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Update on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

December 01, 2020

To: The Caltech Community
From: Thomas F. Rosenbaum, Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and Professor of Physics
Date: December 1, 2020
Re: Update on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

On July 6, the division chairs, provost, and I wrote to you about our commitment to make Caltech an example of how a diverse and inclusive community, committed to equity, enables individuals to thrive in fulfilling the Institute's mission of forefront research, mentoring, and education. We outlined a series of investments and actions to propel us towards this goal. Since July, there has been powerful progress across the Institute, and I write today both to describe what we as a community already have accomplished and to acknowledge the hard work that remains to be done. 

The first set of initiatives is dedicated to building the pipeline of students, postdocs, and faculty of color.

  • Double the number of WAVE undergraduate diversity research fellowships.
We have exceeded the doubling goal and have secured the funding to offer 65 WAVE Fellowships for Summer 2021. Research centers and institutes across campus, academic programs, the divisions, and donors have pulled together to make this a reality. To support recruitment for these fellowships that include a summer stipend, airfare, and a credit for on-campus housing, Student-Faculty Programs, led by Candace Rypisi, hosted a series of information sessions organized by research area, and participated in targeted recruitment efforts at minority-serving institutions and events. The next stage is for our faculty to become active mentors to foster these talented students in their groups.
  • Create ten Presidential Graduate Fellowships to help increase diversity across Caltech.
Ten Presidential graduate fellowships for the purposes of increasing diversity are available for this graduate student admissions cycle. They will be stewarded by Graduate Dean David Chan in concert with the options. The divisions plan to provide additional graduate fellowships keyed to diversity.
  • Establish a Graduate Summer Research Institute.
In mid-September, the Caltech Center for Inclusion and Diversity welcomed 19 graduate students to the inaugural Graduate Summer Research Institute. GSRI provided manifest opportunities for the students to connect with one another in virtual formats and to acclimate to graduate school and the Caltech community. Caltech is committed to building on the success of this initial program as we create an on-campus GSRI for the coming years.
  • Bolster and secure the Freshman Summer Research Institute.
FSRI expanded to serve 32 students last summer in a virtual environment. We are committed to providing steady funding, and we are actively seeking endowment funds for the program.
  • Build on the success of the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program to identify and support additional postdoctoral scholars of color.
We have doubled the number of Presidential Postdoctoral Fellows to 12 across the Institute, supplemented by additional postdoctoral fellowships in the divisions dedicated to increasing diversity. Caltech, under the leadership of Chief Diversity Officer and Vice Provost Cindy Weinstein and former Graduate Dean Doug Rees, competed successfully for an expanded AGEP award from the National Science Foundation. In this Research Universities Alliance (RUA), we will be working with our original partners, Berkeley, UCLA, and Stanford, and new ones, Georgia Tech, Michigan, Harvard, UT Austin, and U. Washington, to identify and recruit talent, and to develop community and mentoring for the postdoctoral cohorts through mechanisms like research exchange programs.

The second set of initiatives addresses the issues of procedures and transparency.

  • Examine and publish disaggregated data regarding diversity.
Caltech is committed to collecting disaggregated data and making it publicly available. We will provide the material as openly as possible, consistent with legal constraints and the condition that the statistics are sufficient so that individuals cannot be identified. As the campus makes these changes, already numerous programs, including undergraduate admissions and a number of graduate options, are providing such data. We will continue to analyze and post this information, track progress, and hold ourselves accountable. 
  • Conduct a campus climate survey.
The President's Diversity Council, chaired by Professor Bil Clemons, has engaged a firm to conduct a campus climate survey to understand personal experiences of Caltech. The Council has constituted a working committee representing all constituencies on campus that will assist the consultants in the survey. Its first meeting is this week. Participation by students, postdocs, faculty, and staff will be crucial for guiding our future diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
  • Revamp the Institute's Title IX and Equity Office's website.
This website has been redone completely. It now directly describes procedures for reporting racial discrimination and where to turn for general support.
  • Create a dedicated Caltech Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion webpage.
The President's Diversity Council and the Office of Strategic Communications are working to create a prominent campus DEI web presence.
  • Improve news coverage of DEI topics on campus.
Caltech's main webpage and Ion Caltech both now feature events and stories related to diversity, and more prominently reflect the activities and accomplishments of Caltech's Black community. The Caltech Center for Inclusion and Diversity, led by Hanna Song, has increased its timely programming, with attendant publicity.

These actions only capture a subset of DEI efforts springing up across campus. Highlights of recent initiatives include:

  • Building on PMA's initial efforts, the Center for Inclusion and Diversity pulled together an extraordinary, expanded FUTURE Ignited event held on Saturday, October 17, 2020. I and other Caltech leaders had the pleasure of welcoming 160 prospective students of color with interests that cut across all five science and engineering divisions. This virtual event featured campus-wide and division-specific panels where current students of color answered questions and shared their experiences, workshops on graduate school and summer fellowship application writing, faculty panels discussing admissions and campus climate, and a mix of TED-style talks and produced videos highlighting research opportunities at Caltech.
  • The six academic divisions have each formed or will soon form standing diversity, equity, and inclusion committees with local focus.
  • HSS completed its own climate survey in July.
  • EAS launched a Young Investigator Lecture Series to identify potential faculty diversity candidates.
  • GPS created a fund to support diversity fellowships, WAVE fellows, outreach, inreach, and other DEI-related activities, seeded by 38 faculty contributions.
  • BBE, CCE, and GPS faculty and student groups recently attended minority-serving conferences including the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), the 2020 American Indian Science and Engineering Society National Conference (AISES), the National GEM Consortium, the National Association of Black Geoscientists (NABG), the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NoBCChE), the 2020 Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the 2020 Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) National Convention, and Out to Innovate 2020.
  • The Caltech Board of Trustees has formed a Special Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to support campus DEI initiatives. This is an important statement of engagement at the highest level of the Institute.

Two timely and important efforts continue through appointed committees. 

On July 22, I constituted a task force to explore naming and recognition policies at Caltech, chaired by Trustee Benjamin Rosen. Since that time, the task force has been meeting weekly, delving deeply into issues that bear on how Caltech considers its history. They have met with many members of the community and have received over 1500 perspectives from Caltech community members via a dedicated portal. The task force aims to deliver a report and recommendations to me by the end of this month. I will add my recommendations and forward to the full Board of Trustees for their consideration. Public release of the report is scheduled to follow the deliberations of the Board.

On September 8, I appointed an advisory committee on student admissions and recruitment, chaired by Professor Tim Colonius, to examine how we can amplify Caltech's efforts to identify and then attract the best and brightest candidates from every background and perspective.  Committee deliberations are under way and I anticipate receiving their report in February 2021.

This update points to a widespread and gratifying embrace of an urgent opportunity and responsibility by the Caltech community. The number of different individuals and organizations involved in DEI initiatives represents a tremendous strength. It also underscores the need to create an infrastructure to make sure that our efforts are focused, effective, and long-lasting. I expect to announce in January new developments to help us achieve these ends.