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Committing to Equity

Committing to Equity

Dean Goldbart sent a message to all faculty, staff and students in the College of Natural Sciences about how the college, with guidance from a community-led Action Team, is moving forward to improve inclusion and equity in Texas Science, including for members of our community who are Black, indigenous or people of color.

This year, as communities around the world turned their focus toward finding meaningfully ways to help address historical racial injustices, the College of Natural Sciences, too, has committed to advancing equity and inclusion on the UT Austin campus. Over the summer, the college invited input from faculty, staff and students about strategies our community sees as central for our work to address longstanding disparities and move forward together. To synthesize these ideas and prioritize concerns, an Action Team of 15 members of our faculty, staff and students, primarily but not exclusively representing communities of color, informed and guided the development of a set of college-wide recommended next steps.

The steps recommended by the Action Team are centered around three core themes: recruitment, college climate, and institutional accountability. I regard the work of the Action Team as having powerfully crystalized actionable strategies for the College. Accordingly, their recommendations have been incorporated into the college-wide Strategic Framework, which articulates our focus for the foreseeable future. This web page summarizes our commitments that stemmed from your input and the resulting recommendations from the Action Team. 

What are we working on now?

  • Continuing and expanding upon recruitment and retention efforts of students, faculty and staff who are Black, indigenous or people of color. Efforts to diversify our community will include:
    • developing a postdoc-to-faculty bridge program;
    • planning a new visiting scholars' program;
    • coordinating cross-sector recruitment events;
    • expanding summer research opportunities for prospective undergraduate and graduate students;
    • reevaluating application practices (such as standardized tests and application fees) that may unnecessarily stand in the way of qualified and talented students seeking admission; and
    • allocating appropriate resources for fellowships, scholarships, new hires and affiliated outreach efforts.
  • Improving the climate in ways that all community members feel safe, supported, included, and seen. This must occur at multiple levels—from departments to individual programs to Dean's Office leadership. These will include strategies to acknowledge the inequitable history in our disciplines and on our campus and strategies to ensure greater attention to the needs of previously marginalized communities:
    • new modules in our curriculum (from discipline-specific history lessons to parts of the college's diversity, equity & inclusion concentration); relevant seminar series and evidence-based trainings; and new mentoring and career development programs;
    • clear statements of our diversity, equity, and inclusion values, including through prominent displays on campus that provide context about historic injustices at UT and beyond in buildings such as the Physics, Math and Astronomy Building and Painter Hall;
    • new efforts to highlight the perspectives, stories and voices of community members from historically marginalized groups, including in college communication, events and regular meetings with college leaders;
    • support for expanding engagement with institutions and groups outside of UT that serve communities of color, so that we are intentional in partnering with groups the college has rarely or never reached.
  • Improving institutional accountability through evaluation and assessment, data availability and data-informed decision making.This will include:
    • establishment of a college assessment task force for data management, reporting, and documentation to oversee ensuring transparency about and strategy for all diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) assessments, audits, and surveys (e.g., climate surveys, salary equity audits, service equity audits, DEI effort reports, etc.) and to recommend new efforts aimed at better understanding equity issues related to retention and attrition (e.g., compensation audits and strategic exit-interviews before and after departures);
    • updating and reinforcing equity-focused teaching policies and practices (e.g., peer assessment teaching forms);
    • establishing new processes and resources for valuing DEI efforts, with new opportunities for compensation (e.g., stipends, teaching waivers, and formal volunteer hours) and new and continuing models for accounting for these efforts in promotions, evaluations, and college honors/awards;
    • redefinition of systems of providing service credit and value for outreach.
While the team guided our prioritization process, improving equity and promoting belonging is a shared responsibility, spanning well beyond the charge of any single individual, task force, or unit. College leadership is committed to making substantial strides, in partnership with you and alongside complementary efforts underway, to advance equity and inclusion in our departments and units as well as university-wide. The dean's office will provide updates each long semester on our progress on these college initiatives, with transparency about challenges we encounter and clarity about newly emerging goals or initiatives as this work evolves.

Allow me to conclude with a word about your role in our progress. How warm and welcoming our College of Natural Sciences is for everyone will be determined greatly by our individual interactions and the commitments we hold to one another. When earlier this year, academic and scientific communities #ShutDownSTEM for a day of reflection, it was an encouraging start. However, understanding the experiences, histories and perspectives of individuals in too-long marginalized communities—and responding to one another with attention to what we have learned—is, of course, the work not of one day but rather of a lifetime. I welcome working with each and every one of you in what will be an ongoing and shared process of education, discovery and thoughtful engagement together.
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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

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