Saturday, March 18, 2017

On Diversity of the ASIH

Origins of the Diversity Committee of ASIH
At the 2016 Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH), members of the Resolutions Committee called on the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) to make a stand for diversity in its membership. The first step toward this goal was the establishment of the Diversity Committee (introduced later in this post). The second step is the development and communication of the mission of the committee. The third, and most important, will be the development and deployment of programmatic components at JMIH and within ASIH to effectively diversify our membership.

Many members of ASIH attend other meetings where membership diversity has been identified as a crucial component to building society strength and effectiveness (e.g.,
SICB, ESA). Membership diversity is a principle characteristic in scientific research highlighted by AAAS. Therefore, the Diversity Committee of ASIH has formed to determine 1) the current makeup of the society at large, 2) how to build on and expand other societies’ efforts to support membership diversity, and 3) the directions in which ASIH specifically could and should improve in this regard.

 Need for diversity within ASIH

In both 2015 and 2016, ASIH conducted a survey of its membership identifying multiple metrics of diversity. Though we currently have basic information on our membership, we recognize the intersections of these diversity metrics and their often non-additive nature. The ethnicity of the membership between 2016 [N] and (2015 [N]) is divided into two categories: Hispanic/Latino 8.37% [42] (6.22% [27]) and non-Hispanic/Latino at 89.84% [451] (92.17% [400]).

In terms of racial composition of non-Hispanic/Latino members, the Society is
0.20% [1] (0.23% [1]) Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
0.80% [4] (0.46% [2]) Black/African American
1.20% [6] (0.93% [4]) American Indian/Alaska Native
4.6% [23] (3.71% [16]) Asian, and
91.60% [458] (93.74% [404]) White.
Suffice to say, the Society’s racial composition is, like most scientific societies, not reflective of the racial composition of the country. Based on the 2015 U.S. census, the U.S. is 17.6% Hispanic/Latino, and the composition of the non-Hispanic/Latino population is
0.2% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
3.3% Black/African American
1.2% American Indian/Alaska Native
5.6% Asian, and
77.1% White.
The biggest underrepresentation in the Society is our Black/African American membership followed by our Hispanic/Latino membership.

From a STEM-wide perspective based on
2014 data from NSF, the Society’s membership is less ethnically and racially diverse than national trends for graduating STEM majors from 4-year institutions. For ethnicity, 12.1% of STEM majors are Hispanic/Latino. In terms of racial diversity among non-Hispanic/Latinos, STEM graduates are
0.30% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
8.7% Black/African American
0.5% American Indian/Alaska Native
9.5% Asian, and
61.5% White.
The most glaring disparity between STEM-wide demographics and the Society is, again, our underrepresentation—by an order of magnitude—of Black/African American scientists.

In terms of gender, the Society has a membership composed of 31.94% [160] (30.14% [129]) women and 67.07% [336] (68.69% [294]) men. This is in sharp contrast to the national average from the 2015 census data (50.8% women) and the proportion of women obtaining degrees in STEM in the U.S. in 2014 (50.0%).

In addition to considering the ethnic and gender composition of our membership, there is also a need to recognize the proportion of the Society with disabilities and the type of disability reported. Members reported impairments that were Mobility 1.61% [8] (2.8% [12]), Visual 2.21% [11] (0.93% [4]), and/or Hearing-based 5.42% [27] (5.14% [22]). Overall, 13.12% [58] (13.03% [49]) of the membership reported disabilities. We recognize that these summaries lack data on learning and psychiatric disabilities.

There are also no current survey data on sexual orientation or gender diversity for the Society. Similarly, we have no data on society members who are/were first generation college students. The Committee fully recognizes these dimensions of diversity and will request that future surveys of the Society incorporate them.

Between 2015 and 2016, the ASIH has neither lost nor gained diversity in its membership.

