Alchemists Do M.A.G.I.C.


“I just do not want to do more harm than good.” “How can I keep this from looking performative?” Simple questions that carry a heavy weight. “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (D.E.I.) are three buzzwords that, when improperly applied, can sting those who need the most help, and D.E.I. leaders in STEM are hyper-aware of this fact. You can hear the frustration bubbling at conferences, workshops, and seminars when chemists, physicists, biologists, mathematicians—those of us who can do something crazy with just a calculator and a dream—are thrust into the roles of STEM-specific D.E.I. Officers, Directors of Graduate Studies (D.G.S.), committee members, Chairs, and P.I.s. Or what we shall for more refer to a “D.E.I. Leadership”.

We are not experts in D.E.I. We are not experts in conflict resolution. We are experts in electrons, particles, and numbers. We are scientists, but this “D.E.I. science” feels both drastically different and eerily familiar from our usual work. It’s like your first day  in a new lab. It does not matter if you are an undergraduate, graduate student, or postdoctoral fellow; that sinking feeling of “what if I do not know…and they know that I do not know” permeates every step you take. So, as we uneasily sidle into this familiar-but-unfamiliar discipline, we do what we always do. Alone, we search through literature. Alone, we attempt to devise clunky solutions to pervasive problems, just as  alone, we screw up our experiment and retry it at midnight when no one is around to see our shame about our perceived failure. Our entire Ph.D., our problems were ours and ours alone. Sure, our P.I. might have pushed us to find solutions, but at the end of the day, the only ones truly kept up at night by our struggles in finding these answers were us., And yet now, here we are as D.E.I. leaders, expected to be  someone else’s lone beacon of hope. Now, not only are we prevented from struggling and stumbling in private, but we are also expected to be someone else’s, or even an entire community’s, support. And it is terrifying, all the more so because this field of so-called D.E.I. science is so new, there’s very few standards of practice or established mechanisms to obtain guidance, no ResearchGate for us to scour for solutions.

This article is an introduction to M.A.G.I.C.TM, a framework that provides this much-needed guidance for D.E.I. leaders in STEM-focused environments pertaining to the foundations necessary to achieve effective DEI-focused policy-making and advocacy:

M” Magnify the voices of underrepresented people groups in STEM.

A” Advocate for comprehensive and thoughtful policy changes.

G” Give respect to opinions that challenge your own.

I” Internally reflect on your own biases and work daily to overcome them.

C” Chase up-to-date knowledge on D.E.I. topics.

Although much has been written and discussed on the topic of  what makes effective D.E.I. leadership, and several frameworks are available for academic leaders to use as a model for equitable and inclusive teaching/hiring/retention/general allyship, continuing concerns from academic D.E.I. leaders of causing “more harm than good” or displaying “performative” D.E.I. advocacy implies  that either D.E.I. Leaders in STEM may not be aware of such frameworks or that the frameworks themselves are not reflective of the D.E.I. implementation hurdles and insecurities that are unique to STEM academia.

M.A.G.I.C.TM highlights that it is not simply outward actions of advocacy and policy-making that make effective D.E.I. leadership. Instead, effectiveness is derived from a deeper level of understanding of the persons that one wishes to advocate for and the leader’s own journey toward understanding of “self”. This “self” is reflective of the leader’s personal biases and ability to process views that differ from their own. This framework outlines that efficiency, and eventually,confidence in performing D.E.I. advocacy is most effectively achieved when the leader gains: 1) knowledge of the unique experiences of underrepresented people in STEM and generalized D.E.I. topics. 2) awareness for how this knowledge is interpreted/impacted by each leader’s individual biases, and 3) appreciation for how that leader effectively addresses ideas that challenge their own. This framework states that these stages (1-3) must be addressed before the leader advocates for policy changes (4) and attempts to magnify the voices of underrepresented people groups (5).

While these five steps are a necessary foundation for engagement to occur, the order of engagement can affect the leader’s own perception of performativity and security, while also impacting the overall effectiveness of the advocacy and the public perception of the leader’s actions. 

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The Alchemist Letters is a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (D.E.I.J.) social networking service that provides a community for discussion and shared advice for D.E.I.J. topics in the form of case studies (Letters), forums, expert analysis, and DEIJ personal development plans.