she thought that if I loved my family, I would have decided to stay and given up on my career goals. But we have worked it out, as we always do.

JO: What is diversity to you? What is inclusion to you? What do they mean to you?

Djavadghazaryans: Diversity for me is part of my everyday life. My own identity and those of all the wonderful people in my life and around me. Diversity for me is the intersection of everything that makes us who we are, not just physically or factual things about us, but also mentally and emotionally. 

Inclusion to me is not only the acceptance of everyone, but more importantly, the active support of those who we love and those who do not get a voice to speak up. Inclusion to me means an everyday effort to think beyond my needs and be mindful of how my behavior could be hurtful to someone else, and how I can do (even small) things that would make a difference in someone’s life.

Diversity and inclusion to me means the respect of humanity.

JO: Share a story that reveals a bias you have overcome.

Djavadghazaryans: When I lived in Germany, I often experienced bias against me as a foreigner, who is not working hard, is “taking advantage” of the system, etc. Or also as someone who is “just” going to get married and have a bunch of children.  

I remember a specific incidence from a PTA meeting. I was struggling in a subject and my parents asked the teacher what they could do to help me get better. The teacher pretty much told my parents not to waste their time since I was not going to make it anywhere anyway. 

I think the only way I was able to overcome this bias against me was through the support of my parents. They always believed in me and that I could achieve anything I wanted to. They encouraged me not to give up, supported me financially in everything I wanted to try, and even went against their cultural believes to support me (in our culture, women are expected to get married and have children). They have never made me feel that I am somehow “less of a woman” because I am not married and do not have children.

JO: How has diversity and/or inclusion on OU’s campus shaped your growth as an individual?

Djavadghazaryans: Teaching a foreign language, I am always involved in diversity and inclusion in one form or another. Being able to teach students about different cultures and seeing how it affects them and opens their thoughts is really rewarding. 

I am also incredibly grateful that the department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the German program in particular have been so supportive of diversity initiatives I have been working on and implementing in my classes. We removed the German textbook from our first-year languages classes and replaced them with our own materials to be more mindful of socioeconomic diversity.

Additionally, teaching in the Women and Gender [Studies] Program every year gets me to be directly involved in matters of diversity and inclusion. I get to discuss matters of diversity and inclusion with students on a regular basis.

Coming to OU and facing a more diverse campus community than what I was used to, really taught me to step outside my own comfort zone (especially when it comes to teaching). I believe I have become a much better teacher who teaches with more passion and more intuitively, something I believe I was lacking before.

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