One of UF’s core values is “inclusion: celebrate differences in identities, thoughts, and abilities, and seek to provide equitable access to opportunity.” Additionally, the overarching mission of the University of Florida (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), and thus the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station (NCBS), is to, “develop knowledge in agricultural, human, and natural resources, and to make that knowledge accessible to sustain and enhance the quality of human life.” This inherently human-based directive cannot be accomplished in the absence of diversity (i.e., all the ways we differ), inclusion (i.e., all feel welcomed and valued), equity (i.e., all having the opportunity to fully participate), and access (i.e., of any and all abilities).
We recognize UF and NCBS sit on the historic territories of the Timucua, Seminole, and crossroads of the Native American peoples who long inhabited this land. Moreover, the governance and policies in Florida, our region, and our nation inherit systems of oppression several centuries old. Members within our own team have had negative experiences related to their identities that directly affected their ability to complete necessary tasks. Their issues have at times been compounded by a lack of explicit institutional support or understanding of their struggles. Other members have also expressed concerns about the challenges faced by colleagues, but felt they lacked the information to act appropriately to minimize conflicts and increase inclusivity. With a recognition that this is unacceptable, our team and the broader UF community has begun working — and is committed to continuing working—towards self-improvement.
The UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station will be a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible institution for the benefit of UF/IFAS members, our partners, and the communities we serve. We strive to (1) develop and maintain faculty, staff, and students that value and include people with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and life experiences, (2) promote equitable opportunities through the work we conduct, and (3) make continuous efforts to review, self-critique, adapt, and improve.
As a leading-edge research, teaching, and extension institution, we have the power and onus to combat exclusion and systems of marginalization. We embrace this responsibility with diligence, consideration, and a commitment to teamwork and inclusion through the process. The changes we make here, the principles we embody, and the examples we set all influence our university network, our local and global partners, and the communities and governments that NCBS serves.
Our broad goals to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in our organization will be met by implementing objectives with specific and measurable targets. Our goals have been developed from the personal experiences of members of NCBS, the scientific literature, and DEI strategic plans published by other academic institutions.
Our broad goals are as follows:
- I) Foster and sustain an inclusive environment.
Diversity recruitment and hiring initiatives have been attempted in science fields and institutions for decades, yet historical disparities remain due to a lack of comparable effort in increasing inclusion. If marginalized people experience a work environment that is hostile, exclusionary, or silent to issues of marginalization, they will struggle or leave. We do not expect our colleagues at NCBS to merely survive; instead, we aim to provide them with a supportive and inclusive environment to ensure they succeed.
- II) Ensure safe practices regarding issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of marginalization.
Fieldwork and lab safety is of paramount importance for a marine and field station like NCBS. We recognize not all those who work at the station will face the same risks and may experience discomfort, discrimination, othering, or even conflict and violence as a direct result of their identities. Such interactions or experiences can threaten a researcher’s short- and long-term physical and mental well-being, deter remaining in a research field, and impact productivity. We will continue to work diligently to minimize risk and ensure plans are in place if issues arise.
III) Promote equitable opportunities for NCBS and UF students.
Undergraduate and graduate student-researchers interact with NCBS faculty, staff scientists, and outside partnered institutions through our summer undergraduate research internship program, classes taught at the station, and sponsored research projects. These experiences are key to promoting career advancement and building confidence, competence, and interest in STEM fields. However, such experiences can also be intimidating, confusing, and overwhelming for students. We seek to ensure inclusive support structures with visible potential role models, access to information on avenues of advancement, and peer mentorship.
- IV) Recruit and advance a diverse community of faculty, staff, and students.
Demographically underrepresented groups innovate at higher rates than those in the majority, but their novel contributions have been historically discounted and generally do not lead to the same advancements in academic positions as those in the majority. Broadening the participation of underrepresented people in STEM necessarily requires a widespread willingness—particularly by those in the majority—to acknowledge that bias and injustices exist in the meritocracy mechanisms traditionally used to find and promote students, staff, and faculty. We, therefore, seek to make active efforts to recruit, hire, retain, and advance people from underrepresented groups.
- V) Embody DEI principles within our wider community.
Public engagement is a central tenet to NCBS’s mission, and we build on decades of cooperative research, teaching, and extension conducted in our region by UF/IFAS. Informal science education can disrupt historically inequitable systems in education and research if it is properly planned and considered. Moreover, environmental education can boost confidence, academic performance, critical thinking skills, civic engagement, leadership characteristics in K-12 students. NCBS strongly encourages our faculty, staff, and graduate student to participate in outreach events to increase widespread and diverse engagement in STEM. We will continue our outreach and extension efforts to our local community while also providing more equitable access to those who may not have the resources or capabilities to travel to NCBS.
- VI) Evaluate and adapt our goals
Our strategic plan and its goals are not a one-time effort. Rather, we have formalized continuous and ongoing work and commitment to increasing DEI at our institution. These goals and efforts will evolve. Thus, we have developed the structure and implemented steps to ensure adequate measurement, assessment, and reflection that, collectively, enables iterative planning and execution.