DCDI Mission Statement

Read our full length mission statement describing DCDI's work and goals

A Specific Aims version of our Mission Statement can be found here

The Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) is committed to convening and nurturing a diverse community of individuals dedicated to promoting excellence and leadership in neurobiology education, research, and service. Diverse perspectives, talents, experiences, and contributions as HMS students, trainees, faculty, staff, and administrators are the foundation and drivers of our excellence. Department administration and faculty members are committed to supporting historically marginalized identities in our department, and to strengthen our department members’ sense of inclusion, equity, and belonging.

Very directly: we believe that it is our moral imperative to achieve the goals of inclusion, equity, and belonging in our community. We acknowledge that the historical oppression of members of particular racial and ethnic groups and the perpetuated racism within society that exists today - including within institutions of higher education - have produced unacceptable racial inequities in academia. Dismantling oppressive and exclusionary structures while striving for racial equity is a priority for our Department; we are poised to implement changes that will lead us to become an anti-racist Department and set an example at HMS, at Harvard, and academia in general.

In addition to race and ethnicity, we recognize that many other identities continue to be marginalized within academia, including those related to sex and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic circumstances, national origin, geographic background, immigration status, ability and disability. These facets of identity are interdependent and, when combined, yield complex systems of discrimination and oppression that must be taken into account. We are committed to creating an inclusive environment that elevates the voices of all members of our community and which promotes collective reflection to measure our own shortcomings toward the goal of self-accountability. Our overarching goal is to institute concrete and permanent changes in the Department that will increase diverse representation at all levels of training, elevate and support diverse voices within our community, and create platforms that cultivate a sense of belonging and inclusion among department members, one that promotes inclusive excellence and allows everyone to be successful and thrive.

Toward this end, we launched the Departmental Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (DCDI) to execute on a series of actionable steps, as laid out by the Underrepresented Scholars in Neuroscience (USN) Call to Action. Working closely with USN, we reached a consensus that DCDI’s priority goals should fall into the following areas: training, education, outreach, and “in-reach.”

We founded the DCDI on the premise that we can do more toward our goals by operating in parallel workstreams. In the Summer of 2020, we launched DCDI with the following structure: we have a standing Core Committee composed of Department Chair, Department administration, Harvard PhD Program in Neuroscience (PiN) leadership, and USN Executive Board members. The Core Committee provides oversight of progress by defining milestones and providing essential administrative support to subcommittees, centrally organizes the community around actionable agenda items, writes grants to create new programs, and facilitates cross-department activities.

The Core Committee interfaces with subcommittees that focus on our four priority areas. Each subcommittee is chaired by a member of the community who coordinates the activities and projects of their respective group. Subcommittee leaders are compensated in recognition of the additional time required of them to generate progress in DCDI efforts. Subcommittee leaders meet with the Core Committee every month to provide updates, share challenges, and identify ways to collaborate across teams.

DCDI Core Committee is also working on seeking out professional support in many of our efforts (we have already collaborated extensively with a member of the Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Partnerships office to help design nerveimPulse and with mentoring efforts to create new Training modules; see below) so as to minimize the onus on the trainees who comprise our subcommittees. We are actively identifying ways in which to integrate DEI experts in DCDI activities, for example as part of our annual Department retreats or recruitment events (see Aim 1.1).

Speaking as scientists to scientists, DCDI proposes to achieve our DEI goals through the following Aims and based on the following preliminary work:

Aim 1: Increase belonging and inclusion in our community

1.1: Create platforms to elevate community voices: We feel strongly that bringing the community together to share experiences and discuss topics related to DEI are incredibly powerful for fostering mutual understanding. Indeed, DCDI receives feedback that  mechanisms, such as departmental town halls, create a sense of comfort, validation, and inclusion for community members. We have also observed a high attendance of department members (and even neuroscientists working in other departments) in our Town Halls, suggesting that the community values these platforms. 

In preliminary work, the DCDI in-reach subcommittee has hosted a series of events, modeled after the successful Growing Up In Science series,  called ‘Listening Labs’, small group meetings in which members of the community come together to discuss and share insights on various topics including “Embedding the Values of Racial Equity and Justice at Work” and the personal stories of being an underrepresented minority in science. The goal of these sessions is to elevate diverse voices and to provide platforms for people to come together through shared experiences. We also host social sessions under the auspices of other community groups, such as the Women in Neuroscience series and the Neurobiology Postdoc Club. We also publish a weekly departmental newsletter, The Action Potential, where we regularly feature voices from the community and shine a spotlight on community groups representing diverse scientists working in Harvard neuroscience. We will also include DEI workshops and content at upcoming Department retreats hosted by DCDI members and if possible invite DEI experts to participate in the events in person.

While we strongly believe that fostering mutual understanding is achieved through community dialogues, we also recognize that the onus to educate the community should not fall on marginalized individuals or minoritized groups. Therefore, we will actively work on DEI education (Aim 2) to engage more community members and to strive to create safe and welcoming space for all.

