Lummi Island storm waves
Lummi Island storm waves

The College of the Environment is proud to house organizations like Washington Sea Grant (WSG), who provide research, technical expertise, and educational activities that support the responsible use and conservation of ocean and coastal ecosystems. To do this, WSG partners with international, federal, tribal, state and local governments, local communities, and K-12 schools on a variety of marine-related projects. 

Earlier in the 2020-21 academic year, WSG published their 10-year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) roadmap. The roadmap formalizes their commitment to DEI and outlines 13 goals, each accompanied by concrete strategies and outcomes. WSG has worked hard to implement these goals to ensure that internal processes and external programming are diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The following accomplishments are just a piece of the broader DEI puzzle being assembled at WSG.

The DEI roadmap covers five strategic areas: staff and organizational processes, outreach programs, research, communications, and education, fellowships, and workforce development. 

“The environmental field broadly has been led by and organized for a predominantly white, middle-to-upper class dominant culture. This has created systemic barriers; which tend to prevent people of color and other underrepresented groups from working in environmental organizations and having environmental programs that reflect the interests and values of diverse populations. Our DEI roadmap details strategies for us to address these barriers by focusing on both our internal organizational processes, and on how we operate our external programming,” said Equity, Access, and Community Engagement Lead Melissa (Watkinson) Schutten.

WSG engages in two types of research: providing scientific knowledge through internal research projects and providing funding for projects through a bi-annual request for proposals (RFP). For the latter type of research, WSG recently incorporated diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the RFP, which outlines requirements for receiving funding. The RFP now includes a new engagement plan section, requiring all prospective Principal Investigators to describe how broader audiences may use the research and identifying the project’s broader impact. The RFP document also encourages Principal Investigators to work directly with WSG staff early in the proposal writing process to identify the project’s impact and utilize WSG’s expertise and technical assistance. WSG has also formed an outreach workshop to help Principal Investigators incorporate DEI into their proposals at any stage of the proposal writing process.

There are several working groups within WSG implementing recommendations and the 10-year Roadmap. WSG has a shared platform for staff to access resources and professional development opportunities to strengthen individual learning in the DEI space. They have also recently completed an overhaul of their hiring process, with the goal of becoming more consistent and transparent in their hiring practices. This involves creating more resources for the selection committee to review prior to meeting with candidates, such as an equitable hiring handout and bias training.

“As we move through our roadmap, I hope we take with us what we learned throughout 2020, from seeing the inequitable impact of the COVID pandemic on marginalized communities to the trauma police departments across the United States inflicted on Black communities and the demands for justice from those communities,” said DEI work group co-chair Karen Morrill-McClure. “I hope to help create and encourage a culture here at WSG that welcomes change and invites feedback, that doesn’t expect new people to fit into the existing culture but is excited to learn from everyone and see how our work culture changes with new ideas and faces.”

Another group is working to provide resources and knowledge that will deepen existing relationships with surrounding tribes and cultivate new relationships in the future. They have developed a list of resources on how to build an appropriate land acknowledgement with tips, best practices, protocols, and a toolkit/style guide. In an effort to deepen tribal knowledge among  WSG staff, the group is planning a lunchtime panel that reflects on current and past staff engagements with tribes.

“It’s really important for us to push DEI in all that we do. We really challenged ourselves to see if we could take our passion for DEI principles and incorporate that into our programming, so we can not only influence each other, but also influence all of Washington,” says WSG Director Russell Callender. “It has been really gratifying to see that what we’re doing here in Washington is influencing DEI efforts at other Sea Grant programs around the nation.”

WSG recognizes that they are still in the early stages of their DEI efforts. Though with a completed roadmap, strong support from the leadership team, and designated staff to implement recommendations, they are working to improve diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the organization.