By: Shelby Lawson
The Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology recently held a town hall meeting to introduce new changes to improve diversity and inclusion at the IGB. Attendance was high, with faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers, and students alike filling both meeting rooms to capacity in order to ask questions and weigh in on proposed changes. The meeting was led by IGB Director Gene Robinson and guest moderator and Director of Campus Culture and Climate Kaamilyah Abdullah-Span, along with Co-chairs of the DEI Task Force Julia Pollack and Sara Pedron-Haba, who moderated questions submitted anonymously online.
“Today marks an important next step in the process to address concerns and improve conditions in the IGB so that everyone feels welcome and connected in every way possible to the important activities that are going on at this research institute,” said Robinson in his welcoming address.
Diversity and inclusion are cornerstones of the IGB’s mission. As such, the IGB has two committees which work together towards this effort. The Committee on Diversity (now the DEI Advisory Group), established in 2018, acts as an advisory committee that develops ideas for promoting a more inclusive community. The DEI Advisory Group is comprised of theme leaders and faculty in the IGB. The second committee, the DEI Task Force established in 2020, is co-chaired by Julia Pollack, IGB Creative Program Manager, and Sara Pedron-Haba, a research professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. It is comprised of members of the IGB community, including staff and postdoctoral researchers. The DEI Task Force takes ideas from the Advisory Group and helps bring them into action. Since their inception, they have created multiple programs, workshops, and initiatives to diversify both the science and the scientists at the IGB, and address any inequities that those at the IGB still face.
“We have been fortunate to be served by two very important committees, the Advisory Group and the DEI Task Force, who have worked in a very dedicated way over the past several years, and we really salute their efforts and thank them for everything that they've done.” Robinson said.
Proposed changes discussed at the town hall included new DEI trainings for faculty and staff, beginning with theme leaders and office directors, exit surveys for postdocs, faculty and staff, new language in IGB faculty and theme appointment/reappointment letters, and a more transparent process for reporting grievances. Robinson and Abdullah-Span also clarified current DEI measures in place in response to questions regarding them, such as gender-neutral bathroom locations and routes for grievance reporting, and took suggestions for other DEI initiatives from the audience.
The proposed changes follow a climate survey conducted in Fall 2021, which aimed at understanding the current work environment of the IGB. The responses were encouraging overall, as a majority of respondents expressed satisfaction with their work environment. However, this response was more common in those further along in their career or in more privileged positions, while those in positions more vulnerable to imbalances in power or preference expressed higher rates of dissatisfaction. Alarmingly, there were also a few reports of bullying, gaslighting, racism, and sexism, highlighting the need for action.
“I was very heartened by the strong sense of shared purpose and commitment witnessed today, with outstanding attendance and excellent suggestions,” said Robinson.
“Too often we think of diversity, equity, and inclusion as buzz words; however, these are action-based concepts that must be operationalized in order to have the intended effect,” said Abdullah-Span. “The interest and response of the IGB community to the report and the town hall meeting are encouraging indicators that there is strong community support and alignment with the direction in which the IGB is moving, which is important because achieving the goal of a diverse, equitable, and inclusive working and learning environment within the IGB requires the commitment and contributions of everyone.”
The IGB is currently reviewing questions and comments submitted on their form, as well as the feedback received during the town hall, and hopes to continue the discussion after thoughtful consideration. Anyone who wants to get involved with DEI efforts can join the Task Force, which meets online biweekly on Fridays. Information about DEI events and Task Force meetings can be found in the IGB weekly emails, or those interested can email DEITF@igb.illinois.edu for more information.
Anonymous concerns or suggestions can also be placed online via https://www.igb.illinois.edu/webform/diversity_suggestions_form.
By: Shelby Lawson