This post was updated July 17 at 11:20 p.m.
The University of California joined a science equity and diversity program in May, making the UC the first university system to participate in the program, according to a press release from the UC Office of the President.
The Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine Equity Achievement Change program is part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an organization that works to advance science, engineering and innovation, said Shirley Malcom, senior advisor to the CEO of AAAS and director of SEA Change.
The UC decided to join this initiative to help accelerate its efforts in diversifying faculty across all campuses, said UCOP spokesperson Ryan King in an emailed statement.
“SEA Change will strengthen our work to train, recruit and retain a diverse professoriate, which will ensure that UC continues to be a leader in high-caliber medical expertise, cutting-edge research and exceptional education while reflecting California’s rich diversity,” said UC President Michael Drake in the press release.
The SEA Change initiative in particular asks universities to do thorough self-assessments of certain policies, such as hiring processes and teaching practices, Malcom added.
Three of the 10 UC campuses – UC Davis, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz – were already charter members of the SEA Change program at a campus level before internal discussions led them to extend membership to all campuses, King said.
“In reviewing the experiences of those campuses that are already members of SEA Change, we determined that systemwide participation would further accelerate UC efforts to recruit, retain, and support a more diverse faculty,” King said in the statement.
As a woman of color and UCLA alumnus, Malcom said she recognizes that faculty diversity helps create a welcoming environment that improves education.
“Our population is changing. The demographics are shifting. We are much more diverse than we were when I was at UCLA,” Malcom said. “Throughout my time at university, I never saw a faculty member who looked like me.”
Students understand the importance of having mentors they could connect to and hope to see a more representative professoriate, said Nick Geiser, a doctoral student in the department of physics and astronomy.
Graduate students are happy to see the University making systemwide decisions to increase diversity, said Geiser, a member of the bargaining team for Student Researchers United, the UC-wide union of graduate student researchers, trainees and fellows. SRU and United Automobile Workers 2865, the union representing all academic student employees, are both in negotiations with the UC and have presented proposals to the system regarding other diversity initiatives, he said.
Many graduate programs in STEM are low-paying jobs for several years as students complete their degree, making pursuing the field a difficult decision for those who are not able to afford the cost of living during this time or do not have the support to do so, Geiser said. Low stipends also limit diversity in these fields, as this usually affects underrepresented communities the most, he added.
“In STEM fields, there’s what’s been called a leaky pipeline where the number of women and minorities especially decreases as every career position advances,” Geiser said. “And so we really need to bolster what we’re doing to improve diversity at every level.”