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Building a foundation of diversity and equity

Brooke Fisher
June 15, 2021

The CEE community is taking concrete actions toward creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable environment. To do so, the work of the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee has accelerated in recent months, resulting in the implementation of several new initiatives.

“It’s important that the culture of the department be welcoming to all people, that’s core to our mission,” says professor Julian Marshall, who leads the JEDI Committee with associate professor Jessica Kaminsky.

Supporting and encouraging a diverse community is important for the future of engineering, says Marshall, as more diverse engineering teams lead to new ideas and solutions. It’s also important for engineers today to consider the impact of their designs on society, he says.

“While it used to be ok to stick to just the equations, there’s a broader recognition now that we are here to solve problems in society and we have to be aware of social contexts,” Marshall says.

With these overarching goals in mind, and with input from students, faculty and staff, the JEDI Committee has ushered through several initiatives, with more on the way. A few highlights are provided below.

Gathering input

In spring 2020, students petitioned the department for meaningful change, asking for immediate action to “ensure a safe and inclusive educational environment, particularly for Black students, students of color, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities and other represented groups.”

"The student petition triggered significant change in our department," Kaminsky says. "I hope the students who led it and signed it are proud of the positive impact their activism has had!"

In response to the petition, chair Laura Lowes organized a department-wide listening session in June 2020 to hear from students, staff and faculty. This was followed by town halls in February and May 2021. Students are also able to share thoughts, concerns and suggestions through weekly drop-in sessions with the JEDI Committee andan anonymous feedback form.

Student advisory boards

To ensure that student voices are represented in various department matters, including diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, student advisory boards were formed in January 2021. Representatives from both the undergraduate and graduate student classes serve one-year terms, working as liaisons between students and CEE’s faculty and administrators.

New courses

In spring quarter, the department introduced new courses that focus on diversity and inclusion topics. A three-credit class, Engineering, Environment and Justice, was taught by Khalid Kadir, an instructor at University of California, Berkeley. A one-credit JEDI Seminar, taught by Marshall, focused on topics at the intersection of JEDI and CEE’s six research areas as well as other critical topics such as climate change. A five-credit Grand Challenges Impact Lab: Seattle course, taught by associate professor Becca Neumann, provided an opportunity for students to design civil infrastructure to meet the needs of Seattle’s homeless population. There was a waitlist for all three classes and the department hopes to offer similar courses next autumn to meet student demand.

Faculty and staff trainings

Formal JEDI trainings were offered to faculty and staff throughout the academic year, including a three-part training session in March 2021 and a one-time workshop on inclusive teaching in April 2021. Additional training sessions are anticipated for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Equitable bathrooms

Construction is currently underway to provide more women’s and gender-neutral restrooms in More Hall, an older building that houses much of the department. The project is expected to be completed by autumn 2021, when the UW plans to reopen campus.

Stay informed!

The JEDI Committee provides frequent updates at www.ce.washington.edu/JEDI