Submitted by Danica Roth
Tell us how you or your department, organization or team is supporting diversity initiatives and antiracism or a helpful resource you’ve been using.
I started holding biweekly department DI&A-focused coffee hours on zoom a few months ago, immediately following #shutdownstem. In addition to raising some awareness and discussion around issues related to equity, inclusion and access, the conversations in these coffee hours have already led to direct action and new programming in our department. These have included a petition to reconsider using the GRE for admissions (voting this week), and developing a committee around examining or developing more transparent, safe and accessible grievance reporting practices/pathways in the department. A number of undergrad and grad students are becoming more empowered to speak up and get involved in the discussion (for example, by coordinating a student-led petition to drop the GRE along with our faculty proposal), and several joined our DIA committee immediately after our first coffee hour (several faculty have become more involved in DI&A work as well, and one has joined the DI&A committee). Soon after the first coffee hour, student DIA committee members (and a few others) began acting as intermediaries and mobilizing their peers to provide feedback on how we can all improve the department climate. Based on their collective suggestions, we’ve started a new Graduate Student Seminar Series this fall (organization by Gabe Walton, Kim Cone, Anne Fulton, Alexis Sitchler and myself), to provide professional development and skill building workshops (4 planned for fall). Our first one was last week on student-advisor communication. In future, we hope to grow these into a regular departmental institution (hopefully student led/owned), and to add some kind of formalized training (/cohort-building) for first-year grad students. We’re using anonymous forms to collect feedback as much as possible (also working toward climate surveys), as well as communal google docs and spreadsheets to encourage full participation in all activities, planning, brainstorming and resource development/identification from everyone in the department. We’ve compiled some excellent ideas and goals this way. Based in many of these, I’ve also started planning more DI&A-focused workshops and speakers for the department during the continuing biweekly fall coffee hours, which are generally alternating between open discussion/listening-session meetings and focused agenda/planning/workshop style meetings for the entire department. I recently solicited volunteers to form a coffee hour planning committee, and we’ll be holding our first meeting this week. A number of us have also started discussing ways to improve the purely social aspects of our department once we can meet in person again, such as a weekly post-seminar pizza social hour, weekly coffee/tea/snack social hours, an end-of-year Department picnic and awards ceremony, etc.
Why did you take this initiative or explore this resource?
I wanted to improve community support and communication in our department, and was especially concerned about enabling students to form the social connections many of them may need to thrive (especially during COVID). More broadly, I also think that helping to enable fellow faculty to feel both empowered and equipped to participate in advocacy, as well as providing encouragement and early leadership training for students (i.e., future academics/professionals/leaders) who are passionate about social justice are all key steps in improving DI&A in the long term.
What did you learn or experience?
I’m learning a lot about the different experiences, needs and perspectives of members of my department. I’m also learning that most people care about improving Department climate, but many aren’t sure where to start, or don’t feel it’s their place as non-minoritized/marginalized members. We need to work on raising awareness of some of the textbook issues that can be so easy to fall into even with the best intentions—focusing on diversity at the exclusion of inclusion, leaving the DI&A work to already overburdened and underrepresented folks, forgetting about non-visible forms of diversity, etc. I think these can be both particularly challenging and interesting at Mines, which has some unique obstacles when it comes to DI&A, but also some unique opportunities and advantages.
Do you have any advice or a message for the Oredigger community on ways to foster a diverse and inclusive campus?
Build connections, start conversations and be open to hearing what people have to say. Their experiences may be different from and even directly contradict your own. Spend time conducting background research on issues affecting diversity, inclusion and access—there is so much information already out there. Don’t add to the barriers underrepresented people already face by demanding/expecting they do the work of informing you, share/relive their trauma so you can understand it, or even invest work on DI&A initiatives… some of us are happy to do these things — but they cost us time and energy, and we need help carrying the burden. To really address these issues, we need buy-in and support from everyone, not just those who are directly disadvantaged by them. That means everyone has the ability and responsibility to be an agent of change.
Help the Mines community continue to learn and take action regarding diversity and racism on campus.
Tell us about a resource you’ve found insightful, or share a story about how your team, class, department or organization is discussing and addressing issues related to diversity or racism.
We’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’ve been working on so we can share with the Mines campus and encourage others to take these necessary steps as we climb together.