Diversity & Inclusion

It is clear that under-represented and marginalized groups face systemic barriers that affect not only their academic success but also their interactions with society more generally. Furthermore, failure to acknowledge injustices, both historical and current, perpetuates these barriers and prohibits movement towards a more equitable and inclusive educational environment. I recognize that these barriers exist and have taken steps to become more educated about how to better promote Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) activities in my teaching, research, and personal life. As an evolutionary biologist, I have a deep appreciation of and am thankful for the vast diversity of life. I believe that celebrating the full extent of human diversity and helping to create safe environments where cooperation and inclusion can thrive is of paramount importance.

One of the ways that I have demonstrated my commitment to DEIB is through participation in workshops and courses to further educate myself on current issues. For example, I have taken courses from the Project Management Institute including “Developing a Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Program”, “How to support colleagues from underrepresented groups”, and “Unlocking authentic communication in a culturally diverse workplace”. In my current position at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, I am a participant in the “Allies and Advocates” program sponsored by the Biological and Environmental Systems Science Directorate and have attended workshops such as “Sexual Harassment, innuendos, and bullying” that seek to promote allyship for folks across the gender spectrum. Importantly, I realize that this learning will be a lifelong process and I’m committed to continuing to learn more about DEIB activities.

I promote DEIB efforts in my research, teaching, and in service to my community outside of work. In my research, I specifically seek to include undergraduate students from under-represented groups so that they can have better access to research opportunities. One such outstanding BIPOC student is a co-author on the Sphagnum genome paper and graduated with honors in the Biology Department at Duke University. I am also engaged with a program called “Learning is ForEver (LIFE)” dedicated towards education outreach for adults; the average age of students in these courses is 75 and this program helps to combat educational discrimination based on age. In my community, I have volunteered for organizations such as the Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development (SEEED) 501(c) organization in Knoxville, Tennessee. At SEEED, I helped with the Edible Forest Initiative which is an effort to make food available to the community and raise awareness of the miles-wide food desert in east Knoxville where residents have been historically marginalized and face issues such as food insecurity and poverty.

In the classroom, I plan to use active learning exercises and peer discussion breakout groups to ensure that students from different backgrounds can have a more equitable biology education. With regards to inclusivity and belonging, I will continue to ensure that I know every student’s name and pronouns at the start of semesters and reach out to students who I think may be struggling to let them know that I’m willing to listen and help them seek additional resources with no judgement. I’m excited to continue the process of learning mechanisms by which education in biology can recognize historical injustices, challenge structural barriers, and create safe spaces for students to flourish in.