Determined to Make a Better Tomorrow
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The significance and meaning of these terms will vary depending on the perspective of the individual. I have personally watched the conversation evolve beyond equality for African Americans to cover all under-represented groups, including indigenous tribes, the LGBTQ community, and those with physical handicaps. Though we face a sobering history and tough challenges, I believe we are fortunate not to be starting from scratch. Today, we are having serious conversations about the challenges facing society to make our world inclusive, diverse, and open to all for opportunity and shared prosperity. We pick up the challenges of fighting racism, discrimination, and inequality midstream, benefitting from the hard-won victories of previous generations, yet determined to do our part to make a better tomorrow.
As many of you may know, SRAI formed a task force in October 2020 to make sure our organization is meeting the needs of all members of the community, identifying opportunities for improvement, and increasing engagement to reach the broadest possible audience. I was invited to join that group and would like to share with you my motivation, some history, and hopes for the future. I had the fortune to join the team in October and said yes for a few reasons, the first reason being that I was asked. As you know, research administrators are notoriously terrible in the “no” department. My second reason for joining the task force was my curiosity and interest in helping our community, combined with a growing sense that we all can individually have a direct role in making a difference.
Research administrators are generally helpful as a professional group. Like almost all of my peers, I “stumbled” into Research Administration and certainly didn’t plan for this career. I believe our shared entry into the profession makes us more accepting of, and willing to engage with, the widest possible group of people across vast geographic regions. Early in my career I was fortunate to have an active role in SRAI when NIH initiated the “Extramural Associates Program.” The goal of the program was to develop Universities and their researchers with no idea how to maneuver the NIH grant submission and management landscape. NIH asked SRAI to contribute in the form of a mentorship program. I was partnered with two research administrators from HBCUs, Delaware State and Morehouse. SRAI embraced this program and it opened doors to share knowledge and best practices. I lent my knowledge on cultivating an environment to increase research proposal submissions and increasing collaborations among faculty. This program was active for several years and SRAI membership grew to include newly organized offices of sponsored programs and predominately undergraduate serving institutions. This became a track at the annual meetings that continues to address the concerns of PUIs.
As my story above illustrates, I found a fit with SRAI early in my career as a group welcoming all voices and perspectives. The world and SRAI has changed much since those early days and we have undertaken an important task, examining how our Society made up of volunteers is inclusive and engaging of all sectors of the membership. It is the goal of the task force to offer useful suggestions to the Board which will provide a framework for SRAI to continue to engage and include all members. The primary questions we have focused on include: Are we serving our members’ needs and creating an inclusive, diverse environment in which all community members can thrive? and Where are our opportunities for improvement? The Taskforce, to be effective, cannot operate in a silo. Over the weeks and months ahead, it is the intent of the Taskforce to engage with the membership. Please take this opportunity to provide us your insights, hopes, and ideas and most importantly, stay engaged in the conversation.
The slogans of today, from all sides of the political and cultural spectrums, are a warning sign that large groups of people have been ignored and feel like they don’t have a voice. I firmly believe and have witnessed firsthand that, at SRAI, you do have a voice, as well as an opportunity to make a difference, both big and small. I’d like to leave you with a few inspirational words from Robert Kennedy, brother of President John F. Kennedy. "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of these acts will be written in the history of [each] generation. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.” Stay tuned for future announcements, sessions, and initiatives as we meet the challenges of today head on to build a brighter future.
Authored by Karen Mitchell, Assistant Vice President for Research Administration