Student committee actions to increase POC and LGBTQIA+ support in EECB

We suggest that the department consider ways to focus on recruitment AND retention efforts.  If the department begins making efforts to bring in more POC and LGBTQIA+ students, as well as to make improvements for current students, we need to ensure that this diverse student body has the protection, support, and culture needed to succeed in the program. There are different ways to support such an effort, and it is not a “once and done” project. However, a few suggestions include developing mentorship programs within the department, extending implicit bias training to all faculty and graduate students, and listening to current graduate students as they raise concerns. We have compiled a list of suggested actions, presented below in a rough order from those we perceive as easiest to achieve/higher priority, to those we imagine may be harder to achieve and as a result lower priority.

Diversity statistics

  • Climate surveys - Develop a way to assess how students are feeling, what students need, and how changes intended to improve inclusivity are affecting students. This could include EECB-wide focus groups and surveys (anonymity-protected) that both committees will execute and will provide accurate program-wide diversity statistics.
  • Report program statistics on diversity - Share EECB demographics on our website (e.g. pie charts from recent program review, statistics collected from climate surveys), including diversity in ethnicities, socioeconomic groups, LGBTQIA+ identities, etc. . If we are going to say we want to support more diversity, we should show where we are at right now! Transparency is also important for recruitment and retention! 

Curriculum design

  • Incorporate diversity in course material. TAs and professors teaching undergraduate and/or graduate courses should be intentional about assigning readings and/or discussing research by diverse, URM groups.
  • Both undergraduate and graduate courses should be modified to include acknowledgement of historical racism, colonialism, in science and academia where relevant as well as include diverse sources as part of literature reviews and citations. Principles of EECB (EECB 703) is already incorporating this, but needs to be applied across disciplines.

Land acknowledgement

  • The EECB website needs a land acknowledgement. This has the additional benefit of promoting inclusivity in recruitment (when prospective students visit the website).

Undergraduate mentorship

Working with TRIO, McNair programs , and/or undergraduate research programs (or Jessica’s undergrad research website) to increase research opportunities for underrepresented undergraduate students and increase recruitment of URM undergraduates to our graduate program.

  • Emphasize and promote work study programs for undergrads plus make the process of applying simpler - this will help provide opportunities for those with financial constraints. While recruiting we could host table events or seminars for undergraduate audiences that promote the various opportunities available in EECB and also focus on how undergrad work can be compensated through work study programs. 

TA pronoun/LGBTQIA+ training

Some small actions would increase the safety and comfort of LGBTQIA+ students in TA-led classrooms:

  • In place of roll call, TAs can distribute handouts and create a class roll using students’ preferred names. Handouts can include:
      • Student’s preferred name and when/where it should be used
      • Student’s legal name (if different from preferred, and not to be shared with the rest of the class without permission from the student) and when/where/if it should be used
      • Student’s pronouns and when/where they can be used (i.e. one-on-one, email, classroom, with faculty, any time etc.)
      • Pronouns to use in spaces where the preferred are not used (i.e. use the student’s name and no pronouns, or use she/her or he/him in place of they/them)
      • Anything else the TA should know, and not necessarily related to identity
      • If doing this on zoom then request those comfortable to state their pronouns. Students can also edit screen names to reflect preferred pronouns
  • Create a pronoun and preferred name training so that TAs understand the implications of deadnaming or misgendering (potentially dangerous for trans* students). 
  • Create a guide of resources that include how to change student ID, netID, email to preferred name, and LGBTQIA+ resources (both at UNR and in the community)
  • Other training topics should include how to use singular they/neopronouns, gender variance and non-binary identities, differences between sexuality and gender identity, and the importance of using a students preferred name and pronouns.

Representation in colloquium speakers

Avoid inherent biases in whom we invite to colloquium talks. Increased funding for colloquium can help provide compensation for POC faculty and others who work on anti-racism work.

Program Admissions 

We acknowledge that faculty know more about this process than we do, but here are some suggestions to ensure inclusivity in admissions. 

  • Create a new, formal (written) ranking process for prospective students that guarantees inclusivity. If this is already present, improve transparency of this process. A formalized ranking process for new student candidates that accounts for inequalities faced by disadvantaged and underrepresented groups will be helpful as quotas are not allowed at UNR. Get rid of TOEFL –  These tests are a much bigger barrier to POC and URM (underrepresented minorities) than for more privileged students. Increase emphasis on interview/statement/CV. TOEFL is required by the UNR Graduate School and lobbying is required, but we can de-emphasize it at the EECB level. Advisors can also request TOEFL to be waived for applicants to their lab. 
  • Require a diversity statement in the student program application - this could be a shorter, more directed set of questions about diversity rather than a full statement, though there is value to a longer statement as well. Diversity questions could focus not just on what “boxes” the students fit into, but also how they will improve the culture/diversity of the department. 
  • Actively recruit UNR undergrads from URM groups. Consider organizing a recruitment weekend just for URM, or incorporate an hour or two into Gradventure where we talk about how we have created a better environment for minoritized groups; not merely what the students can bring to the program, but what we currently have in place for them.  

