Social and Racial Justice and the Wisconsin MRSEC

An open letter from Wisconsin MRSEC Director, Paul Voyles, to the MRSEC community.

Dear MRSEC Colleagues,

I am sure that all of you have heard the recent calls for social and racial justice in our society. Much of the discussion has focused on policing, but no aspect of society should escape examination, and education deserves scrutiny more than many. I am sure you also have seen statements from university leaders, including Chancellor Blank, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Sims, Dean Robertson of Engineering, and Dean Wilcots of Letters and Science reinforcing UW’s commitment to equity, diversity, and justice in everything we do.

What does this have to do with the MRSEC? One of the strengths of the MRSEC is our intellectual diversity, and one of our core missions is to promote participation in STEM from members underrepresented groups. We bring together scientists from a wide range of disciplines, intellectual backgrounds, and perspectives to tackle big problems, but as a group, we are less diverse in race, ethnicity, and gender identity than the society we live in. We will never know what perspectives, ideas, and discoveries we have missed out on because of the people who are missing from our center. Our center alone cannot fix the structural racism that has led to few people of color in STEM, but we can seek to understand the influence and consequences of implicit bias, structural gender bias, and structural racism for our center, the university that hosts it, and our broader professional lives. That understanding enables us to act to limit and ultimately remove these malign influences.

Towards that goal, the MRSEC Executive Committee has chosen to undertake the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. The challenge is to take at least one action per day for twenty-one days to build equity and justice. What does that look like? The Challenge website provides a long list of resources, from articles and books to read, podcasts to listen to, and documentaries and interviews to watch, to organizations to connect with and activities to focus our attention on the racial context of the world around us. The Executive Committee commits to tracking our progress on the Challenge and to using it to help us form new habits of mind that will inform future decision making for the center.

We invite all MRSEC members to join us in the 21-Day Challenge. If you would prefer another avenue of response to the call for racial justice, the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery  and the campus Division of Diversity, Equity, and Educational Achievement have compiled lists of anti-racist resources that may be useful. In addition, the Dean of Students Office and University Health are organizing online facilitated discussions for students on social and racial justice, with discussions for faculty and staff to follow. Please contact me with suggestions for other ways the MRSEC can work towards justice and equity in our scientific community.

We are living in challenging and disruptive times. Those challenges are calls to change our perspectives and our institutions to enable members of groups that are discriminated against to participate fully without impediment. Our profession, our society, and all of us will be better for it.


Paul Voyles
Director, Wisconsin MRSEC