Integrative Biology Graduate Student Association lays foundation for their diversity, inclusion goals

Teresita Guzman Nader, News Contributor

40 staff members, post-doctoral individuals, faculty and students attended the Equity, Justice and Inclusion retreat day held by the Integrative Biology Graduate Student Association last month in Cordley Hall at Oregon State University. This retreat aimed to create a discussion about equity, justice and inclusion in the field of integrative biology.

IBGSA’s Equity, Justice and Inclusion Committee was founded in winter 2018. They are working with the OSU community to promote equity, justice and inclusion throughout the university. Their mission is to shape student experiences regardless of the social, racial or sexual identities they may hold. IBGSA ultimately aims to make sure the university’s diversity promises are followed, help with underrepresented student engagement and retention, and raise awareness about inequity. Their methods have included surveys, trainings and educational projects like reading groups. 

“As we operate within a STEM field and a historically homogeneous field, our committee’s aims are to hold units accountable for verbal commitments to diversity and inclusion,” Anne Devan-Song, Ph.D student in the Department of Integrative Biology and member of the IBGSA said. “We see the trends changing in recent times, and it is important that the increase in student diversity is reflected in the field in general, especially those that go on to be STEM leaders. The issues we are tackling are not specific to any unit, but we view this as a sphere we have some influence in, during our graduate school careers.”

According to Devan-Song, some interesting conversations and collaborations have come out of portions of the retreat which were facilitated by guest speakers. One such guest speaker was Jane Waite, senior associate for Social Justice Learning & Engagement.

“My feeling is that it made a positive impact on some people, that it planted seeds for thought in everyone and was well worth the effort,” Waite said via email.  

Waite said diversity will be achieved not merely by reaching agreements, but by meaningful actions. 

“That feeling in agreement with a person, community or idea is not the same as acting in support of a person, community or idea. It’s all about how we act, where and when it counts,” Waite said via email. 

The IBGSA EJI retreat was open to all members of Integrative Biology. One of the missions of the retreat was to create an opportunity for members of Integrative Biology to get to know each other, and create a collaborative community. This was one of the first steps of IBGSA EJI took in building an inclusive community to meet their 2019-20 goals of fostering diversity, inclusion and equity in the lives of all Integrative Biology students.

“Our retreat was a unique space where participants were not defined by their status in the department or research affiliations. Rather, we were defined as a group committed to improving equity, justice and inclusion in our department,” Megan Nichole Wilson, member of IBGSA’s Equity, Justice and Inclusion Committee said via email. “I think our retreat set a precedent of multi-level collaboration which will serve as the essential groundwork for the work we plan to do in the coming year.” 

Devan-Song said she hopes the retreat laid a foundation for positive collaborations, and to reach out to other departments to increase inclusivity throughout the OSU campus.  

“We at least hope that this laid the groundwork for positive collaborations, allowed people to think deeply about issues that might not normally occupy their time, and helped to create a culture where these conversations happen across the department, not just within affinity groups,” Devan-Song said via email.

Of the 40 attendees, 14 were faculty and staff, including the Department of Leadership of Integrative Biology. 

“It was wonderful for members across all positions to share meals together and talk about diversity and inclusion. However, we have so much work left to do in these areas,” Devan-Song said via email.

IBGSA Equity, Justice and Inclusion Committee have also created other events and projects like the reading group, Examining White Identities, which focuses on increasing literacy around white supremacy, white privilege and white fragility. IBGSA EJI Committee also works together with the Graduate Association Outreach Committee on the Integrative Biology Undergraduate Mentoring Program. 

“We also collate and maintain campus resources for students in the department, and try to enable our members to engage in activism in many levels of campus life,” Devan-Song said via email. “We have a growing network of experts at OSU who help to advise our group on how to be a force for positive change in our community, and we bring in external speakers to our department to hold frank and exciting conversations about increasing equity, justice and inclusion in our fields.” 

Wilson said that the IBGSA EJI Committee is also involved in improving the work environment for underrepresented students in Integrative Biology, with the ultimate goal of increasing their retention rates, success and overall wellbeing at OSU.

“Additionally, disparity in retention rates for women, people of color and other minoritized identities is a well-documented pattern across campus. To this end, our graduate students and faculty advisors are engaged in training and conversation about improving

mentor-mentee relationships and communication. We are also involved in internal climate surveys for the department, and would like to track trends over time,” Wilson said via email.

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