1.2: Generate longitudinal data to assess the impact of DCDI activities: To assess the efficacy of our DCDI efforts, our inreach committee has generated a custom “pulse” survey for the Department called nerveimPulse. Members of the DCDI In-reach subcommittee designed this survey in partnership with the HMS Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Partnership office. Questions are designed to provide us with a rich dataset about demographic composition of our department, as well as attitudes and opinions on various DEI-related topics. Our overarching goal is to have a mechanism for annual self-assessment of DCDI progress and to longitudinally assess the impact of DCDI activities as they relate to the demographic diversity in the Department, as well as attitudes and sentiments of members of our community on issues of support, inclusivity, and belonging. For example, we can determine the impact of our DCDI’s Outreach subcommittee on recruitment of trainees to our Department by monitoring the trend of nerveimPulse demographic data. Another example of how the data will be used pertains to what extent respondents feel like the Department values their voices or sentiments related to belonging and inclusion. Our goal is to see a rising trend in positive feelings of belonging, and if we do not see such a positive slope in nerveimPulse data, we will know that DCDI activities need to re-prioritize efforts in this space. In addition to assessing our progress, the collected data will guide us identify places for improvement in the future. Thanks to the parallel structure of DCDI, we believe we will be able to shift our focus in favorable ways based on these data.

Aim 2: Educate our community

2.1: Educate the community in DEI scholarship: We believe that impactful efforts towards DEI in the Department relies on disseminating knowledge pertaining to the vast field of scholarship on these topics. Instead of relying on minority groups in the Department to teach us (risk perpetuating the “minority tax”), we believe that it is the responsibility of DCDI to learn and teach the community about DEI. To this end, the Department publishes a weekly series Theme J that provides relevant analysis and resources. Another major initiative is building and curating the vast array of literature and resources on DEI topics in a digestible form on an upcoming dedicated site.

An exciting future direction is the development of a new program that will empower department labs to take the lead on structured and impactful DEI discussions in lab meetings and/or journal club meetings. Encouraging structured conversations around DEI within the laboratory is necessary for transformative change within our community, as our Departmental culture is constructed from the cultures of individual laboratories. To this end, we will create de novo educational guides on primary literature related to DEI in STEM and neuroscience that will include discussion prompts, key definitions, essential context (grounded in DEI scholarship) for concepts discussed in research articles, as well as a list of additional suggested readings. We strongly believe that a DEI professional is critical to the success of this program, and DCDI Core Committee and Education Subcommittee leaders are spearheading efforts to recruit experts for this work.

2.2: Train our community in DEI topics through the design of original training modules made by Department members for Department members. The training sessions are responsive to the unique culture of our Department, and are developed within the context of our particular environment and department needs. Research indicates that mentorship is the keystone to DEI in STEM, and so initial training efforts have focused on mentorship training. Members of the DCDI Training subcommittee have sought out expertise from an external expert who regularly leads and develops evidence based-mentorship training for STEM and higher education institutions to develop new Department-specific training modules. By this Spring, nearly 100% of faculty will have undergone mentorship training. There is currently work to provide training to Department trainees and staff as well on topics related to DEI allyship. A major charge of the Training Subcommittee will be regular offerings of training sessions, feedback and evaluation of training efficacy, and importantly actionable items based on discussions that emerge from training sessions.

Aim 3: Continuously work to increase diversity at all levels of training

3.1: Recruit with diversity and inclusion as priorities in ongoing hiring efforts: This is a longstanding goal of the Department and HMS at large, with the goal of increasing representation at the administrative, technician, student, postdoctoral, and faculty levels. There are various local and institutional efforts in this space, including PiN recruitment and the recent HMS “cluster hire” initiative. We are sponsoring educational booths at conferences and local science fairs that we hope will demonstrate to the community that DCDI is actively seeking to recruit neuroscientists from diverse backgrounds to our Department.

Work in this area will be continuous; we will assess the success of these efforts through the annual dissemination of a Department survey nerveimPulse (Aim 1.2). Our Departmental seminar series and other community events will continuously highlight outstanding scientists who are underrepresented in science; indeed thanks to Department faculty members, USN and Women in Neuroscience groups will now annually host a seminar speaker as part of the Department seminar series.

3.2: Launch new outreach programs to encourage scientists from all backgrounds to engage with the Department: the DCDI Outreach subcommittee has begun to develop recruiting pipelines at various levels of training, from high school programs to graduate and postdoctoral fellows. Programs vary in scope, length, and format. For example, some will be hands-on in lab training, while others will be more ‘tea time’ like events where students can talk to neuroscientists in the Department about their experiences in academia, and make real world connections with us. The goal of all Outreach events is to increate interactions and try to promote the formation of critical networks between anyone in interested in neuroscience and our wonderful community.

As we design these programs, we fully recognize that recruitment is only the first step to a better department, and must be done in parallel with efforts to retain talented individuals. Thus we believe strongly that all outreach work must be done in concert with “inreach” efforts to increase inclusion and belonging in the Department, and so we are also focusing a large majority of DCDI efforts to inreach (Aim 1).

Summary

DCDI’s preliminary work suggests that we can make inroads toward the three aims, but that we need sustained work and resources to make concrete progress. Thanks to the department, we have preliminary fundraising efforts to galvanize DCDI efforts, and we are actively searching for more financial support through the institution and beyond. Albeit slowly, progress will come if we continue to work together toward the three aims. Research dictates that academic departments need to devote resources and seek out experts to accomplish DEI goals. Like any large scale scientific project, DCDI cannot achieve its goals without support from collaborators and experts in DEI, and so we are actively working on seeking out these resources.

Through sustained and steady work, it is our aim to make each member of the Department feel that they belong, that their voice matters, that their experience is valued and contributes to our Department’s research and education mission, and that no matter what happens in the world, the Department feels like a safe place where we can thrive as scientists and individuals.