In 2014, Women in Chemistry Toronto (WICTO) was founded by a small group of graduate students looking to develop and support a community of women in the field of chemistry. And this year, they've expanded their scope and changed their name. We spoke with Monika Satkauskas, Cynthia Suarez, Navina Lotay and Laura Stirchak from the newly-named Working Towards Inclusivity in Chemistry to talk about the change and what WICTO has planned for the year ahead.
Chemistry at U of T: What was the impetus for changing the name of WICTO?
WICTO: From the inception of the group, the members of WICTO were very diverse; however, the group was not discussing all challenges faced by the membership. WICTO originally did not acknowledge intersectionality, which is how an individual's social and political identities (gender, race, class, sexuality, ability, religion, ethnicity, etc.) might combine to create unique modes of discrimination. Many people within our group and department face barriers beyond their gender. As time passed, the members of WICTO expanded the scope of the group’s mission both to incorporate the many intersectionalities of its members and bolster other underrepresented groups in the department. We believe it is impossible to fight only one form of discrimination without addressing the others and how they affect each other. In response, we elected to change our name to acknowledge this ever-widening perspective.
Our work is rooted in dismantling oppressive systems that persist within academia to make our department and university a more just and safe space for everyone. We are proud of the work we’ve accomplished in the areas of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) via our expert panel discussions, seminar series, volunteer outreach with local schools, mentorship program, journal club, and social events. We will focus on EDI in the STEM community for all equity-seeking groups as our group continues to grow with our larger scope. This makes the new name “Working towards Inclusivity in Chemistry Toronto” more in tune with our mission.
Chemistry at U of T: How have you seen your membership benefit from your expanded scope?
WICTO: We welcome all people who want to make the department a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive space, whether they are a member of an equity-seeking group and/or an ally. WICTO is committed to advocating for department members who have experienced inequitable treatment and encouraging the department to make systemic changes to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion for all. By acknowledging the unique issues of intersectionality and looking at discrimination beyond gender, we have identified differences and built solidarity between different groups who face systemic oppression.
Our members have worked on recognizing their own unique privileges and disadvantages, as these vary from person to person. WICTO members have now gone further than simply discussing the barriers in our department; they have both created actionable items for our department to accomplish and promoted these initiatives to the administration. WICTO’s dedication to accessibility was called on in Fall 2019 to press for the re-institution of a lactation space in the department, a necessity for new mothers. By advocating for all of the identities of our members, we aspire to create a safer, less isolating, productive, and more supportive environment.
Chemistry at U of T: What are you looking forward to in 2020-21 for WICTO?
WICTO: We are excited to create a variety of new events to better serve and engage the department under COVID-19 conditions. We want to modify our most popular and rewarding events such as Wine and Cheese Night and the annual workshop into a format where department members can learn about EDI, initiate their own EDI commitments, and strengthen their support network of diverse scientists. While we have found panels to be valuable events in the past, we want to focus this year on action and community building. There is still so much we can learn from journal clubs, speakers, and other events, especially since we can take advantage of current travel restrictions to host a wider variety of guests through online webinars.
This year we will continue our conversations with the department about previously started initiatives, including the implementation of a departmental code of professionalism, EDI training, and anti-Black racism training. We recognize that STEM fields can be underprepared to cater to people with disabilities, and look forward to proactively working with the department to make chemistry more accessible for everyone. We are committed to dedicating more time into all these systemic issues and encourage our department members to join in.
Read more about Working Towards Inclusivity in Chemistry Toronto at the WICTO website.