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Diversity Initiatives Update

TO: The Caltech Community
FROM: Cindy Weinstein, Vice Provost, Chief Diversity Officer, and Professor of English

It has been about six months since my taking on the role of chief diversity officer, and I would like to provide you with an update on diversity initiatives at Caltech. Structural changes have been put in place to help nucleate and coordinate diversity efforts across campus. As a community, we have generated considerable momentum, which I believe is evident from the following actions taken:

  1. The President’s Diversity Council has been reconfigured. The Council is made up of eight faculty members, one representative from each division plus two division chairs. The current membership is Jacqueline Barton (CCE division chair), Kaushik Battacharya (EAS), Bil Clemons (CCE), Victoria Orphan (GPS), Jean-Laurent Rosenthal (HSS division chair), Barbara Wold (BBE), and Leeat Yariv (HSS). Its charge is “to make sure that Caltech continues to attract the most original and creative scholars to the Institute by ensuring an environment where diversity is celebrated.” President Rosenbaum will be writing to you about these efforts in the context of the national conversation on diversity.
  2. The Caltech Center for Diversity has been incorporated into the Provost’s Office. It is expanding to include a senior director for diversity, whose role will be to coordinate the many activities of the diversity center designed to meet the needs of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and staff. The senior director will also be a resource for faculty on outreach and for recruitment at the faculty, postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate student levels and will collaborate with other campus offices on diversity-related matters.
  3. The Caltech Center for Diversity has been reorganized to maximize its ability to provide support for our students. Eva Graham is the director for underrepresented, underserved, and minority student programs; Taso Dimitriadis is the assistant director for LGBTQ students and programs; and Erin-Kate Escobar is the assistant director for women students and programs.  Since this reorganization, we have increased the number of participants in our Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, developed assessment tools in order to gauge the success of our Freshman Summer Research Institute, expanded our women mentoring women program, and created a “coffee and conversation” monthly meeting for graduate students.
  4. There is now a more connected and robust network in place to coordinate diversity initiatives being undertaken by offices across campus. These include: the admissions office (Jarrid Whitney); the undergraduate dean’s office; the graduate dean’s office (Helen Duong, recruitment, outreach, and admissions coordinator); the newly-created Office of Equity, Access and Inclusion (assistant vice president Felicia Hunt); Student-Faculty Programs, which runs WAVE, our program designed to bring underrepresented students, first generation students, and students with disabilities to Caltech for a summer research experience; and the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach (Mitch Aiken, associate director for educational outreach).
  5. Several formal events related to diversity have taken place or will happen in the next few months. Freshman orientation this year featured a video about diversity and also included small student group discussions of Rebecca Skloot’sThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, led for the most part by faculty. Graduate student orientation featured talks about unconscious bias by Joan Schmelz, professor of physics and materials science at the University of Memphis. Casey Miller, associate professor of materials science and engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology, also gave a talk about unconscious bias and the problem with using standardized tests as a primary criterion for graduate student admissions. The managing director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies, Michele Judd, organized a Space Connection and Networking Event that featured a panel of Caltech female faculty members and female scientists at JPL describing the research opportunities and benefits of working together. Looking ahead, we are organizing a “Women, Engineering, Science and Technology Forum” that will bring to campus women in science and engineering who will speak about their experiences in a discussion moderated by Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College. Finally, graduate students are putting together a Student-Faculty Colloquium, modeled on the undergraduate Student-Faculty Conference, that will include sessions on diversity, mentoring, and professional development.
  6. Several informal events related to diversity have happened or will happen over the next few months. These include a town hall meeting about diversity that was facilitated by the Caltech Center for Diversity; discussions with several chairs of faculty search committees to expand the applicant pools; outreach efforts such as going to conferences that are designed to enhance our ability to reach out to qualified, prospective undergraduate and graduate student applicants who may not know about Caltech and to encourage them to apply; and meetings with graduate students who are coordinating recruitment visits with option administrators in order to bring together admitted students so as to convey the importance of community and inclusion at Caltech.
  7. Finally, Caltech can point to the success of AGEP (Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate), a postdoctoral and graduate student program designed to improve underrepresented minority students’ professional access and success. Our AGEP partners are Berkeley, UCLA, and Stanford. Through a concerted community effort, seeded by an NSF grant and then funded more broadly by the President’s Office, the Provost’s Office, the divisions, and individual faculty, Caltech has brought six AGEP postdocs to campus this year.  

I look forward to updating you about our continuing progress.