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Birth of an ASA Outreach Group: The Origins of JEDI

1 May 2021 1,782 views No Comment
Jana Asher, Slippery Rock University, and Cathy Furlong, Statistics Without Borders

    Readers of Amstat News are undoubtedly aware of the myriad communities operating under the umbrella of the American Statistical Association:

    • Committees – work on initiatives important to the strategic goal of the ASA or the professional visibility of the ASA
    • Sections – focus on a specific methodology or application of statistical science
    • Interest Groups – serve a similar purpose as sections but are less formal
    • Chapters – serve members of specific regions
    • Student Chapters – operate within a college or university
    • Outreach Groups – support a common interest of ASA members that is not well addressed by the formal structure for a section or a chapter

    Working Group Members
    Brittany Terese Fasy, Leslie McClure, Mark Daniel Ward, Gabriel Huerta, Renee Moore, Monica Jackson, David Hunter, Jo Hardin, Gretchen Martinet, Gretchen Falk, Julia Sharp, Rebecca Nichols (ASA staff), Donna LaLonde (ASA staff)

    However, many readers probably do not know the work involved to establish one of these groups.

    The story of the Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Outreach Group (JEDI) begins with Karen Kafadar during her year as ASA president-elect in 2018. By tradition, each ASA president establishes several presidential initiatives, and Kafadar wished to build her initiatives in the spirit of Barry Nussbaum’s successful presidential initiative to engage Asian statisticians through Asian statistical societies. Kafadar knew she wanted to increase diversity within the ASA and asked Julia Sharp to lead the initiative in late 2018.

    Sharp, who was finishing her term on the ASA Board of Directors in 2019, had been outspoken about her belief that diversity, equity, and inclusion were important issues within the statistics field. Together, Sharp, ASA Director of Strategic Initiatives and Outreach Donna LaLonde, ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein, and Kafadar assembled a team that became the Diversity Working Group.

    In January of 2019, the working group began with a broad charge: to identify mechanisms to support diversity initiatives led by ASA members. Two main initiatives arose out of their early discussion: 1) to develop a consortium with other professional societies that would focus on increasing diversity and 2) to create a single repository of opportunities—a “one-stop shop” for aspiring statisticians from all backgrounds.

    The consortium idea was a recognition that many existing organizations in mathematics and statistics and across the scientific fields already had initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. They focused original outreach on three primary organizations: Math Alliance, National Association of Mathematicians (NAM), and Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). At the time, SACNAS was going through a leadership change, but representatives from the Math Alliance and NAM met with the task force in November of 2019 to begin discussing how to make such a consortium a reality.

    The working group was simultaneously exploring the idea of a repository of information on existing initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion and information of interest to marginalized members of the statistics community. The original idea was that grants, research opportunities, funding for travel, and internships would all be posted in the repository. The members of the working group began developing a Google sheet to list links to these resources and exploring how to create a more robust platform to house this “one-stop shop.”

    All this was progress toward creating a more just environment in the statistics profession, but the working group was not designed to be a long-term body within the ASA. In October of 2019, at the Women in Statistics and Data Science Conference, individuals interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion met for a lunch meeting, during which the idea of an ASA Special Interest Group (SIG) specifically focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion arose. Participants at that meeting included Suzanne Thornton, Jack Miller, Tami Massie, Saki Kinney, and LaLonde.

    By early 2020, the group—which included both task force members and other interested parties—began drafting a charter for the proposed SIG. In late spring of 2020, as COVID began shutting down travel, they reached out to ASA members through ASA Connect with a petition to start the SIG and discussed the idea with the ASA Council of Sections. The ASA Council of Sections suggested they consider forming an ASA Outreach Group instead.

    At this time, Sharp’s role as leader of the working group led to her becoming the interim leader of the new outreach group, which decided it would be called the JEDI Outreach Group (JEDI OG), to represent justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. With a revised charter and a petition with about 80 signatures, the group petitioned the ASA Board of Directors for official status and was approved during the July 2020 meeting.

    The work of setting up the outreach group was just beginning. Those who had worked to make the JEDI OG a reality knew they would need much more assistance to make the group an effective agent for change. They became the executive committee of JEDI and scheduled several meetings to discuss how the leadership of the group would be structured and refine the charter and goals of the group.

    Following the 2020 Women in Statistics and Data Science Conference, the group’s first public meeting occurred, during which they announced they were soliciting nominations for leadership positions. They then sent out a Google form to everyone who expressed interest in JEDI through signing the petition or attending the meeting following WSDS to allow nominations to be made.

