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AAAS Shares Resources to Encourage Academic Diversity in STEM

Careful consideration can improve diversity practices
Photo credit: DC Studio/Adobe Stock

AAAS, in partnership with EducationCounsel, has released new and updated resources for higher education institutions to guide them as they seek to boost diversity and equity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM) while adhering to standards in a shifting and challenging legal landscape.

The toolkit of resources is the latest product of a series of collaborations between AAAS and EducationCounsel, a mission-focused education policy and law consulting firm, intended to ensure educational institutions are well-prepared to improve diversity in accordance with relevant laws. The team was awarded a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 2019 to carry out their work, which had previously produced the 2010 “Handbook on Diversity and the Law: Navigating a Complex Landscape to Foster Greater Student and Faculty Diversity in Higher Education.”

These new resources are designed to serve as an accessible reference for colleges and universities who are looking to promote race- and gender-conscious policies that advance the goal of promoting diversity and inclusion. As one example, readers will find a guide that lays out five integrated steps that can be used to support faculty employment equal opportunity.

The toolkit was unveiled at an Oct. 12 virtual event, “Meeting the Moment with Commitment & Action: Navigating a Challenging Legal Landscape for Diversity & Equity in STEMM+ Higher Education.”

Throughout the day’s panels and remarks, speakers offered their thoughts about how institutions can advance their diversity goals while also being mindful of the laws pertaining to civil rights and non-discrimination.

“This is a moment in history when higher education’s diversity and equity interests could not be more critical to its mission and role—even as the legal landscape is difficult,” said Shirley Malcom, director of the SEA Change program at AAAS, which engages colleges and universities to make structural changes to recruit, retain and support underrepresented groups in STEMM.

Jamie Lewis Keith, a partner at EducationCounsel, also spoke at the event. “Don’t be intimidated by the law or lawsuits, but understand and satisfy the distinct federal legal regimes and associated design parameters that apply to race and gender-conscious policies for students and for faculties,” she advised.

Melinda Grier, a legal consultant, emphasized some of the ways that organizations are free to commit to promoting diversity, such as hosting a Latino literature program or having a course on African American artists and culture. “As long as they’re open to everyone, that’s totally fine and as a long as the people who are teaching and running those are evaluated based on their qualifications, not on assumptions you make about someone because of their race or gender or ethnicity, that’s totally fine,” she advised. “There are a lot of ways you can demonstrate a commitment without getting crosswise of the law.”

Theodore Shaw, the director of UNC Chapel Hill’s Center for Civil Rights, used his keynote address to review civil rights history and express his optimism that diversity in STEMM and elsewhere is attainable. “We have to believe and work to make our hope turn into reality that the long road that Martin Luther King talked about – that moral arc of the universe – continues its course in bending towards justice, including opportunity,” he said. “So I’m still hopeful…that we will continue to see opportunity, including in higher educational institutions, continue to broaden in this country.”

To watch the full day’s events, click here.

[Associated image: DC Studio/Adobe Stock]