Equity, Inclusion, Diversity, and Justice Statement

The following document has arisen as a product of many discussions in the Synthetic Neurobiology group, and thus should not be considered as a traditional, finalized document that was authored by a fixed set of people at a specific time.  Rather, it reflects an evolving and dynamic set of ideas, actions, and plans, which in turn reflect evolving and dynamic learnings and understandings.  It cannot be a complete set of all the thoughts proposed, of course, by the necessity of compiling such a finite document, nor can it adequately sometimes express in words issues that can be extremely complex.  But it is important that we try, every now and then, to collect thoughts in one place, if only to further our reflection.  At any one time, the document will inevitably contain thoughts that may require updating.  We anticipate updating this document as we continue our discussions.

Values.  The Synthetic Neurobiology group is committed to creating a group community, and to help craft departmental, university, and scientific cultures, that people of all backgrounds and identities feel that they belong in.  We aim to honor people’s identities, including but not limited to race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, national origin, citizenship, disabilities (visible and invisible), neurodiversity, age, political views, family status, and sexual orientation.  We aim to help all our group members succeed holistically, in their personal goals for fulfillment in their careers, in their daily happiness and well-being, in their academic excellence in invention and discovery, and in their community with each other and beyond.  We will examine our own perspectives and intentions, probing our personal thoughts about the importance of these topics and what we are willing to do, and seek to learn both history and personal experiences as part of challenging ourselves in this process of confronting key questions of equity, justice, and belonging.  We will be respectful of each other, listen to and learn from each other, and support each other.  We will aim to bridge gaps in cultures and foster an environment that aims for understanding and connection, valuing differences.  These aforementioned values are not “added on” to our research agenda, but core to our mission.

Context.  It is important to point out that fulfilling the values above is ongoing, incomplete work, which will involve learning and iteration.  We do not have all the answers, but we can approach problems with curiosity, generosity, and openness.  But it is clear that historically, and in the current day, people of many identities face both explicit and implicit barriers, and even hostility, in academia and science.  One cannot ignore the history of the kinds of oppression and injustice faced by people of different identities, which both needs to be confronted in its own right at societal scale, and sets the stage for further inequities to be built on top by systems that do not consider these.  Doing nothing, means accepting this status quo.  It is important to highlight that much of the current advocacy has been born out of community-wide organizing by activists and people who are facing barriers in the current academic and scientific system.

Actions.  There are many concrete actions that we have begun to take, and that we are planning, along the lines of learning, understanding, and action.  We hold monthly lab discussions to discuss group and science culture, make space for understanding and the sharing of lived experience, update each other on things we are doing, and plan new activities, with both all-group and small-group discussions.  In our annual lab retreat, a core activity is to discuss our values (those that emerged in the past, included leadership, personal responsibility, community, integrity, growth, respect, and openness).  In each retreat we will discuss values, as well as actions based on these values to take place in the coming year, and plan to check in at future lab discussions to see how we are progressing along the actions proposed, evaluating what works, what doesn’t work, and what might work but needs a different angle of approach.

We will be supportive of each other, in our differences, both in our daily interactions and in concrete policies of support, ranging from scheduling flexibility for those with family needs, to the explicit promotion of overall work-life balance, to providing technology and support for those with disabilities; we will also connect people with MIT resources to help along such lines.  Our goal is to make our group a place where people are comfortable seeking help and support when they need it.

We are planning to host group events that honor and celebrate identity, including regular social events along these lines, and the decoration of our physical spaces by art, scientific images, and other creations of people in the group.  We actively aim to celebrate the holistic and academic achievements of, and promote, the overall well-being and success of people in the group.  We have created lab guidelines and individual development plan (IDP) documents, and are supporting experiences and personal networks to help group members understand and progress towards their personal goals.  We are holding social events such as outdoor lunches to create community in informal settings, as well as more structured events (brainstorming sessions, new subgroups) to encourage new interactions, and will hold more of these in the future, to foster gathering, connection, and support.  We are working to set the tone for belonging early, introducing new group members to others more proactively and connecting new people to hosts who can help them get oriented and feel welcome.  We already participate in many culture review processes, including the BCS 360 review process and the MAS student survey process, but will additionally create our own group-specific anonymous feedback form, to provide additional feedback.

We have begun to, and will continue to participate in, and help lead, efforts to actively broaden participation in science, including outreach, tutoring, and mentoring to K-12 and college students of identities historically marginalized in science, and participate in departmental and institutional efforts to do such, including presenting work at workshops and conferences that serve people with identities historically marginalized in science.  When possible, we aim to have more on-campus activities to help such students to participate in research and gain experience; already, we participate yearly in the MIT MSRP/MSRP-Bio programs and will aim to increase our participation in coming years.  We will aim to foster cultural understanding by creating side-by-side collaborations with investigators at institutions that serve the training of people of identities historically marginalized in science, seeking to share spaces with each other in pursuit of advances in science of mutual interest; already we have helped one such university apply for multiple grants to support collaborations using our group’s technologies.  We will advertise all employment positions broadly, to maximize the visibility of openings, and work with human resources and academic administrators to learn about, and adopt, best practices in hiring and academic admissions.

Our group, following the initiative of the Reck-Peterson group, has begun to, and will continue to, donate to the Henrietta Lacks Foundation for each paper from our group that uses HeLa cells, and make acknowledgements in our papers of how these cells were used without Lacks’ consent.  We will also be attuned to other historical injustices that connect to current-day science, and seek to thoughtfully discuss them, and what actions might be taken.  We will whenever relevant discuss equity when planning projects, especially when human subjects research is being considered, asking key questions early in the planning about how the research could be improved to increase equity, and aiming to balance studies with respect to all of the dimensions of identity, including the dimensions described above.  We will be conscious of the papers we use in our curricula, the speakers invited to give seminars, and the citations we utilize, so as to confront bias in these domains.  In our department and university, we will advocate and support: efforts by people to organize and assemble; best practices in applications, interviewing, hiring, and recruitment; the creation of affinity spaces; the use of implicit bias training to help improve culture and reduce harm; and the representation of the community in decisions made by departments and institutions.  We will also, for organizations that we participate in, urge them to consider values and actions such as these.  The PI has, and will continue to, participate in the BCS community of practice, a forum for learning and sharing ideas, outcomes, and concerns, as well as to advocate for new policies and concrete actions at the BCS department level.  The PI has, and will continue to, amplify the voices of group members and people of identities historically marginalized in science to the departmental and university level, and beyond.

When we see injustice, whether at the group, department, university, or global level, we will whenever possible speak out against it, whether through in-person interactions (in cases where a bystander can safely intervene) or through other channels; already, the PI has communicated with journal editors, institutional leaders, and government officials to speak out against specific instances or kinds of injustice.  Injustice should not be tolerated.  We will make clear various parties at MIT that can help address incidents of injustice, including staff of the IDHR office, HR and academic officers, support services, and the ombudsperson office. 

We will honor and celebrate the people in the group who lead or contribute to all of these efforts.