ANALYSIS: Diversity, equity and inclusion pushed on STEM students, professors at prestigious institution
However, a glance at recent reports, course recommendations and syllabi from some of Stanford’s STEM departments suggests its faculty and administrators have come to place the advancement of ideology pertaining to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, or DEI, on par with providing students with a world class education in science, technology, engineering and math.
A recent report in the Stanford Review, a center-right student publication, discussed an increase in courses at the school that aim to teach something called environmental justice, which the author claims is cloaked as science, but, in actuality, is an attempt by administrators and activists at “embedding race and gender politics into how we approach climate change.”
Moreover, the author suggested this trend has more broadly “seeped into how the university teaches, discusses, and approaches science.”
Two STEM departments at Stanford recently highlighted for working to promote DEI among their students and faculty, and further embed DEI into how they approach science, are those of computer science and mechanical engineering.
In the computer science department, where DEI concepts have been worked into ethics courses and department leaders send out mass emails on race-related news stories with links to DEI tool kits, professors are strongly encouraged to create more inclusive communities within their classrooms.
Some recommendations seem to amount to largely performative measures such as redoing syllabi, Power Points, and office decor to be more adherent with current DEI norms:
“Glance over your syllabus to see if it could be updated to include some of the inclusive language suggested throughout this document on matters such as pronouns.”
“Review today’s lecture slides to make sure that stock photos and illustrations with people in them include diverse races and genders in non-stereotyped roles.”
“Look around your office and/or lab space. Consider if there are things you could add or remove that would make the space more welcoming generally, and also signal welcome to a diverse student body (e.g., remove very masculine or heavily CS-stereotyped movie posters).”
Other recommendations pertain to making greater efforts to ensure student success by perpetually working to boost student self-confidence and self-esteem, especially if such students have claim to minority status:
“Email top performers on a recent homework or exam to congratulate them; be sure to include a diverse group.”
“After a midterm exam, step through the math showing the class that students can still pass the course even if they did poorly.”
“Personally invite a woman or a minority student who did well in your class to major in CS, apply to an internship, or go to grad school.”
“Start class today by telling the students you’re proud of them and how hard they are working. Tell them you are enjoying working with them this term.”
Most striking though are recommendations for what a professor should do if accused of a “misstep,” as well as a nudge to professors to spread the DEI gospel:
“If someone, especially a student, brings to your attention a misstep such as an inappropriate comment, oversight, or microaggression, Step 1 is to listen…Do not deny, minimize, or otherwise respond defensively…Step 2 is to acknowledge to a student that it took courage for them to approach you. Step 3 is to let them know that you appreciate feedback…because that is what will help you improve.”
“Encourage your colleagues to do the items on this list. Advertise your good example by bringing up your performance of these items in conversations with other faculty.”
In Stanford’s mechanical engineering department, which offers a course on culture and diversity, as well as a graduate gender seminar, professors are similarly encouraged through an “Inclusive Course Design: Checklist for Instructors” to abide by current DEI norms and emotionally and academically coddle the young adults that grace their classrooms.
Through the checklist, instructors are urged to include a DEI statement in their syllabi, question potential course assistants on their thoughts on the ideology, and choose course materials based on the immutable demographic features of the authors or presenters.
Instructors are also told to “consider co-creating course policies and norms with the students,” “provide students the flexibility to choose from a set of assessment options that measure their learning in different ways,” and “offer flexible assignment policies.”
Furthermore, Stanford’s mechanical engineering department in some ways appears to be prepping to go beyond simply encouraging professors to rework course materials and policies and formally integrate DEI ideology into department policy.
According to a 2021 report, in June of 2020, it held a departmental town hall that lasted nearly three hours. At the meeting, individuals enumerated grievances ranging from lack of diversity within the department to experiencing microaggressions to more standard collegiate frustrations.
Consequently, the department was spurred to action and committed itself to form a DEI committee. By July 2020, the committee drafted its values and mission statements. At the end of that month, the department was further exhorted by its graduate students to be more transparent in its DEI efforts and to work with both students and outside consultants to better address anti-black racism.
Eventually the committee developed a list of goals. The list included things such as keeping better metrics on DEI-related matters within the department, “uplift the voices of those in the ME community,” “ensure accountability and transparency,” “increase the number of underrepresented minorities [in the department],” and “create an overwhelmingly positive attitude toward DEI work among faculty.”
At the time of the publication of the committee’s 2021 report, many of the committee’s achievements were largely symbolic or amounted to little more beyond data collection and analysis.
However, the report also hints that reducing barriers to reporting and penalizing individuals for DEI infractions may be on the horizon. It also more explicitly calls for a requirement that job applicants submit a DEI statement when applying for positions within the department.
If enacted, these policies would seem both to advance and codify trends on college campuses of individuals being subject to disciplinary action for causing even minor emotional discomfort in their peers or students, while mandating ideological homogeneity on matters related to DEI.
The College Fix attempted to contact several members of Stanford’s CS and ME departments, including the Robert Bosch Chair of Mechanical Engineering, Ellen Kuhl. Two ME professors, Allison Okamura and Sheri Sheppard, responded with emails in which they separately stated, “I am not responding to media inquiries.”
Sheppard did add, however, that an updated report on the ME department’s DEI activities would be released later this summer.