NASEM Hosts Antiracism in STEMM Workshop

“We are in a critical moment of accelerated change,” remarked Dan Weiss, Director of the Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, as he welcomed in-person and virtual attendees in a dissemination workshop for The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report, “Advancing Antiracism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEMM Organizations:  Beyond Broadening Participation.” Weiss described this time as a punctuated equilibrium, a concept borrowed from evolutionary biology, referring to policy and cultural changes that do not proceed gradually, but rather as intense periods following critical and tragic events.  

The two-day event featured a diverse array of scholars, policymakers, and practitioners at different career stages, who are actively engaging in efforts to advance antiracism and measure its impact within their own institutions and communities. Speakers included students and deans, program leaders at minority-serving institutions (MSIs), and philanthropic and federal science funders, who all shared their perspectives and approaches to creating a more equitable and inclusive STEM environment. 

[Meeting Materials

The report places deliberate focus on our nation’s history of anti-Black bias and racism, and how these deep-seated roots still affect society today.  “This is where the evidence base is the thickest,” remarked Susan Fiske, Princeton University, co-chair of the report and FABBS Past President and editor of the FABBS journal. “[The Committee] emphatically calls for separate reports on different marginalized groups. Although there may be an overlap, different groups have their own history and are situated in society differently. Each group deserves their own report.” The workshop was organized to highlight the perspectives and issues faced by racial and ethnic groups beyond the details in the report. 

The first day’s panel shed light on issues impacting the experiences of Asian-American, Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and Latine students, staff, and faculty engaged in all levels of STEM education. Speakers presented on the importance of continuing to develop the methods and instruments that would move toward data equity and representation. Panelists emphasized the need to accurately capture individual multiplicities in diverse demographics while being mindful of intersecting dynamics imposed by colorism and immigration status. Panelists also underscored the importance of qualitative data, harkening back to the report’s inclusion of the lived experience of Black Americans in STEM. “We were told: When you come into the lab, leave your culture at the door,” explained Lilliam Casillas Martinez, professor of biology at the University of Puerto Rico. The general tendency to value quantitative over qualitative data in science has also risked the erasure of minoritized communities, explained Heather Shotton, Fort Lewis College. Shotton described the notion of the “asterisked-other,” where indigenous groups face erasure from larger data sets and are swept under the category of “other” due to their small sample size being deemed as having construct validity issues.  

Other panels on the first day covered successful strategies implemented at minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and efforts by non-MSI institutions to better support antiracism and inclusion efforts. Opportunities and initiatives at these institutions include: 

  • Partnerships across institutions, agencies, and nonprofits, due to limited resources at MSIs 
  • Placing renewed focus on engaging and creating an inclusive atmosphere for diverse populations (particularly for indigenous students and faculty) 
  • Intentionally training, advising, and mentoring people of minoritized group to become leaders 
  • Incorporating the wider community priorities into the work of institution 

The second day’s panels featured perspectives from government agencies (including the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation) and philanthropic organizations which fund STEM. Panelists discussed theories of change in building portfolios supporting DEI work. “We can no longer focus on point solutions; we need to look at the whole enterprise,” remarked Errika Moore, STEM Funders Network. Ericka Boone, NIH Office of Extramural Research, presented the NIH’s DEI efforts and internal cultural changes, including the work underway in the UNITE initiative. “Larger agencies like us need to ask, ‘how are we standing in the way?’ There is no way to stand in the gap and build a bridge.” Sylvia Butterfield, National Science Foundation, also presented an overview of the programs that support the NSF agency-wide priority to “create opportunities everywhere: to scale and establish programs, introduce new initiatives, and build strong partnerships across communities, institutions, and agencies.” These NSF programs are made possible thanks to critical legislative changes, such as the signing of the CHIPS and Science Act.   

See more NASEM Resources on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion