Main content start

Fall 2020 Newsletter

Fall 2020 Department of Biology Newsletter on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging

The Department of Biology has formed a committee to address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in our departmental community.  The committee met during fall quarter to: consider advice from Steve Lee (Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion for H&S) about how to form an effective and productive DEIB committee; define group norms for interactions and behavior; draft statements about our values, mission, and vision for the department; and define subcommittees that will address issues in six distinct areas. We anticipate that most of the real work undertaken by the group will take place in these subcommittees, so we list them here, along with the core members of each group. We welcome your thoughts and ideas about any of these topics. Feel free to reach out to anyone in the relevant subcommittee, or to the members of the committee that represent your constituency (undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, staff, or faculty), or to committee co-chairs Sue McConnell and Kabir Peay.

Current subcommittees:

Diversifying graduate student recruitment, admissions, and retention:  Members of this subcommittee will work in tandem with Graduate Admissions, the Biology Preview Program, and IDEAL (see below) to consider how to broaden our applicant pool and assemble best practices on recruitment, admissions, and retention, utilizing ideas and insights from other departments and universities where possible. Core members: Anaïs TsaiAshby MorrisonChris LoweKabir PeayMelanie BarnettRodolfo Dirzo.
Diversifying postdoctoral scholar recruitment, hiring, and retention: Members of this subcommittee will work in collaboration with our new departmental Postdoc Committee to collect information on the demographics of our current postdocs, explore current university programs for diversifying our community of postdoctoral scholars, assess whether other departments or institutions have created successful strategies for recruitment and retention of diverse postdocs, and explore resources to support the mental health and childcare options of postdoctoral scholars. Core members: Chris LoweColleen McLaughlinKatherine XueMohamad ZoabiSue McConnell.
Diversifying our faculty and strengthening consideration of DEI work in hiring and promotions: Members of this subcommittee are considering strategies and best practices to diversify the pool of applicants for faculty positions and ensure that applications for faculty positions are reviewed without bias. The subcommittee will explore how we might incorporate DEI statements and mentoring accomplishments into the processes surrounding faculty hiring, tenure, and promotion. Core members: Ashby MorrisonColleen McLaughlinGio ForcinaKabir PeayMelanie BarnettSergio Redondo.
Accountability, transparency and climate assessment: Members of this subcommittee are exploring the feasibility and logistics of conducting an annual climate survey and focus groups to assess our department’s climate for all constituencies (including staff, postdocs, students, and faculty). The subcommittee will access existing data from the university, assemble best practices from other departments and universities for handling complaints, institute transparent reporting structures, and make identified resources easily accessible to anyone through the department website, emails, and newsletters.  Core members: Bettye PriceGio ForcinaJamie ImamJorge RamosKabir PeayMary MolacavageNia Walker.
Training programs (anti-racism, anti-bias, anti-microaggression), mentorship, and teaching practices: Members of this subcommittee are exploring options for training programs to combat racism, bias, and microaggressions for faculty, staff, postdocs, and students. The subcommittee will attempt to identify best practices and which programs offered by the university or others are most effective and beneficial. Subcommittee members will consider what department procedures are enacted when reports of racism, bias, or microaggressions are made, and identify possible corrective or restorative responses. Finally, this group will encourage culturally aware mentoring and teaching practices and consider initiatives to improve relationships between faculty, trainees, and staff. Core members: Anaïs TsaiBettye PriceJorge RamosMaria Suarez-NietoMary MolacavageNia WalkerSergio RedondoSue McConnell
Undergraduate curriculum, teaching, and research opportunities: Members of this subcommittee will work in tandem with the Undergraduate Studies Committee to promote research experiences for undergraduates from underrepresented backgrounds, make recommendations on course policies to help them become more inclusive, and consider how to diversify our educational programs and teaching practices. The group also hopes to help create more cohesion among department undergrads and keep undergrads updated on DEIB activities in the department, as in a recent BioBridge newsletter. Core members: Amanda KoongAnaïs TsaiGio ForcinaJamie ImamJorge RamosKatherine XueMaria Suarez-NietoSue McConnell.

