In response to the increased focus in recent years on improving diversity in higher education, particularly STEM fields, the Department of Marine Sciences created a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) committee. This committee includes Professors Dave Lund and Samantha Siedlecki, Research Operations Manager Dennis Arbige, graduate student Mikayla Baer, and undergraduate Larissa Tabb. The committee primarily focuses on JEDI issues that affect our department, but has met with the director of UConn’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and presented about our department’s efforts on UConn’s main campus. Dr. Lund explains the goal of the committee: “The overall goal of the JEDI committee is to enhance the diversity of the department and make it more inclusive to people with a range of backgrounds (including gender, racial and sexual orientation). In doing so, our hope is to improve access to resources and education in DMS, which in the long term will make our field a more just place. Additional details about our mission/goals can be found on the departmental JEDI website.”
The department as a whole raised questions and concerns about diversity and inclusion through a climate survey. The JEDI committee took the results of this survey as well as their observations of areas of need to develop specific goals. Dr. Lund said, “One of the main concerns raised amongst committee members is the lack of racial diversity in our speaker series, which we have started to address by gathering demographic information on the invited speakers. We need some baseline information to understand how we’re doing and where we can improve. One other issue that’s come out of the committee is the lack of transparency in the university’s bias reporting process (an issue originally raised in our departmental URGE pod). As a result of this input, we approached the Avery Point administration and they have set up workshops on the topic in collaboration with university representatives from main campus, including one for faculty and staff on April 7 and one for students that we’re told will occur later in the term. One of the other main topics we’re trying to address is that of diversity in our student body. Unfortunately, this is a common issue for Earth science departments around the country. To address this issue, there have been two main activities. The first is that the GRE requirement for admissions has now been waived, given its expense, poor predictive ability, and apparent bias towards racial minority groups. The other activity was to become a partner with the AGU Bridge Program, whose goal is to match students from under-represented minority (URM) groups with graduate Earth science programs around the country.” DMS has had several success stories of URM graduates who have secured academic positions at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Connecticut College, and the Harte Research Institute, among other positions. The goal of partnering with the Bridge Program was to further DMS efforts in this area.
The AGU Bridge program has been in place since 2019, and is intended to increase opportunities for students from historically marginalized populations to obtain graduate degrees and create a network of peers, mentors, and advisers to support and serve them before, during and after grad school. Applications to this program are competitive, with a success rate of 28% in 2021. Dr. Lund explained that the decision to apply to the Bridge program was straightforward based on the concerns raised by the department and committee. The application process involved writing a proposal that made the case that our department was deserving of a partnership based on previous progress in the JEDI area, such as the departmental climate survey, removal of GRE requirements, and URGE pod (see the Spring 2021 newsletter to read more about this).
Additionally, the JEDI committee worked on putting together a Bridge fellowship fund to match funding for this program received from the Dean through a separate proposal, and raised nearly 3 times their initial goal. Dr. Lund comments, “Our hope is that by becoming a Bridge partner we will have access to a group of students that typically wouldn’t apply to DMS. Given that this is our first year, it’s hard to know how it will go, but we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to attract strong applicants, in part because of ongoing JEDI activities in DMS and in part because faculty have come together to contribute funds to help create a Bridge fellowship. Our discussions with the Bridge program indicate that we are the only department amongst the current 46 partners to have the fellowship subsidized by faculty research funds. So I think that’s something to celebrate – DMS faculty collectively came together to demonstrate that we’re committed to improving diversity in the department.”