Skip to main content
The Memorial Union on a sunny autumn day.

An inclusive future for science: Taking action on diversity, equity and access

By Srila Nayak

The College of Science’s new Diversity Action Plan arises from the influence and impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and a call to action issued by Black and Indigenous students, students of color, and other students holding underrepresented identities in the College of Science.

“The Diversity Action Plan in the College of Science is informed by a collective vision of inclusive success and equitable opportunities for our students, faculty and staff. Eliminating racial, gender and economic inequities in science education and research has never been more urgent than now and is inseparable from the training of future generations of scientists and the progress of science in the modern world,” said Roy Haggerty, dean of the College of Science.

“The Action Plan helps us build on our successes, creates more opportunities for equity in science and tackles ongoing challenges. I am grateful for the efforts of our scientists, students and staff and their heartfelt commitment to diversity and inclusion that have made this Action Plan possible.”

“Embedding Equity, Access and Inclusion,” the 2021-2024 Strategic Diversity Action Plan for the College of Science aims to improve outcomes for underrepresented students, faculty and staff. It provides a clear vision, mission and strategy to strengthen and advance inclusive excellence and equity-focused changes in the College.

"The Diversity Action Plan in the College of Science is informed by a collective vision of inclusive success and equitable opportunities for our students, faculty and staff."

The plan, which is adaptive and will evolve based on evidence, results, feedback and assessment, will be the College’s guide to more structural and systemic progress in the coming years. Encompassing equitable hiring, inclusive climate and innovative access to learning and research experiences, the plan outlines key strategic goals aligned with specific actions and accountability structures to achieve greater diversity, inclusion and equity in “every operational aspect of the College.”

Shaped by listening sessions, surveys and dialogues with faculty, staff and students, the plan capitalizes on the core strengths of the College: An equity-minded community of students and scholars, a passion for scientific progress and a collective determination to defeat the barriers of inequality in science.

Inception and steps toward achieving greater diversity

Change begins with listening, self-education and dialogue. The Action Plan was inspired by a virtual town hall listening session in October 2020 that centered the experiences of Black science students in the College.

Moderated by Black faculty, administrators and students across Oregon State, the session was attended by more than 300 people. Panelists and participants advocated for the adoption and enforcement of cultural and structural changes in the College that create equity, not just equality. Panelists and Black students who responded to a survey overwhelmingly urged the College to “hire more professors and staff that look like us.”

"What’s important about this plan is it really involves organizational change."

The Black Lives Matter movement moved the nation to introspection, action and reform as we confronted the ugly effects of racism in the core institutions of our society, not least our academic institutions. STEM academic programs in particular have long been faced with a lack of diversity and inclusion in their midst.

The National Science Foundation’s 2021 report on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering finds that Blacks or African Americans and American Indians or Native Americans remain underrepresented in science and engineering educational attainment and in the STEM workforce.

Vrushali Bokil in front of shrubbery

Vrushali Bokil, associate dean for research and graduate studies and professor of mathematics.

“A renewed national movement arising in response to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others during the summer of 2020 prompted reflections on our obligation to challenge systemic racism and fueled the need to re-examine systemic failures and remove structures and barriers that impede some of our community members,” wrote the 14-member Diversity, Equity, Justice and Inclusion Working Group (DEJI WG)) that led the creation of the Diversity Action Plan. The group was chaired by Vrushali Bokil, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Science and professor of mathematics.

"The fact there is a budget associated with it suggests a real commitment."

The DEJI WG deliberated on foundational questions related to climate, equity and inclusion in seven focus group listening sessions with college leadership, faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students. A survey was also made available to all community members to collect input. In all, 82 participants were present during the focus group sessions and the survey had 25 respondents. Discussions at the listening sessions yielded themes, issues and strategies that, in part, shaped the Action Plan.

Wasting no time, the college leadership and unit leaders will begin implementing the most important segments of the plan in October this year. The first and most important action will be to hire a Program Director for Equity, Access and Inclusion (EAI), which will help embed values and actions supportive of EAI in our classrooms and institutions. The College will also establish an EAI Leadership Council that will lead and facilitate efforts towards achieving DEJI goals across all units and departments of the College and report on the progress of diversity initiatives.

“What’s important about this plan is it really involves organizational change. With the hiring of a program director and the EAI Council, there will be pieces in place to achieve equity, access and inclusion across the entire college,” said Bokil. “I think that’s exciting because it is a new way to do things.”

Mark Phillips, standing outside in front of a tree

Assistant Professor of biology Mark Phillips

To ensure the success of the Action Plan, the College of Science is investing $150K per year to expand resources to aid equitable and inclusive practices. “The plan is a step in the right direction. Some tangible goals have been outlined, and the fact there is a budget associated with it suggests a real commitment,” said Mark Phillips, a member of the College’s DEJI Working Group.

“I think there is a real need for programs and initiatives to help people feel like they are part of the community. The Action Plan represents a unified effort to address these sorts of issues.” Phillips was a postdoctoral scientist during the formulation of the Diversity Action Plan and has recently joined the Department of Integrative Biology as a tenure-track assistant professor.

