Diversity, inclusion, & accessibility

Awareness about the Interim Policy for Expressive Activity

From Chelsea Specht, on behalf of the SIPS DEI Council:

The SIPS DEI council wants to ensure that you, as members of the Cornell community, are aware of the various opportunities to have your voice heard as the University works to develop a comprehensive Policy for Expressive Activity.  The policy states that free and open inquiry and expression is one of the university’s core values and outlines Free Expression Responsibilities in a Community of Belonging.  As an active interim policy, current activities on campus are being evaluated based on guidelines set in this policy. 

The policy has been presented to and is being examined by the University Assembly under the leadership of chair Shelby Williams.  The policy has been discussed at meetings of the various assemblies -- the Student Assembly (SA), the Graduate Student and Professional Assembly (GSPA), the Employee Assembly (EA) and the Faculty Senate. Cornell’s administration is engaged in an active period of receiving feedback and hearing concerns and continues to modify the content of the policy based on this feedback.  If you are interested in participating in this important dialog, please contact your representative for more information, attend any of the upcoming open meetings (see calendar), or refer to the recent minutes and posted pages for commentary associated with your representative assembly.

 Thanks for your engagement in this important dialog on campus.

In SIPS, we support diversity, equity and inclusion

Cornell University is a place where we develop intercultural skills and use them everywhere -- throughout our diverse campus groups, with our community partners, within our classrooms and in our workplaces.  Here, we recognize that people with diverse backgrounds and experiences bring great value to education, discovery, creativity, and engagement which is reflected in our long history of diversity and inclusion.

In the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS), we take pride in the ways in which our land grant mission calls us to address the needs of diverse stakeholders as well as our long tradition of international engagement. However, we are continuing to actively work at identifying barriers faced by underrepresented groups among faculty, staff, and students. (For more insights on the benefits of a diverse working environment, read Katherine Phillips' article in Scientific AmericanHow Diversity Makes Us Smarter and other readings in the Readings/resources section below.)

Our goal is to insure that SIPS provides a welcoming environment where individuals can bring their diverse backgrounds and experiences to our collective task of finding science-based solutions to the world's challenges. 

See also: 

SIPS DEI Council update

Learn more about the latest activities of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council and discover new ways to incorporate diversity and inclusion issues into your daily life from the Cornell AgriTech Diversity and Inclusion Bulletin.

Inaugural Turner Fellows advance global food security

Eight graduate students from 1890 land grant institutions across the United States have been selected as part of the inaugural cohort of Thomas Wyatt Turner Fellows at Cornell University. (View Meet the Fellows video below.) Representing a wide range of research specialties relevant to advancing global crop improvement — from plant and environmental sciences to nutrition and public health — the fellows bring a holistic lens to the most pressing threats facing global food security. Hosted by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement, fellows will spend one academic year at Cornell, taking courses and engaging in research with a Cornell faculty mentor that will drive advancement in crop improvement to reduce malnutrition and hunger and provide equitable benefits to women and youth.  Read more.

Diversity, Inclusion, & Accessibility resources

Since 2000, Cornell University has had a program to track bias that is occurring on all campuses in an effort to be proactive in creating an inclusive climate for all. The Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity is responsible for collecting and tracking all reported bias activity that occurs at Cornell University that could potentially impact our commitment to diversity and inclusion, including all reports made by faculty, staff, students, and visitors to the Ithaca, Weill Cornell Medicine, and Cornell Tech campuses. If you have seen, heard, or experienced bias, you can make a report here:

