Yale Daily News

The School of Engineering and Applied Science announced the formation of its newly minted Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging committee, or DEIB committee, on April 16. Committee members and students shared their hopes for the future of DEIB efforts at the SEAS with the News.

The committee was formed in accordance with the DEIB goals for Yale issued by University President Peter Salovey earlier this year, and was formally created following a March 30 SEAS community meeting to discuss plans and actions the school could implement. Assistant Dean for Science and Engineering Sarah Miller and Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Jeffrey Brock selected 11 members of the Yale SEAS community — including professors, undergraduate students, graduate students and senior administrative assistants — from a pool of “numerous” applicants to form the DEIB committee, according to Miller and an April 16 email the SEAS community announcing the committee.

In the coming months, the committee, which Miller is leading, will be reviewing individual DEI action plans provided by each department within SEAS in hopes of creating an integrated DEIB plan with action steps over the next five years.

“I am grateful to everyone in our community for their significant efforts on the departmental action plans and to all members of SEAS who work everyday to make our school more inclusive and welcoming,” Brock wrote in the April 16 email.

Brock declined to comment for this article because the “important process is still evolving” and the committee’s plan has not yet been finalized.

The current focus of the committee is to formulate its integrated DEIB plan, which will include objectives as well as assessments of the current standing of SEAS, based on analysis of DEIB plans developed by SEAS departments and community feedback, according to Michael Loewenberg, professor of chemical engineering and environmental engineering and DEIB committee member.

“The aim is to arrive at a DEIB plan that has buy-in from everyone: students, staff, and faculty,” Loewenberg wrote in an email to the News.

The newly-formed committee has begun to meet weekly, and is working to create one-, three- and five-year action plans as part of the integrated plan. A draft of these plans is tentatively scheduled to be completed by mid-May, and the finalized draft finished by late August. According to committee member and graduate student Ethen Lund PhD ’24, the action plans will be a continuation of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in individual departments, staff workplaces and input from community members.

“I’m hoping to find ways to engage all the stakeholders in our SEAS community, undergraduates, graduate students, post docs, research associates, faculty and lecturers, staff members, and others, to help contribute to the vision of a more diverse, robust, and welcoming environment,” Lund wrote in an email to the News.

Lund was appointed to the DEIB committee on April 13, just three days before the committee was announced to the SEAS community. He said that areas he would like to work on as a committee member include better communication and greater transparency on DEIB efforts and other departmental functions. Lund added that he would like to help establish “actionable ways” to recruit and retain faculty and students from “underrepresented backgrounds.”

While Lund sees the committee as a step in the right direction, he said it will be “far more meaningful” once the action plans are finalized and they begin to implement concrete, community-focused initiatives.

“Community is probably on the top of our minds, without giving away too much,” DEIB committee member and Department of Computer Science Registrar Sabrina Whiteman said. “Just a sense of community, and really we’re interested in finding ways that we can commune together and be together, and that the spaces are beautiful, and who each student is as a person feels represented in all of the different departments.” 

Although committee meetings have begun, Whiteman said it was too early to divulge the specific concerns that the committee will address. She added that the committee plans to keep the broader SEAS community informed in the coming weeks and ask for their input. She encouraged students, faculty and staff to go to committee members with issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

After what she described as “quite emotional” staff conversations at the SEAS in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police last summer, Whiteman said that she hoped to “be at the table” when DEIB efforts were formed. This ultimately led to her decision to apply to be on the committee, and she was accepted soon thereafter. 

On a personal note, Whiteman is focused on emphasizing the diversity of experiences, backgrounds and talent of the SEAS community. She added that, for her, faculty recruitment is another area of focus.

“On a student level, I would love for there to be a codified way that students get to express themselves, not just as scientists, but who they came to the school [as] with all of their experiences,” Whiteman told the News. “I would also love to see an increase in female faculty, especially women of color … Thirdly, for staff, that there is a greater sense of ownership of what goes on, you know, at the school.”  

Four students expressed optimism about the formation of the committee and their hopes for the future of the SEAS community at large. 

Ross Johnson ’23, a computer science major, said that he was happy to hear about the creation of the DEIB committee.

“I do think that creating support systems for minority students in the engineering space is important,” Johnson wrote in an email to the News. “Ensuring that students, especially new students, feel like they belong in their field of study is something I think the DEIB committee should focus on.” 

Johnson said that in his first few engineering classes, there were not many students who looked like him in the lecture hall. Now, as president of the National Society of Black Engineers chapter at Yale, Johnson said he and the organization hopes to work with the DEIB committee to provide input.

Cam Bell ’23 expressed similar sentiments and wrote that he was excited to see progress being made to “increase the sense of belonging for BIPOC students in STEM.” 

Bell wrote that while he was new to the engineering community, it was small and tight knit — especially for those within the same major. He added that he is eager to see how the committee fosters communication between different majors, and hoped the committee “does not exist in-name-only and fights to carry out its mission.” 

Solomon Gonzalez ’23 was also optimistic about the committee, as “there seemed to be a fair amount of graduate students in the mix” and therefore would “have the capabilities to properly encapsulate everyone’s perspectives.” Still, he said he is waiting to have his hopes up until the action plan is released. 

“There can always be improvements to the communities, within and between majors, so there is room for the DEIB committee to be of assistance,” Gonzalez wrote in an email to the News.

The Yale School of Engineering and Applied Sciences was founded in 1852. 

Maya Geradi currently serves as a copy editor. She also covers technology and entrepreneurship as a staff reporter with the Science and Technology Desk. Originally from New Haven, Maya is a junior in Grace Hopper College majoring in chemical engineering.