DEI + SEPM in 2020

by Grmela, Rebekah on Monday, September 28, 2020
edited by Biggs, Darin on Tuesday, September 29, 2020

With the recent release of the September Sedimentary Record and in light of current events in 2020, SEPM has made direct efforts to listen and pay attention to the needs and concerns of our membership, particularly in the area of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion). 

We invite you to refer to recent announcements and publications referenced below to better understand the context and conversation surrounding these efforts in our organization, council and membership. We encourage you to digest and share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.

No matter the topic, SEPM’s mission is to engage the scientific community and educate on the topic of sedimentary geology. We will always adhere to this mission and take the necessary steps and actions required to provide the safety and resources required to do this work. 

Council + President’s Comments

In light of the growing conversation surrounding race and its value and importance in the workplace, SEPM developed a DEI Committee with the help of Council to address these special concerns in our organization and membership. President Mike Blum addressed this topic in both our August and most recent issues of The Sedimentary Record, providing additional insight into our organizational motivation and demographics. We encourage you to take a look at both issues to familiarize yourself with the details of this topic. 


Volume 18, No. 2 - June 2020

Volume 18, No. 3 - September 2020

An Organization Examination

Written by Fernandes et. al, our latest SedRecord issue also shared a constructive article titled: “Enriching Lives within Sedimentary Geology”: Actionable Recommendations for Making SEPM a Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Society for All Sedimentary Geologists.” This examination of SEPM and the SedGeo community provided insight into the historical trends found in membership, leadership and awardees of our organization, and reflect on the responsibility of our organization to steward the direction of sedimentary geoscience. 

Fernandes et. al Community Survey

To begin understanding our full need for change, we determined we must begin measuring that which we cannot see. While certain trends and requirements have deterred us from collecting demographic information in the past, we created two distinct surveys to learn more about our community. One survey focused specifically on membership concerns, titled our 2020 Community Survey. The other focused specifically on DEI, and was shared with SEPM membership as well as the larger SedGeo community. We encourage you to read more about these results in Mike Blum’s President’s Comments, as well as in the Community Survey Results Summary

2020 Community Survey Results 

SEPM faces demographic challenges, and both the demographics of our society, and the long-term loss of professional membership reflect these challenges.  On the positive side, SEPM has improved its representation by various groups over the years.  We are now a more diverse population, especially in the under-50 demographic and in terms of gender, and our increased diversity follows trends in the geosciences as a whole. We are excited to begin this conversation with you. 

Questions? Please direct them to the comments below, or share your thoughts via digitalmedia@sepm.org . 

Member Comments

Howard Harper

post on Sunday, October 4, 2020

SEPM Members. Let me make this perfectly clear as i have to Stephen several times in emails. SEPM, as an organization, did NOT sign any petition. The Council created an ad hoc committee to discuss and recommend Society actions concerning DEI, a first step. The message that referenced the petition was from Mike Blum and myself - and was a recognition of the DEI issues that were and are being faced by STEM across the board. It stated that we endorse the GENERAL concepts of the petition and DEI issues.

Stephen Franks

post on Thursday, October 1, 2020

Fellow SEPM members. Please read the following petition which SEPM Council has endorsed without input from general membership. Let your Council members know if you agree or disagree with the petition. Their e-mail addresses can be found on the SEPM Home Page. https://www.change.org/p/geoscientists-call-for-a-robust-anti-racism-plan-for-the-geosciences Among other things, the petition suggests that: • SEPM members are “white privileged” and that the research model SEPM follows is “racist and exploitive.” • Minorities be paid for what are typically voluntary/honorary positions (e.g. editors, session chairs) as partial payment for “reparations which they are due.” • There are “unspoken rules” that “dictate how members are expected to behave, what is considered professional attire and hair, and what passes for appropriate language and diction.” • “The colonialist project of exploration and exploitation has negatively impacted – including death and loss of land – Indigenous people in North America and all over the world.” • The current research model “limits the scope of science done to a narrow band of questions solely dictated by the white majority.” • SEPM members “should be expected to attend” diversity training at our conventions. The full-fledged endorsement of this petition without polling SEPM members oversteps the authority of SEPM Council. Many of the statements in the petition come across as accusatory and even inflammatory to a large portion of SEPM’s membership. Is a large portion of SEPM members morally tainted solely because of the color of their skin? Is this not racism itself? The SEPM Home Page further states that Council is “working on an official leadership statement in support of Black Lives Matter.” Is this the function of Council? Of SEPM? Will Council also work on an official statement in support of Blue Lives Matter? As an organization comprised of members with many different viewpoints, SEPM should stay out of socio-political issues that serve only to divide us. That is not the mission of SEPM. The recent article on diversity, inclusion, and equity in The Sedimentary Record (September 2020) raises some good points, and I do not disagree with the eleven recommendations the authors propose. However, the article poses a number of questions and makes statements in a way that suggests certain issues exist where no data is presented to indicate that they do exist. For example, the article asks, “Do all scientists who share a love for the sedimentary record feel an equal sense of belonging within our scientific society?” The question implies that some sort of “belonging” problem exists. Do we have data showing that this is an issue? The article states that “we must recognize that, as current and/or prior members of SEPM, we are all complicit in this system of exclusion.” Must we? What system of exclusion? We can all agree with statements such as, “We want educators to be eager to bring students from all backgrounds, especially those belonging to minoritized groups, to conferences and educational programs organized by SEPM, knowing their students are physically safe and protected from discrimination, harassment, and exclusion, and that their ideas and identities are valued in these spaces,” but the implication is that currently this is not the case. Is it? Where is the evidence? The article even goes on to suggest that SEPM’s declining membership is somehow caused by a lack of diversity and by conscious or unconscious discrimination by SEPM members against minorities. No evidence of such a cause and effect is given. In fact, the graphs shown in the article suggest that the number of new members and student members is rather steady and that the big decline is in existing, professional members. I suspect that the decline has more to do with the aging demographics of SEPM members and the availability of research papers and ease of networking online than it has to do with the alleged mistreatment of minorities. The article in The Sedimentary Record is a lengthy and watered-down version of the much more radical petition endorsed by SEPM Council. Strangely, there is no mention of this Council-endorsed petition or the support for BLM anywhere in the article. Why not? As a long time SEPM member, I believe that it is counterproductive for SEPM to delve into socio-political matters. No society is monolithic in its social or political views. SEPM was created to promote the science of sedimentary geology, not to comment on social or political issues. When a scientific organization takes a socio-political position, there is almost a certainty of alienating some portion of its membership. What is SEPM’s stance on abortion/right-to-choose? On Medicare for all? On sanctuary cities? Will Council suggest taking a stance on these as well? I believe we all agree that racism and discrimination is bad. Should an SEPM President choose to comment on a commitment to diversity and inclusion if presiding over a conference or meeting, all to the good. If SEPM would like to include a diversity and inclusion statement in our code of ethics, all to the good, if it is ratified by members. We need less division in these politically charged times. Unfortunately, Council will, by its endorsement of the Change.org petition, support of Black Lives Matter, and many of the implied shortcomings of SEPM members in The Sedimentary Record article, almost certainly create even more division. If we must wander into this swamp, then circulate the full contents of the petition to every SEPM member and let us vote whether we support it or BLM. Respectfully submitted, Stephen G. Franks, Ph.D.

Howard Harper

post on Thursday, October 1, 2020

All - DEI in all of its aspects is something both outside of SEPM's usual scientific area but very much part of the sedimentary geology community as it is people that do the science. I encourage all of you to think about this issue and please do not take it that 'you' are being labeled individually in any way. Please give us your input.

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