Embedding an innovative approach to diversity and inclusion

Scott Vignos, interim vice president and chief diversity officer at Oregon State University and a member of the College’s DEJI working group, credits the robust start to the support of college leaders and their willingness to think big.

"It establishes an ambitious plan for embedding equity in every aspect of the college’s important work–from teaching, to student support, and faculty development."

Scott Vignos

Scott Vignos, interim vice president and chief diversity officer at Oregon State University.

“Two things stand out to me about the Diversity Action Plan. First, it establishes an ambitious plan for embedding equity in every aspect of the college’s important work – from teaching, to student support, and faculty development.

Second, the development of Diversity Action Plan was a truly community-engaged process. Members of the College of Science community – students, faculty, staff and stakeholders alike – were invited to wrestle with the complexities of creating equitable organizational change and together they developed a really incredible strategy and approach. I’m looking forward to seeing the plan come to life over the next year,” he said.

Based on the Adaptive Strategic Planning for Inclusive Excellence framework created by OSU’s Office of Institutional Diversity (OID) and in alignment with OSU's 2019-2023 Strategic Plan SP4.0 and OSU’s diversity strategic plan, Innovate and Integrate: Plan for Inclusive Excellence, the Diversity Action Plan outlines a set of five key strategic goals:

Goal 1: Embed, integrate and advance inclusive excellence within all aspects of the College of Science.

Goal 2: Establish holistic, inclusive and equitable hiring, recruitment and retention practices.

Goal 3: Create a welcoming college climate to support a sense of belonging and equitable learning and training experiences.

Goal 4: Provide innovative, inclusive, accessible and equitable access to learning and research experiences that incorporate global experiences.

Goal 5: Communicate accomplishments reflecting our commitments to inclusion and mutual respect of all members while enhancing visibility of minoritized communities.

Each goal will be realized through a set of evidence-based actions and scientific inquiry that range from collecting data on equity and achievement outcome gaps to increasing need-based scholarships and developing holistic admissions criteria.

Supporting student success

Student academic success is a core component of the plan and is outlined in goals 2, 3 and 4, which constitute the long-term cultivation of a welcoming environment, instilling a broad understanding of inclusive excellence and developing measures to enhance equity and access to creative and research opportunities.

“By changing how we would define a scientist we can potentially increase minority students’ engagement and success."

Bokil said that studies have shown that retention and success of URM students is connected with experiencing a sense of belonging that comes from seeing minoritized identities reflected in a diverse faculty and staff body as well as equitable access to undergraduate research opportunities.

“If you look at the DAP, you will see proposed actions that give students these substantive research opportunities. Across the five goals, there are many actions that are targeted toward a sense of belonging or holistic recruitment and retention in some way,” she said.

Dustin Campbell, a zoology graduate (’20) and a member of the DEJI Working Group shared his own experiences and perspective on improving the climate for inclusion and diversity in the college.

Dustin Campbell at the ichthyology collection, Oregon State University

Zoology student Dustin Campbell holding the tail of a thresher shark after giving a tour of the ichthyology collection in the Department of Integrative Biology.

Campbell, a first-generation college student who transferred to Oregon State from Chemeketa Community College, participated in a plethora of research and field experiences at OSU and considers them the most enjoyable and meaningful part of his educational journey.

Campbell and his brother Russell, also a zoology major, often found themselves to be the only Black students at events on campus. “I think in order to change and improve on the current situation, the college could make extra efforts to help these students and foster a safe and comfortable environment for them,” he said. “To give the university and the people in it credit, if you do make the jump and throw yourself into various clubs and interact with the staff, everyone is amazing to work with and welcoming towards everyone.”

Campbell said the goals outlined by the plan will go towards making underrepresented students feel comfortable in all settings in the college and the university. “By changing how we would define a scientist as well as aiming to make the College of Science more welcoming and understanding of different people and their cultures, we can potentially increase minority students’ engagement and success,” he said.

Launching the Diversity Action Plan

The Diversity Action Plan will be shared in multiple sessions with the larger community of students, faculty and staff in the College of Science. The rollout session for Science faculty and staff is Thursday, Oct. 7, noon – 1 p.m., in the Memorial Union Ballroom; register for that session here.

The rollout session for Science students is Tuesday, Oct. 12, 5 – 6:30 p.m., in the Memorial Union Ballroom. Register for the student session.

"We all don’t need to do more, we just need to do things differently to make a difference.”

Bokil looks forward to wider participation and engagement as she and the college leadership team prepare to launch the Diversity Action Plan.

“The big message of the DAP is that this is a community plan. It is what the community has told us they want to see happen,” she said. “We are putting into place a structure for equity, access and inclusion, we are hiring a program director, we've really listened to everybody to put this plan together. But in order to be successful and to create meaningful change, we need everybody to do their share and be engaged. One doesn’t need to do everything. Pick your passion and be engaged. We all don’t need to do more, we just need to do things differently to make a difference.”