Celebrating and Empowering ESA – A Journey Towards Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice

Kennedy “Ned” Rubert-Nason, University of Maine at Fort Kent; ESA Inclusive Ecology section
Teresa Mourad, Ecological Society of America
Aramati Casper, Colorado State University; ESA Inclusive Ecology section
Zakiya Leggett, North Carolina State University; ESA SEEDS alumna

When it comes to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, knowing that there is a safe space to broach highly sensitive topics is a big deal. The Ecological Society of America created an open space for all members for the first time at its Annual Meeting in 2018 and drew nearly 200 participants! The inaugural Diversity Forum took place on August 8, 2018, at ESA’s Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA.

Picture of the panel at 2019 ESA diversity forum.The forum was organized by ESA’s Office of Education and Diversity Programs and the SEEDS – Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability – program, in collaboration with four ESA sections: Black Ecologists, Communication & Engagement, Inclusive Ecology, and Student that work closely with the Committee on Diversity and Education (CDE). Planned around the theme Diversity in Ecology: Then and Now, the goals of the forum were to (1) showcase past, present, and future diversity and inclusion initiatives within the ESA, and (2) facilitate dialogue about how the society’s members can work together to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and justice within its membership and the broader profession of ecology.

The forum opened with an introduction by ESA’s Director of Education and Diversity Programs Teresa Mourad, followed by presentations from panelists representing ESA’s diverse membership. Moderated by Manisha Patel (Harvard Forest) our panel included (alphabetically):  Dr. Alan R. Berkowitz (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, SEEDS program founder, ESA Vice President of Education 1992-1996); Dr. Zakiya Leggett (Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University, SEEDS alumna); Kellen Marshall (Doctoral Candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Illinois-Chicago, SEEDS alumna); and Dr. Osvaldo Sala (Professor, Arizona State University Global Drylands Center founding director, ESA President-elect). The event culminated in facilitated roundtable discussions in which small groups of participants evaluated and reflected on thematically-relevant scenarios, which were developed and presented by Alexa Sutton Lawrence (The Wilderness Society; SEEDS alumna).

The broader goals of the forum were to reflect on the ESA’s role in supporting diversity, equity, inclusion and justice within its membership and the field of ecology, and to identify current and future opportunities for constructive change.

From whence we have come

The inaugural Diversity Forum marked the 25th anniversary of the first ESA Women and Minorities in Ecology (WAMIE) report (1993), which was the result of a workshop chaired by Barbara Bentley. Recommendations in this report led to the establishment of ESA’s Education and Diversity Programs office and the U.S. presidential-award-winning SEEDS program. Even before the WAMIE report, ESA had a strong legacy of supporting diversity within its membership and the field of ecology (Huenneke 2018). For example, in 1995, when ESA’s Governing Board was reorganized, gender and diversity issues became part of the newly established Education and Human Resources Standing Committee, and Alan Berkowitz became the first Vice President of Education and Human Resources (EHR) to chair the Education and Human Resources Committee (EHRC). In 1998, under the leadership of ESA President Hal Mooney, the organization established a Standing Committee on Women and Minorities. Diversity remained a priority for EHRC and in 2007, ESA EHR Vice President Meg Lowman, began to invite leaders of diversity-oriented sections to EHRC’s table. By 2012, the impetus to make its diversity agenda explicit compelled EHRC to rebrand itself as the Committee on Diversity and Education (CDE). This action was followed in 2014 by a CDE proposal to the Governing Board to develop a formal Diversity Statement for ESA, led by the Vice President of EHR, Julie Reynolds.

The brief historical timeline below provides a visual journey of progress and the rise of ESA’s multiple human-oriented sections and diversity highlights through its centenary.

Some interesting firsts:

  • 1950 -First Woman ESA President, E. Lucy Braun
  • 1975 – ESA Code of Ethics published
  • 1996 -SEEDS created as a partnership of ESA with the Institute of Ecosystem Studies and the United Negro College Fund
  • 2002 – First human-oriented section formed: Traditional Ecological Knowledge
  • 2003 – First LGBT listserv created
  • 2010 – First EHRC Diversity Award
  • 2011 – First known African-American President – Steward Pickett
  • 2015 – ESA Code of Conduct first created
  • 2019 – First known Hispanic President – Osvaldo Sala

We can be very proud that our leaders had the foresight to delve into diversity and inclusion topics long before many other scientific societies decided to invest time and resources in this area. While our Society has come a long way toward embracing diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, discussions during the forum and elsewhere reveal a need to more deeply engage ESA members in these issues. The 2018 Diversity Forum participants generally agreed that there are myriad benefits to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in the ecology profession, such as increasing sense of well-being, furthering programmatic goals (e.g., getting funding, policy compliance), and increasing intellectual contributions.

