Diversity Action Plan

Department of Biological Sciences Diversity Contact:
Jack Shepard, Assistant Chair

Department of Biological Sciences Diversity Statement:

The Department of Biological Sciences values diversity and fosters a climate that is grounded in respect and inclusion, enriches the educational experience of students, supports positive workplace environments, promotes excellence, and cultivates intellectual and personal growth.

Diversity is a pluralistic term and emphasizes different areas. Hence, the department adopts the definition of diversity as outlined by the FCSM to include recruitment and retention of students, staff, and faculty of various age, career experience, nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, philosophy and viewpoint, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, socioeconomic status, and ability status. Also, the department strives to establish a climate that will allow for the success of all individuals. Addressing different dimensions in this manner ensures perennial attention to diversity challenges in post-secondary education.

Department of Biological Sciences Diversity Action Committee Mission Statement:

The Department of Biological Sciences, in accordance with the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics (FCSM) and the Towson University Strategic Plan, believes that we must support initiatives that promote diversity among department faculty, staff and students while continuing to meet the mission of the department and university. To fulfill that vision, we are committed to increasing the quality and diversity of our students, faculty and staff while increasing retention, curriculum initiatives, scholarship and research. In accordance with the University’s Diversity Action Plan, this document describes the Department’s Diversity Objectives, Action Steps, Assessment and Timeframes for Evaluation.

Defining Diversity

Diversity is a pluralistic term and emphasizes different areas. Hence, the department adopts the definition of diversity as outlined by the FCSM to include recruitment and retention of students, staff and faculty of various age, career experiences, nationality, philosophies and viewpoints, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, gender and gender expression, disabilities and race. Also, the department strives to establishment a climate that will allow for the success of these individuals. Addressing different dimensions of diversity in this manner ensures that Towson University, FCSM, and specifically the Department of Biological Sciences attend to a perennial diversity challenge in post-secondary education.

Ethnicity Statistics

According to statistical information of the Maryland 2009 US Census Bureau, approximately 29.7% of the state's population is African-American and 7.2% is Hispanic. Undergraduate student diversity information


Appendix 1: Faculty (working document)

The department can and should pay attention to issues of equity, inclusion and the representation of women and people of color in its applicant pools. The Dean’s office and the Office of Inclusion can be invaluable resources in achieving these goals. Throughout this document we use the term ‘underrepresented’ to refer to groups of individuals whose presence on the faculty are below the proportions that would be expected given their presence in the available pool.

Faculty: Recruitment, Retention and Professional Development

Current Strategies:

Departmental mentoring program: The mentoring program within the department should serve all new faculty and be especially helpful to faculty from underrepresented groups.

Start up for tenure track faculty: Start up presently provided to faculty may be used as incentive to attract a diverse pool of candidates. However, enhanced start up packages might be used to attract outstanding individuals who would potentially add diversity to the department.

Provision of research space: Along with funds for research initiation, the department provides research space to faculty for whom research productivity is an expectation. Improvement on research space or preparation of rooms prior to the arrival of individuals might serve as a recruitment tool.

Common equipment availability: The department can promote its research strengths and present and past successful collaborative efforts among its faculty. This will provide potential faculty members with an idea of how that may fit into the established structure within the department. Improvement of infrastructure, availability of common equipment, maintenance of equipment and having support staff may make this more sellable.

Placement of Job Description: The position description should be advertised to ensure accessibility to candidates from diverse backgrounds. In addition to Science and the Chronicle of Higher Education, effort should be made to publicize positions in other sources that target individuals from underrepresented groups. These might include minority professional societies, HBCU’s that graduate individuals with the expertise being sought among others.

Future Actions

Improve research support (financial, travel, resources to recruit graduate research assistants) for initial faculty recruitment and subsequent retention.

Create an environment that is supportive and prevents isolation. Such an environment will help in the retention of all faculty. For minority faculty, assistance with membership to discipline-specific organizations would foster professional development. Within the department the assigned mentor and department chair can be part of the framework that provides a sense of inclusion. A supportive environment is critical in faculty recruitment and retention. Engage with underrepresented faculty in such a way to help build a sense of belonging.

Have a process in place through collaboration with the Dean, Provost and other departments that would facilitate employment of spouses when that is deemed necessary for attracting outstanding minority faculty.

Provide financial support for teaching activities and inform new faculty of strategies that are in place to reduce administrative burden on faculty including flexibility in workload and childcare options.

Make faculty diversity initiatives a department priority that is address at the departmental retreat and demonstrate the department’s commitment to diversity through the display of a diversity statement on the website.

Replacement costs are much greater than retention costs, and yet continuing budgets for faculty retention packages are lacking. Support the establishment of such a program targeting underrepresented groups. The expenditure on a new hire, following the loss of a faculty of color (for whatever reason) is much higher that the cost of providing research assistance, laboratory renovations, travel funds, and/or a faculty fellowship to help retain a current faculty member.

Appendix 2: Students

Addendum 1 – working document

Use language in the classroom that is inclusive to all ethnicities, nationalities, gender identities, sexualities, religions, and abilities.

Maintain discretion when administering exams/assignments to students with special accommodations.

Respect a student’s request to be referred to by their chosen name and “PGP”, or preferred gender pronoun. This may be “he/him”, “she/her”, or even “they/them”. Never use the word “it” when referring to a person as this is a pronoun designated for non-persons and is, as such, dehumanizing.

“Transgender”, “gender non-conforming”, and sometimes “genderqueer” are terms generally preferred over “transsexual” or “cross-dresser”.

Avoid dividing the class into groups based on gender. This can cause a great deal of anxiety and even danger for students who do not prescribe to a rigid gender binary system.

Addendum 2 – working document

Incorporate gender diversity found in the natural world into your curriculum:

E.g. There are many species of sex-changing fishes. This can easily be approached from ecological, behavioral, and physiological perspectives.

E.g. Many organisms have more than two genetic sexes.

When constructing critical thinking items involving a description of people, instead of always using “Mr. Smith …”, mix in other names to better reflect our diverse student population.

E.g. Jose recently saw his doctor after experiencing several bouts of wheezing, caused by constriction of smooth muscles around the bronchi. She prescribed an albuterol inhaler to treat the wheezing. Albuterol most likely acts as a(n):
A) cholinergic receptor antagonist.
B) β2-adrenergic agonist.
C) nicotinic receptor agonist.
D) α-adrenergic agonist.

E.g. Many genetics problems read something like this:
“John and Sue got married and had a baby. The baby had blue eyes. Sue is homozygous recessive for blue eyes. John is...”

Mix it up! Married heterosexual people are not the only ones that have babies. Incorporate other examples that reflect the diversity of family types in our society, e.g. single parents, adoptions, same-sex parents with a sperm or egg donor, etc…

Point out the accomplishments of scientists of minority groups.

Addendum 3 – working document

oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), is a national organization whose mission is to:

  • Provide services and support for students of sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Create a dynamic network between students and professionals in industry and academia.
  • Provide education, outreach, and professional resources to high school students.
  • Actively recruit and address the needs of diverse groups within the LGBTA community, inclusive of those who are historically underrepresented with regards to gender and ethnic background.