An Afternoon to Reflect upon Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Toxicology Education

By Larissa Williams posted 04-15-2021 14:22


SOT is committed to embracing diversity and optimizing inclusion. To kick off the Virtual 2021 SOT Annual Meeting and ToxExpo, 47 SOT members from 42 different institutions representing all sectors of toxicology (academia, government, and industry) came together on Friday, March 12, to consider the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in undergraduate education. The workshop was organized and facilitated by the FUTURE Committee. Before the workshop, participants were asked to identify their goals for the workshop, what they perceived to be central barriers to DEI in toxicology education, and the role that SOT could play to address them, as well as how they were individually positioned to support and enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in their own sphere of influence. Additionally, participants were given an opportunity to read one of three peer-reviewed papers about DEI.

Once together, our facilitator, Nicollette Mitchell, Director of Equity and Inclusion Education at Bates College, briefly introduced the importance of DEI and provided data about the lack of success of PEERs (Persons Excluded due to Ethnicity or Race) in STEM as compared with their white peers. She noted both the individual and the structural challenges faced by these students. After the introduction, Nicollette asked participants to create a map of their connections to DEI work on individual, interpersonal, and institutional levels. Using the map, participants then identified areas for growth, potential for resistance, and areas that have the largest impact/power. Participants shared these patterns with each other using the online platform Padlet.

The next part of the workshop focused on work in smaller breakout rooms, where participants talked about an educator’s role in fostering an inclusive environment for PEERs. They also talked about those areas for growth, potential for resistance, and potential for greatest impact toward retention that were mapped earlier. Some takeaways from these groups included:

  • The importance of DEI training and unchecked bias
  • Understanding that increasing diversity is the easiest to do but inclusion and equity are harder
  • Understanding that there is a general lack of institutional support for these DEI efforts
  • Understanding that funding is a barrier to PEERs
  • Understanding that mentoring is the job of everyone
  • The need to consciously include PEER-related curriculum into all courses

Participants were pulled back together at the end of the session to briefly reflect in the chat about takeaways from the discussions. Highlights included finding ways to make institutional change at multiple levels, better awareness of the issues and challenges, turning deficit mindset into equity mindset, and continuing to champion the cause. The financial support of SOT made this facilitated discussion possible, and we look forward to continued DEI work within SOT and among its members.