    At this point in the story, Kimberly Sellers, a professor at Georgetown University, entered the picture. She was unknowingly nominated for chair of JEDI, so she was surprised when she received an email on October 14, 2020, asking if she would be willing to run in an election for either chair or chair-elect later that year. At first, she was confused by the request. Sellers was active in several organizations pursing diversity-related initiatives and was aware of the ASA Anti-Racism Task Force. She requested a Zoom meeting to discuss what JEDI was and what she could contribute to the effort.

    Sellers, Sharp, and LaLonde met two days later. Sellers requested the chair position to be two years long to allow enough time to create a strong infrastructure and for elections to be postponed a year. She pointed out that the JEDI Executive Committee was trying to organize elections by the end of the calendar year and there wasn’t enough time to build a good slate of candidates or get the word out to the general ASA membership.

    Sharp and LaLonde brought Sellers’s ideas back to the executive committee and they arranged to meet with Sellers in November. After further discussion, Sellers and the executive committee members decided the executive committee would serve as the interim leadership for JEDI for 2021, allowing enough time for an election to occur in 2022. Sellers would serve as chair and Sharp would serve as past chair for 2021 and 2022. Members of the executive committee would serve as chairs for five organizing committees: Programming, Students, Communications, Liaison, and Professional Development.

    In early 2021, JEDI went “live” by asking everyone who had expressed interest or been nominated for a leadership role to become part of the leadership team—that is, become members of these five committees that would develop the structured activities of the outreach group. As a result, about 40 individuals are serving either as part of the interim executive committee or on one of the five organizing committees. In the past several months, each of the organizing committees has met several times and is on the way to accomplishing its goals.

    The program committee, chaired by Gretchen Martinet, determines programming such as webinars that will involve and support JEDI OG members and the broader community. JEDI is already listed among the sponsoring organizations for contributed abstracts at the Joint Statistical Meetings in 2021. JEDI will also host a panel discussion at JSM titled, “Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) in the ASA.” The program committee is starting to plan an invited session for JSM 2022. On a smaller scale, the program committee is discussing the organization of an ongoing contributed presentation series with annual local meetings.

    The student committee, chaired by Mark Ward, focuses on how JEDI can connect students with resources from related organizations to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the profession. The committee also plans to work with universities on JEDI principles by teaching university staff how to work with diverse students and teaching students how to advocate for students’ diverse needs. The committee is also working to develop a list of scholarships for minorities in data science and statistics. In addition, the student committee will be working to make connections with ASA student chapters.

    The communications committee, chaired by Thornton, focuses on how to interface with the larger community through social media and the JEDI website. So far, the team has created Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn pages for the JEDI OG. The committee is starting to generate more original content for social networking posts and develop an online network of related organizations. In addition to hosting a JEDI logo contest, the committee will develop a brief column to be published in Amstat News every other month.

    The liaison committee, chaired by Dooti Roy, continues the original task force’s effort to establish a consortium of professional societies interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the statistical sciences and related STEM fields. The committee is currently working to establish its own roles and responsibilities along with researching and developing lists of the ways other ASA committees and non-ASA organizations are working toward justice, equality, diversity, and inclusion goals.

    The committee is also looking into appropriate conferences to engage in related to the JEDI’s mission and vision.

    Finally, the professional development committee, chaired by Leslie McClure, works on the original task force’s repository of resources related to opportunities within the profession, as well as developing programming related directly to professional development. Currently, the committee is working with the Committee on Funded Research on a webinar and considering other ASA groups that might be interested in partnering with the JEDI OG for webinars. The committee’s goal is to implement three webinars this year. The committee is also considering different approaches to partnering with and implementing mentoring programs.

    It took three years to go from Kafadar’s desire to see an initiative related to diversity to the vibrant collaboration of 40 individuals working to make the JEDI OG a reality. Because JEDI is concerned with all issues related to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, it serves as a clearinghouse for the work of committees such as the w, Committee on Statistics and Disability, Committee on Women in Statistics, Committee on LGBTQ+ Advocacy, Committee on International Relations in Statistics, and Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights. While each of these groups advocates for their specific population, JEDI recognizes the commonalities across efforts to make our profession more inclusive for all members and to strengthen the bonds between those groups to allow better movement toward equity.

    As Sellers points out, “In the end, everyone wants to be seen, heard, recognized, and acknowledged. The larger problem we face is the notion of a hierarchical structure in our society, and the perception of an associated ‘rank ordering’ system that infers one person and/or their ideas as being more important than another.” She has witnessed these sorts of thought processes spread throughout the statistics community in myriad ways, much to our detriment, whether they relate to beliefs associated with persons from under-represented populations or opinions regarding potential career paths for budding statisticians and data scientists. JEDI strives to be part of the solution to these inequities within the statistics profession.

    The first general body meeting of JEDI will occur at or around the same time as the Joint Statistical Meetings this year.

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