A Renewed Focus on Diversity and Inclusion in the Sciences

By Sarah Williams

The Beckman Center News / Fall 2021

Developmental Biology graduate students ramp up efforts to make their department more diverse and inclusive.

In the summer of 2020, as George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter protests dominated the nightly news, a handful of graduate students at the Beckman Center began wondering what they could do to make their own community more diverse and inclusive. Together, they founded a committee to brainstorm ways to change their department—Developmental Biology—for the better.

“Whenever there’s a chance to make headway on these issues at any level, it’s worth it,” says Hannah Dorothy Rosenblatt, who spearheaded the formation of the DevBio Diversity & Inclusion Committee.

The committee isn’t the only one of its kind at Stanford; the founders say they have taken lessons from what has worked in other departments, including Biochemistry, and have also learned from Stanford BioAIMS (the Biomedical Association for the Interest of Minority Students).

Admissions Transparency

One of the committee’s first actions was pushing for more graduate student involvement in the admissions process, to increase transparency about the application and student selection process. Current graduate students are now included in the Department of Developmental Biology's decision meetings where new applicants are reviewed.

“The hope is that by having students on committees, there are more diverse voices in the discussions about what candidates might bring to the table,” says Rosenblatt.

“So far, faculty have been really receptive to graduate student input and opinions,” adds Trisha Naomi Chong, another member of the committee.

Community College Programs

Rosenblatt, Chong, and their colleagues knew that improving diversity and inclusion—not only in their own department, but in science more broadly—meant reaching outside of their own circles. So their efforts include working outside Stanford, and with minority groups underrepresented in STEM fields.

“We’re in this very privileged position of being able to work and learn at Stanford,” says Chong. “And there was a clear feeling in the department of wanting to give back to people in the community.”

To that end, the team launched a program that pairs community college undergraduates with Dev Bio graduate student mentors. The department also opened up part-time, paid internships for students from local community colleges—this fall, five undergraduates are working in Dev Bio labs, thanks to the initiative.

Plans for the Future

The Diversity & Inclusion Committee aims to do even more to tackle diversity and inclusion issues. Rosenblatt and Chong are currently planning  an event where members of the department will have the opportunity to discuss diversity issues.

They’re also launching a newsletter, as well as more in-person events—such as meetings of their journal club, in which participants will discuss a podcast, article, or other media that addresses science and society.

For more information on the Department of Developmental Biology's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, see https://devbio.stanford.edu/new-page-1. The Department of Biochemistry's statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as links to other resources, can be seen at https://biochemistry.stanford.edu/diversity-and-inclusion-statement.

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Naomi Love
(650) 723-8423