By Brice Yates, Ph.D.
It is an honor and privilege to serve as the inaugural Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Officer in the College of Chemistry, working alongside renowned faculty, exceptional staff, and students who will be future trailblazers in both academia and industry. My research has focused on the impact of DEI at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and as a Black male, my lived experiences make me aware of the importance of DEI.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are my passion. I do not take the role lightly. Serving as the College’s Chief DEI officer means understanding the importance of creating an equitable and inclusive environment for all our faculty, staff and students. Universities have long talked about the importance of diversity and more recently equity and inclusion, but at times these words can appear to be buzzwords as opposed to action words. The appetite for DEI is now and as a College, we are actively working to ensure DEI is authentically embedded in the College’s fabric.
Conversations around the topic of DEI are continuing to permeate the national landscape as well as college campuses. The past year has been tough as we have felt the impact of Covid-19, which has highlighted various inequities including racial/ethnic inequity, financial inequity, and academic inequity. With Berkeley largely utilizing online learning since March 2020, students as well as faculty and staff have had to adapt to the shifting educational landscape. With this shift, it has been imperative that students feel connected to campus learning, resources, and services which may be challenging in a virtual setting. I applaud the work of the College’s faculty which has committed to providing learning space for students to be successful in a virtual setting and staff which has implemented virtual programming and support initiatives.
It is also important to note and recognize the impact social justice movements have had around the country and on college campuses. It is imperative institutional programming and support initiatives are representative of all individuals. Representation matters. Students, whether undergraduate or graduate, want to see individuals who represent their cultural or ethnic identities within the College and the University as a whole. We must become cognizant of space that is present on campus. Do these spaces create welcoming environments or are they viewed as exclusionary? For minoritized individuals within the College, it is important that representation such as DEI programming initiatives are implemented intentionally in recruitment and retention of minoritized students, faculty, and staff on a continuous basis, and that physical representation in spaces within the College highlight and showcase minoritized individuals.
Creating a sense of belonging, and a welcoming environment, is important for students, faculty, and staff. Programming initiatives have often been reactive as opposed to proactive. For this role to be impactful and successful, I will be reaching out to all constituents within the College in order to capture their needs and perspectives regarding DEI. In order to be intentional, the narrative must change from wanting and wishing to create equitable and inclusive environments and programs to the narrative of being willing to establish an inclusive environment and inclusive programs. Wanting and wishing allows individuals to remain in a place of passive planning with no action. Being willing demonstrates the action to create the needed change.
Willingness to implement needed change can be seen through retention efforts. Throughout my decade long service of DEI work in higher education, various shifts have occurred around DEI. It is imperative that higher education institutions’ retention efforts match institutional recruitment efforts. We cannot solely focus on recruiting and enrolling minoritized individuals. A simultaneous focus must also be on the retention of minoritized individuals. Realizing the importance of this fact, the College is working to establish sustainable programs that not only benefit students but also the College as a whole.
Many great things are happening around DEI within the College and numerous initiatives have been implemented by our graduate students. Within the Chemistry department, the Chemistry Graduate Life Committee (CGLC) has developed, and continues to annually administer, the Departmental Climate survey and accompanying Sense of Belonging survey. Also, the CBE Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC) administers an annual climate survey. These surveys have revealed the importance of issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion to graduate students in the College.
Currently we are developing a 5-year DEI strategic plan for the College. The plan is comprised of four leading goals that we aspire to accomplish in order to assist our DEI efforts. The strategic plan is slated to be finalized and made publicly available by the end of the spring semester. Having a pulse of the College climate is integral as we continue to enhance the College’s DEI program.
The College recently launched our Graduate Diversity Program comprised of 29 students who are developing various initiatives. These include working to improve the pipeline of minoritized students into graduate school, recruiting and supporting DEI in the College graduate student population, and working with College leadership to improve the climate with the College of Chemistry.
College level faculty and staff climate surveys are also being developed to assist in recognizing our areas of strength, weakness, and opportunities. These surveys will be disseminated every two years which will allow for measurement and tracking areas of success and areas of improvement. A similar climate survey is also being developed at the undergraduate level.
As I discussed earlier, representation matters. Programming initiatives are being developed that assist with undergraduate student acclimation and sense of belonging within the College. In support of increasing and engaging DEI content and knowledge, College wide monthly emails will be sent out highlighting the various heritage months. Emails will provide educational and celebratory information on minoritized individuals who have contributed to the field of Chemistry. Lastly College level trainings are being developed that will address topics such as unconscious bias, microaggressions, and civil discourse. A truly exciting era for the College!
Support of our DEI initiatives is always welcomed by our illustrious alums. It is my hope to engage with alums in the near future to highlight our continuous DEI developments and initiatives within the College. I am excited and honored to serve as the inaugural Chief DEI officer in the College, and to work on making a positive impact for students, faculty, staff, and alumni.