Three 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 The University of Texas at Dallas, The University of Southern Mississippi, and Kent State University.
SEA Change – short for STEMM Equity Achievement – was initiated in 2018 to support institutions as they undertake an in-depth self-assessment process to identify barriers to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) for their students, faculty, and staff members.
The institutions then create individualized action plans to break down those barriers for those excluded or marginalized based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability status, or any other aspect of their personal identity that has been a source of bias in STEMM.
In contrast to other programs that emphasize diversity, equity, and inclusion, SEA Change puts the onus on the institutions to promote these goals rather than on the people who have faced discrimination or marginalization.
“It’s very complimentary to the work that we’re doing here at UT Dallas,” UT Dallas president Richard Benson said of joining the SEA Change program. “It really helps us to see what other good universities are doing in the same DEI space and…borrow the best practices, the things that we see at the other member schools.”
For the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), a desire to achieve greater gender equity helped motivate them to join SEA Change.
Janet Donaldson, associate dean for research and education at USM explained that they had been working with Western Sydney University, which has earned international praise for its progress on gender equity issues. That school had been involved with the Athena SWAN Charter, a UK-based framework that promotes gender equality within higher education.
“That got me…thinking, were there programs in the United States? I came across the SEA Change program,” Donaldson said. “We wanted to do the program not only for showcasing to all of our constituents that yeah we are really serious about gender equity but also to have something that holds us accountable and gives us direction on how we can actually achieve that.”
Dr. Yvette Pearson, UT Dallas’s vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, joined the university earlier this year. “One of the things that I spoke about very strongly and came in with in terms of my plan for approaching this is to make sure we’re focused on not just on diversity and inclusion but also justice and equity,” she noted.
She sees SEA Change as a key tool in those efforts.
“The way the SEA Change program is designed, the principles it’s built on, it’s just really rooted and grounded in what we envision as an institution as a way to overcome the long-standing challenges we’ve all seen in the STEMM spaces,” she said.
Kent State University made the decision to join SEA Change earlier this fall.
Amoaba Gooden, the vice president for the division of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the university, noted that she and her colleagues had read a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education about SEA Change. “[It] really highlighted the benefits of joining SEA Change,” she said.
She explained the benefits of making institutions of higher education more diverse and welcoming.
“Research indicates that the more for example diverse the faculty body, the better the impact on student learning,” she noted.
Gooden also noted that the university put together an anti-racism task force in 2020 and has been working on a university-wide DEI strategic plan.
“I’m really hoping that with Kent State joining SEA Change it would…strengthen our own strategic initiatives around equity. I think that there [are] a lot…great reasons to join SEA Change in terms of collaborating with other institutions. I think one of the benefits of collaboration is that it advances DEI work in a very nuanced way.”
To join SEA Change as a charter member, click here to fill out the membership application.