During the forum, the following topics of relevance to the ecology profession emerged:

  • Ignorance and apathy toward peoples’ cultures and identities, whether they are related to gender, age, race, religion or (dis)abilities, are major concerns, in addition to overt manifestations of implicit and/or explicit biases
  • There is a critical need to address deficits in understanding of local, regional, and global history and power dynamics across all levels of education and professional hierarchy
  • Institutions need to clearly define and communicate their positions on diversity/inclusion
  • Workshops, webinars, participatory training sessions, and other educational opportunities are effective ways to promote an inclusive workplace climate and personal behaviors that respect race, gender identity, religion, culture, age, and ability status
  • Sensitivity and awareness training should be strongly encouraged, if not required, for faculty, staff, teaching assistants and students

Practical Suggestions by Forum Participants

Forum participants made several suggestions related to the ESA Annual Meeting. Among them, we note that ESA has been responsive to discussion of these issues over recent years and has introduced the following initiatives at the Annual Meeting:

  • Gender-neutral restrooms, introduced in 2016, are important and we need more throughout the conference center
  • Gender pronoun stickers, introduced in 2017, will be accompanied by an explication of purpose to all participants in 2019, especially for presiders and moderators.
  • Attendees were asked to acknowledge the ESA code of conduct during registration for the 2018 and 2019 Annual Meetings.

Additionally, participants suggested:

  • Agreeing upon and communicating behavioral expectations that ESA as a Society should be promoting, along with procedures for addressing non-compliance with these expectations. Particular attention should be given to the process so that anyone who is accused of harassment or who reports harassment will be treated fairly. In November 2018, ESA approved formal procedures to handle ethics and misconduct complaints (O’Riordan 2019). In June 2019, ESA now offers a way for members to report incidents anonymously through EthicsPoint.
  • More opportunities for ESA members to provide feedback to ESA administrators regarding matters of diversity, inclusion, and general sense of well-being
  • Continued support for the ESA SEEDS, esa.org/seeds, program and other K12 programs to increase participation of diverse audiences in ecology
  • Increasing the diversity of the ESA membership through outreach to underrepresented populations, and cultivation of an inclusive, welcoming social/professional climate within the society.

Future visions:

Discussion in the 2018 Diversity Forum revealed that ESA and its members should devote particular attention to the following topics relating to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice:

  • Expanding support among ESA members for education initiatives on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice topics (e.g. engaging administrators in higher education institutions and facilitating development of inclusive curricula).
  • Developing and distributing workshops and educational materials that address current and emerging challenges.

To encourage dialogue aimed at addressing these challenges, and extend a safe space for sharing, the Diversity Forum at the 2019 conference in Louisville, KY will showcase stories of belonging in science. We will explore questions such as: When did you realize you belonged in the field of ecology? When did you realize others recognized you as an ecologist? We hope that you will join us in this opportunity for fellowship and introspection. Bring a friend and bring along your story to share.

TK 4: Diversity Forum
Wednesday August 14, 2019; 6:30 – 8:00 PM
Kentucky International Convention Center – Ballroom A

We would like to acknowledge the 2018 Diversity Forum Design Team:

  • Aramati Casper, Colorado State University; ESA Inclusive Ecology section
  • Manisha Patel, Harvard Forest, Harvard University
  • Kennedy “Ned” Rubert, University of Maine at Fort Kent; ESA Inclusive Ecology section
  • Wilnelia Recart, University of California – Irvine; ESA Inclusive Ecology section
  • Annaliese Hettinger, University of California – Davis ; ESA Communication and Engagement section
  • Alexandra Sutton Lawrence, The Wilderness Society
  • Leonardo Calle, Montana State University; ESA Student Section
  • Zakiya Leggett, North Carolina State University; ESA SEEDS alumna
  • Nyeema Harris, University of Michigan
  • Teresa Mourad, ESA
  • Fred Abbott, ESA
  • Ravi Lipman, University of Memphis, ESA Intern, 2018 Summer


Huenneke, L. (2018, December 5) A Brief Summation of ESA’s Work to Diversify the Field and Stop Harassment. EcoTone [BlogPost] https://www.esa.org/esablog/ecology-in-the-news/news-events/esas-work-to-diversify-the-field-and-stop-harassment/

O’Riordan, C. (2019, April 23) ESA joins the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment EcoTone [BlogPost] https://www.esa.org/blog/2019/04/23/esa-joins-the-societies-consortium-on-sexual-harassment/

Author: ESA Public Affairs

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