We also want to highlight and celebrate actions taken this fall by Biology students, staff, and faculty members working independently from the departmental committee. These include:
Bio Preview Program: This program was developed and piloted in early October to encourage and support applications to Ph.D. training programs from underrepresented groups. Kudos to the Bio Preview team, which consisted of: Aurora Alvarez-Buylla, Lauren O'Connell, Molly Schumer, Dania Nanes Sarfati, Will Oestreich, Eduardo Tassoni, Jamie McDevitt-Irwin, Grant Kinsler, Kade Pettie, and Cheyenne Payne. According to Molly, the program enlisted the help of >100 volunteers from the department, including students, postdocs, staff, and faculty. From a total of 182 applicants, 49 students were selected to participate in the program; each identified with a group that is underrepresented in STEM and/or has made substantive contributions to improving DEI in STEM. The participants engaged in workshops that addressed important skills for graduate applications, interviews, and success in graduate life. The feedback from individual participants was overwhelmingly positive, and we hope the department will continue to run this program in future years. 
Graduate Admissions:  There have been a number of changes to graduate admissions this year. For the first time there will be graduate student representatives serving on all three department admissions committees, which represents a change for Hopkins and EcoEvo. In addition, all members of the graduate admissions committees have been requested by the Student Services Office to take a 2+ hour training session on implicit and unconscious bias (the University of Ohio’s Implicit Bias Module Series). This year, admissions committees will experiment with new holistic evaluation rubrics to assess applicants’ academic accomplishments, motivation and initiative, and contributions to DEI. Finally, the Student Services Office will highlight the applications of candidates who identify as belonging to underrepresented groups (including BIPOC, first-generation or low-income students, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and international students) to ensure that their applications receive adequate discussion during the admissions process.
IDEAL Program: The Stanford IDEAL initiative (Inclusion, Diversity, Equality, and Access in a Learning environment) is piloting a data-driven program to help departments assess their success in and create a plan for improving diversity in graduate admissions. The IDEAL admissions team at VPGE (Nikki Shechtman, Chris Gonzalez Clarke, and Anika Green) has shared details about the process and related resources, and they have engaged Martha Cyert, Marc Feldman, the chairs of the graduate admissions committees for CMOB, Hopkins, and EcoEvo, and the co-chairs of our DEIB committee in discussions of whether and how Biology might participate in the program.
Gilliam Fellowship:  Lauren O’Connell and Aurora Alvarez-Buylla have been awarded a Gilliam Fellowship from HHMI, which they’ll use to organize a DEI retreat for our BIPOC students and other trainees who care about DEI initiatives or who self-identify as being from an underrepresented group. This directly addresses the clear need expressed by our students from underrepresented groups for a funded DEI retreat.
Culturally Aware Mentoring Program:  Martha Cyert and José Dinneny, Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee, have successfully enrolled Biology in a Culturally Aware Mentoring (CAM) pilot being run out of the University of Wisconsin Madison that will investigate the efficacy of different types of CAM training modules developed by the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER). This will involve approximately 30 faculty from our department and the Neurosciences Program, which is also enrolled.  Participating faculty will devote ~1-1.5 days to CAM training and, as a prerequisite for participation, they will need to attend a prior 5 hour mentor training session. To meet this prerequisite, a number of Biology and Neurobiology faculty participated in two 2.5 hour faculty mentor training sessions on Dec. 1 & 3 organized and led by Steve Lee, Joseph Brown, John Boothroyd, Latishya Steele, Robin Sugiura, and Sofie Kleppner. Kristy Red-Horse, Associate Professor of Biology, will serve as the on-site coordinator for the CAM training.
Seminar Speakers:  A team of faculty, students and staff in our department completed an analysis of seminar speakers over the past 5 years, which revealed a high prevalence of white male speakers. This report was released to the department in August. It included specific recommendations for how to increase the diversity of seminar speakers in future years. If you’d like to nominate a speaker for our seminar series, visit this link or send an email to Kathy Morway at morway44 [at] (morway44[at]stanford[dot]edu).
Anti-Racist Lab Toolkit: A group of trainees (Kelley Langhans, Claire Willing, Cheyenne Payne, Jess Martin, Kade Pettie, and Lisa Couper) formed an Anti-Racist Labs Working Group and generated a folder of documents that will be highly useful to students, postdocs, and PIs working to make their labs actively anti-racist. Their anti-racist lab reform toolkit provides PIs and trainees with ideas for how to initiate conversations that may be difficult given the particular power and social dynamics in their lab groups, and provides numerous other resources as well. The main items in the tool-kit are stored in Google Drive as “view only” documents so that these resources remain organized and easy to view. The contents include:

1. Guidelines for having discussions about race
2. R​eading group syllabus with discussion questions 
3. Guidelines for writing a​ lab values statement
4. Guidelines for setting lab expectations
5. G​uide to antiracist hiring, recruitment, and retention 
6. L​ist of local outreach opportunities
7. T​oolkit for fieldwork safety

Equity in Teaching Resources: Several Biology graduate students (Dania Nanes Sarfati, Stephanie Caty, Jamie McDevitt-Irwin, Michelle Pang, Melissa Palmisciano, and Cheyenne Payne) have formed an Equity in Teaching Committee. They developed a literature- and research-based resource that describes simple but profound adjustments that Biology faculty and TAs can use to make courses “anti-racist, equitable, and inclusive, and to create a learning environment in which people of all backgrounds and identities feel they belong.” This document was distributed by Tad Fukami (Undergraduate Studies Committee) to all faculty in Biology, and the document has already had a positive impact on fall quarter courses.
New Faculty Members:  Finally, we celebrate the decisions of Christopher Barnes and Naima Sharaf to accept job offers from the Department of Biology. Christopher and Naima will join the department as Assistant Professors in the fall of 2021. Both are stellar scientists who are deeply committed to diversity in STEM, and we look forward to welcoming them to the department.