Bias Incident Form

  • Thomas Wyatt Turner Fellowship - Supports graduate students from 1890 institutions to become next-generation leaders in inclusive and sustainable agricultural development through a robust mentorship program and technical training at Cornell University. 
  • Eloy Rodriguez Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Conference Travel Award - Broadens connections and recruitment of graduate students from groups historically excluded from STEM by supporting the presence of Cornell students and postdocs at key DEI events and conferences.
  • Allies for Indigenous Reconciliation Workshops Funds - Check back for more information Spring 2023. Meantime, visit the CU&ID website.
  • MANRRS - Scholarships promote academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in agriculture, natural resources, and related sciences. 
  • SACNAS conference scholarship - Advances Chicano/Hispanic and Native Americans in science.  
  • Ford Foundation Fellowships - Seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, maximize the educational benefits of diversity, and increase the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students.
  • HHMI Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study - Provides awards to pairs of dissertation advisers and their graduate students based on what HHMI values and considers essential components of the environment, particularly the institution and adviser’s commitment to creating a healthy academic ecosystem and the student’s potential for scientific leadership.
  • NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in Biology (PRFB) - Broadening participation of groups underrepresented in biology.

Cornell's Accessibility Services page provides accessibility information for faculty/staff, students, and visitors including:

  • Assistive technology for classes and meetings
  • Accessible dining and library details
  • Contacts to report a physical barrier to accessibility
  • Accessible meeting and event checklist
  • Contacts for the ADA Coordinator Team
  • Resources for obtaining accommodations at Cornell

This statement on June 3, 2020 is from then SIPS director Christine Smart, the SIPS Executive Committee and Directors of Graduate Studies, detailis SIPS commitment to racial justice:

Dear SIPS Community,

Like many of you, I have been following recent events in our nation. I stand with the Black community during this difficult time. I personally have felt anger, sadness, and helplessness as the racial injustice we continue to witness has made many feel unsafe, stressed and traumatized.

I, along with the Executive Committee, and the Directors of Graduate Studies of the School of Integrative Plant Science at Cornell stand in solidarity against all forms of racism. We condemn acts of violence and hate and commit to keeping our community safe and welcoming to all. We chose not to simply write a statement denouncing racism that will change nothing. Our community deserves better. We have a responsibility to effect change, oppose racism, and support social justice. We have challenged ourselves, as leaders of the School of Integrative Plant Science, to seed a culture of change. We have committed to the following actions:

  • Work with SACNAS and MANRRS chapters to provide summer internships in plant science
  • Follow up on the Diversity Audit conducted in 2017 to host listening tours with graduate students, faculty, staff and postdocs to identify barriers and remove them for a more diverse faculty, staff, and student body
  • Continue funding of the Diversity Preview Weekend
  • Host SIPS events, talks, training, community discussions around social justice
  • Partner with Cornell AgriTech leadership to enhance diversity workshops and community discussions in Geneva
  • Challenge each executive committee member to lead an activity surrounding social justice, anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion. We have devoted the July Executive Committee meeting to this discussion.
  • Ensure that all members of SIPS know that diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity, and social justice are priorities for the School.

We urge each of you to take this time to reflect on racial injustice. Bring your ideas and passion and work with us to enable change.

Recent SIPS activities directed at enhanced diversity and inclusion in our community

  • First SIPS Associate Director of DEI named: Chelsea Specht
  • SIPS Chair of Diversity & Inclusion - September 2021: Tom Silva welcomed as SIPS Chair of Diversity and Inclusion
  • Connecting in SIPS - August 2021: SIPS Diversity & Inclusion Council sponsors a discussion of Beronda Montgomery’s book Lessons from Plants
  • SIPS Chair of Diversity & Inclusion - May 2020: Hale Tufan was welcomed as SIPS Chair of Diversity and Inclusion. In addition to serving on the SIPS Executive Committee she also serves on the CALS Committee for Diversity & Inclusion.
  • Diversity Audit: 2017-2018 SIPS contracted with Gender at Work to conduct a gender/diversity audit to identify barriers to enhancing diversity in SIPS.
  • Diversity Preview Weekend: introduces underrepresented minorities to our research programs the year before they apply to graduate school (News coverage: 2018201920202021)
  • 2021 SIPS Annual Report: See the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion section and appendix of the Annual Report for a list of activities by SIPS members
  • Plant science outreach in the public schoolsgraduate students teach science to the elementary grades in IthacaGenevaNew York City
  • Expanding your Horizons: graduate students, faculty and staff present lead workshops for girls in grades 7-9 (2020, 20172016)
  • Summer Research Scholars Program: providing undergraduate interns with the opportunity to work with faculty, graduate students, postdocs, and staff on laboratory or field-based research projects