Plans for increasing diversity of the membership
The Committee is still in the process of determining the best routes for increasing membership diversity. Some societies use social events to link diverse members to peers as well as faculty mentors during their annual meetings (e.g., Broadening Participation events at SICB), and others have formal programs that integrate underrepresented students into the research process to help them cultivate potential careers in the discipline (e.g., ESA SEEDS program). The JMIH hosts an array of workshops every year that aim to dissolve the faculty-student divide and foster substantive mentoring interactions among its members. For example, Marlis Douglas and Michael Douglas co-organize a speed networking event at the JMIH to diversify students’ academic networks and facilitate dialogue. There is also a history of career-based workshops at the meeting to provide insider perspectives to students considering careers in academics. Perhaps workshops on strategies for diversifying our membership, led by nationally-recognized builders of STEM diversity, could equip the Society’s faculty with the skills and motivation to improve the composition of the Society.

A second solution to increasing diversity could focus on visibility. Many established scientists in ichthyological and herpetological research come from diverse backgrounds, and showcasing these scientists’ careers to prospective members would demonstrate that ASIH is a society they could make their home as well. The strong, emergent theme from the Centennial Symposium at the 2016 JMIH was that our members’ research interests have evolved and diverged since their early days in the Society, but they still considered the ASIH their home. It is what makes our Society special. We would do well to share this with as diverse a population of scientists as possible. The ASIH can and should be a scientific home for everyone.

Profiles of the members of the Diversity Committee
Michael P. Franklin (co-chair), faculty at California State University Northridge, member of ASIH since 1990, fish population dynamics. As an educator and investigator, I have been curious about the lack of diversity in the marine sciences for years. I frequently speak to diverse groups (career days, outreach events at community colleges, etc.) and while the interest is high, there remains little if any change in diversity numbers at CSUN or ASIH. I am looking forward to being part of a group that directly addresses these issues.

Rocky Parker (co-chair), faculty at James Madison University, member of ASIH since 2002, reptile pheromones and endocrinology. As an LGBTQ scientist, representation and diversity in the professional scientific world is deeply important to me. I have been involved with diversity recruitment and training in STEM since 2010, and I am highly motivated to do what I can to create a more representative membership in the ASIH.

Melanie Stiassny, faculty and curator at the Richard Gilder Graduate School and Ichthyology Department of the American Museum of Natural History, member of ASIH since the early 1990s, fish systematics and evolutionary biology. Opening the doors of our society to a fully diverse and engaged membership is a long held aspiration and I very much look forward to working together to realize this goal.  

Norma Salcedo
, faculty at Francis Marion University, member of ASIH since 2001, fish systematics and vertebrate morphology. I have taught at liberal arts colleges for 10 years now. Since I joined FMU, until recently considered a minority serving institution, I’ve had the opportunity to interact closely with a highly diverse student body, including first-generation students. I want to bring my experience regarding retention in academia to the ASIH, and thus help increase the diversity of its members.

Christopher Martinez, postdoctoral fellow at University of California Davis, member of ASIH since 2015, fish morphological diversity. As a Chicano, I have long had a passion for fostering diversity in STEM and I am eager to continue my outreach efforts as a member of the ASIH diversity committee.

Beck Wehrle, Ph.D. candidate at University of California Irvine, member of ASIH since 2009, lizard digestive physiology. I wanted to be a part of this committee because I know the factors that hinder diversity are deep rooted in science and in society as a whole and require active work to overcome. I have an interest in promoting diversity in all parts of my life and especially making sure the complexity of intersections of identity/experiences are recognized.

Kimberly Foster, Ph.D. student at Western Michigan University, member of ASIH since 2013, fish morphology and phylogenetics. Growing up in the South I have always been acutely aware of diversity issues within the scientific community. As an LGBTQ student and scientist, I strive to make daily choices that lead to the incorporation of people from all walks of life. I am advocate for women’s and LGBTQ rights and have been campaigning for those rights since 2005. I am stoked to be a part of the ASIH diversity committee, and look forward to bringing about change.

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