A Year in Reflection

One year ago, people across the U.S. were galvanized by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others to reconsider what a truly inclusive society would look like. Academic institutions across the country reconsidered their role in perpetuating racism and systemic bias. ESSIE joined this struggle through the creation of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Committee. The IDEA Committee is a group open to anyone within the ESSIE community who wants to work towards eliminating systemic barriers that prevent people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and others from reaching their full potential. The committee includes faculty, staff, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduates, ensuring that voices from across ESSIE are heard. The first task of the committee was to write a statement committing to anti-racism, which you can read here. The committee then began a dialogue within ESSIE through seminars and open forums at the beginning of the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. Dialogue continued into the summer of 2021 with spotlights highlighting the contributions of ESSIE community members. Aimed at sustaining a culture of inclusivity, spotlights focused on contributions from members of marginalized groups, including  women, African American, and Asian/Pacific Islanders, among others The departments also committed to reforming their graduate admissions practices. Environmental engineering and coastal engineering eliminated the GRE as a requirement for Ph.D. admission, while civil engineering is looking at how to better identify promising students without over-reliance on test scores. 

To guide its way forward, the committee has created an action plan with 12 activities it will pursue vigorously over the next year. These activities range from collecting better data about the climate in the School, to identifying resources to support the ESSIE community, to creating new programs such as a student mentoring program and professional development for staff. One promising approach to infusing a new culture in the School is for faculty to include IDEA activities in research grant proposals. The National Science Foundation already requires projects to include broader impacts activities. Focusing these activities on diversity and inclusion, and expanding to funding agencies beyond NSF, will make anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobism, anti-(anything)ism, a core part of ESSIE culture. 

See ESSIE’s IDEA webpage to follow what is happening. There you will find a list of committee members, upcoming events, news items, and resources. And if you want to get involved, you can contact any of the committee members. We welcome all to participate in our goal of building a fair, just, and equitable future.