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Kirsten Grorud-Colvert stands in a blue shirt with her hair in a bun in front of green trees.

Inclusive Excellence Lecture: ‘Gathering community for dialogue and action’

By Hannah Ashton

Achieving equity in science requires openness to challenging conversations. It requires acknowledging that all disciplines have a history of exclusionary behavior, both toward researchers from minoritized communities and the local populations science serves. How do you change decades of behavior in science?

Marine ecologist Kirsten Grorud-Colvert will address this question, sharing her insights and relaying lessons learned at the 2023 College of Science Inclusive Excellence Lecture, “Inclusive Science: Gathering community for dialogue and action.”

The lecture is open to all and will be held on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 5:30 p.m. RSVP here.

In her talk, Grorud-Colvert will highlight practical ways to promote inclusivity in science, drawing from recent community initiatives in the Integrative Biology Department. She will also share about her research on ocean systems and how it’s evolving personally and internationally, including lessons she has learned along the way.

Grorud-Colvert, associate professor, senior research in the Department of Integrative Biology, received the 2023 Inclusive Excellence Award in recognition of leadership in fostering a culture of inclusion in the College of Science.

“It’s the important thing to do, and we all have to acknowledge that to put in the work is going to be uncomfortable at times, but incredibly important.”

The Inclusive Excellence Award was created in 2019 to recognize the outstanding work of a faculty, staff or student in advancing inclusive excellence at Oregon State. The College’s mission includes “embedding equity, access and inclusion in all aspects of our work.”

Previous recipients have included chemist Marilyn Rampersad Mackiewicz, who presented the College’s inaugural annual inclusive excellence lecture in 2023. Other recipients include the student club Physicists for Inclusion in Science (PhIS), biochemistry and biophysics graduate student Heather Masson-Forsythe and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies Vrushali Bokil.

Over the last two decades, diversity, equity and inclusion work has undergone significant evolution, particularly gaining heightened recognition in science and higher education. Against this backdrop, Grorud-Colvert arrived at Oregon State in 2006 and has watched notable shifts across the university.

“To me, inclusive excellence starts with recognizing that as a community here at Oregon State, we have so many different perspectives, values, positions and backgrounds represented. And also at the same time, recognizing there are aspects of our community and practices that may not be in support of that,” she said.

Holding both truths together is an important starting point. “We value community and we also need to do better in creating an environment where everyone can thrive and feel welcome,” she said.

The Department of Integrative Biology has been grappling with how to improve DEI issues, she explained.This process started with an anonymous department climate survey five years ago. While some of the answers were shocking, some were not. And the department was faced with tackling the concerns head-on.

“We tried multiple ways of doing that and some were successful and some were not. I’d love to share those successes and not successes as part of my lecture, because I think learning from those is so important,” she said.

The approach that was the most successful focused on community, the backbone of Grorud-Colvert’s philosophy on inclusive science.

“It’s our responsibility to go further.”

The department had honest and tough conversations regarding who should be included in discussions and how to make attendance equitable. They put a lot of thought into power dynamics and different realities that impact how safe people feel bringing their opinions to the table, she said.

“After some of these challenging meetings, we had devised a process whereby we could have multiple ways for different people in the department to engage and coalesce around a community value statement,” she said.

Acknowledging that inclusive language matters, the entire department attended trainings held by the university’s Department of Equity and Inclusion. As part of that training, each participant was asked to develop a diversity and inclusion plan. This could be included in a syllabus, written for a lab group or used during grant writing.

Individuals who were willing shared their plans in a repository where people could learn and move forward. After the statement comes action.

“We had this feeling like, OK, we put a lot of works towards words, but a lot of people have done that and then stopped there,’” she said. “‘It’s our responsibility to go further.’”

During her lecture, Grorud-Colvert will provide examples of how the IB community’s value statement is becoming infused in multiple projects. She will also discuss how it has impacted her research.

Kirsten Grorud-Colvert stands in a dark dress holding her award.

Kirsten Grorud-Colvert accepts the Inclusive Excellence award from Associate Dean Vrushali Bokil and Department of Integrative Biology Head Dee Denver.

Grorud-Colvert is an ocean scientist and a good amount of her work ends up veering into social issues as well as hard science, empirical observation, innovation and experimentation.

“We’re working in systems where people are very dependent on the ocean and where there’s a long history of colonialism, displacement and as with so many aspects of science, misrepresentation and underrepresentation of different groups,” she said.

It’s vital to acknowledge that the scientific community has brushed over or even plowed through local communities who are knowledge holders and rights holders in the decision-making process for those areas.

The ocean is out of sight and out of mind because the majority of it is underwater. Over the last few years, Grorud-Colvert and her research group have been thinking about their role in including all stakeholders and traditional knowledge and wisdom.

"Acknowledging the nerves is really important and acknowledging that, for a lot of us as scientists, we haven’t had any traditional training in this."

They participated in an international group called Race + the Ocean, a learning space where scientists had the opportunity to listen, learn and discuss the ways oppression and racial justice interact with ocean conservation.

Part of Grorud-Colvert’s research looks at tracking ocean commitments made by countries and other governmental bodies. “The reality is that it’s good to have galvanizing targets, but they can also be very harmful if they mean bluewashing or just fortress conservation, drawing lines on a map without the co-management or inclusive processes that are needed,” she said.

Her research group also partners with the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, another example of listening and learning through active dialogues.

“This has been a very humbling and welcoming way to evolve our science,” she said. “It really comes down to community again, because in the end, we’ve been welcomed in spaces through this network to learn from others and to think about how we can truly merge, work towards these conservation goals and acknowledge that we move in theses spaces by being welcomed in. We are trying to acknowledge the hurtful history, and not recreate it.”

Internationally, multiple groups are working towards ocean justice, including the U.N. Environment Program and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization [and others].

Grorud-Colvert recognizes that it can be uncomfortable to start conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion or nerve-racking to join new stakeholder groups, however, it’s crucial.

“Acknowledging the nerves is really important and acknowledging that, for a lot of us as scientists, we haven’t had any traditional training in this,” she said. “We really have a responsibility not only as humans, but as university community members because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the important thing to do, and we all have to acknowledge that to put in the work is going to be uncomfortable at times, but incredibly important.”