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Diversity Committee works on enhancing culture of openness

The Department of Chemistry is committed to being an open and welcoming space for all of its students, postdoctorates, faculty, and staff. But what does that mean? How is that practiced? How can a culture of openness, acceptance, and support be enhanced?

Those are just some of the questions being considered by the department’s new Diversity Committee, which was formed in June 2013. Professor Lee Penn chairs the committee, which includes Professors Philippe Buhlmann, Connie Lu and Aaron Massari, Graduate Student Rebecca Lindsey, Undergraduate Student Kadir Hussein, and Communications Coordinator Eileen Harvala.

Department of Chemistry Chair William Tolman hopes that the Diversity Committee will evaluate and assess diversity at all levels in the department. He would then like the committee to develop proposals for additional activities and initiatives aimed at improving the department’s diversity, and enhancing the experiences and mentoring of people who are in underrepresented groups, are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, or otherwise contribute to the diversity of the department.

“The drive for diversity is driven to a large extend by the simple fact that recruiting the best people requires that the pool of available candidates be as large as possible,” said Tolman. “If we are to be outstanding in all that we do, then we must be openly accepting of all the diverse people in our community; to attain excellence, we must actively pursue inclusiveness.”

Currently, committee members are asking a lot of questions by conducting research on the diversity of the department and experiences; evaluating current activities and training that address diversity and their effectiveness; and considering possible activities and initiatives that might address some of the identified needs.

This evaluation also encompasses looking at recruitment for the chemistry’s educational,research, and outreach programs. Committee members are developing a cadre of resources and possible initiatives such as looking at the need for note takers for students with limited English; conducting meet-and-greet gatherings; hosting training sessions for all members of the department; enhancing outreach activities, particularly research opportunities for high school and undergraduate students; and hosting seminars or speakers who understand the needs and hurdles facing diverse populations. Committee members also want to serve as confidential advisers or adjudicants for people who might have concerns, conflicts, issues, or questions.

A website clearly outlines the department’s commitment to excellence through diversity. That commitment is, “The Department of Chemistry is united in the belief that diversity in all of its forms is valued. Collaboration among people of all cultures and backgrounds enhances our experience as scientists and contributes to excellence in teaching, learning, and research. We strive to promote a climate that celebrates our differences and strengthens our department by embracing and working to increase our diversity.” The diversity website also has links to resources, and outlines of the department’s efforts.

Department of Chemistry Diversity Committee members are, front row, from left, Graduate Student Rebecca Lindsey, Professor Connie Lu, and Communications Coordinator Eileen Harvala. Back row, from left, Professor Aaron Massari, Undergraduate Student Kadir Hussein, Professor Philippe Buhlmann, and Professor Lee Penn.