Community attends third annual Department of Chemistry Town Hall

The Department of Chemistry had its third annual Town Hall on April 10, 2024. The event took place in Atwood Hall 360 with breakout discussions happening in small group meeting spaces across the third floor of Atwood.

History of the SAFE Town Hall

The first Town Hall took place in April 2022 and was an entirely grass-roots student effort led by the first formal Student Advocacy for Full Engagement (SAFE) committee. At the time, there were no student representatives on chemistry’s standing committees and the Town Hall format asked committees to give a report on their activities during the preceding year after which students could raise comments, questions, and concerns. The next year, the Town Hall followed the same format – a report out to the community on departmental committee work for the academic year followed by a question-and-answer session. At this second Town Hall, all of chemistry’s standing committees reported an important achievement – by the spring of that year, each committee had welcomed at least one student representative to the committee.

New directions for committees, town hall

During the 2023-2024 school year, all of chemistry’s standing committees began the year with at least one student representative as a formal member. The planning for the town hall became a partnership between the 2023-2024 SAFE co-chairs (Sophia Shahin, Defne Tuncaral, Kenneth Wingate, Jr.) and the department’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) committee, engaging staff, faculty, and students in the planning.

The new sub-committee took a different approach to the town hall, using a model informed by a town hall structure implemented at Berkeley. The model structures the event around small group discussions focused around specific student-selected topics of interest. Department leadership participate as active listeners as members of the community work through their specific thoughts and ideas about the selected topics.

New Town Hall format in action

The Town Hall committee identified four topics for community discussion:

  • Academic Programs and Research Excellence
  • Mental Health
  • Rewards Structures
  • The TA Experience

On the day of the town hall, participants were placed into six groups, with two groups each for Academic Programs and Research Excellence and The TA Experience.

Each group had no more than 10 participants, with an even distribution of “stakeholders” – graduate students, faculty, staff, and undergraduate students – across all groups.

Small group discussions were an excellent idea, because they allowed full engagement of all participants. In my small group discussion, everyone spoke up and a range of ideas were expressed. This is what belonging means: your voice is heard and it matters. 

Brian Dyer, Department Chair

In accordance with inclusive meeting practices, each group had a meeting facilitator and recorder to help guide and capture the discussion. Groups were charged with producing “action items” by the end of the discussion time – next steps in the form of questions, plans, or recommendations to department leadership. The event ended with a brief verbal report from each sub-committee followed by a social for participants.

What happens next

The action items developed during the town hall have been provided to the department’s Leadership Team, a group comprised of the chairs of all committees as well as the department chair. The team will consider how these action items might guide committee work in the next academic year and how to share their progress with the broader community.

While the new format allowed for more discussion, the town hall planning sub-committee also facilitated efforts to ensure the larger community is apprised of committee work for the past year and has an opportunity to voice questions and concerns. Committee chairs generated one-pagers describing their committee work during the 2023-2024 school year to be shared with the community via email. Additionally, department chair Dr. Brian Dyer has invited students to attend his office hours on Mondays to discuss specific ideas and concerns.