RIT working to foster inclusion in the sciences

Aug 3, 2018

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Laurel Hunter spells her last name, "H-U-N-T-E-the sound a pirate makes."

She has a lisp and is the daughter of a deaf adult.

"I can’t always hear the difference between certain sounds," she says. "That means partly that I can’t hear accents and partly that I can’t say my own name!"

Hunter identifies as diverse in a few other ways besides just the way she speaks. And ordinarily, that might deter her from studying the sciences. But, she came from a long line of science and math professionals, so she decided to major in physics at RIT -- even though she’s in the minority.

"Going into the next semester there are going to be maybe two girls total in the room with me and that can be a little bit daunting. You sometimes feel like when you ask a question you’re not just asking for you, you’re asking a question that people are going to think, 'Oh, girls just don’t understand how this works.' "

This summer, Hunter says she didn’t feel that way. She was part of RIT’s Inclusive Excellence summer program, which is designed to connect seven students from diverse backgrounds to mentors and professors for 10-week research projects.

The program was started to foster a more inclusive environment on campus.

Assistant Professor Kaitlin Stack Whitney mentored a student in the program. She says she can identify with the experiences of some of the students in the program.

"My background is in entomology, I study insects, and women are definitely still an underrepresented community in studying insects."

The inclusivity program doesn't just affect students, she says.

"It’s really important to think about, as science is diversifying and college is diversifying, how we support everyone who shows up in our classrooms and our labs.”

The Inclusive Excellence initiative is a five-year plan, and includes programs year-round.