Equity, Inclusion and Justice

My ability to work effectively with diverse faculty students and staff and commitment to cultivating an equitable and inclusive environment are centered on three things: awareness, accountability and research. To show up for all students, especially those with social identities that are unfairly overlooked in higher education, requires me to be aware of myself, my schemas around race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and other important axes of identity. Since we live in a society where we are all affected by the ‘smog’[1] of systemic and social biases and discrimination, I am affected by racism and sexism in my perceptions of people—it is an uncomfortable truth about myself that I must face. I am continually engaged with understanding my schema around social identities to help me become a better community member who does not rely on stereotypes to make snap judgements about students’ capabilities or value to the community. This awareness is a project in continuing growth—I do not pretend to be perfect; I have many blind spots—however, I hope that developing this awareness will allow me to be a responsive and inclusive community member.

Accountability is the second tenant of my commitment to being an equitable and inclusive community member. This means ensuring the equity, inclusion and justice are central to every aspect of my scholarship—teaching, mentoring, research, and service. It also means acknowledging when I make mistakes and being able to take honest criticism from my fellow community members including students, peers and staff. This requires building trust with the community and will likely take time to achieve, but I am committed to building these relationships.

One of the ways I have worked to develop this trust in my current community is a diversity initiative I started with my colleague Dr. Kristen Bennett. We designed and implemented a new model for a diversity seminar based on awareness and accountability. We call this organization ‘The Collective’ where we come together, in community, to develop awareness and accountability around issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. In a change from traditional diversity seminars, The Collective is centered on the idea of ‘doing better’. Do better, every day. Instead of meeting once a week or month, participants in The Collective are split into smaller groups, called ‘pods’, that meet regularly outside the main meetings. The pods are responsible for presenting to the larger group once per term on any topic they desire. This group meets participants where they are—allowing them to start or continue their journey on issues around diversity, equity and inclusion. It also enhances accountability by having participants present to the larger group. We hope this organization will help our community reduce our individual bias and propel needed cultural change. We are currently studying if this is true in collaboration with Dr. Brian Eiler of Davidson College.

This last aspect of my commitment to showing up for diversity, equity and inclusion is to engage in research around these issues in our field. Dr. Bennett and I felt that our new method of cultural change based on personal awareness and accountability could be groundbreaking—indeed we felt that the most committed and effective people in our past experiences around diversity, equity and inclusion were the ones who took the things from the diversity seminars into their broader day-to-day activities. Since we are scientists, we felt that the best way to determine if our initiative is effective is to honestly study it. Dr. Bennett and I engaged Dr. Eiler (at the time another post-doc at Northern Arizona University) to assist us in this investigation. We presented our preliminary results at the Women in Space Conference last February. Our main findings are that The Collective does appear to affect the underlying emotions, motivations and opinions on diversity equity and inclusion. We expect to submit a paper on these results in the summer of 2020.

My interest in research around diversity, equity and inclusion began in graduate school. In 2014. I participated in the University of Maryland’s Teaching and Learning Transformation Center Graduate Student Fellowship during which several colleagues and I designed and implemented a campus-wide, mix-methods research study of underrepresented students’ experience of classroom technology and how it affected their feelings of belonging. Belonging is a feeling of being a valued member of a community and identifying with that community. This work is currently under review in the Journal of Higher Education. The paper is titled ‘The intersection of Technology, Campus Climate and Student Belonging among Underrepresented Students.’

Conducting this study has had a profound effect on how I approach teaching, mentoring and research. By listening to the students who participated in the study, I have come to understand the significance of cultural climate as an essential component to create a space where every student can thrive, whether that’s at the department level or within the field more broadly. Awareness and accountability around our actions is another crucial aspect that I learned from this study. As a professor at the University of Washington, I am committed to promoting the wellbeing of my students in the classroom or as researchers by focusing on the students’ success and playing a supporting/sponsoring role for them. I will set clear expectations and support my students in setting positive goals. I plan to use appropriate codes of conduct in classroom and in the research group, discussing explicitly barriers, biases and structural effects of racism/sexism in our field.  I also plan to continue to work on raising my personal awareness and accountability by continuing to be engaged with to voices locally, in my field and around our nation around equity, inclusion and justice.

In addition to working at my department on these issues, I am also engaged with these activities in my field. I am a member of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences’ subcommittee on professional development. Every year at our annual conference, the Professional Development Subcommittee organizes the Women in Planetary Science Discussion event. Typically, 100-150 women and allies join us for an interactive discussion around issues of equity, inclusion and justice. This is also a wonderful networking event for early career scientists. At the 2018 conference in Knoxville, TN, my collogue Dr. Cristina Thomas and I gave a short presentation on intersectionality, cultural climate and experiences of people of color in our subfield and lead a discussion of how we can make positive changes around intersectionality in our field. We hope this discussion will help bring a wider discussion of intersectionality and the underrepresentation of people of color in our subfield moving forward.

[1] Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD (2017) Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And other conversations about Race.