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MCB ramps up efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion

By Rachel Henderson

Bautista mentoring in lab
Bautista mentoring in lab. Photo credit: Elena Zhukova,
UC Berkeley

In June, MCB held a virtual town hall meeting to discuss how to safely resume research activities that had been shut down due to COVID-19. But another pressing issue rose to the forefront — systemic racism. In order to practice social distancing, researchers must work in shifts, and members of our community expressed concerns about the potential for police to target BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) researchers traveling to and from labs at seemingly odd hours. The conversation grew into a broader discussion of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) within the department, and a second town hall was held to continue the discussion.

In response to concerns raised at the town halls, MCB is taking action to help ensure students’ and researchers’ safety and also working on larger ongoing efforts to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the department. Over the last year, MCB’s DEI committee has been expanded to include faculty from all divisions of MCB, as well as staff, postdocs, and graduate students, and will soon include undergraduates. Importantly, the chair of the DEI committee is now a voting member of the governing body of MCB, and DEI committee members will sit on graduate admissions and faculty search committees, giving the DEI committee real power to make change.

Diana Bautista, professor of cell and developmental biology, is the new chair of the DEI committee. “The department’s commitment to support the DEI committee’s push for real change made me feel like this was a great time to take on this role,” she says. “It’s really exciting and makes me feel like we can really accomplish something.”

Bautista lab outting
Bautista lab outing in 2019. 

Bautista says that expanding the committee was critical because improving diversity and inclusion requires extensive, long-term effort that cannot be accomplished by just a few people or events. “JEDI should be integrated across all of our educational and research activities,” she says. “We want to really think about how we can achieve a more diverse and inclusive membership at all levels of our department, and also to create a departmental environment that really acknowledges diversity and promotes inclusive practices across the board. We have to make a fair and equitable environment for everyone to succeed.”

Bautista says that a survey of the MCB community conducted by departmental grad students, postdocs, and the graduate student group inclusive MCB+ (iMCB+) has been crucial in identifying DEI-related issues and potential solutions. The survey found there was strong support for the department to take actions such as building relationships with historically Black colleges and universities to enhance graduate student recruitment, assessing departmental climate at all levels, and training faculty in inclusive mentoring and teaching practices. 

Some of these initiatives are already underway. MCB applied for and received a supplement to the graduate program’s training grant to educate faculty in inclusive mentoring practices, using the highly regarded Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research program from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. All active MCB faculty will take the training this year, and some will be instructed in how to teach others down the road. Additionally, Bautista, along with MCB faculty members Elçin Ünal and Iswar Hariharan, and director of student services Carina Galicia, recently submitted a grant to expand inclusive mentoring training to graduate students and postdocs (who are the primary lab mentors for undergraduates) and provide more extensive training for faculty. 

Bautista says her ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for a DEI committee. She says that will happen when JEDI practices are “just a natural part of everything we do.”



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