Empowering Women in Science Diversity Statement
Empowering Women in Science (EWIS) members include a variety of working professionals including staff, postdoctoral fellows and associates, graduate scientists, undergraduate students and faculty at the University of Minnesota. EWIS was created to highlight the work of women scientists, as women are still professionally underrepresented and face significant challenges at the highest professional levels. Founders and the first steering committee members were from the Center for Immunology (CFI) within the University of Minnesota. Currently, EWIS steering committee members represent a diverse group of women and underrepresented minority members of departments within the University of Minnesota such as the CFI; Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development; the Cancer Center; Pediatrics; Health; Neurosciences; Psychology; College of Veterinary Medicine; College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; College of Science and Engineering; Center for Autoimmune Diseases Research; Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and BioTechnology Institute; Department of Physiology and Integrative Biology; Brain Tumor Program, and the Department of Biological Sciences Duluth.
As scientists, we strive to be impartial in our work and in our assessment of the work of our peers and colleagues. However, we are also people who live in a white-privileged society that prioritizes the needs, goals, and safety of white people over people of color, particularly Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). The academic system in which we function is not immune to this societal structure; indeed, academia’s historical roots and present functioning clearly prioritize the success of white scientists over non-white scientists. The scientific questions we ask, how we answer them, and which groups in society benefit from those answers are all reflective of the inequality present in our scientific enterprise, as well as our wider world. Indeed, the very buildings in which we conduct our research are built on land stolen from the Daḳota people in 1805.
At EWIS, we seek to recognize and dismantle the deep inequalities inherent in academia, which are particularly harmful for BIPOC. As a group seeking to support and uplift women in STEM, we particularly recognize the intersectional harms of racism and sexism for women of color in STEM, and how other identities such as religion, disability, neurodivergence, sexuality, gender identity, and class can synergistically marginalize minority groups. We encourage all of our members to consider the ways in which racism and racial biases in academic spaces have manifested in their own lives and careers, both in the form of privilege and in the form of discrimination. We provide a variety of events and resources to educate scientists and increase their awareness about the various inequalities in academia, as well as actions to combat such inequalities. Additionally, we challenge our members to be anti-racist in their actions; not just reading about inequality, but actively working to combat and dismantle it from the individual to the institutional level. EWIS will keep working hard to create a welcoming and diverse environment in science.
We have provided a reading list here for those who would like to learn more about racism in academia. As a starting point, check out Ten simple rules for building an anti-racist lab, which describes small changes all labs can make to become more anti-racist. Undoing centuries of racial inequity and discrimination in STEM is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one to create a more equitable future.
A letter sent to University of Minnesota leadership from the EWIS Steering Committee, sent June 8th, 2020
These past few weeks have been especially difficult in the Twin Cities. George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis Police Department officers represents yet another act of systematic violence against people of color in our cities and in our country. We at Empowering Women in Science are heartbroken and outraged at the injustice that has and continues to occur around George Floyd’s murder. We grieve for George Floyd’s family, and for the families of all those harmed by a police force that does not protect and serve all people equally. We stand with protestors and community leaders demanding accountability and change.
We also recognize that structural inequality and racism permeate every aspect of our culture - including our university classrooms, offices, laboratories, and clinics. Racism does not stop where university grounds begin. We are part of a society, and structural inequality cannot be solved just by actions of individual groups, nor by the actions of the groups that are being discriminated against. It is necessary for people in positions of power to take action and speak up for those who are not heard. The mission of Empowering Women in Science (EWIS) is to “enable and empower women to fulfill their career goals and to reach the highest level of leadership.” Women of color in STEM face challenges, barriers, and discrimination that white women do not. Therefore, we must recognize and dismantle the racist structures of science that specifically harm women scientists of color.
Moving forward, EWIS must make greater efforts to name and address racism in STEM and to support and uplift scientists of color. Equality cannot happen unless we make it happen, especially given the inequality inherent to our society and culture. We recognize that dismantling racist institutions requires more than being ‘not racist’- we must be actively anti-racist, and earnestly work towards a more just and equitable scientific enterprise. To this end, we challenge our university administrators and leaders to develop and institute concrete, measurable anti-racist policy changes. Moreover, the University of Minnesota is a highly ranked and internationally recognized public research university, and the anti-racist actions taken herein at the UMN may lead to meaningful changes in anti-racist history throughout the world. UMN faculty, alumni, staff and researchers must be leaders in advocating against racism in their own countries and serve as an example to others.
To this end, EWIS recommends a few specific policy changes to create a more just, anti-racist, and inclusive learning, teaching, and research environment for all university members. These include:
● Development of, and funding for, highly visible, diverse and effective mentoring networks and peer cohorts for students and trainees from underrepresented minority groups throughout their time at the university.
● Development of checkpoint instances for the mentoring networks to guarantee support for and maximize the success of the students and trainees from underrepresented groups.
● Ensuring that faculty are held accountable for the research and education environments they create, particularly when those environments are hostile for minority members of our community.
● Publicly addressing issues of racism and bias which occur on campus and making it clear that they are unacceptable.
● Requiring diversity statements, including actionable plans for supporting and mentoring minority students and trainees, for all faculty and teaching hiring processes.
● Promoting projects and funding for creation and support of multicultural groups and people from diverse backgrounds in all the different departments at the university.
● Implementing specialized implicit bias training for all university hiring and mentoring committees, regardless of the position.
● Implementing periodic implicit bias training and how to work in a diverse and inclusive environment training for all university staff, faculty, students and trainees.
● Conducting data collection and analysis of the population and community environment in our departments, to implement strategies that allow recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, students and trainees from underrepresented minority groups.
● Ensure that all these changes effectively reach all departments at the university and are highly visible and accessible to all minority groups in the university.
We at EWIS are also encouraging our members to more actively engage in anti-racism work in their own labs, social spaces, and homes. We recognize that changing our academic climate and culture to be more just and equitable requires not only high-level policy changes, but individual dedication to un-learning racist cultural norms and an open mind to hear ideas from people with diverse backgrounds. We have provided reading lists here and here to our members for learning more about anti-racism and decolonization in STEM. We will be discussing some of these at future EWIS book clubs and diversity and inclusion workshops. Your attendance at these events will be most welcome and would send a powerful message to our university community generally and our minority trainees in particular.
We hope all of you are staying safe as best you can right now, both mentally and physically. While these are difficult times, they also present us with an opportunity and a responsibility to create meaningful change in our communities. The University of Minnesota is a leader in research and education; we hope it can also be a leader in creating a more just society.
The EWIS Steering Committee