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Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at SEAS

Letter from Francis J. Doyle III

Discussions of race are more elevated in the public discourse than they have been in generations. It is a reminder that the time to address systemic racism and to prioritize anti-racist strategies is now.

New York Times contributing opinion writer Erin Aubry Kaplan recently observed that “racism is a form of convenience, in the sense that it’s designed to make life easier for its beneficiaries…Antiracism requires the opposite: engagement.”

As a white person, especially one who holds a leadership role, I am committing myself to not only saying racism is wrong, but also engaging in anti-racist reflection and action.

Last month, we suspended meetings, research, and other activities in support of ShutDownSTEM. Members of our community came together to discuss concrete actions all of us can take to address systemic racism within SEAS and across the broader scientific enterprise (see attached synthesis).

I am deeply grateful for the thoughtful engagement that began on that day and has continued since, which adds new voices and ideas to the ongoing work of the Schoolwide Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. Many of the concepts generated during ShutDownSTEM deliberations are closely aligned with the steps articulated in the SEAS Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Strategic Plan.

Using that plan as their roadmap, the SEAS Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging led by Alexis Stokes and the DIB Committee undertook a wide range of high-impact projects and programs during the just-completed academic year, all designed to make our School more diverse, more welcoming, and more excellent.

The Committee and its four working subgroups directly addressed 26 of the five-year Strategic Plan’s 42 specific recommendations during year one and completed 10 of them. This is a remarkable level of activity! A high-level summary of the highlights of this important work is attached, and we will publish a detailed annual report in the coming weeks documenting our work.

In the meantime, I want to highlight the DIB priorities we will emphasize during the 2020-21 academic year. They include:

  • Exploring the creation of a post-baccalaureate bridge program at SEAS for students who are interested in pursuing a doctoral degree but have not had access to resources for graduate program preparation (i.e., advanced courses, research opportunities, etc.). GSAS currently sponsors a grant-funded post-baccalaureate program that may serve as a model for a similar program at SEAS. [Recommendation 2a]
  • Augmenting our efforts to recruit URM graduate students. We are committed to increasing the representation of Black and other URM students in our graduate programs. Building on a successful pilot in May 2020 that attracted 170 prospective students, SEAS will engage with prospective students via virtual lab tours, Area-specific virtual recruitment events, and workshops focused on writing a statement of purpose. These events will target students at HBCUs and other MSIs, REU participants, and other programs designed for URM students. We will also continue to recruit at national minority-serving conferences (NSBE, SHPE, ABRCMS, AISES, Grace Hopper, and Richard Tapia) in whatever form they take – virtual or in-person. [Recommendation 2f]
     
  • Strengthening first-year advising for undergraduates. Over the last three years, we have increased the number of the SEAS faculty and staff that serve as first-year advisors. Recent data suggests that this has had a positive effect on the SEAS concentration-declaration rates, specifically for students who indicated interest in CS as a concentration. The pairing of SEAS faculty to students has the most positive impact on female students and is also beneficial to URM students. SEAS will increase our efforts to pair women and URM first-year students with a faculty member advisor. In addition, we will offer a workshop on anti-racist advising for all first-year advisors at SEAS.
     
  • Increasing the diversity of visiting scholars at SEAS. Through weekly Area-specific colloquia and seminars, various lecture series and one-off invited talks, guest talks in classrooms, and appointed visiting scholars, SEAS welcomes to campus dozens of outside experts each academic year. The majority are white males. We will encourage sponsoring faculty and offices to ensure that individuals invited to meet with our faculty, postdocs and students better reflect our student body and society at large. We will track the number of URM visitor to measure progress.
     
  • Exploring establishment of a Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Fellows program to recognize (and compensate) graduate students and postdocs who lend their time and talent to advance SEAS DIB goals. Over the years, committed SEAS students and postdocs have invested a great deal of time, energy, and emotional labor that benefits the entire SEAS community. A disproportionate amount of this work is volunteered by marginalized students. Under a DIB Fellows program, students/postdocs would be hired to work with the SEAS Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging to help implement the strategic plan by supporting efforts including recruitment, events, and researching best practices. In addition to monetary compensation, they would be able to list their role as DIB Fellows on their CVs.
     
  • Increasing the transparency of DIB data at SEAS. We will convert longitudinal demographic data into an on-line public dashboard that clearly outlines the gender and racial composition of the student body, staff, faculty, and postdocs at SEAS. Over time, we will build out the dashboard to include data derived from the SEAS community climate survey. [Recommendation 6c]
     
  • Increasing the diversity of postdoctoral fellows at SEAS. We will work to create a less opaque and more streamlined hiring process for postdocs at SEAS. We will work to ensure that there are no gender- or race-based biases in our hiring or compensation of postdoctoral fellows. We will provide additional resources and tools to help faculty cast a wider net when filling positions in their groups and advertising openings more widely. [Recommendation 2m]
     
  • Examining the symbols and physical spaces of our campus to ensure that they are accessible and welcoming. This will include a review and update of the portraiture, photography, artwork and design elements for inclusive imagery both in our buildings and in the School’s digital assets, and an assessment of the naming of campus spaces.  [Recommendation 7b

This represents an ambitious agenda for the coming year that will require the active engagement of the entire SEAS community. I look forward to your ideas and constructive participation in this work.

Best regards,

Frank

Francis J. Doyle III
John A. Paulson Dean
John A. & Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor