May 10, 2021
It’s not news to state that from the COVID-19 pandemic, to heightened awareness and outrage over racial injustices in the US – the past 20 months have been challenging and transformative for all of us. Yet, a group of Interfaces of Global Change Fellows adapted to the virtual reality of fall semester 2020 by frequently coming together to discuss persistent social and socioenvironmental challenges.
What started out as a reading and discussion group in the fall of 2020 has evolved into a formal working committee focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives for the Interfaces of Global Change (IGC) Graduate Student Organization (GSO). Aligning with the Global Change Center Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, the goal of the committee is to create a more inclusive community for IGC Fellows and the larger Global Change Center (GCC) community of faculty affiliates and academic partners.
The new committee is chaired by Lauren Maynard, and comprised of inaugural members Melissa Burt, Korin Jones, Daniel Smith, and Amber Wendler. Four of the five committee members are working within the Department of Biological Sciences, which has a robust DEI effort established within Virginia Tech’s College of Science.
“As academics, our first instinct before tackling a problem is to research, so we created a DEI reading group”, says Lauren Maynard, who has led the IGC DEI reading group formation and activity over the past two semesters. The group has covered a wide range of topics by reading articles such as What is BIPOC?, The Case for Reparations, Why Diversity Matters Among Those Who Study Diversity, as well as book chapters from How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Lauren has also arranged workshops for Fellow participation to focus on topics such as microaggression awareness and Indigenous Identity.
The committee sees the IGC DEI initiative as a way to help graduate students develop as better scientists, leaders and citizens. “Openly discussing social, racial, and cultural issues is like learning a new language. Sometimes you can’t find the right words, or you say the wrong thing. The words feel clunky, and the ideas are so big that you lose your way in the middle of a sentence. You have to take a critical look at yourself and your community and come to the realization that we have fallen short. This is a difficult but critical step to ask the next question—what can we do to help? While the reading group will continue to be a space for self-education, the knowledge cultivated there directly contributes to our committee initiatives”, Lauren reflects.
While the only current opportunity for Fellow engagement is through the reading group, the committee looks to expand to other activities in the upcoming fall 2021 semester. Extra reading on top of already burgeoning reading assignments can be daunting, but the group believes that these resources and intentional discussions are important as part of the Ph.D. education experience. The discussion content also incorporates a wide range of media, such as articles, book chapters, podcasts, short videos and workshops to provide options for varying levels of engagement.
IGC Fellows who’d like to get involved with the IGC DEI committee should reach out to committee chair Lauren Maynard.
The IGC DEI reading group meeting is on hiatus over the summer break and has selected a summer reading book to be discussed when the group convenes this fall – Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Kimmerer.
How to read:
- You can find the ebook for free through the VT Library HERE
- If you’re purchasing the book, consider buying from
Fellows are also encouraged to sign up to choose a date and topic to lead discussion with the group – please contact Lauren Maynard to sign up.
Looking longer term, it’s up to the IGC Fellows to keep this work and energy thriving! By cultivating a climate where DEI is integrated into all IGC student activities and decisions, the committee hopes to establish a lasting impact on the IGC program culture.
GCC faculty and IGC Fellows – your input, ideas and participation are welcomed! Reach out to Lauren Maynard or any member of the IGC DEI committee to start a conversation or exchange an idea. This is also a call to GCC faculty and mentors of graduate students – continue to recruit and fund students who have a commitment to DEI work, and thank you for the energy you have put towards these efforts already!
IGC Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee members: