By Joshua Villalobos, Dean of Instructional Programs and Mission del Paso Campus Dean, El Paso Community College
On April 10-12 the University of Illinois at Chicago and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers’ (NAGT) Traveling Workshop Program (TWP) hosted a pilot workshop on Diversity and Inclusion in the Geosciences. The primary goal of the TWP is to provide institutions and their faculty with opportunities to strengthen their ability to attract and support diverse students into the geosciences. With the geosciences being the least diverse STEM field in higher education, the need for a multi-day national workshop to highlight key aspects and implementation strategies of Diversity, Engagement, and Inclusion (DEI) was needed. The need and desire to address this issue was exemplified by the high number of applications received (over 120 individuals applied for 60 workshop spaces).
The workshop was titled: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Earth and Environmental Sciences: Supporting the Success of All Students and was designed to build off the collective knowledge of the workshop facilitators, and participants, of what works and doesn’t work when engaging our students who come from diverse backgrounds. The workshop revolved around the idea that although the numbers of minorities across the U.S. entering the geosciences over the past decade have not increased substantially, there have been several small initiatives and strategies at many institutions across the country that should be highlighted. These have proven to be successful not only with minorities but with other key demographics, such as women, entering the geosciences.
The workshop facilitators were individuals who had personal successes engaging students from diverse backgrounds at their institutions, or in their geoscience programs. The facilitators included Rachel Beane from Bowdoin College, Diane Doser from the University of Texas at El Paso, Stefany Sit from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Gary Weissmann, University of New Mexico-Main Campus, Joshua Villalobos and Nic Fernandez both from El Paso Community College.
A major challenge in confronting issues with DEI is understanding, and openly discussing, the human psychology of why we often fear diversity. We often think we could not be biased or prejudiced towards groups of individuals in any way, but in fact many of us have unconscious biases that often dictate how we act and perceive the world around us. The workshop enlisted psychology professor Nic Fernandez to discuss these complex and important psychological and behavioral topics which are rarely discussed in geological circles (especially through the lens of a psychologist). The primary topics woven throughout the workshop were the psychology of DEI and the importance DEI plays in building more productive societies and groups, as well as the innate nature of unconscious bias and how to feel empowered when uncovering it in ourselves. Having the understanding of why human nature “is the way it is” allows for more open and productive discussions on DEI and helps individuals from feeling “responsible” or “attacked” when discussing certain issues involving DEI.
Over the course of two days the workshop allowed time for participants to give their own examples of successes and strategies they implement in the classroom to engage students. A few of the other topics discussed in the workshop were scientific identity and being able to get students to see themselves as geoscientists as they begin to get engaged in the classroom, building a sense of community for students using Engagement, Capacity, and Continuity (ECC Trilogy by Eric Jolly) in programs and departments, and teaching strategies for a more inclusive classroom. As our nation continues to struggle politically and socially with the complex issues of diversity and inclusivity, the geosciences have an opportunity to rise above the misinformation and rhetoric and set an example of why these aspects of a modern and productive society are not only important but vital.