How can we create systems, organizations, and leadership opportunities that encourage more women and ethnic minorities to enter science based fields, find their voice, or go into leadership positions? In the breakout session, "The Power of Diversity in Moving the Planet Forward," moderated by the University of Arkansas' Diversity and Inclusion Core Team Leader Jamie Hestekin, the panel discussed how to improve efforts and public policies around diversity and inclusion.
The panel featured: Payton Head, public speaker, campus inclusion consultant, and recent alum of University of Missouri; Dr. Felecia Nave, former Provost and current Director for Faculty Development & Engagement and chemical engineering professor at Prairie View A&M; and Dr. Nora Savage, an environmental engineer and program director for the National Science Foundation.
Here are some highlights from the panelists:
Dr. Felecia Nave
"If we're going to get comprehensive solutions, we need comprehensive problem solvers."
Although most universities are majority female, the numbers reverse when you move into the STEM fields, where women and minorities are still heavily under-represented. Digging deeper, this typically starts in k-12, where women and minorities systematically lack encouragement to join these fields. Whether it be due to the lack of representation of similar faces in peers, or the way instructions were provided, many of these minorities ultimately move onto other fields to pursue a degree in.
"I'm an engineer by training and a philosopher at heart."
Building comprehensive solutions does not just require diversity of people, but also diversity of represented fields. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is interested in broadening participation across all underrepresented groups, including the social sciences, at all levels. Bringing different tools together can create ideas that were not possible through one perspective. Vibrant communities are key to creating holistic and long lasting solutions.
"Now we're in a big movement now, and everyone seems to be yelling and fighting and everyone wants something to say, everyone has something to say. I think many times we forget to talk to each other."
All of these systemic problems we experience are related to not recognizing people in their humanity. In college, Head noticed a gap between the student body. He became a member of the Asian American Association, spent more time in the women's center, LGBTQ groups, and black culture center, and started to learn the other students' stories. However, he didn't feel quite at home in the black culture center because there were homophobic things being said, and he didn't feel quite at home in the LGBTQ community because of racist things being said. There was a disconnect between the minority groups themselves. Combining the stories of different students from different minority groups through the framework of intersectionality helps to create a new conservation.