Since its foundation in 2020, the Georgetown University Biology Department’s Committee on Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion (JEDI) has served as a catalyst for breaking class, race and gender barriers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at Georgetown.
The committee was created amid nationwide conversations about race and equality, with the goal of bringing these discussions to the attention of the university. The committee’s mission is to address obstacles that limit the full participation of underrepresented groups in the biology department, and to foster spaces where all voices are heard.
JEDI is the only department committee at Georgetown that features undergraduate students, graduate students, research faculty, non-tenure-line teaching faculty and tenure-line faculty. This wide age range allows for issues of equity and inclusion to be examined at all department levels.
JEDI’s biweekly meetings are split up by project, some of which are led by both undergraduates and graduates. Current projects include initiatives for equity in pre-professional opportunities and admissions and creating support systems for underrepresented biology students.
Giselle Rasquinha (CAS ’25), one of the first two undergraduate members of the committee, is currently working on a project to make research opportunities more equitable to undergraduate students.
“A lot of the extracurriculars, like research, that are seen as necessary for getting into med school or being a STEM major are class-based,” Rasquinha told The Hoya.
Full Disclosure: Rasquinha is a Science writer at The Hoya.
The application-based nature of many STEM clubs at Georgetown, as well as a general lack of awareness about research opportunities, also limits inclusivity, not to mention their often unpaid nature, according to Rasquinha.
In response to these barriers, Rasquinha and other undergraduate students on the committee are working on restructuring “Foundations in Biology I,” a required class for all biology majors at Georgetown. Their additions would include teaching students the “hidden curriculum,” or what often goes unsaid regarding navigating and gaining experience in the field of biology.
The committee’s proposed curriculum would also provide students with a toolkit for securing professional development opportunities in science. For instance, JEDI is working on a project to increase funding for the Regents STEM Scholars Program, which supports first-generation and low-income underrepresented minority students in the natural and quantitative sciences.
Graduate students on the JEDI committee are spearheading similar efforts.
Meghan Bullard, a Ph.D. student in Dr. Haiyan He’s lab, an assistant professor in neuroscience, is working on a project to make graduate student recruitment more equitable.
“Instead of directly asking about research experience, we are asking more general questions that gauge other characteristics that indicate success in grad school,” Bullard told The Hoya.
This initiative will aim to change application questions to be broader, instead of focusing on experiences that often have class barriers like research, according to Bullard.
The committee also aims to have an adaptive, far-reaching influence on the biology department as a whole.
“JEDI’s work should not be something that only people on the committee work on. It should be central to everything we do in the department,” Professor Mun Chun (MC) Chan, assistant teaching professor of biology and one of the committee’s founding professors, told The Hoya.
JEDI’s committee members serve on graduate admissions, undergraduate admissions and hiring committees, which helps to further the organization’s goals. Additionally, faculty members on the committee are replaced every three years in order to make sure the group adapts. Last year, the committee was made a standing committee via a unanimous vote by department administrators.
Kimberly Nguyen (CAS ’23), one of the first undergraduates on the committee who is now pursuing a master’s in Global Infectious Disease at Georgetown, said that the biology department adequately respects and resources the committee.
“Whenever we need funding, the bio department is very receptive,” Nguyen said. This was echoed by other committee members, Bullard noted that “there is a lot of desire expressed by department professors to be more diverse and inclusive.”
The committee still faces challenges in securing assistance from the university as a whole despite department support. Nguyen said that there is a desire for the committee to be made an official club.
“Recognition as an official club would allow the committee to reserve spaces to meet in person and receive more funding.”
Professor Chan said he hopes the university ultimately brings together committees from different departments in order to enact cross-disciplinary initiatives.
“We should consider issues of equity and inclusion every time we make a change, whether we are hiring, trying to decide which speakers to bring to the university, or testing the abilities of students,” Chan said.
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