General practices for improving inclusivity

  • Support group -  We have already arranged a student-led support group for POC/LGBTQIA+ students within the program as part of our Diversity in STEM class. This will act as a safe space for confidential, face-to-face interactions and anonymous correspondence to support POC/LGBTQIA+ students coping with discrimination. We will extend this to the whole program soon.
  • Create a newsletter with monthly resources, including resources to maintain an ongoing conversation about diversity and inclusivity in STEM and academia. This could be the responsibility of a funded student or faculty on the diversity committee.
  • System of reporting bias in the department safely (for students and faculty) - To be clear, this is not to supersede reporting to the EO/Title IX Office for issues of discrimination, but rather to provide a safe reporting system to foster a supportive climate within the department. 
    • Choose a faculty member liaison as the resource for any student of color that faces racism/other violence. This could be a great way for POC/LGBTQIA+ students to feel supported by faculty, and to have a way to voice concerns and keep an open dialogue going with faculty.
    • This could include a formal system for reporting and reviewing student/advisor conflicts- this would be for all conflicts, not just those specified as discrimination/bias.
    • Potentially create a poster to display somewhere in the department about how to report more severe issues to the EO/Title IX Office, or to the Bias & Hate Incident Reporting Service at the University Level. 
  • Holding space for anti-racism work at:
    • Ecolunch
    • Faculty meetings
    • A department town hall - A space for students and faculty to meet together & address specific actions. 

Faculty specific actions 

  • Develop a code of conduct specific to faculty: this will include how faculty are required to act in order to protect POC and LGBTQIA+ students and other underrepresented groups
  • Request faculty advisors to develop codes of conduct/antiracism statements specific to their labs: a few students in our Diversity in STEM class asked if the faculty committee can request labs to develop specific codes of conduct. Students are not comfortable requesting advisors to do this directly, so if this comes as a more formalized request from the committee it would be helpful.
  • Request the faculty diversity committee to make resources available on our website : our website doesn’t have enough information or resources for students applying to our program on our efforts to make the program more inclusive. Resources could include a list of campus resources available to students like The Center. It would also be great if the faculty committee kept us updated on what has been done on their action list as well as providing links to resources such as the Academics for Black Lives and Wellness course. 
  • Hiring diverse faculty- Transparency in the hiring process, including details on where job openings are posted and how large a pool of applicants are considered. Other considerations include ensuring that POC faculty do not feel tokenized and thinking about cluster hiring as an option. General strategies for faculty hiring.
  • A student representative to hiring committees - Formalize the existing student representative position on faculty hiring committees. Add a vote for the students.
  • Pronoun and gender identity training for faculty  - Creating an LGBTQIA+ inclusive environment includes educating faculty about trans and gender diverse people of all identities (cis and trans*) as well as sexual orientation, and should include pronoun training, including the use of singular they and neopronouns (i.e. ze/hir). Other topics could include the difference between sexuality and gender identity, non-binary identities, misgendering and deadnaming, normalizing sharing pronouns, not gendering people based on presentation, voice, etc. The training should include statistics about LGBTQIA+ retention in STEM.
  1. Diversity credit requirement
  • Develop an official diversity course: We would like the department to hire a trained professional to teach a course that explores inherent biases and discrimination in STEM and academia. We are thinking of potentially collaborating with faculty from UNR’s Gender, Race, and Identity department/College of Education.  In the short term, this could be integrated into any of the mandatory classes; for example as a one week training taught by a hired consultant.  However, a required course has the potential to turn into a traumatic environment for POC/LGBTQIA+ students mixed in with potentially racist or insensitive white students. 
  • Alternate options: An interactive diversity component incorporated into dissertation or as extracurricular outreach project, etc. (an open ended requirement). The faculty have started to think about this. One option would be an extracurricular outreach project - outreach to K-12. 
      • K-12 - Identify the barriers limiting POC/LGBTQIA+ students from getting interested in EECB research. Our outreach programs should be focused on finding diverse, young groups of students to reach out to in Reno. This is where recruitment starts. This would get more grad students to participate in outreach or just to have more hands on deck to reach schools that may not have the resources to visit our museum and learn about the EECB sciences.

Diversity Fellowship/TAship 

  • Underrepresented groups have a long history of being asked to take on more service work in the name of DEI work, which in the long term sets them at a disadvantage to white colleagues who are free to focus on research. One way to balance this we thought of would be a TAship or fellowship awarded to 1-2 students per semester or year allowing them to focus on DEI work for 15-20hrs per week. Lee told us that this would be difficult due to covid related funding issues but we can talk to David Zeh and see if the graduate school is willing to fund it. We also need to think of ways to ensure our work is recognized and we can put it on our CVs. We could also reach out to The Center at the student union that may have a funding arm for graduate students.

We are continuing to add to this list and will be pulling ideas from the UCSB EEMB list of actions.

This list was put together by the 2020-2021 EECB Diversity Committee comprising Stephanie Coronado, Anjana Parandhaman, Valentina Alaasam, Chanchanok Sudta, and Lydia Doan, with input from Program Director Lee Dyer, Ph.D.