7.5 Fostering a Culture of Inclusion

Last updated on 2021/08/10 by Court

ERCs serve as change agents for advancing DCI and establishing the importance of inclusive cultures in academic engineering programs and the engineering community at large. ERCs can drive innovation and advance a culture of inclusion throughout systems and institutions even where DCI is not a priority or where DCI efforts have been previously unsuccessful. This section outlines general approaches to fostering a culture of inclusion, followed by some concrete examples of promising ERC activities.

7.5.1 Engaging ERC Participants at All Levels in DCI

As has been noted repeatedly, NSF expects ERC participants at all levels to be actively engaged in DCI; one of the Gen-4 Performance Criteria for high-quality DCI is “All faculty, staff, and students are engaged in DCI program and rewarded for their efforts.”

Examples of strategies ERCs use to engage participants at all levels include:

  • NEWT awards annual cash prizes to recognize faculty or staff and students who have made significant DCI program contributions; the committee accepts nominations and selects awardees based on a shared rubric.

  • CBBG expects that all ERC participants attend DCI-related modules and build in time during workshops to move beyond awareness into self-reflection, ERC reflection, and action. Engaging Students

Many ERCs have found success with involving students in their DCI work and providing opportunities for students to lead DCI efforts, while being careful not to overburden them. Students often feel heavily invested in DCI issues and want to contribute. ERCs can empower students via their Student Leadership Council (SLC)1 and other avenues. It is important to value student contributions while balancing their need to focus on their research.

Specific examples of ERCs engaging students in DCI include:

  • PATHS-UP has a student DCI liaison on the SLC and engages students in outreach activities. Student liaisons who are heavily involved with DCI programming help ensure that all students are apprised of upcoming events. They are also great ambassadors for recruiting efforts.

  • ReNUWIt has a Student/Postdoc Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, the leader of which also sits on the SLC. The SPCDI meets monthly, interfaces with the Faculty/Staff Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and stewards DCI-related initiatives.

  • NEWT has two DCI liaisons on the SLC who aid in communicating DCI activities among not only the student population, but also across the entire NEWT community including its faculty and staff. The liaisons lead Center-wide DCI sessions, coordinate an alumni panel, work in conjunction with the SLC social chairs on social events, and coordinate sessions where students can discuss their research to build collaborations, ask questions, and seek help among their peers within the Center.

  • Many ERCs incorporate DCI themes into training workshops for graduate students who will serve as mentors in the ERC’s EWD programs (e.g., REU, RET, REM, Young Scholars, etc.). Engaging Leadership and Faculty

Again, the importance of ERC leadership and faculty participation in achieving the ERC’s DCI goals cannot be overstated. Members of the ERC community look to leadership for cues, as the leaders set the tone and reinforce community norms. ERC leadership and faculty are expected to champion and engage in center efforts to increase diversity and foster a culture of inclusion.

Some examples of ERC leadership demonstrating DCI support include:

  • CBBG added diversity and inclusion as a weighted category in their evaluation criteria for active and proposed projects. The category includes both the diversity of team members and the project’s impact on broader populations.

  • CMaT developed a Center-wide code of conduct that declares the ERC’s commitment to “fostering, cultivating, and preserving a culture of integrity, collegiality, service, and diversity and inclusion.”

  • NEWT and PATHS-UP issued inclusivity statements, displayed prominently on their website’s homepages, that the ERC “is committed to a culture of inclusivity, and all of our members reject and condemn all forms of racism, discrimination, brutality, and violence.”

  • CISTAR's Director, in consultation with DCI Directors, sent a Center-wide email in response to summer 2020 events and protests for racial justice to reiterate the ERC's dedication to DCI issues and encourage everyone to join in the fight against institutional racism by learning how to be a better ally.

As an incentive for DCI engagement, ERC leadership may tie key DCI objectives to project, student, staff, or postdoc funding. Engaging Staff

There should be clarity in the role that staff who are not assigned DCI roles have in contributing to an inclusive culture. Concrete examples of the importance of staff contributions to an inclusive culture are essential. Even if they aren't actively interacting with students or hiring faculty, staff are the face of the ERC and their interactions with all personnel establish and reinforce the culture. Their role in creating policies and procedures affects the structures everyone has to navigate. This is a core aspect of retention and the culture of inclusion.

7.5.2 Awareness and Training Activities

To support the shared responsibility of all ERC participants in fostering a culture of inclusion, most ERCs offer in-person or virtual workshops designed to raise awareness of DCI concepts and terminology, increase understanding of the role biases play, reduce the impact of bias in our community, introduce the concepts of allyship and accompliceship, foster more inclusive mentoring and role modeling interactions, and/or practice interrupting bias with role plays. Workshops are often hosted in conjunction with Annual Meetings or IAB Meetings, retreats, new student orientation, or REU or RET programs. ERC DCI staff, external DCI professionals, or ERC partner institution DCI professionals, such as staff from a Gender Studies Program or Multicultural Center, often serve as workshop facilitators and presenters. Engaging DCI professionals outside of the ERC with complementary areas of expertise, including DCI professionals from other ERCs, can broaden the scope of the ERC’s awareness and training activities.

Many ERCs have examples of awareness and training activities, such as the following:

  • CBBG offers educational DCI webinars at regular intervals throughout the year, which are also recorded and archived in a repository.

  • NASCENT offers a BiasBusters workshop modeled after the BiasBusters@CMU and Google’s Bias Busting@Work programs to increase awareness about implicit bias and stereotypes and to reduce the impact of bias in their community.

  • CELL-MET, CNT, and ReNUWIt hired theater-based groups to provide DCI programming at Annual Meetings.

  • PATHS-UP offers a biannual Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion workshop series, held on a Center-wide basis, that addresses implicit and explicit biases.

  • CISTAR held a training on "Global Dexterity" to create more understanding of how to adapt effectively cross-culturally and become a global leader.

Many also create online resources:

  • NEWT created a suite of mandatory online modules that cover topics ranging from inclusion best practices to faculty-student interactions to bystander intervention and de-escalation. These modules are accessible through nanoHUB.

  • ReNUWIt’s Inclusive Excellence Initiative offers actionable tips for creating more inclusive classrooms, research groups, and peer-to-peer interactions.

One ERC invested in individual DCI training:

  • CURENT hired an external consultant to lead a comprehensive, in-person training with ERC leadership (17 faculty and students), with one-on-one follow-up sessions and creation of individual development plans in the DCI realm.

1 Every ERC has a student group, the Student Leadership Council (SLC), which provides mutual academic and social support for ERC-affiliated graduate and undergraduate students. The SLC provides feedback to the center leadership and participates in a student-led strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis of the ERC itself in conjunction with the Center’s site visits.