To the Loyola Community,
The members of Loyola’s Biology department care very deeply about our community and, as such, stand firmly behind our African, Latinx, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) members- past, present and future. We acknowledge the grievances that were recently shared by ALANA alumni and students, and we will work tirelessly to create a culture of inclusion, encouragement, opportunity and success.
Our field of study aims to understand and celebrate the beauty and diversity of nature. We know that all components of our Earth share a common makeup of simple electrons, protons, and neutrons that abide by similar biochemical and physical laws. At the same time, each is unique and plays an essential role in maintaining and shaping our world. As attuned as we are to the importance of both commonality and diversity in our natural world, we must also be strong advocates for these principles in our human communities.
Witnessing the continued racial injustice being suffered individually and collectively by people in the US; observing the negative physiological and psychological impact that persistent racism and discrimination has had on people of color; and, especially hearing our own alumni, students, and colleagues recount their painful experiences, we know that we must do better, starting with our own discipline. Despite three decades of 79% growth in employment, twice the rate of non-science related fields, and the expansion of interdisciplinary fields, such as Forensics Studies, Environmental Studies, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Data Sciences, inequalities in workplace demographics, compensation, and rank persist in STEM field1,2. The "human pipeline" that inspires, educates, and supports individuals toward these careers is “leaky,” losing too many ALANA individuals along the way. We agree with ALANA alumni that Loyola should be “on the forefront” of solving this problem. Our values of diversity, community, and justice call us to work to provide people of color more equitable access to and support within career paths in STEM.
It has been difficult, yet necessary, to hear that we have not always lived up to our ideals as educators, mentors, and colleagues, and that we have not been as supportive of our Loyola community members as we intended and needed to be. We applaud those who have spoken out on Instagram, in the ALANA alumni letter to Fr. Linnane, and in other venues for their courage in telling their stories. We sincerely apologize to those who were made to feel discouraged and unheard. We are also appreciative of the thoughtful recommendations proposed by students, administration, and faculty that call us to work together to live up to our values and mission as members of Loyola University Maryland. Thus, the members of the Biology Department are deeply compelled to join in solidarity with those who steadfastly oppose the evils of racism, oppression, injustice, bias, and exclusion. We also affirm that, regardless of an individual’s ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, immigration status, and/or disability, they have the right to feel recognized, included, valued, heard, and safe in all spaces we inhabit. To this end, as we begin this new academic year, we commit to working with ALANA students, faculty and staff, and the Chief Equity and Inclusion officer to implement initiatives that will lead to positive changes at our institution and surrounding community. While long-standing and complex issues cannot be solved immediately and with a single statement of solidarity, we can start by taking the following first steps forward:
First and foremost, we will better educate ourselves as a department on bias issues and on best practices for promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion in all spaces we inhabit. Of utmost importance for us is to provide open and safe opportunities for our students and alumni to voice their goals, needs, and concerns. By holding listening sessions with diverse cohorts of students and alumni and by having ALANA-Biology/Chemistry faculty members co-moderate the Society of Underrepresented Prehealth Students, we can more deeply understand students’ common and individual needs and experiences and how our supportive resources can be more accessible, suitable, and flexible for them. We also commit to participating in any future University-recommended training/workshops, as well as seeking out STEM education-specific guidance/resources, in order to be more mindful in how we teach, advise, and mentor our ALANA students. In our teaching, we aim to raise of awareness of racially-based inequities that exist, as well as of the notable contributions people of color have made to the sciences. “Race” is an entirely social construct with no basis in biology. While there is no valid way to use biology to divide individuals into races, the concept of race has had profound impacts, including on the ways in which the process of science is conducted and the ways in which the benefits of science are distributed. For example, people of color are disproportionately affected by climate change. Despite advances in medicine, they have higher morbidity and mortality. Additionally, the contributions of many non-white scientists have often been overlooked, such as Mexican-America botanist Ynes Mexia, who discovered 500 new plant species in Central and South America, and African-American chemist Alice Augusta Ball, who developed the Ball method, a long- standing therapy for Hansen’s disease (leprosy). We hope that ALANA students, in seeing their lived experiences reflected in the classroom and learning of their predecessors, will feel more empowered and motivated to remain in STEM fields. At the same time, we hope their peers gain a deeper understanding of the commonalities and diversity of the ALANA experience and are compelled to be stronger partners in resolving the equity issues in STEM. How well our traditional and interdisciplinary STEM fields tackle the problems of today and the future depends on the energy, vision, and collaborative work of many individuals. We all benefit when individuals from different backgrounds with different voices, perspectives, and ideas can equally contribute.
We will also work to build a stronger community within our department that better supports the academic and career goals of our ALANA students. Having a robust and sustainable community (network) of teachers, mentors, and peers whom one can rely on is often key to a student’s success. It can be so beneficial to receive sound advice (e.g., on what courses to take and how to study for them; what extracurricular activities to seek out; and how to apply for internships, jobs, and post-Loyola education), to have a sympathetic ear that will listen, and to be encouraged when there is self-doubt. For ALANA students and first-generation college students, such a network may not already exist when they arrive at Loyola and it may be difficult for them to develop it. Our department aims to improve our outreach and connection to these students. Through our course policies and our conduct, we will make clear that acts of bias, oppression, and exclusion will not be tolerated in our classrooms, laboratories, and offices. If and when instances do occur, we commit to working with relevant University offices to bringing about restorative justice for the victim and appropriate disciplining and education of offenders. Lastly, we will explore new, impactful avenues of connecting with students and informing them of career/professional opportunities and processes. The department will continue for the second year the Successful Transition into Natural and Technology Science Program (STiNTS-Pro) for first year students transitioning to college-level natural science programs. STiNTS-Pro encourages students to take responsibility for their learning and their actions, discusses learning strategies for success, and attempts to foster the development of an open, caring and inclusive academic community. We will also expand our outreach to students via social media (e.g., Instagram, LinkedIn), a departmental newsletter, and/or virtual departmental meetings for students, faculty, and staff. It is our hope that these new platforms will increase and extend both personal and professional connections students and alumni have with us, with each other, and with other STEM professionals. As part of this effort, we aim to better inform our ALANA students and first generation college students of internship/research/educational opportunities, professional development (e.g., writing curriculum vitaes, resumes, and cover letters, interviewing skills, etc.), and personal wellness.
The above initiatives are just the start of a long journey to which we commit ourselves. We again thank our colleagues, students, and alumni for shining a light on inequities they have lived and observed, and for the affirmative response by the administration, ALANA faculty, and other departments in solidarity. It encourages us, inspires us, and reminds us of what we share as members of Loyola University Maryland’s community. We have all come to Loyola because its mission, vision, and values speak to us. In these challenging times, the Ignatian practices of inward discernment, outward vision, creative thought, promotion of justice, and service to others are needed more than ever. As we start this new academic year, we in Biology are ready to engage with all members of Loyola University to do the work necessary to produce positive and long-lasting change in our community, and we will do so with honesty, humility, determination, and hope.
The members of the Biology Department
1. Fayer, S., Watson, A., and Lacey A. (2017). STEM Occupations: Past, Present, and Future. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
2. Funk, C. and Parker, K. (2018). Diversity in the STEM workforce varies widely across jobs. Pew Social Trends.