According to a recent article in Nature, the Earth Sciences is one of the least diverse fields in STEM1. What are we missing because of this lack of diversity? What scientific advances are not happening, what connections are not being made, because of implicit and explicit exclusion in my field? Answering these questions requires concrete changes to broaden participation in Earth Science. As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated STEM field, I know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. However, I am also fully aware that the majority of my experience has been from the perspective of privilege, as a white, upper-middle class, Christian, American citizen with multiple relatives who have PhDs. It is this mixed experience of both experiencing exclusion, and also learning about the consequences of my privilege for others, that informs my work for diversity, inclusion, and equity in my research and teaching. I strive to teach in a way that works for all of my students and broadens participation in science while also maintaining empathy for both minoritized and privileged groups. Teaching inclusively requires transparency, showcasing a variety of voices and perspectives, and creating meaningful connections between the people in the classroom.
Transparency is key for inclusive teaching. Students from underrepresented groups often struggle with practices and norms in academia that are needed for success, but are rarely clearly explained. While mentoring undergraduates and beginning graduate students in my lab, I explained that constant struggle and asking for help is a normal part of research, and shared the resources I found helpful when I was learning. During my PhD I co-wrote a guide for graduate students in our department to clarify and reveal the often undocumented norms and practices in the department, particularly for first generation students, international students, or those students without senior graduate students in their lab. As an instructor, I will explicitly tell my students the value and purpose of class activities. I will also normalize asking questions by instituting practices such as asking all students to submit a written question at the end of each class period, which I will discuss at the start of the next class. These and similar practices are beneficial for all students, as they teach and emphasize behaviors that help all students succeed.
It is also crucial that students have a chance to see themselves in my curriculum, to provide positive role models and combat stereotype threat. I remember how much it meant to me when a geophysics professor highlighted the contributions of Grace Wabha, a female mathematician, in my inverse theory class. Recalling the impact of this experience, in a Skype conversation about volcanology with an elementary school class I showed them a photo collage of volcanologists I have worked with of different genders and ethnicities to drive home the point that any of them could do this, too. In my classes, I will find ways to include and celebrate the work of underrepresented scientists so that my students will be able to personally identify with the material, and know that one day their contributions will also be valued.
I will work to create meaningful connections between my students, and between my students and myself, as students who feel a sense of belonging are more likely to succeed in their classes. As a graduate student, I instituted reforms to our department’s course “How to Succeed in Graduate School” to give students in the course more opportunities to interact and learn from each other. Our goal was to create a community of mutual support among new graduate students and normalize the struggles they all share. As part of the IDEEAS (Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in Earth and Atmospheric Science) working group in my department, I have created spaces in our department where we can discuss and implement solutions for increasing belonging, including inviting speakers and organizing interactive department workshops on EDI topics. In my future classes, I will continue this work by providing opportunities for students to work collaboratively with their peers. I will encourage my students to bring their whole selves to the class through class activities that allow students to discuss all aspects of their identities with each other. Taking the time to create these human connections not only contributes to academic success, it also creates bonds of empathy among scientists that will allow them to see others as human when situations of conflict inevitably arise. This sense of empathy is critical for helping underrepresented people feel heard and respected when issues arise, and for people in privileged groups to move past painful recognitions to adopting changes that will benefit the community as a whole.
Through my past work and future teaching, I aim to make concrete changes for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the Earth sciences by increasing transparency, diversifying my curriculum, and creating a community that can be the foundation for change.
1Bernard, R.E., Cooperdock, E.H.G. No progress on diversity in 40 years. Nature Geosci 11, 292–295 (2018). https://doi-org.proxy.library.cornell.edu/10.1038/s41561-018-0116-6