Update from NSB Anti-Racism Action Teams and Focus Groups

Continuing the anti-racism work here on campus, the Neuroscience and Behavior community is making great strides with 5 teams that have worked with trainees within their respective focus groups. Open communication, supportive dialogue and the recognized need for change are driving the teams and trainees to continue this progress. Working with these focus groups has allowed for listening, learning, and brainstorming between faculty team members and trainees. Transparency and communication regarding progress remains a steadfast goal, along with easing the burden of the trainees within the focus groups. Using the student petition as a guideline, they are striving for strengthening scientific growth and mentorship alongside an increased call for social justice within our NSB program, and as an academic community as a whole. If you are interested in getting involved or learning more about the work being done, please contact Luke Remage-Healey (healey@cns.umass.edu) or Heather Richardson (hrichardson@cns.umass.edu).

Team 1 – Anti-racism training and BIPOC support. We are excited to report that the new NSB DEI website is up and running. Team 1 and the focus group members are updating the site with weekly “blasts” to promote events, encourage participation, and push the community to engage in activities. Some items from these weekly updates will also appear be communicated through email and social media outlets. The website includes sections highlighting discoveries by Black scientists and inventors, resources for well-being and mentoring, connections to anti-racism trainings, and suggestions for a DIY book club. The team is also supporting the development and implementation of new forms of professional education and training for NSB faculty, staff, and students.

Team 2 – Advocacy and outreach. One outcome from focus group meetings is an emphasis on training for people in NSB engaged in advocacy and outreach activities. The Team is gathering information from the UMass offices of civic engagement and equity and inclusion to see what is available for us to do these kinds of trainings. The NSB outreach efforts are currently on hold until perhaps a short-format workshop or some larger programmatic change can be instituted, perhaps as part of proseminar. The Team is exploring connections with the STEM Ambassador’s program, Public Engagement Program, and diversity programs to find common efforts. A tangible goal is to ramp up and commit to Brain Awareness Week and other outreach efforts once they are allowed.

Team 3 – Bias detection and elimination In focus group meetings, Team 3 has begun self-educating about bias and countering bias, and is establishing a ‘statement of purpose’ and community guidelines for meetings. Team 3 is gathering candidate names for outside evaluators, prioritizing action items to recommend to the NSB Steering and GOC, and focusing on bylaws and operation of NSB. Team 3 is also considering a survey to identify bias in the program but this plan is on hold until external evaluation plans are solidified.

Team 4 – Instruction, pedagogy, and seminar Team four has been focused on seminar and coursework in the program, and are currently assembling priorities, including flexibility with meeting benchmarks, diversifying seminar, and improving instruction. There is general agreement on a number of actions that should be taken, as well as an indication that outside evaluation is important for several steps. The Team is emphasizing bringing in diverse viewpoints into coursework, and highlighting the historically outsized influence of white male figures in the field as well as how to address and mitigate that influence with instruction.

Three general improvements are being considered by Team 4 with respect to NSB seminar: 1) encourage nominations of a diverse pool of potential speakers, 2) provide a formal check (role of NSB director) that ensures speakers are appropriate for the program, and 3) encourage speakers to address the social implications of their work during NSB talks. This also includes active discussion on how to increase honorarium for extra work asked of under-represented faculty in seminar talks and visits. Team 4 has also proposed a peer mentorship program where faculty will work in small groups to improve their teaching with specific attention to DEI, and discussing the best ways that students can reach out if there is an incident in a course.

Team 5 – Coordination/Access/Finance Team 5 and the focus group members are coordinating the sharing of information, common issues, and helping to push priorities forward and upward by reviewing the action plans and priorities of the other teams. Priorities and ideas are being discussed with IDGP leadership, especially regarding financing, as well as external funding and fundraising opportunities to support our goals. We are also continuing to share practices with other IDGPs and learn from their efforts.