It is abundantly clear that an individual’s chances of success may be influenced unfairly by characteristics including, but not limited to, ethnicity, country or region of origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, family status, physical ability, neurological typicality, political affiliation, military service, or socioeconomic status. Bias and discrimination, whether explicit or implicit, can perpetrate injustices on individuals and deprive institutions of the full diversity of opinions, backgrounds, and experiences needed to function at the highest level.
The Department of Botany at UW-Madison recognizes these challenges and is committed to becoming more diversified and inclusive, and to advancing the interests of all students, staff, and faculty. Our goal is to be a department where all members are recognized, respected, safe, and empowered, irrespective of cultural background or identity.
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A short history of DEI in the department
In the Fall semester of 2019, the Botany Department recognized that it was not as welcoming an environment as its members wanted. Opinions varied as to what actions to take to move the department in a different direction, but we also quickly realized that there was no entity established that could offer a framework for how to collect or enact our ideas. It was from this realization that the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity committee (DEI) was established. The DEI started and continues to be a committee made up of students, staff, and faculty representing the diversity of individuals in UW-Madison’s Botany Department. The DEI currently has multiple functions within the department that have included updating departmental guidelines and procedures, producing new mission and diversity statements for larger discussion within the department, and installing new graphics and messaging to celebrate the diversity of our community.
A description of the Fall 2020 working groups
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, and in response to an open letter and list of action items written by our Botany graduate students and signed by many members of Botany, in August 2020 the Botany Department voted to assemble a set of working groups (WGs), each charged with developing actionable recommendations to improve Botany for Black and Indigenous persons of color (BIPOC). These short-term WGs were designed to rapidly identify actions we can take to increase the numbers and inclusion of BIPOC in our department (and botany more broadly). All faculty, staff, post-docs, and graduate students were invited to participate in one WG, and also invited to provide ideas and information to the other WGs. This process took place during the fall of 2020.
The 10 working groups were:
WG-A: Pipeline and retention of BIPOC undergraduate students
WG-B: Recruitment, mentorship, retention, and Inclusion of BIPOC graduate students
WG-C: Recruitment and retention of BIPOC faculty and staff
WG-D: Identifying resources/training to help us become educated about race and how to discuss race in constructive ways
WG-E: Connecting to communities of color in Madison and beyond
WG-F: Connecting to native communities in Wisconsin
WG-G: Diversity messaging to welcome all and communicate how we value diversity
WG-H: Accountability: How will we know if we are succeeding? Metrics?
WG-I: Advancing safety and security in our department and beyond
WG-J: Merit, promotion, and evaluation processes to ensure equity and inclusion and to foster behaviors that enhance climate
Goals and Process
Each WG was provided with a short, targeted list of problems identified by a steering group (composed of five students and six faculty/staff). The WGs brainstormed and collected information on resources and solutions and were asked to propose a few actionable items to the rest of the department before the end of the fall semester 2020. “Actionable” was defined as policies that can be adopted in the near term and tasks that can be completed with existing resources (financial and human), or for which there is a realistic plan for acquiring those resources. While we certainly want Botany to be inclusive of all identities that have been or are marginalized, this exercise was focused on BIPOC botanists.
During fall 2020, WGs met and provided updates to the department at several open meetings. Each group drafted a short list of recommendations. These were shared with the whole department, and also passed on to standing committees as appropriate. Some recommendations were implemented directly. Botany continues to work toward refining and implementing many of these ideas generated through this process.