Working towards a more diverse and equitable SAFS

In light of the current Black Lives Matter movement and protests over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others, many communities across the nation are gaining a greater awareness of systemic racism and are reimagining public safety. 

As many have adjusted their lives in the midst of a pandemic and during this marked time of social unrest, SAFS is recommitting itself to better connect and support its own community for a true sense of belonging and for welcoming diverse perspectives, skills, and experiences. At SAFS, a Diversity Specialist, a strategic plan, and the Equity & Inclusion Committee are engaged in efforts to help advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. 

Diversity Specialist

The role of the Diversity Specialist is to help foster equity and inclusion within the SAFS community. This includes creating community events to build a sense of belonging, developing programs that help build cultural fluency, and providing support to any undergraduate and graduate students, administrative and research staff, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty who want to address any issues related to DEI. This position was created in 2018.

We asked our Diversity Specialist, Isadora Jimenez Hidalgo, what some of her thoughts are about the greatest successes we’ve had at increasing DEI at SAFS.

Isadora Jimenez

Isadora Jimenez (IJ): I think to have a big success, we have to have a big impact. Currently, the DEI initiatives are still in early stages, and so our School is not quite there yet.

What has been great is that, at the community level, more people are starting to open up and are participating in the School’s community events. One of the first things I did was to have quarterly staff/postdoc potlucks. Before the pandemic, we had a whole year of these events with some friendly competition of best dishes! I look forward to more of these in the future. 

Another one of the community events that I am starting is the SAFS Chitchat. It is fashioned after a Japanese form of storytelling called PechaKucha, where the presenters show several slides about themselves and provide brief commentary on each one. It has been a wonderful way to learn about folks in the SAFS community outside of work. 

We also have the SAFS Book Series, where we read and discuss one book per quarter. Last year, we read White Fragility, Blindspot, and Rage Becomes Her. This summer we read Native Seattle. In the fall, we will read How to Be an Antiracist

Lastly, I’d like to mention the School’s Annual Open House. It’s a community event that I helped organize with graduate students before I was the School’s Diversity Specialist. It’s been a fantastic event for families to come learn about what we do at SAFS.

SAFS Open House 2019. Dan DiNicola/UW

Strategic Plan

The 2018–2021 DEI Strategic Plan was written by the SAFS Diversity Specialist and SAFS Administration. It includes six goals related to recognizing the value of diversity, creating a culturally fluent and safe environment, maximizing student success, creating a website that mirrors the community, reinstating the diversity committee, and effectively communicating with the College and other departments about DEI.

Given Isadora’s involvement, we asked her to give us some background about how the strategic plan came about and to tell us what was the most interesting thing she learned through the process of writing it. 

IJ: Oh! The thing that struck me most was coming to the realization about how behind we were on DEI! I  think it is important to recognize that we have a lot of work to do. I had a sense of that when we started on the strategic plan. But I now realize that we have a long way to go. Most of the work and the decision making involves faculty, and so we need their support and their involvement because of the School’s institutional structure. We are getting more of their involvement and support, which is critical. 

About how I started with the strategic plan: I looked at the University’s Diversity Blueprint and the Action Plan from the College of the Environment. I also looked at the 10-year Academic Review that Director André Punt wrote for the School. I met with staff and students to hear what they had to say and to learn about their ideas. I did some research on other UW departments and colleges. 

I would like to clarify that the School’s strategic plan is not a strict manual to follow, but a document that helps guide the path we take for these three years at SAFS. The goals are intentionally broad so that they can be achieved in multiple ways. It allows for flexibility in how we choose to approach them.

On other news, I want to share that it is time for me to move on. I am taking a new position at another higher education institution in the region. I enjoyed working at SAFS for 13 years! I will miss many SAFS members and community events but know that SAFS is committed to continue improving the sense of belonging for all.

Mark Sorel presenting at the first SAFS ChitChat event. Samantha Scherer/UW

Equity & Inclusion Committee

The committee, consisting of 12 members, has broad representation among peer groups: undergraduate students, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, staff, and faculty. It includes a representative for the College of the Environment Diversity Committee and a representative from SAFS 360, which is a working group tasked to write the SAFS Code of Conduct. The Equity & Inclusion Committee is finishing its second year. Its main responsibilities are to identify ways to promote DEI and to create a supportive and respectful environment for all. The committee also helps to advise on policies to the School Director and Administrator and to support their implementation. 

This past year, the committee worked on a number of events and documents. The Diversity Hiring Tool handout, which was started by last year’s committee members, was finalized by current committee members. It is now accessible through the SAFS DEI website. The current committee also helped get a lactation room in place for nursing parents who are students, staff, faculty, collaborators, and visiting scholars. A Diversity Seminar, given by Prof. Ivan Arismendi (Oregon State University), was hosted by the committee. Lastly, the committee submitted a UW Diversity & Inclusion Seed Grant proposal for a planning workshop to create a Professional Development Certificate Program for Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Researchers with a DEI lens in mind. We’re excited to see this idea take its next step in a more formal way, after grassroots efforts by SAFS graduate students and the Diversity Specialist who had organized training related to outreach and the Students Explore Aquatic Sciences (SEAS) program. 

Because of the Black Lives Matter movement, the School has come together in new ways and has recommitted itself to increasing DEI further. A few faculty working groups have formed, including one focused on retention (led by Prof. Steven Roberts) and another focused on recruitment (led by Prof. Mark Scheuerell). The Equity & Inclusion Committee looks forward to continuing its work alongside these working groups. 

In our next article, we will discuss ongoing efforts at SAFS and the importance of these being achieved in a sustainable manner. 

We also welcome the SAFS community and friends to continue learning about DEI with us through our Blog and the SAFS DEI website.  

If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for the Equity & Inclusion Committee, please email us at safsincl@uw.edu. We would love to hear from you. 

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