The Diversity Committee, The Year in Review 2021

Submitted by Tony I Garcia on

Written by members of the Diversity Committee

The year 2020-2021 was a difficult year.  The COVID pandemic ravaged through the world upending all societal norms. The murder of George Floyd sparked a nationwide protest against institutionalized police violence towards African American citizens.  We witnessed  gross acts of violence against Asian-Americans and Jewish-Americans.  These events showed us how institutions can readily break down when there is a failure to uphold the tenets of justice and fairness in all walks of our lives. Within the department, they underlined the responsibility of all of us towards Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). As a result, our committee spent this year educating the department (and ourselves) on DEI and crafting a long term DEI vision for the department. Alongside these efforts, we contributed to the faculty hiring process and spearheaded initiatives that furthered the cause of DEI in our department.          

The nuanced distinctions and synergies among diversity, equity, and inclusion are intricate and their roles in the modern workplace are ever evolving. We held several educational events to train the department on the foundations of DEI and its concrete implementations. In a lunch discussion, we openly discussed what DEI meant within the context of our department. We crowdsourced new ideas to improve the current state of DEI in the department. The violence against minority groups spurred us to lead a presentation on bystander intervention training to the entire department body and share training resources.  Several DEI committee members presented what they learned by attending a bystander intervention training against in-person and online harassment. In the future, we intend to host a departmental training on violence prevention and response led by UW SafeCampus

This year we spent a significant amount of time crafting a long term DEI plan for our department. Using past departmental reviews and enrollment/hiring statistics, we reflected on what we have accomplished, where our weaknesses lie, and how we can improve in the future. We condensed these results in the comprehensive DEI plan document which will soon be available on the AMATH departmental website. In this document, we assessed the current state of DEI at all career levels (undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and staff) and outlined our future goals. We hope that this document will keep us accountable to ourselves and broadcast our goals for furthering the cause of inclusivity in the mathematical community at large.

The DEI committee played an active and significant role in the hiring process for two faculty positions this year. The responsibilities of the committee were expanded from last year and formally added to the existing faculty hiring protocol. Different from last year, the faculty application packet consisted of a diversity statement along with research and teaching statements. We reviewed the diversity statement of each candidate and scored them based on a predetermined rubric. These scores were part of how applicants were selected for the interview pool. We interviewed each of the selected candidates on their knowledge of DEI issues, their past contributions, and their future plans. Finally, we submitted a written assessment and presented our findings to the entire faculty body. 

Despite the transition to the virtual format, we successfully organized and executed several of our annual DEI events.  We held the graduate student panel and the climate orientation in the Fall.  For the graduate student panel, we invited four current AMATH graduate students from diverse backgrounds to share their unique journey towards graduate school and their advice on crafting a compelling application packet.  We gave the undergraduate attendees a comprehensive checklist on how to navigate their undergraduate career in such a way that prepares them for graduate school. The climate orientation event was a short training seminar on how to have online interactions in the workplace in an inclusive and equitable manner. The participants learned the pitfalls of online interactions and discussed ideas on easing the transition to the online format. 

During the spring, we held the fourth iteration of the Women in Applied Mathematics Mentorship Program (WAMM) program. WAMM is a mentorship program run by PhD students, where female undergraduate students pair up with graduate student mentors and undertake a research project for the quarter.  This year 30 undergraduates applied for just 7 spots.  We considered all undergraduate applications within the UW system and even had a participating undergraduate student from UW Bothell. Some of the projects undertaken this year were applications of Markov chains, modeling tumor growth dynamics, simulating COVID spread, and characterizing the dimensionality of neural signals.

This year marked the second iteration of our annual AMATH diversity week. During the first week of Black History month, committee members organized a family of events oriented at fostering departmental engagement, cultural education, and community involvement for members in the department.  We had events like community service day, discussion on the history of African American voting rights, and DEI Action day. The DEI Action Day was a unique and practical event. In this event, participants partnered up and contributed towards their chosen DEI initiative. Some projects included organizing a summer REU, crafting a flyer for AMATH undergraduate program, and volunteering at a local prison education program.  We set up a monthly DEI Action day event for the rest of the academic year. We intend to continue this tradition in the future.

Despite the circumstances of 2020-2021, we successfully carried out several initiatives that furthered DEI in our department. We have exciting new initiatives planned for the next year. We thank you for all your support and look forward to coming together in-person to further the cause of DEI!

News Topic