[Hackathon team leader Professor Valeria Sinclair-Chapman from Purdue University welcomes members of the “Successful strategies to recruit and retain a diverse faculty” group at the 2018 APSA hackathon. Credit: Siena Harlin]

Twenty five men and a handful of women huddle around a table, looking intently at the lone woman in a pink dress speaking next to a blank easel. While this may sound like a corporate stock photo, this tableau is a snapshot from the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting Hackathon on Diversity and Inclusion, held August 31st, 2018 and spearheaded by Professors Mala Htun and Alvin Tillery. The first of its kind at APSA, the hackathon, under the presidential task force led by MIT Professor Kathleen Thelen, is part of a broader movement across political science and higher education to create a more safe, welcoming, and supportive environment for women and minorities.

The push for change is long overdue. Recent reports, including one by GOV/LAB Faculty Associate Professor Daniel Hidalgo, find that women and people of color are severely underrepresented, face greater barriers to publishing, and receive less recognition and worse reviews than their white, male colleagues. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, and with growing public awareness of the discrimination experienced by students and professors of color, universities across the U.S. are receiving a wake-up call. These institutions, including MIT, are now increasingly committing to expanding outreach to underrepresented and historically marginalized groups. GOV/LAB published our Diversity and Inclusion Statement last June. It is a work in progress, and we welcome feedback.

“We want your good and your bad ideas, including the mythical, like ‘things are going to change on their own’.” Professor Valeria Sinclair-Chapman as she welcomes her team.

Eleven teams came together at the APSA hackathon to have collaborative, productive conversations on a variety of issues relating to the lack of diversity –gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation– and come up with strategies to address key challenges within the discipline and create a more inclusive path forward. Each team’s final product will be made available on the APSA hackathon website, and below are highlights from a few teams.

[A map of the team tables, created by hackathon volunteer and GOV/LAB Graduate Research Assistant Ying Gao. Credit: Siena Harlin]

“What can men do to advance women’s equality in the discipline?” Brigham Young University’s Professor Jessica Preece, the woman in pink described earlier, posed this question to the hackathon’s largest and most male-dominated team. Over the next four hours, the team put together a set of guidelines for men that provides specific examples of how men might purposefully amplify women in the discipline. The general theme was that men must actively acknowledge and reach out to women in both academic and professional circles. Traditional informal networking practices among academics often exclude women; to create a culture of inclusivity, the team outlined practical steps such as suggesting the names of three women to invite when RSVPing to a professional social event. Professor Preece hopes that ultimately, men will spread the word to other men as this will signal that changing social practices are taking root.

“What are the ways in which political science departments can create an inclusive and productive climate for all graduate students?” MIT GOV/LAB Research Affiliate Leah Rosenzweig and doctoral candidate Yang-Yang Zhou from Princeton led a team of graduate students to produce a web resource for graduate students and department chairs. Before the hackathon, their team collected results from a climate survey of 426 graduate students and during the session, they visualized the data in a series of charts. They found that while 76% of respondents think that their departments are respectful or very respectful, 55% agree that their departments are not doing enough to to make their graduate program feel inclusive.

[Produced during the hackathon, this chart shows the distribution of instances of discrimination experienced by graduate student respondents. About one-third reported experiencing exclusionary behavior, and eighty percent of women reported discrimination based on gender identity. Screenshot from the team’s Github website.]

“Developing institutions to encourage sexual assault and sexual harassment reporting” This ever timely topic brought together a large team to brainstorm policies that “not just respond to the bads, but promote the goods.” Proactive planning was a large part of the Sexual Harassment and Reporting team’s strategy, which they formalized into a proposed department certification program called “Leadership in Academic Climate Excellence (LACE).” LACE-certified institutions would have to meet APSA-backed transparency standards on diversity, sexual assault and harassment reporting, hiring, tenure, promotion, and retention of faculty. In addition to improved transparency, LACE-certified institutions will be required to conduct bystander training and provide multiple channels for survivors and bystanders to report incidents of sexual harassment or other forms of misconduct.

These are only a few examples from the hackathon teams proposing innovative ideas and practical strategies for promoting inclusivity (check out all the teams and final products on the hackathon website). The 2018 Hackathon on Diversity and Inclusion is not enough to solve these complex issues, but it was a tremendous first step – the packed room alone signaled the readiness of the discipline to start addressing systemic issues in political science.

A huge shout out to the hackathon leaders Professors Mala Htun, Kathleen Thelen, and Alvin Tillery for their tireless efforts fundraising, recruiting and organizing to get this important initiative off the ground. The APSA presidential task force, led by Professor Thelen, was instrumental in making the hackathon a reality, and hopefully it is just the first of many such efforts.