Our Stories

Morgan Irons: Creating safe spaces

It has been an absolute joy to connect with researchers who are also LGBTQIA2S+ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or gender expansive, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual and two-spirit] in my lab, across campus and at academic conferences. Having an environment or at least safe spaces where my colleagues, friends and myself can be open and honest about who we are has given me the courage and support I need to help create spaces in my office, lab and department where myself and my colleagues who are also LGBTQIA2S+ researchers can bring our full selves to our work, teaching and outreach. Identities are not boxes or distinct labels that only affect us in our personal lives or just in our work lives; identities are fluid and affect all aspects of our lives. 

Our Stories

Tom Silva: Working through first-gen challenges

I'm a senior lecturer in the Plant Biology Section and former chair of the SIPS Diversity and Inclusion Council. But I am also the first in my family to attend college, a story I share with my students to help them overcome anxiety and imposter syndrome.


Our Stories

Hana Barrett: Need to be proactive so we have more time for our science

As a nonbinary scientist I have experienced both transphobia and radical allyship in academia. My previous and current supervisors, Drs. Matt Kasson and Teresa Pawlowska, have been incredibly supportive of my identity, my advocacy and my research. 

Our Stories

Byron Rusnak: Shared STEM connections

A major source of joy has been the connections I have created with other LGBTQIA+ researchers in STEM. Through groups like Qgrads, which helps to represent and support the queer graduate student community, I have been able to forge friendships across disciplines in a way that would likely have not occurred without the shared connection of our queerness. 

Morgan Irons
tom silva
Hana Barrett
Byron Rusnak

Around campus

Dinners explore intersection of Black history, plant history, cuisine

The cuisines of the African diaspora tell the story of how food plants native to Africa have, across generations, remained central to the foods that Black communities celebrate. Throughout Black History Month, Cornell Dining has been offering a series of dinners featuring its take on traditional dishes of the African diaspora. And at these dinners, the Cornell Botanic Gardens is introducing students to its exhibition, “Seeds of Survival and Celebration: Plants and the Black Experience.”

View videos: Honoring Black History Through Collaboration and Celebration: A panel discussion about the Cornell Botanic Gardens Seeds of Survival and Celebration exhibit - Feb. 23 | Feb. 24

Around campus

CALS hires faculty cohort to address grand DEI challenges

Announced in fall 2021, the cohort initiative was led by Chelsea Specht, the Barbara McClintock Professor of Plant Biology and CALS’ associate dean for diversity and inclusion. The search committee, composed of 10 faculty members from across CALS, spent considerable time developing a recruitment ad that would reflect the values they were seeking, “to appeal to the hearts and minds of the people we wanted to apply,” Specht said. It worked: 381 people applied for the six positions. 

Fifth in a series of stories detailing actions CALS students, faculty and staff have taken over the past several years to make our community a more diverse, equitable and inclusive place for everyone. 

Around campus

Botanic Gardens features Seeds of Survival and Celebration exhibit

An exhibit at the Nevin Welcome Center reveals how enslaved Africans used their culinary skills and plants that came with them from West Africa to prepare foods, which eventually became regional staples. During the 2022 growing season, special gardens featured more than 20 plants grown and used by enslaved Africans in the Americas. Learn more:

Overview | Library guide | Featured plants | Exhibit panels | Audio narratives | Collaborators

Update: View panel discussions of the exhibit held during Black History Month 2023: Feb. 23 | Feb. 24

students perusing display in dining hall
2022 New Faculty Cohort
map showing migration of crops from Africa to the Americas

Land Acknowledgment

Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' (the Cayuga Nation). The Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign Nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America.  We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' dispossession, and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ' people, past and present, to these lands and waters.

CALS Diversity and Inclusion News and Events

A woman holds up a long rainbow knitted blanket.


Art exhibition sheds light on invisible aspects of disability

Doctoral student Ria Gualano gives people with disabilities a platform to express unseen aspects of their identities and experiences in an exhibition that opens April 25.

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