November 30th, 2015 - by Kristen Merritt
Hi, Matt! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself for those who don't know you?
Matt: Hi, Kristen! I was born and raised in Syracuse. I came to Rochester as a college student and went to St. John Fisher. I was a History major with a Secondary Education minor; I wanted to be a teacher for middle school. But when I became a peer advisor, I was matched up with someone who was an academic advisor. And I really kind of fell in love with student affairs, the process of advising. I didn't know it was a real job! So when I graduated from Fisher, I moved out to Los Angeles because that's where my wife had moved out to. I worked at Warner Brothers for a year or two, doing odd jobs. A couple full time things. And then I realized I wanted to go back and get my masters in Student Affairs. So I was accepted into UCLA, did their Masters of Education program, and was able to come back to Rochester after graduation as a Residence Director and also a Freshman Academic Advisor. I was there for three years, and then about five and a half years ago I was lucky enough to get the position I'm at now which is working for the IST department as an Academic Advisor.
So, do you have an interest in computing?
Matt: I do but more casually. There's a part of me that really does want to learn how to do web design and development just to be able to say I can do little things here and there. I've done blogs and stuff like that, and Betty and I have done a wiki together. Do I think I can actually code in Java? Probably not. I mean, maybe if I really tried. I'm much more interested in the application of it. I'm always excited about how passionate our students are about what they're doing. And the things that they try to teach me. I don't understand a lot of what they're saying, in terms of the technical aspects, but how they apply it and where they see themselves going is always really rewarding. They care enough to want to teach me, it's a nice role reversal.
So what made you want to become involved in WiC? Was there anything in particular that made you realize that this was an organization you wanted to support?
Matt: WiC, when I first got here, really was frustrating for some of the women that were here. They really only focused on etiquette dinners. It wasn't really established. So when Lana came on, I really saw it as an opportunity because she was going to be full time, to really do more. And I had heard stories from some of my female students about how they felt isolated at times, or how they felt like everyone was staring at them because they were one of the two or three women in the class. And I thought, there is more that we can do. Not just to help the culture here to help women but to help men get better as people, as mature adults. And as people in positions of power who really create and change culture. There was a particular instance when I was teaching my Ethics in Computing course in its very first semester. A female student came to me with a story about a programming assignment that she was given. And the crux of the assignment was that they had to come up with a program to help Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock figure out how many beers it was going to take to get the female aliens drunk so they can then take advantage of them. And it was obviously really upsetting to her, and then upsetting to me. We brought it to the attention of the department head and they took care of it very quickly. But it was really kind of an eye opening thing to see that this happens in ways you would not think would happen here. And so I immediately wrote a lecture for my class, which is one of my favorite lectures that I have, on the treatment of women in the field. And from that, and talking to Lana after I wrote it, that's where I thought we can really do something more in terms of having a legitimate Allies program that's going to be beneficial to everybody as opposed to just one side. And having it be more of an allies thing rather than an advocate's thing, which is disconcerting in terms of power structure.
Can you tell me exactly what Allies is going to be doing? Who is going to be involved in it?
Matt: My vision it to see Allies driven by primarily students. I don't want it to be something where I'm in charge of it and we kind of go from there. I want the students to determine what it is they want Allies to be, both within that Allies group itself and then working with the larger WiC organization. So, primarily, I would first like us to focus on changing the mentality of who WiC is for. We get so many comments about "Why is there a women's only group? That seems very exclusionary." And, "Why can't men go to this? I don't understand why you have to have your own organization." So that speaks to a couple different things. One, men don't feel like they can go, which is something we certainly want to change. And two, men not understanding some of the struggles that women in the field or college go through. So that's not an intolerance issue, it's more of an ignorance issue. They don't see so many inequalities happening. So we'd like to get the word out from a PR standpoint of: Here's what that the events are, men are invited to almost all of them, let's be a part of this all together. But with so few men as we have in the organization, one of the bigger things is going to be recruiting and retaining more men to be part of WiC in meaningful ways.
Just to clarify, women can also join the Allies if they want?
Matt: Yeah! Absolutely! A greater diversity of experience and a greater diversity of thought is only going to make everybody better. If we have women in the Allies program, or people who identify more as an Ally as opposed to being part of Women in Computing in its larger structure, that'd be great. Because we may think certain ways as Allies, or as males, but we may not be coming from the right direction. Even though our heart may be in the right place we may not be going at it from the right direction. So it would be helpful to use to understand what the issues really are that we're working on trying to change, and how it manifests itself, and how we can help make things better. Or at least try not to make things worse.
What do you think the biggest challenge Allies is going to have to overcome?
Matt: Trying to change a mentality that's somewhat entrenched among some of the men that are already here and have already kind of had it in their head that WiC is their own thing, and that men are almost actively disinvited. The notion that WiC is exclusionary and they don't want men to be a part of it. And this has never been broadcasted by WiC and has never been the point. But it's much in the same way where people say, 'Why is there a black history month? Why isn't there a white history month?' It's not understanding what the real purpose is. And not only this, but it's going to be if guys are acting in a way, whether it's in clubs or organizations or just hanging out, where something needs to be addressed. Or there's sexism. Or there's intentional or unintentional discrimination. How is an Ally going to stand up and do the right thing? How are they going to do it in the right way that's constructive and positive as opposed to lecturing? Will our Allies be comfortable standing up and doing those things? It's one thing to say you're an Ally but it's another to step up when an opportunity presents itself.
Where do you see Allies in the next 5 years?
Matt: I'd like to see it a lot bigger than it is now where we see a real strong membership, a strong male presence at every event that we would be looking to support. And we'd be doing more in terms of male education and identity development. A really get to the point where we look to WiC as an organization that is not just women. There is closer to an equal male female membership.
What advice would you give to aspiring women in computing majors today?
Matt: There is kind of an assumption that there are people here that already know more than they do. And the research that I have done, women have been outpacing men in all measurable standard at RIT. Graduation rates, grades, the whole thing. I was talking to my class recently during lecture about women in computing, and I had asked about group projects. And the guys and girls in my class all said the females are the ones who take charge. Which is great! And I'd like to see more of that. So, don't get intimidated by people who talk the big game. They probably don't know as much as they think they do. Lead right from the start. Challenge people who have that mentality that women aren't meant for this field. You belong here just as much as everyone else does.