Five colleges and universities are joining the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s SEA Change initiative in a public commitment to systemic transformation into more diverse, equitable and inclusive spaces where the full range of talent can succeed in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.
The new charter members are Eckerd College, Olin College of Engineering, Rutgers University, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Wayne State University. They join seven other institutions around the country who announced their involvement in SEA Change in 2020.
Joining SEA Change is “a commitment to the collaborative pursuit of inclusive excellence,” said Anna Branch, senior vice president for equity at Rutgers University.
SEA Change – short for STEMM Equity Achievement – was launched in 2018 to support institutions as they undertake an in-depth self-assessment process to identify barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion for their students, faculty and staff members. The institutions then create individualized plans to break down those barriers for those excluded or marginalized based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability status or any other aspect of identity that has been a source of bias in STEMM.
Many other programs in support of diversity, equity and inclusion have similar goals, but the approaches differ significantly, new members noted. SEA Change takes a systemic approach, rather than putting the onus on people who have faced discrimination or marginalization.
“That’s what SEA Change is about: asking institutions to commit to do the work of change,” said Branch.
Through their self-examination and action planning, college and universities seek to improve upon their starting point – which is different for every institution.
Wayne State University, for instance, is more diverse than many other R1 institutions, according to M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University. “That doesn't mean we're happy where we are," said Wilson. After all, progress thus far on their goals has been “incremental, not transformative,” he noted.
Charter members emphasized the holistic nature of SEA Change, which doesn’t set metrics for its member institutions. Taking part in SEA Change is not simply a matter of boosting the numbers of underrepresented groups, said Anne Cox, professor of physics at Eckerd College.
Cynthia K. Larive, chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, also highlighted the importance of qualitative improvements in diversity, equity and inclusion by expanding a sense of belonging and creating pathways for support that are easy for students, faculty and staff to navigate.
“That's part of an inclusive climate: reducing the barriers to helping people access and get what they need from the university,” Larive said.
Added Gilda A. Barabino, president of Olin College of Engineering, “We need to address systemic barriers and structural obstacles that have been there forever. You’ll never get true access and equity and inclusion if you don’t make your environment inclusive and welcoming.”
New charter members – many of whom have welcomed a new president recently –
cited the importance of institution-wide support and leadership at all levels in committing to SEA Change principles.
Said Damián J. Fernández, president of Eckerd College, “There's a consensus in this institution that this is imperative, that we have a role to play in a national stake.”
SEA Change charter members also join a growing community, one that values collaboration rather than competition as participants pursue their goals. Alisha Sarang-Sieminski, an associate dean of the faculty and professor of engineering at Olin College, noted an immediate sense of connection with other attendees at SEA Change events and looked forward to joining a community willing to hold one another accountable while sharing their successes.
Added Jonathan Holloway, president of Rutgers, “The sharing of ideas and best practices that will move all our institutions forward, not pit them against each other in a competition for faculty and students.”
Said Barabino, “We want to enhance not just our impact but the collective impact.”
The benefits of more diverse educational institutions are felt far beyond the academy, participants noted.
Said Fernández, “We need science and scientists from all sorts of communities to help us get better outcomes and solutions for the problems facing the world, and we are on the edge of that sea change.”
To join SEA Change as a charter member, visit https://seachange.aaas.org/membership/membership-form.
[Associated image: Wayne State University]