Announced in July 2020, the Columbia Climate School is the first new school at the University in over two decades. In building something new, we have a real opportunity to set up the institutional structures, policies, and processes — and more importantly, build a culture — that places our values around diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-bias (DEIA), and anti-racism at the forefront of everything we aspire to do. This post is the first of a mini-series that focuses on our DEIA activity. This first post outlines the School’s aspirations for change, new actions we are taking, and the important work at the Earth Institute that we are building upon.
First, we would like to highlight an important aspect of how the Climate School frames our efforts in this area. We recently decided to shift our terminology from “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism” to “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Bias.” This was a purposeful and thoughtful change. We recognize that language is always shifting, particularly in the DEI space and, after consultation with experts and resources both internally and externally, we concluded that anti-bias encapsulates racism, ableism, sexism, ageism, and other forms of bias that isn’t race-based. Anti-bias also addresses the attitudes and predispositions that contribute to structural racism. In some ways, the difference may sound like semantics; however, being clear about what we’re trying to accomplish is a prerequisite for marshaling our resources, aligning our intent, and creating sustainable change. It is important to note that the Climate School is by no means intending to minimize or ignore racism with this shift but to amplify and confront systemic racism. Racism is a systemic injustice that continues to be a stain on our society and around the world. Ultimately, our goal is to mitigate bias and eradicate structural racism. By addressing the deleterious impacts of racism, we ensure that our students, staff, scientists, and faculty are included, empowered, and aware.
Integrating DEIA into the core of the Climate School
The Climate School is committed to promoting a culture and work environment that is diverse, equitable, inclusive, safe, and welcoming for all. We cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense, and we must strive to ensure that all individuals have an equal opportunity to succeed and reach their full potential. Building on years of work at the Earth Institute and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, we seek to establish the Columbia Climate School as an exemplary institution that actively attracts, supports, advances, and retains diverse students, faculty, researchers, and staff at all levels, through:
- Commitment to fairness, social justice, and anti-racism;
- Cultivation of inclusive, respectful, and vibrant communities;
- Abiding dedication to research, practice and education that benefits all, particularly members of marginalized and vulnerable communities;
- Encouragement and support of each individual in the achievement of their full potential.
Currently, as the Earth Institute transitions into the Climate School, we are initiating the following major new actions to build momentum behind this plan and bring the strategy firmly into the School.
- Hiring an Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Bias to work across the Climate School to ensure a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive culture. This position will create a cohesive and strategic vision for DEIA in the Climate School, leveraging existing plans and activity underway across the Earth Institute. To apply, click here.
- Piloting a funding pool for DEIA programming, open to anyone within the Earth Institute/Climate School community. Proposals were due on October 8; we look forward to sharing more about the funded projects in the coming weeks.
- Developing a DEIA Council, comprising faculty, researchers, staff, and students to consult and advise the new associate dean. More details around the application process for the council will be shared in the coming weeks.
- Funding a DEIA position at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, separating the functions of academic affairs and diversity that were previously undertaken by one person.
These activities will help ensure that DEIA is embedded across every program, process, and functional area in the Climate School. These are just the first steps of many, as we recognize the vast amount of work needed to create real institutional change.
And lastly (for now), the Climate School hosted a virtual panel discussion on October 13 titled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts at Columbia: Institutional Lessons for the Climate School.” Moderated by Alicia Roman (Senior Associate Dean of Finance & Administration, Climate School), the event focused on Columbia’s continued efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion and how those efforts can help support and inform the Climate School’s goals. The panelists included a range of Columbia community who have experience with institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts — Latha Venkataraman (Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs), Jeri Henry (Vice Provost for EOAA), Dennis Mitchell (Executive Vice President for University Life), Celina Chatman Nelson (Associate Dean for Academic Diversity and Inclusion, GSAS) and Anne L. Taylor (Vice Dean of Academic Affairs, Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons). For those who missed it, you can view the recording here.
Ongoing DEIA initiatives within the Earth Institute
The Climate School is building on a robust foundation of work at both the Earth Institute and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO). At LDEO, this work has been ongoing for over 10 years, following the creation of the Office of Academic Affairs & Diversity. Since its creation, this office has been involved in many ongoing activities and initiatives aimed at promoting inclusivity, raising awareness, and creating a better work environment at Lamont. Starting in 2018, the Earth Institute began a new initiative to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion across the organization. This included a comprehensive DEIA planning process, which culminated in the creation of several Earth Institute unit-specific action plans and broader Earth Institute DEIA Action Plan in July 2021. View the Executive Summary: Earth Institute Action Plan here. In addition to undertaking this planning process, the Earth Institute has endeavored to promote and enhance diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-bias across the entire organization — from education to research to practice.
In the next blog in this series, we will highlight the critical DEIA work being done in the Earth Institute and Climate School education programs.