J.F. Crow Institute Statement on Advancing Diversity in Evolutionary Study

The J. F. Crow Institute has established a Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to foster a more welcoming and diverse field.  As a part of the broader University of Wisconsin Madison community, we hope to embody the Wisconsin Idea1 and honor Our Shared Future2 by creating a more just and inclusive community of evolutionary biologists.  Our mission is to practice and amplify our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion to support all people interested in pursuing evolutionary research and education.

At the heart of evolutionary biology is the goal to understand the diversity of life.  As evolutionary biologists, we are fascinated by this question, but it has long been interrogated by a limited spectrum of researchers.  The Crow Institute strongly believes that increasing the diversity of researchers studying evolutionary biology will result in greater insights and novel avenues of inquiry.  That diverse groups yield better outcomes has been demonstrated, not only for groups of people3,4, but also in populations of the organisms we study5.

We recognize that profound underrepresentation of many groups persists in our field, even at early career stages.  If we account for US demographics, then between 2015 and 2019, Hispanic Americans were 2.7 times less likely to earn a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology than whites, African Americans were 10 times less likely than whites, and Native Americans were 15 times less likely6,7.  Hence, it is clear that progress in promoting racial diversity in our field has been painfully slow.  We also emphasize that diversity takes many forms—not all of which are tracked with such rigorous data—including gender identity and sexual orientation, disability status, and socioeconomic and cultural background.

We acknowledge that barriers to pursuing education and careers in evolutionary biology are numerous4,8-14, and they extend across many dimensions of diversity.  The deep history and entanglement of genetics and evolutionary biology with eugenics represents a legacy that has harmed generations of historically excluded people worldwide.  Furthermore, the problems are not just historical—eugenic and racist ideas continue to be repackaged in the popular press and sometimes even the scientific literature.  The prevalence of cis-gendered white men studying evolutionary biology has led to a lack of role models, safe spaces, or a sense of belonging for many individuals with diverse backgrounds and identities.  Socioeconomic structures and policies rooted in racism, as well as safety concerns, continue to limit access to the outdoors for Black and Brown communities, an experience that is often cited by researchers as inspiring an interest in evolutionary biology.  The complex and often fraught relationship between evolutionary biology and religion has also limited outreach to communities of faith, which are pillars of many communities.  Further, evolutionary biology graduate programs often lack funding to make these degrees more accessible to students from underrepresented groups.  Graduate admission in this field often relies on direct admission to a research group, a process in which consideration of diversity might be quite uneven, and one that may be particularly influenced by professional networks and advice from prior mentors, to the disadvantage of candidates from less traditional backgrounds.  Lastly, few evolution students or faculty receive adequate training in inclusive practices and the value of diversity.

The Crow Institute’s creation of a DEI committee, as one of just five standing committees, reflects our passionate commitment to improving the inclusive climate of our field and promoting the training of more diverse generations of evolutionary researchers and teachers.  The DEI committee aims to actively engage with (and enhance) our efforts by other committees, namely Graduate Education, Undergraduate Education, the Evolution Seminar Series, and Public Outreach.  The Crow Institute has hosted a panel on Diversity in Evolution, has increased our emphasis on diversity in selecting seminar speakers, and is increasingly reaching-out to diverse K-12 programs.  Going forward, we will pursue additional efforts to cultivate diversity in our field, including sending speakers to minority-serving undergraduate institutions, finding new ways to engage with all sectors of the UW undergraduate community, and tracking diversity and climate in our planned graduate program.  Through these steps and others, we will strive to help make evolution a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive field of study.

~ Drafted by the Crow Institute DEI committee and unanimously approved by the Evolution Coordinating Committee on March 10, 2021.


References Cited:

  1. https://www.wisc.edu/wisconsin-idea/
  2. https://oursharedfuture.wisc.edu/
  3. Gomez LE, Bernet P. 2019. Diversity improves performance and outcomes. J Nat Med Assoc. 111:383-392. [link]
  4. Hofstra B, Kulkarni VV, Galvez SMN, He B, Jurafsky D, McFarland DA. 2020. The diversity–innovation paradox in science. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 117:9284-9291. [link]
  5. Hoffmann AA, Sgrò CM, Kristensen TN. 2017. Revisiting adaptive potential, population size, and conservation. Trends Ecol Evol. 2017 32:506-517. [link]
  6. National Science Foundation – Survey of Earned Doctorates [link]
  7. US Census 2019 Estimates via Wikipedia [link]
  8. Ordover N. 2003. American eugenics: Race, queer anatomy, and the science of nationalism. U of Minnesota Press.
  9. Mead LS, Clarke JB, Forcino F, Graves JL. 2015. Factors influencing minority student decisions to consider a career in evolutionary biology. Evolution: Education and Outreach. 8:6. [link]
  10. Graves JL. 2019. African Americans in evolutionary science: where we have been, and what’s next. Evol Edu Outreach 12:18. [link]
  11. Barber PH, Hayes TB, Johnson TL, Márquez-Magaña L. 2020. Systemic racism in higher education. Science369:1440-1441. [link]
  12. O’Brien LT, Bart HL, Garcia DM. 2020. Why are there so few ethnic minorities in ecology and evolutionary biology? Challenges to inclusion and the role of sense of belonging. Soc Psych Edu 3:1-29. [link]
  13. Tseng M, El-Sabaawi RW, Kantar MB, Pantel JH, Srivastava DS, Ware JL. 2020. Strategies and support for Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in ecology and evolutionary biology. Nat Ecol Evol 4:1288-1290. [link]
  14. Wallace KJ, York JM. 2020. A systems change framework for evaluating academic equity and inclusion in an Ecology and Evolution Graduate Program. Ecol Evol 10:10922-10929. [link]


Further Resources on Diversity in Evolution:

Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) Diversity Committee [link]

DiversifyEEB [link]

UW STEM Diversity Network [link]