Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

You are here


A journey
to eradicate harassment

December 14, 2022

Byline: Joshua Tewksbury

After a year of reflection and change, we reinforce our commitment to creating a safe workplace for everyone and space for healing as a community.

A year has passed since we learned about the experiences of 16 survivors who came forward with their stories of harassment at STRI (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute). I also acknowledge the other members of our community who have shared their stories. We vow to never forget their pain. Together, they were the catalyst for our Institute to begin walking in the direction of overdue and necessary change.

For the past twelve months we have been deeply reflecting on the profound and far-reaching impacts of harassment in the workplace and in science. It has also been a period of listening and continuous transformation.

As Director, I will continue to be as transparent as possible. Below are some of the specific points we have advanced in the past year.

· Accountability. At all levels. The advent and strengthening of SI Civil, and the inclusion of an SI Civil coordinator at STRI (Jamie Velasco), has ensured that nothing sits on the directors’ desk without receiving the full attention of dedicated staff focused on ensuring a safe working environment for everyone working at STRI. The annual evaluation and performance appraisals for mentors and advisors include a strong focus on mentorship, DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and outreach in addition to traditional scientific productivity metrics.

· Reporting. We worked with the SI Civil Program to launch the online reporting platform called Voice It, available in English and Spanish 24/7 though hotline numbers and online through the Voice It website.

· Transparency. In early October 2021, we sent a workplace climate survey to the STRI community and 797 people responded. The full report and an executive summary are available in English and Spanish on the  public website. In addition, the STRI website now has a tab dedicated to the Anti-harassment support resources to make them easier to find. We have developed a shorter pulse survey to issue regularly to measure progress (e.g., annually or every 2 years).

· Listening. We have a new Human Resources director, Rocío Atencio. Rocío and her team invited 360 members of the STRI community to participate in focus groups, using the workplace climate survey results to prompt in-depth employee feedback in a more interactive way. They are also working to create new external psychological support services paid by STRI.

· Changing Systems. We have restructured our Fellow and Intern selection process to reduce conflicts of interest and mitigate power imbalances. A set of new guidelines for the fellowship award processes are available on STRI's website, under Academic Programs. These guidelines were put in place to ensure that fellowship selection is fair, free of strong conflicts of interest, and supports broad community involvement.

· Safety. The Office of Protection Services and Safety Office personnel have conducted a full audit of safety and security measures at all STRI facilities, including residential facilities, and they now conduct periodic reviews that provide updated information on workplace safety measures and procedures. Our safety and security webpage contains important emergency contacts and information for all facilities.

· A Stronger code of conduct. We have updated and strengthened our code-of-conduct, ensuring that it better articulates expected and prohibited behaviors and reporting options. We have instituted a policy to ensure that everyone working at STRI, and everyone coming to STRI for research and study, actively agrees to this code of conduct.

· Culture Change. Information on SI Civil and support resources is now shared with new academic appointees and new hires during onboarding sessions. In addition, STRI and local NGO FundaMorgan are currently implementing a training plan that includes modules on harassment prevention, bystander intervention and reporting mechanisms, recurrent training on implicit biases, improving workplace climate, developing inclusion and diversity strategies, and rights and responsibilities under the Panamanian legal codes.

· Key Positions. We are currently recruiting for the position of Diversity Manager to provide oversight to organizational DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion) initiatives, projects, and goals that support the institution’s anti-harassment strategy and equity agenda.

· Finally, we will launch an exit survey for short-term scientific visitors, and an annual survey for longer academic appointments.

I want to stress that this is very much a work in progress. STRI leadership will continue to reform systems, change policies, listen and respond to our community, and work to support a safe, healthy, inclusive work environment. We will also be transparent in what we have done and what we have yet to do, as we actively create space for institutional and personal transformation.  I am also fully aware that cultural change takes time, and so does healing.

In the meantime, there is no place for downplaying the pain that our community endures. To advance on this path we need to acknowledge the impact of past failures, and talk honestly and constructively about sexism, colonialism, and the parts of our past we will not tolerate going forward. We must also speak openly about the work not yet done, the barriers we still face, and the future we want for STRI and for science at large.

The changes we have implemented so far have only been possible thanks to many committed people at STRI. By fostering spaces that encourage trust, collaboration, and a positive workplace environment, we all win, and we will serve as an example to other courageous communities who dare to directly address harassment.

Thank you all for your ongoing efforts and support as we navigate the waters towards a safe, more equitable, inclusive and justice-oriented STRI.

Joshua Tewksbury

Back to Top