The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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ECE Statement of Support for Antiracism

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Dear UMass ECE Community (students, staff, alumni, and families):

The faculty of the UMass Amherst Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering would like to express their intolerance of racial injustice and strong support for the creation of an anti-racism culture within our Department, the College, and the UMass Amherst campus. While we value each member of our community — independent of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or religion — we acknowledge the particular challenges faced by members who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among far too many more, have painfully shown us how deeply rooted racial injustice is in this country. While we are saddened about this on a nationwide level, we are also very troubled by hearing that many of our students feel a lack of support from the faculty and the Department in their struggles with anti-blackness and exclusion. We also acknowledge that the diversity found in our Department is absolutely not enough: for undergraduate/graduate students, roughly 10%/7% are underrepresented minorities and 8%/23% are female, far below state demographics and peer university averages. Further, we recognize that it is crucial to create an inclusive environment so that students from underrepresented groups can persist and succeed; unfortunately, in our failure to fully support these students, they leave before graduation at higher rates than other students. The lack of diversity is also true among faculty, where despite efforts to hire new faculty that are more representative of our students and society, we still fall short and must retool and redouble our efforts.

This disheartens us. We as a faculty feel the responsibility to make immediate and lasting changes to improve the culture and support in our Department, leveraging new and ongoing efforts at the College and University level as well as student-driven initiatives. To begin this process, we have identified some immediate steps that we can take. While initially focusing on efforts supporting anti-racism in our department, these and longer term actions under consideration aim to improve diversity, equality, and inclusion (DE&I) as a whole.

Welcoming diverse perspectives into the Department:

  • This fall semester, we will hold at least two special seminars for faculty, students, and staff on anti-racism and DE&I.
  • For this and future semesters, we will work with the Department’s Graduate Seminar Committee to ensure that at least one out of every three of the seminars offered each semester will be presented by speakers from underrepresented groups.

Incorporating diverse content into the curriculum:

  • Starting this semester, we aim to include a statement supporting DE&I as part of every syllabus and every first class.
  • Starting this semester, we will incorporate diverse examples and added discussion on issues of DE&I and anti-racism into existing introductory and ethics-oriented courses for freshmen and juniors.
  • Going forward, we will work with the Department’s Instructional Development Committee to encourage all faculty members to ensure that aspects of DE&I are integrated into each course’s material where it is beneficial.

Improving support and action for DE&I initiatives in the Department:

  • We have enabled a Feedback Portal to allow the community to provide general feedback on the overall climate in the Department and on the actions and goals given in this statement.
  • We have formed an ad hoc committee of faculty members that is focused on improving DE&I in the Department. We are building towards this committee becoming permanent, incorporating sustained student involvement, and reporting on progress at faculty meetings every month.

Each of us believes that improving the climate of our Department deserves immediate action, and we commit to sustained efforts to ensure a welcoming environment for all of our students. We recognize that these actions are only a beginning of what will be a continuous transformation. We further acknowledge that the wide array of technologies that Electrical and Computer Engineers design, build, and evaluate — including but not limited to cybersecurity systems, facial recognition algorithms, smart electricity systems, and military technology — have enormous impacts on society, and recognize how crucial it is to have diverse perspectives embedded in the creation of those systems. Our students, the budding engineers who will make that future happen, deserve no less than our absolute commitment to ensuring that vision.

To hold us accountable on the proposed initial action plan, we will report on the status of the proposed actions to the ECE Department community at the end of the fall semester. We recognize that the community itself will have additional and valuable ideas beyond our own; we invite those ideas along with any comments from the broader community at our new ECE Department Feedback portal. Feedback can be left anonymously and is guaranteed to reach our Department Head and at least one other faculty member. Further, we can always look to our College of Engineering Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (led by Assistant Dean Dr. Paula Rees, rees@umass.edu), as well as the UMass Campus, for additional opportunities to improve support mechanisms.

We look forward to working closely with our community to make our ECE Department more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

 

With sincerity and in support,

Your UMass ECE Faculty