Zaporah Price, Staff Reporter

On Tuesday afternoon, over 100 students and professors gathered via Zoom for a talk titled “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Addressing Systemic Racism in STEM” given by Dr. Kuheli Dutt of Columbia University.

Dutt — who serves as the assistant director for Academic Affairs and Diversity at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia — spoke about implicit and affinity bias in STEM. Although her talk predominantly focused on increasing and including racial diversity in higher education, she broadened the topic to include LGBTQ+ individuals and gender minorities as well. The event was hosted by Yale’s Center for Biodiversity and Global Change alongside other STEM departments and labs in the geosciences. This event is also one of an intended series of talks. These talks are part of the Belonging at Yale campus-wide initiative, announced by University President Peter Salovey earlier this month. 

“Further compounding the issue is that DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] work is often done by minority groups, it’s often done by women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, ” Dutt said in her lecture. “In the geosciences in particular we have three broad problems simultaneously: you have the pipeline issue [and] very low numbers of URM [underrepresented minorities] PhDs, glaring absence of role models and senior roles and a culture that does not promote inclusion or belonging.” 

She explained that this failure to promote diversity and inclusion was not a result of overt racism, but rather the accepted norm of “whiteness.” She pointed to a recent NYT report that highlights that there is only one person of color serving as an administrative leader of the top 25 ranked colleges and universities in America. Dutt said that the lack of diversity was also present in STEM departments across the country. 

At Yale, 2019 statistics show that only 3.2 percent of ladder faculty — professors that have tenure or are on the tenure track— identify as Black, 3.9 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 64.2 percent identify as white. The same statistics show that only 39 percent of ladder faculty identify as female and 61 percent identify as male. 

Dutt’s lecture is one of a series of activities and events related to DEI hosted by Yale’s Center for Biodiversity and Global Change. Center Director and professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Walter Jetz, program manager Anna Schuerkmann and postdoctoral associate Ruth Oliver told the News in a joint email statement that the event was originally meant to be in-person in April. But they said that they were excited that interest increased since the spring, and that they were able to co-host the talk with the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences Committee on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Anti-racism, the Department of Physics, Wright Lab and the Department of Astronomy.

“You can’t have diversity without inclusion, you can’t have inclusion without people feeling like they belong, which can only happen if their identities get acknowledged,” Dutt said.  

Dutt gave definitions and examples of systemic racism, privilege, anti-Blackness and other terms, focusing first on society at large and then connecting these themes to DEI in STEM at the university level. She gave both institutional solutions and individual ones, the latter of which included education on systemic racism and increasing the diversity of POC on academic panels. 

According to the email from Jetz, Schuerkmann and Oliver, diversity and inclusion are core values for the center.

“We hope that this seminar will contribute to a productive conversation about race and racism in the sciences and at Yale and about how to dismantle systemic issues that create inequity in academia as a whole,” Jetz, Schuerkmann and Oliver wrote in their email. Oliver, who was familiar with Dutt’s work from her time as a PhD student at Columbia, moderated Tuesday’s lecture. 

One student-led organization, Black Pre-Health Students at Yale, formed this May and is similarly focused on engaging in critical discussions centering anti-Blackness and racism in STEM. 

The group was created to empower undergraduate students across the African Diaspora in pursuing health-related professions. Since its founding, the organization has given advising sessions to incoming first-years, connected students to Black pre-health faculty and hosted a panel discussion on the impact of health and mass incarceration on marginalized communities. 

The organization is currently focused on wellness in the Black community, co-hosting meditation and yoga events with organizations such as the Black Student Alliance at Yale and Students Unite Now. 

“Most importantly, [we] work to create a community amongst Black students,” BPHYale Co-President Stephen Martinez-Hamilton ’22 told the News. “In creating [that] community, we want to be able to provide resources and provide support for students interested in entering into a health-related career because we all know from personal experiences [that] being Black students and being Black pre-health students at Yale can be very difficult.” 

The Yale Center for Biodiversity and Global Change is located at 165 Prospect Street. 

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu

Correction, Oct. 21: An earlier version of this article incorrectly defined “ladder faculty” as faculty with tenure. In fact, “ladder faculty” also refers to faculty on the track to tenure as well. The article has been updated.