Diversity, equity and inclusion in BTL

The Biology Teaching and Learning Department places great value on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion along all axes of identity (race, gender, orientation, disability, etc.). At the same time, racial injustice against the Black community has been thrown into particularly sharp relief in 2020 with the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others. We recognize that the racial injustices faced by the Black community did not start in 2020, but have been ongoing for decades, and there is much work to be done.

The Biology Teaching and Learning Department stands in solidarity with the Black community in their daily struggle against the injustice and violence born out of systemic racism in the United States. Black lives matter. To fight back against the injustices, harm, and oppression continually experienced by the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community within the higher education system, our department pledges to:

  • Continually educate ourselves on the inequities faced by the BIPOC community and how our departmental policies and practices may contribute to the continuance of these inequities.
  • Actively fight against the systemic racism built into the American education system by collectively and individually taking anti-racist actions.
  • Extend our fight to spaces outside the United States when possible to aid in the overall fight against racism and discrimination.

We also pledge to extend these actions to create an inclusive and equitable environment in our department, classrooms, and our work with others that fosters diversity among many axes such as race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, politics, religion, abilities, economic background, and more.

Current Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion actions and projects in BTL

To work towards these goals and deliver on our social responsibilities, in summer 2020 our department established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion working group to identify, review, and address multiple topics in this space (with more to come in the future as identified or needed). The DEI working group is working on:

  • Creating guidance on revising syllabi to include greater emphasis on DEI and explicit acknowledgement of the impact of systemic racism on the study of biology, actions that instructors are taking to address the impact of racism, steps that students can take if they experience or witness racism or bias in BTL classrooms, and resources for students. This was released for departmental and wider use in September 2020.
  • Identifying and internally disseminating instructional practices and strategies that instructors can use to enhance and foster an equitable and inclusive learning environment that presents and solicits perspectives from diverse participants and scientists. This includes review of the use of Proctorio.
  • Auditing our practices for recruiting, hiring, and compensating undergraduate teaching assistants so any inequitable practices can be identified, examined, and revised.
  • Harnessing existing collegiate and departmental tools and surveys to hear from our students and colleagues about their experiences and what they need.
  • Exploring our possibility and power to advocate for DEI related action items or needs within our wider CBS or U of M institutional areas and practices.
  • Discussing DEI hiring practices and including DEI efforts in annual reviews for departmental faculty and staff.
  • Allocating time to DEI efforts and discussions at monthly department meetings.
  • Distributing weekly "DEI Moments" emailed to department which contain an evidence-based suggestion of a quick (5-15 min.) step that everyone can take to create a more inclusive environment.
  • Participating in the CBS DEI Community of Practice.
  • Administering a “DEI buddy program” in which department members are paired with someone each semester to help both achieve personal or professional goals related to DEI.

Research and classroom initiatives that support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

While we still have a lot of work to do, The BTL Department has a history of researching and implementing active, equitable, and inclusive teaching and learning practices in the classroom.

Sample of published research articles from BTL members and colleagues:

Sample of in-class initiatives being used by BTL members:

  • Inclusion of DEI statements or language in course syllabi and other documents
  • Development of or modifications to in-class activities to address DEI topics
    • Discussing the use of DNA in criminal investigations, and the role of memory and bias in criminal justice
    • Discussing skin color and racial essentialism
    • Discussing ethics in research, including historical examples of human rights violations in research and current regulations/guidelines
  • Development of assignments that address DEI topics
    • Scientist Spotlight assignments (featured in Yonas et al., 2020 and Brandt et al., 2020)
    • Learning about how sexuality plays a role in blood donation
    • Learning about hormones, hormone blockers, and gender dysphoria
  • Changes to course policies to help all students be successful
    • Highlighting instructors’ preferred names and pronouns, encouraging students to do the same, and showing students how to do so in Canvas
    • Providing flexibility with assignments and attendance in lecture
    • Documentation and facilitation of group work to improve team interactions
  • Using more inclusive assessment practices
    • Diversifying assessment strategies to reduce reliance on high-stakes exams 
    • Group quizzes in addition to individual assignments
    • Daily practice exam questions to work on in teams
    • Elimination of grading on a curve
    • Project-based assignments
  • Providing resources to increase accessibility and inclusivity of courses
    • Free open access textbooks through the library that can be used with screen-readers and/or downloaded
    • Using textbook chapters on reproduction that are inclusive of diverse gender identity and the continuum of biological sex
    • Reorganization of course Canvas sites to increase accessibility
  • Training programs
    • Culturally Responsive Undergraduate Science Education (CRUSE) is a professional development program that aims to increase educational equity in science classrooms by training educators in culturally responsive and anti-racist science teaching. Developed by Hillary Barron and Sehoya Cotner, faculty and teaching assistants engage in continuous training that is structured to increase competency and self-efficacy in culturally responsive science teaching.
    • The Inclusive Science Education Fellows program, launched in Spring 2017 by Meaghan Stein and Seth Thompson, aims to assist graduate students and postdocs in developing a greater understanding of DEI in both classrooms and research labs, engage in critical conversations about DEI, and use inclusive teaching and mentoring practices. A similar training program was implemented for faculty from 2016-2019 and engaged 29 Assistant and Associate Professors in CBS.
  • Ecological belonging interventions (similar to Binning et al., 2020)

Moving forward in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The BTL Department seeks to be a contributor and leader in the field of DEI, both in research and implementation of best practices. We recognize that this work is a long-term commitment and that there are significant challenges still present in this space with numerous institutional and systemic barriers that need to be addressed and overcome, especially for improving the experiences of our Black students and colleagues. We will continue to work and develop our research, literature knowledge, classroom implementation, and contributions to local, national, and global best practices wherever possible. Please address any questions or feedback about our DEI work to btl@umn.edu.

2023-24 Committee Members:

  • Katherine Furniss (Co-Chair)
  • Dimitri Smirnoff (Co-Chair)
  • Mohammad Alfayez
  • Emily Driessen
  • Becky Hippert
  • Catherine Kirkpatrick
  • A. Kelly Lane
  • David Matthes
  • Anna Mosser
  • Kristina Prescott
  • Tamar Resnick
  • Joel Schneider
  • Ariel Steele
  • Pu Wang
  • Charlie Willis