New DEIR Snapshot Tool

Shows Status, Progress

by Leslie Mertz for the American Chemical Society 

As the emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion and respect (DEIR) has intensified in recent years, chemistry chairs are struggling to get a handle on how well their departments are fostering those values. To help make this complex task considerably easier, the ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT) has developed a tool that affords chairs a clear picture of where their departments stand in creating an environment that embraces DEIR.

Called DEIR Snapshot, it combines a short survey chairs can distribute to administrators, students, faculty and staff, with a follow-up summary of survey responses aggregated into a simple-to-read graphic showing a gradation of colors ranging from red through blue to indicate high and low points in the DEIR climate.

“Particularly since the murder of George Floyd, we are all asking the same questions about DEIR: Am I doing enough? And what else can I do?,” said CPT member Leyte Winfield, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Spelman College. “This tool offers an opportunity to do self-reflection without judgement, and hopefully helps to move the chemistry community beyond just counting to see if departments have enough women or minorities, and on to other ways of having a real impact on diversity, equity, inclusion and respect.”

DEIR Snapshot: The Details

The backbone of DEIR Snapshot is the survey, which is designed as a series of statements taken from the new ACS Approval Program guidelines for DEIR. The guidelines include very basic but critical requirements departments must meet, as well as best practices that serve as suggestions for continuous improvement, and aspirational goals called markers of excellence, and the survey includes a series of statements from those guidelines, and asks respondents to indicate their perceptions of how well the department emulates them, explained Edgar Arriaga, Ph.D., professor at the University of Minnesota, who had a leading role in developing the guidelines and DEIR Snapshot as both a former chair and current member of the CPT. “For instance, the statement might read: Faculty and staff who interact with students have proper training on diversity, equity and inclusion. Then the survey provides a spectrum of responses from strongly agree on one end to strongly disagree on the other.”

In developing the survey, the CPT kept it short at only 10-15 minutes to complete, so more people would be likely to take it. “We also made it anonymous so respondents would feel free to express their thoughts," Arriaga said. In addition, the survey has a self-description section where respondents can write in such things as their academic role (e.g., student or teacher), race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, neurodivergence, or “anything else they feel will inform the interpretation of the questions,” he said.

The second part of DEIR Snapshot is the collation of results for individual departments. Survey results go to the office of the ACS Approval Program, which collates the results and converts them into the heat map that goes back to the department, explained Michelle Brooks, Ph.D., senior manager of the ACS Undergraduate Education Office. “This is an internal measure for your own department,” she said, emphasizing that it has nothing to do with the approval process, but rather is “strictly a reflective tool so you can see how your department is doing.” The results will not only highlight how well the overall department is doing, she noted, but will also include summaries of responses from self-identified groups so chairs can get a sense of perspectives on a variety of levels.

For the third part, the ACS Approval Program plans to combine all survey results across the board – again anonymously – to get a national overview of status and progress in diversity, equity, inclusion and respect, including a drilled-down view of perspectives reported by self-identified groups, Brooks said. “We hope that a lot of departments will want to participate so we can get enough data to allow us to not only find out how the majority feels we are doing in terms of DEIR, but also how each smaller cohort of people sees things.” Chairs may also wish to weigh their own departmental heat maps against the nationwide data to see how they compare, she added.

Thinking in the longer term, Arriaga envisions repeated use of DEIR Snapshot as a way to track DEIR progress over time, either by individual departments or on a national level. He remarked, “Overall, my hope is that this demands little time commitment on the part of departments, but creates an opportunity for self-reflection so we can all understand where we need to prioritize our actions and efforts.”

The CPT has been running a small trial of the survey in spring and early summer to make sure it works as planned, and will be presenting preliminary data from that trial and also introducing DEIR Snapshot at the upcoming 2022 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE) at Purdue University. Following that, the ACS Approval Program office and CPT will jointly determine when to make DEIR Snapshot available to departments, possibly as early as this fall, Brooks said.

Chairs weigh in

One of those looking forward to the roll-out of DEIR Snapshot is Benny Chan, Ph.D., chemistry chair at The College of New Jersey, and member of the CPT. “One of the reasons I wanted to join CPT was to have a national-level policy viewpoint on DEIR, and I think this provides an excellent, quick tool for departments,” he remarked. “That is especially true for the many departments that still have not done any real DEIR assessment, often because they don’t know where to start, they’re busy with other things, or they are used to focusing on the technical side of doing science and haven’t really thought about the humanness of doing science. This tool provides a first step in revealing what the local issues are and beginning to understand them.”

Another chair who sees DEIR Snapshot as a path forward is Jason Belitsky, Ph.D., department chair and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Oberlin College and Conservatory. He is also co-program director of his college’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence grant that gave several department faculty course release so they could spend the past year learning about and then developing ways to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

Belitsky sees several potential benefits from DEIR Snapshot. “One of the key things in DEI is that we, as faculty, almost certainly have different perspectives than our students, and specific groups of students may have different perspectives from one another, so something like this new tool could be quite useful,” he remarked. “After all, we can’t necessarily know what other people are thinking unless we ask.” He added that the timing for this type of tool is right. “A lot of departments are thinking about these topics, but don't really know how to evaluate things. This could definitely be useful.”

Wendy Pogozelski, Ph.D and Jeff Peterson, Ph.D. of State University of New York College at Geneseo are already heavily involved in DEIR, but likewise see advantages to a survey tool. Pogozelski is distinguished teaching professor and former chemistry department chair, and Peterson is the current chair. Examples of their current efforts are a National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant that enabled them to offer a recent conference for women in STEM and develop a DEIR training program now open to chairs across the country; and a senior seminar course with a unit on developing empathy and insight, and becoming an ally.

Peterson described the department as having a racially diverse staff that is also committed to LGBTQIA+ inclusion, but he and Pogozelski continue to see opportunity for growth and improvement on the DEIR front. In fact, she said, “We did do our own home-grown DEIR survey a couple of years ago, but to have something that might be more optimized and that we could do regularly would be a really good thing to follow our progress.”

Peterson also is looking forward to seeing national DEIR data. “I think resources like this new survey tool that show where you stand compared to national averages, or perhaps similar institutions, would be really helpful in identifying areas where improvements are needed and areas of success as well.”

Another benefit of the DEIR Snapshot is that it might provide departments with the data they need to get grants to address shortfalls, but even if it simply encourages more discussions around diversity, equity inclusion and respect, that would be “phenomenal,” noted Winfield. “This tool really gives chairs the opportunity to do self-reflection without judgement, which is so important, because we are all looking for interventions and strategies to be a part of the DEIR conversation and do better in this space.”

This tool really gives chairs the opportunity to do self-reflection without judgement, which is so important, because we are all looking for interventions and strategies to be a part of the DEIR conversation and do better in this space - Leyte Winfield, Ph.D. 

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