Our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion

The UI Department of Chemistry values diversity and is committed to maintaining a supportive and inclusive climate. We value diversity in all forms, including but not limited to national origin, language, race, color, disability, ethnicity, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, veteran status, educational background, and family structures. We conduct all departmental activities, including recruitment, retention, and personal and professional development for a diverse group of faculty, postdoctoral fellows, staff, and graduate and undergraduate students in a manner consistent with these values.

Science and racism

The following statement was ratified by each of the following personnel groups within the University of Iowa’s Department of Chemistry: faculty (Nov. 3, 2020), and staff and visiting Assistant Professors (Oct. 6, 2020), and by graduate students and post-doctoral scholars (Dec. 18, 2020). As such, it is representative of our collective departmental values and perspectives.

We in the Department of Chemistry are dedicated to the creation of a STEM community in which all people are not only welcomed but recognized in all their humanity as equals.

As scientists and as instructors, we are compelled to acknowledge that science and scientists have played pivotal roles in the establishment of racism and its profound injustices under the banner of reason. Particularly in the United States, scientists of the past provided false validation for structural racism.

The modern concept of “races” of human beings emerged from the work of 18th century naturalists such as Carl Linnaeus, seeking to classify physical differences between geographically separated populations. European and early American scientists of the 19th century, such as Georges Cuvier, Josiah Nott, Louis Agassiz and George Gliddon, influenced by the economic benefits of colonial expansion and slavery, sought to further distinguish these human “races” in terms of evolutionary superiority.

We believe that we must learn and teach this history: we must better understand how it has informed our sense of what defines science, what and whose science is acclaimed in society, and the subtle ways in which this history shapes science culture today.

There is undoubtedly a lived experience of race in the United States, which influences personal and cultural identity. However, the concept of “human races” is scientifically baseless except as an artifact of human culture and developmental history. As the term is used today, it does not accurately describe biological patterns of human diversity. In fact, there is no rigorous basis for biological categorization of one group of people from another - let alone for awarding supremacy of one such group - despite over a century of effort by prominent American and European scientists towards this goal.

We further recognize that racism manifests throughout STEM institutions today, including our own. We are aware that this manifestation arises in the main not from conscious malice, but through institutional structures created from dominant cultural themes rooted in the theft of human promise, labor and lives. Therefore, we must notice and redress racism in STEM, and continue to make visible the ways in which racism in STEM routinely intersects and compounds other bigotries against aspects of personal identity, such as gender, sexual identity, socio-economic status, national and ethnic origin, and disability.

We must work to undo harms to which our scientific predecessors contributed. We further acknowledge the privileged role we all have as researchers, teachers, and mentors, and the harm that is done when bias, whether personal, institutional, or cultural, distorts a dedication to truth and fact.

We also celebrate and seek to augment the work done by previous scientists towards these efforts, including Franz Boas and L. C. Dunn, as well as chemists Lloyd Ferguson and Mary Hill, among many other leaders. We call attention to a persistent lack of Black, Hispanic/Latino/a/e, and Indigenous people in positions of power in the field of chemistry which cannot be explained by population demographics.

We in the Department of Chemistry embrace our roles as educators in our classrooms and among our colleagues at all training and professional levels. We will continue to teach and learn from those we instruct and from one another about the impact and damage done by racism in the scientific community and the broader society, and to work to create restorative opportunity. We hope you will join us in working towards a more just and equitable society.

We would like to acknowledge feedback provided during the drafting of this statement from Professor Dierdre Egan (UIowa, Department of Anthropology and Rhetoric), and Emeritus Professor David Depew (UIowa, Department of Communications Studies). We thank each of them for their selfless contribution of time and for sharing their learned perspective.

  1. Müller-Wille, S. “Race and History: Comments from an Epistemological Point of View” Science, Technology, and Human Values 2014, 39(4), 597–606.
  2. Dewberry, A. “Project Muse. 7. The American School and Scientific Racism in Early American Anthropology” Histories of Anthropologies Annual 2007, 3(1), 121–147.
  3. Wiss, R. “Lipreading: Remembering Saartjie Baartman” The Australian Journal of Anthropology 1994, 5(3), 11–40.
  4. Yudell, M.; Roberts, D.; DeSalle, R.; Tishkoff, S. “Taking Race Out of Human Genetics” Science 2016, 351(6273), 564–565.
  5. American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) “ASHG Denounces Attempts to Link Genetics and Racial Supremacy” The American Journal of Human Genetics 2018, 103, 636.
  6. Liss, J. E.; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Boaz, F. “Diasporic Identities: The Science and Politics of Race in the Work of Franz Boas and W. E. B. Du Bois, 1894-1919” Cultural Anthropology 1998, 13(2), 127–166.
  7. Gormley, M. “Scientific Discrimination and the Activist Scientist: L. C. Dunn and the Professionalization of Genetics and Human Genetics in the United States” Journal of the History of Biology 2009, 42, 33–72.
  8. Satyanarayana, M. “Black Chemists You Should Know About” C&E News, Profiles 2019, https://cen.acs.org/people/profiles/Six-black-chemists-should-know/97/we....
  9. For Iowa specific history in this area, please find information on the impact of the eugenics movement in Iowa: https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=9900&context=annals-of-...

For those interested in a podcast discussion of these topics, the UI Chemistry DEI committee suggests the following podcast covering the book Superior (ft. author Angela Saini): https://www.globalplayer.com/podcasts/episodes/7DraJ5p/

DEI resources

DEI student cohort

This group is open to all graduate students who are interested in addressing issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in chemistry and STEM. 

DEI reporting

Campus resources for reporting any concerns