Supporting & Promoting Inclusion, Equality, and Diversity
*This is a personal diversity statement of our lab PI, Travis Gallo. While it may reflect the culture of our lab it does not represent the views of individual lab members. We are a new lab and we will be working together on a Lab Code of Conduct that will include an official statement on supporting and promoting diversity in our lab.
I am a white, cis-hetero, able-bodied male, and therefore, my commitment to equality, inclusion, and diversity is through allyship. Allyship must be authentic and come from a true belief in an equal and just society. It must also be action-oriented and not performative. Allyship is about leveraging privilege to lift up and support marginalized groups. It is a verb and not a noun. I am committed to using my privilege to support and advocate for marginalized students and colleagues. My philosophy for supporting underrepresented students, faculty, and staff – outlined below – is based on action, intersectionality, respect, empathy, and accountability.
Service: I do not face daily injustices; therefore I use that privilege to take on tasks that are disproportionately shouldered by underrepresented groups. I participate in DEI activities by taking clerical roles, like organizing, emailing, or writing so that marginalized colleagues can be removed from these administrative burdens and have more time and energy for thought and creativity. I am currently a faculty sponsor of the Environmental Science and Policy Anti-Racism and Eco-Justice Alliance at George Mason, and I am part of the North American Society for Conservation Biology’s Allyship Initiative – a group working to support underrepresented folks within the Society’s DEI working group. We recently presented a workshop on how allyship can be practiced at both the institution and individual-level. And I also participate in shorter-term task forces with similar intentions. I work to create a more equal and inclusive department by continuing to support underrepresented colleagues and spearheading the planning and fundraising needed to bring workshops and consulting to educate our faculty on best practices in DEI (e.g., bystander intervention, DEI audits, and accountability planning).
I also recognize that representation matters. One way to practice allyship is to use our leadership roles to explicitly increase representation within department and university activities. As a new faculty member I jumped on the opportunity to lead our department seminar series at George Mason. Seminar series are a great way to increase the diversity of professionals that students might see as potential role models. When in a leadership or planning role for workshops, symposiums, or speaker series I create explicit guidelines for myself to hold myself accountable and ensure that I have a diverse representation of speakers. I also work to increase historical representation in the field of ecology and natural history. I was recently awarded a 400 Years of African American History Commission (National Park Service) Rewriting History grant to research the hidden history of enslaved naturalists in the US between 1619 – 1863. Stories and examples from this project will be available as lecture materials, readings, and curriculum so that those teaching natural history and ecology can diversify their historical examples. I will continue to be explicit and self-critical in my planning processes and work on projects that increase representation in the fields of natural sciences.
Research: Our research is predominantly conducted in urban ecosystems. While social and environmental justice issues are not removed from more rural areas, they are front and center in urban ecological studies. Our lab’s research asks questions that can contribute to a more just and equal world, and centers social and environmental justice issues. For example, we are currently working on projects that assess how spatial patterns of wealth inequality influence the distribution and occurrence of problematic wildlife and species of conservation concern, and projects mapping the spatial distribution of ecosystem service provisioning across Washington, D.C so that future urban planning can distribute ecosystem services more equitably across the city. We envision cities where people and nature thrive, and we will continue to conduct and ask research questions that are centered on ecological justice and nature equality.
As a principal investigator, I prioritize equity and inclusion and not just diversity. I make sure to fairly compensate students, technicians, and interns. As a new PI, areas that I am working to improve are considering how job descriptions might limit or exclude applications and practicing explicit recruiting techniques to increase applicants from underrepresented groups. My allyship extends to members of my lab and those that I supervise. I want to shift the culture of academic workplaces by setting an example of a lab that intentionally implements equitable and inclusive policies, practices antiracism, holds those in power accountable to DEI, and creates norms for appropriate workplace conduct that fosters a welcoming, safe, and equitable workplace
Teaching: In the classroom my first philosophy is respect. On day one I explicitly let students know that I believe in them regardless of their background or circumstances. I treat each student as an individual and work to understand their circumstances and tailor class material to relate to their everyday lives. For example, I ask each student to anonymously write down the neighborhood where they live. This exercise shows students that I respect and am interested in where they are from. Additionally, the ability to relate class material to their local community helps them grasp complex class topics. In fact, this exercise has been a consistent positive theme in my teaching evaluations. Representation is also important in the classroom. Literature has shown that role models with shared identities have a greater impact, and I recognize that not all students share the same identity as me. Therefore, I explicitly include diverse examples of scientists both through guest lectures and in my teaching materials. Providing diverse role models in the classroom engages students and reinforces the idea that they too can become part of the next generation of leaders – regardless of race, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic status, religion, or identity.
I have participated in trainings and workshops that teach faculty how to accommodate underrepresented students and the resources available. For example, at Northeastern Illinois University I was part of the Social Justice Ally Cohort – a tailored multi-workshop training for faculty and staff that teaches participants about resources for undocumented students, allyship for LBGTQ+ students, exploring our own biases before entering the classroom, and how to be accommodating for students with varying abilities through the Disabilities Project. I will continue to make sure that I am educated in the resources available for all students. I will also continue to participate in trainings and workshops, listen to my fellow colleagues, and engage in self-awareness and personal growth so that I may be the best teacher and mentor for all students regardless of their background, abilities, or identities.
Finally, social justice issues outside of the academy are not mutually exclusive from success in the classroom or lab. Students and colleagues worrying about the ultimate fate of their immigration status, being harassed because of their religion or attire, or facing racial microaggressions face a major and real distraction – a distraction that will influence their productivity and ability to learn. Therefore, as a citizen I will continue to be an advocate for all marginalized communities even outside of academe.