Another Diversity Panel Invitation

March 21st by Kelton Clark

As the first African-American Director of a U.S. marine laboratory, I am often asked to engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) discussions. It has become clear that most of these requests were merely box-checking exercises rather than authentic efforts to create pathways for underrepresented minorities. As a result, I focused my efforts less on being somebody’s minority guy and more on being the laboratory’s Director guy.

Though I’ve been retired for three years, it really came as no surprise when NAML (National Association of Marine Laboratories) recently approached me to be on a diversity panel at their upcoming national meeting. The request came from someone I like, and who has a demonstrated commitment to DEI, so I gave them the courtesy of researching the issue at NAML before saying no.

As a Lab Director, I had been a member of NAML for a number of years and was aware of its diversity activities. My experiences were that a few members were clearly ahead of the curve and actively pushed on DEI issues. Matt Gilligan and Joel Widder deserve special credit here though there were many others. Their efforts were never embraced and brought to the fore by the NAML leadership. Instead, their efforts were left to languish in education committees, last agenda items, and policy statements—if even present at all.

Following my review, I was disappointed (though not surprised) to find evidence showing NAML’s lack of interest in combating the systemic lack of DEI in ocean science.

Within the ocean science community DEI has been identified as an area of concern. The Federal ocean agencies have goals and objectives in their strategic plans related to DEI. Science societies and associations have DEI statements on the first page of their website and many have programs to address the issues. Ocean NGOs have recognized the homogeneity of their communities and have instituted activities of rectification. Unlike these other members of the ocean science community NAML has no DEI visible statements, policies, and/or plans.

One of the more glaring examples of NAML’s response to DEI relative to the rest of the community is on the webpage of the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS). OBFS and NAML produced a joint strategic vision titled Field Stations and Marine Laboratories of the Future: A Strategic Vision. On the webpage for the report the organizations described their missions. While OBFS states that it will work to maximize DEI, NAML is again silent.

The National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML), …Through these unique national and regional networks, NAML encourages ecosystem-based management, wise local land management and the understanding and protection of natural resources.

The Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS)… The mission of OBFS is to help member stations increase their effectiveness in supporting critical research, education, and outreach programs. OBFS pursues this goal in a manner that maximizes diversity, inclusiveness, sustainability, and transparency.

NAML Public Policy Agendas

One source that indicates that NAML is aware of the issues is in its annual Public Policy Agenda. However, while the nation has increased awareness and focus on the systemic lack of DEI, NAML’s annual public policy agendas have decreased their emphasis on diversity. The decline can be seen in a review of the 15 years (2006-2021) of posted agendas.

In the first agenda, 2006/2007, there is a statement on diversity in the education sector. It includes a strong argument for diversity.

It is also vitally important that education programs yield a diverse workforce that includes a significant percentage from underrepresented groups. Preparing these cultural bridges would allow us to capitalize upon diverse national strengths, ensuring the flow of intellectual talent into ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes-related fields.

In 2007

These programs also yield a diverse workforce that includes a significant percentage from underrepresented groups. Preparing these cultural bridges would allow us to capitalize upon diverse national strengths, ensuring the flow of intellectual talent into ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes-related fields.

In 2008 the agenda included a section requesting support for federal agency programs that supported diversity in the field.

Marine laboratories serve as primary training grounds for students and are committed to enhancing diversity within the field of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes research and education. By fostering relationships with community colleges and minority-serving institutions, marine laboratories provide distinctive learning opportunities for underrepresented group

Over the next decade the diversity statement was limited to the same two sentences that were copied verbatim. The most recent statements reduced wording from a paragraph to including the phrase: “a diverse workforce” in a list of investments needed.

Investments through these agencies are essential for the development of knowledge, a diverse workforce, an ocean-literate society, and the technological innovations needed to power the Nation’s economy, improve human health, and sustain a strong national defense and vibrant society.

Separate but Separate

NAML seems to be placing DEI as something that occurs outside of NAML. This is exemplified in their statement from the policy agendas:

By fostering relationships with community colleges and minority-serving institutions, marine laboratories provide distinctive learning opportunities for underrepresented group.

In this statement there is no emphasis on NAML becoming more diverse or what NAML can do to become more inclusive. It is about what NAML can provide to those others.

In the statement on diversity in the joint report on field stations and marine laboratories (FSML). There is a lament on how hard it is to work with “those people”: FSMLs are often located far from urban centers and diverse populations. Making the benefits of FSMLs accessible to minorities may require focused efforts. The statement is based on many of the generalizations and stereotypes that undermine DEI and it demonstrates a systemic opposition to DEI efforts.

Members are active in DEI

There has been DEI work by the marine laboratories that are members of NAML in. Most NAML members are academic or government entities. The member’s diversity statements and activities reflect the commitment of their home institution or agency. However; none of those efforts seem to be reflected back onto NAML.

There are also individuals at marine laboratories who do what they can within their personal sphere. I am the proof and product of such efforts. While there are many that helped me in my journey. I wish to make special note of Susan Williams, who mentored me at San Diego State University. Without her perseverance and guidance, I never would have made it into or through undergraduate school. Nor would I have known, or been prepared for her hand-off to, the mentors (Greg Ruiz, Anson Hines and Ken Sebens) who helped get through graduate school and beyond.

But, again, while those individuals exist in marine labs their commitment is not reflected in the national association. NAML must initiate, advocate, recognize and reward efforts and successes in DEI. If NAML can have the strength to elevate the issue as a pillar of its being, I would be happy to do everything in my power to support it.

– This post benefited from comments from Maurice Crawford and Matt Giligan.