Advancing diversity means, for me, creating spaces for people to be able to express their whole selves. Since some identities have been historically marginalized and under-represented in ecology and evolutionary biology, creating inclusive spaces requires valuing these historically marginalized voices and providing support for everyone to succeed. Valuing individuals requires acknowledging the many interacting identities that they might hold, including nationality, immigration status, race, ethnicity, caste, religious and spiritual beliefs, appearance, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, marital/family status, physical and mental ability, neurodivergence, and socioeconomic status. I aim to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in my personal behavior and at the institutions at which I work through education and empathy.
I believe that creating inclusive spaces and fostering diversity first requires us to be educated. One of the most impactful concepts I have learned about is implicit bias, which refers to the biases we each unconsciously hold. Most people would agree that diversity and inclusion are good values. However, implicit biases about groups of people can lead people to make decisions that conflict with these stated values. When these biases remain unexamined, we may unintentionally act in ways that may be exclusionary. In 2018, I developed a Best-Practices in Mentoring workshop on implicit bias for the Research Mentoring to Advance Inclusion in STEM program at Colorado State University. I taught this 2-hour workshop to about 20 undergraduate, graduate, and faculty members at the university. During the workshop, we encouraged participants to take the Implicit Association Test, which measures implicit bias, and discussed how bias shows up in mentoring, teaching, and science. For example, it is well documented that student evaluations of professors are biased against women. To minimize the negative consequences of implicit bias, I intentionally think about biases that might be influencing my judgements and intentionally choose to act in accordance with my values. For example, because I recognize widespread bias against women and people of color in science, I use carefully designed rubrics for decisions like hiring and grading and choose a diversity of students when I hire undergraduate research assistants.
In the classroom, I have several practices that I use to make sure my classroom is inclusive. First, I have sought out special training that focuses on inclusive pedagogy, including in grading, fostering a sense of belonging, and how to navigate gender and LGBTQ+ issues. I believe that my education is never finished, so I frequently attend workshops and symposia on these topics to broaden my perspective and maintain my focus on inclusion. In my classroom, inclusion means recognizing the interacting identities of my students and working to include them. For example, for a genetics unit, I have an assignment in which students trace traits in their families and create a pedigree chart. I provide variations of the assignment for students who may not be able to trace traits in their families, for example because of adoption, incarceration of parents, immigration, or other circumstances. I also work to make all my class materials accessible by following Universal Design for Learning (UDL), including having machine-readable PDFs of readings, and low- or no-cost textbooks. I frequently make accommodations for students with disabilities or life circumstances that require modification of the course schedule. For example, when I taught virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, I made many accommodations for students that were dealing with mental health, family tragedies, and difficult life circumstances. These experiences have increased my empathy for students and urged me to be creative to reach every student and help them succeed in my class. Wherever possible in my teaching, I highlight the contributions of women and people of color. I openly acknowledge the discriminatory parts of the history of evolutionary biology and ecology, which have been rooted in racism, colonialism, and capitalism. For example, when I teach about invasive species, we discuss the origin of the word ‘invasive’, its ties with nationalism, and how we impose human values we on supposedly un-biased science. I also acknowledge the strides the field has made in being more inclusive. For example, I frequently use the spongy moth as an example of an invasive species, since it was recently renamed to remove a derogatory term from its common name.
I strive to contribute toward diversity, equity, and inclusion at my institution through the practice of inclusive mentoring. Intentional and inclusive mentoring has the power to bring more minoritized people into science. I have attended two summer seminars on best practices in inclusive mentoring and have formally mentored 12 undergraduate students and informally mentored several junior graduate students in my department. I have experience mentoring a diversity of students, including many women, several people of minoritized races and ethnicities, a veteran, and a person with a major disability and I created a culture in the lab where each person was respected, and their contributions valued. I use mentoring contracts with each student to make explicit both of our expectations and goals for the relationship. These contracts can help me to better mentor students who have different backgrounds from me and make sure they have an enriching and educational experience working in my lab. Undergraduate research opportunities are an important way to diversify who does research in ecology and especially get more women and minorities involved. However, volunteer undergraduate research positions are still out of reach for many low-income students who need to spend their non-class time working to support themselves. As much as possible, I provide paid positions for undergraduates and I include funding for undergraduates in my grant proposals to reduce economic barriers to participation.
I believe advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion does not end with individual actions, but need to extend to institutional policies and action. To this end, in 2021, I was on the executive committee of the student-led Front Range Ecology Symposium and guided the symposium toward a theme of diversity and inclusion in ecology. We invited two women of color to be our keynote speakers and organized workshops and symposia sessions focused around advancing diversity in ecology. I am interested in inviting speakers and organizing workshops in the future to create a culture of inclusion and celebrate diversity at an institutional level.
I believe empathy and education are at the center of our work toward more diverse, inclusive, and equitable institutions and society. Continuously educating myself has inspired me to make diversity and inclusion a regular part of my leadership, teaching, and mentoring. I am committed to creating a welcoming community and promoting institutional changes that make our society and workplaces more accessible and positive for all people.