Three universities are the newest charter members of SEA Change, an initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that supports educational institutions as they systemically transform to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.
The new charter members are the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Clemson University and the University of Iowa. The universities are among the 26 institutions around the country who have publicly committed to SEA Change guiding principles of equity and full participation of each individual across gender, race, ethnicity, disability status, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, age, familial history of higher education or any other aspect of identity that has been a source of bias in STEMM.
“We want to be an institution that knows how to recruit and retain exceptional individuals, whether they be faculty, staff or students, and we know that the only way to do is if we have widespread systematic change on our campus,” said Elizabeth Tovar, executive officer and associate vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Iowa.
Unlike many other diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, SEA Change adopts a transformative approach that begins with each participating institution undertaking an intensive self-assessment. By interrogating their own culture, policies and procedures, institutions can gather data, identify gaps and home in on the concerns and barriers that stand in the way of access and success for students, faculty and staff from groups marginalized in STEMM. Among the areas of focus that new charter members hope to investigate include curricula, faculty and staff hiring policies, and practices to retain undergraduates underrepresented in STEMM.
Each institution then creates its own individualized, evidence-based plan to break down those barriers, but their common goals mean that charter members look forward to learning and collaborating with one another.
“What's appealing about SEA Change is we can tap into a network,” said Robert Jones, Clemson University’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “We see this as an opportunity to be at the ground level starting with this group and have some of our best ideas that we have developed get some recognition.”
The SEA Change Community is one of three integral parts of the initiative, with the publicly accessible community containing private spaces for SEA Change members to connect with one another. SEA Change also encompasses the Institute, a library of resources, trainings and events, and the SEA Change Awards, which honor institutions for progress made toward systemic transformation. Since 2019, SEA Change Institutional Bronze Awards have been given to five institutions that completed their self-assessments and successfully developed action plans to address the challenges they uncovered.
Even in striving for SEA Change Awards, charter members are not competing against one another, they noted.
"We're competing with ourselves to reach a specific benchmark, and that benchmark is equity,” said Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux, assistant vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion, and assessment at Caltech.
Charter members also noted how SEA Change can serve as a hub for separate existing DEI efforts, fostering better integration across departments and creating effective change across the entire institution.
“AAAS SEA Change provides a really powerful mechanism to unify those efforts and facilitate communication and transparency,” said Maurine Neiman, professor and provost faculty fellow for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Iowa.
As they join SEA Change, new charter members also shared how the initiative will help their institution achieve its goals by enabling the full range of talent to thrive in STEMM.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are essential to Caltech’s future,” said Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum. “Our hope is to be the destination of choice for the most creative, remarkable individuals in all fields, but of course we have an emphasis on science and technology. We recognize that unless we're recruiting and supporting individuals from every perspective and background, we will not reach that goal.”
To learn more about SEA Change and to join, visit https://seachange.aaas.org/.
[Associated images: Clemson University and the University of Iowa]