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Westfield State University becomes new charter member of AAAS SEA Change

SEA Change – the initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to support colleges and universities as they systematically transform themselves into diverse, equitable, and inclusive institutions – is expanding its reach with the announcement of four new charter members across the country.

Image: Westfield State University faculty and students teach and learn in the Dr. Nettie M. Stevens Science & Innovation Center.  

The new charter members are Arizona State University; the University of California, Irvine; the University of Florida; and Westfield State University. They join the first SEA Change charter members, announced in August, in a national network publicly committed to creating sustainable changes to recruit, retain and advance the full range of diverse talent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine.

“We’re just thrilled to be part of this initiative that can help us connect with others, have some foundational conversations about our efforts and really do a deep dive into our own institution,” said Jennifer Hanselman, dean of the College of Mathematics and Science at Westfield State University in Massachusetts.

SEA Change, short for STEMM Equity Achievement, supports institutions as they undergo a rigorous self-assessment process to interrogate their own culture, policies, and procedures that stand in the way of access and success for students, faculty, and staff from groups marginalized in STEMM. From this self-assessment, participating institutions create individualized action plans and carry out changes that break down barriers for those excluded or marginalized based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability status, or any other aspect of identity that has been a source of bias in STEMM.  

SEA Change is “an opportunity and a lever to accelerate our ongoing efforts in institutional transformation,” said Douglas Haynes, chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion at UC Irvine.

Participants compared the SEA Change initiative to a scaffold and an umbrella – offering necessary structure for pursuing goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion and bringing together different units and efforts within the university that might be starting from different places. “You need to know what everybody else is doing and how your project will affect theirs, and vice versa, and what you can learn to make your project better,” said Stanlie James, vice provost for inclusion and community engagement at ASU. “We see SEA Change as helping us to think this through.”

Participants also look forward to learning from the network of other SEA Change charter members.

“Change, I think, only happens when you have a level of transparency with the world outside of your institution,” said Antonio Farias, chief diversity officer at the University of Florida.

The SEA Change initiative has three pillars:

the publicly accessible SEA Change Community, which contains private spaces for SEA Change Members to connect
the Institute, a library of resources that includes a research repository, trainings, and virtual events
the Awards, which honor institutions for their progress toward true systemic transformation.

The first SEA Change Institutional Bronze Awards were given in 2019 to three institutions that successfully completed self-assessments of their policies, procedures, and climate and developed an action plan to address the challenges they uncovered.

The benefits of enabling the full range of talent to thrive in STEMM are wide-reaching, for the institutions, their people, and the communities they serve, participants said.

“We have this unique set of conditions and moment to really redefine a new category of university: to become an inclusive excellence university. That means that we mobilize talented people, scaffold them to maximize their potential, and enable our faculty to do their best work here,” said Haynes.

Added Farias, “By tapping into the diverse talent we already have in the state of Florida, we are absolutely going to regenerate the STEMM workforce for Florida.”

A fully inclusive scientific enterprise improves not just scientific output but also broadens the kinds of questions that are even being asked, added Miki Kittilson, a professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at ASU.

Said Kittilson, “The collective benefits for scientific discovery are really exciting.”

For more information about SEA Change charter membership, or to join, visit https://seachange.aaas.org/membership/membership-form

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