Diversity and inclusion
We are committed to recruiting students and scientists of all identities and backgrounds into our lab community, and to creating an environment that supports and celebrates the expression of this diversity. We do this because it is a matter of social justice; it also makes our lab a better place to do science and interact with each other. Our commitment applies across all dimensions of people’s identities and experiences — particularly those by which people are systematically excluded from science or hindered within it, including race, gender and sexuality, ethnicity and country of origin, socioeconomic class, and disability.
Mentoring in the lab. A key idea for us is that the development of a scientist depends on their scientific identity – their evolving self-definition as an individual who can make a valuable contribution to science. A person’s scientific identity has to be integrated with all the other aspects of their identity as a human being. If students don’t believe that they can become a valuable scientist – or if they feel that they must sacrifice or hide important aspects of themselves to do so – their ability to contribute to science is jeopardized. We want our lab to be a place where everybody can develop their scientific identity and succeed as the kind of scientist they want to become. A mentor’s job is to support each person in this ongoing process – by helping them to identify how they want to contribute to science and to develop the abilities, expertise, perspective, experiences, and accomplishments that will allow them to achieve these goals. Also, mentoring shouldn’t come solely from the top down; because we all have things to teach each other, our goal in the lab is that everyone mentors each other to various degrees and in varying ways.
Activities. Here are some particular things we have been doing recently:
- Every quarter, we hold a group meeting to discuss ways to make the environment of the lab and our interactions with each other more inclusive, humane, and effective, given the particular identities, approaches, and needs of everyone in the lab. We use this discussion to improve what we do and how we interact in our weekly group meetings and journal club, in mentoring (both formal and informal) within the group, and other interactions that affect the environment and experience of lab members. We also discuss our experiences in our departments and programs and changes we would like to advocate for at that level.
- Every quarter, we devote a lab journal club session to discussing an article that illuminates issues of inclusivity in science and society, reflecting on those issues in relation to our lab, and identifying actions that we will take to address them. Recent readings (and a film):
- Oseguera L, Park HJ, De Los Rios MJ, Aparicio EM, Johnson R. Examining the Role of Scientific Identity in Black Student Retention in a STEM Scholar Program. J. Negro Education 88:229-248, 2019.
- Yosso TJ. Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity and Education 8:1, 69-9, 2005.
- Vettese T. Sexism in the academy. N+1 34, 2019.
- Cheney I, Shattuck S. Picture a Scientist. WGBH Boston, 2021.
- Many of us participate in efforts to improve diversity and inclusivity in our departments/programs, UChicago, and STEM more generally. For example, Joe is a founding member of the DEI Committees of both the Ecology and Evolution Department and the Human Genetics Department. Current students in the lab serve as President of the UChicago SACNAS Chapter, members of their departmental DEI Committees, and as teachers and tutors in outreach efforts to improve access and opportunities in STEM. These are not extracurricular activities: they are a fully integrated part of our work as scientists, because they represent valuable contributions to science. Everyone in the lab is encouraged to participate in these kinds of activities in whatever way is consistent with their scientific identity.
- We are educating ourselves on the historical and present ways in which systemic racism and other forms of systemic subordination are connected to our scientific fields, particularly evolutionary biology, genetics, and ecology. We frequently discuss these topics as part of our scholarly reading together. Joe teaches the history of eugenics in the Biological Sciences Divisions courses on research ethics and co-leads a departmental reading group on history of genetics, eugenics, and racism, which many of our lab members have participated in.
By working and reflecting on these issues together, we hope to continually make our lab a more humane and creative community. This will also help us to confront, even on a small scale, urgent issues of human rights and justice in science and our society.