Using the ICON Model to Promote Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Justice in the Geosciences

Samuel Cornelius Nyarko1*, Viranga Perera2, Shannon Othus-Gault3, Joel Singley4, Molly Witter5, Vincent Tong6, and Elijah Thomas Johnson7

1 STEM Education Innovation and Research Institute, Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis, IN, 46202.
2 Purdue Polytechnic Institute, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907.
3 Physical Science Department, Chemeketa Community College, Salem, OR 97305.
4 Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado Boulder, CO 80309.
5 Department of Geosciences, The University of Akron, Akron, OH 44325.
6 Northumbria University, Newcastle
7 Department of Geosciences, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849.

*Corresponding author: Samuel Cornelius Nyarko (snyarko@iu.edu)


The geosciences community is historically one of the least diverse scientific fields (e.g.,Bernard & Cooperdock, 2018; King et al., 2018;Vila-Concejo et al., 2018). For a number of decades geoscience educators and researchers have suggested that management of diverse knowledge and efforts to foster Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ) have the potential to enhance institutional culture, recruitment and retention of diverse learners and employers, as well as social justice in the geosciences (e.g.,Ali et al., 2021;Callahan et al., 2015; Huntoon et al., 2005). While significant effort has been spent on fostering DEIJ within the field (e.g., the recent special issue of the Journal of Geoscience Education [Gates et al., 2019]), there are still many opportunities for growth and change. Here we discuss how the Integrated, Coordinated, Open, and Networked (ICON) framework can be used to specifically improve DEIJ within the geosciences in the coming decades.

In the context of DEIJ, we consider Integrated (I) to mean widely welcoming and incorporating a global community into the geosciences, with a particular focus on systemically non-dominant (SND) groups (Jenkins, 2017). Geosciences involve topics that are inherently global (e.g., climate change, pollution, and sustainability) and thus require global discussions as associated consequences affect us all. Nevertheless, to change a community that has lacked DEIJ for decades requires that we first acknowledge the negative historical contexts (e.g., colonization and resource exploitation) that have led to developments within our science. We should thus teach geoscience topics with a more complete historical and cultural context. By integrating the  history and culture of the field, new learners can uncover important and relevant ideas while simultaneously contextualizing past social injustices. This practice has the potential to motivate reconstructions and reflections within the field (e.g., Apple et al., 2014; Dolphin et al., 2018). The geosciences community should think about people first (e.g., respecting and appreciating tribal sovereignty, history, culture, and local knowledge), before considering potential scientific advancements, to help integrate a more global community into the geosciences.

Closely related to Integrated is Coordinated (C) which, in the context of DEIJ, is creating environments and opportunities for diverse groups of people to actively work together. Addressing concerns about DEIJ is increasingly important as more people coordinating across multiple STEM fields are needed to confront a rapidly changing Earth. Geoscience departments can address these issues by actively engaging in campus communities and recruiting students (Ormand et al., 2021), showing diverse examples of geoscientists in classrooms and in academic environments more broadly (Shinske et al., 2016), engaging students in environmental justice and place-based learning (Urgeoscience, 2020), and providing professional development for faculty that aims to tackle implicit bias, stereotype threat, and solo status (CRLT, 2016; Steele, 2010; Thompson & Sekaquaptewa, 2002). It is also important for departments to address historical inequities without solely relying on institutional policies to inform departmental practices, as differential characteristics may exist between the two. For example, in some cases institutional practices may not be enough to support departmental practices or institutional representation, and accommodations may be different between departments within the same institution.

We consider Networked (N) in the context of DEIJ to mean opportunities and access for SND groups to contribute and be involved in the geosciences community. We acknowledge that motivations for SND groups may differ and therefore networking practices need to be reconsidered. A networked approach can ensure that the interests and perspectives of people from SND groups are adequately represented and included. We recommend promoting altruistic career options in the geosciences, particularly in the early career stages. Highlighting altruistic career options, with emphasis on human and environmental impacts and community involvement in science, could attract a more diverse student population to the geosciences as compared to emphasizing outdoor opportunities (Carter et al., 2021). The geosciences continue to be contextualized as a "rural" science (i.e., only taking place in deep forests and mountain terrains), which likely keeps people with urban perspectives away from the field. We suggest that geosciences also be contextualized within an urban framework to attract thinkers who can use geoscience innovations to solve urban problems.

We have briefly outlined a few ideas of using the ICON framework to improve DEIJ within the geosciences. While ideas presented here are not exhaustive, we believe they are important to consider and implement to further improve DEIJ efforts. At this critical moment in history, we are faced with the opportunity to create a more robust research and teaching community in the geosciences by taking transformative action in how we address DEIJ efforts. DEIJ efforts with the geosciences should reflect the global diversity of people, interests, and experiences that contribute to the richness of the field in ways that are equitable and emphasize justice.

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