Society Awards and Social Events in the American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT) 

Wendy Clement, Carolyn Ferguson, Laura Lagomarsino, Makenzie Mabry, Eric Roalson, and Theresa Smid

ASPT, The American Society of Plant Taxonomists, was first established in 1936 and continues today with approximately 1,000 members. Our by-laws state “The Society is organized to foster, encourage, and promote education and research in the field of plant taxonomy, broadly defined to include those areas and fields of study that contribute to and bear upon biotic diversity and evolution, systematics, nomenclature, botanical collections, and herbaria.” We have members all on continents, except Antarctica. Despite an international membership body, many of the structures of the society (e.g., leadership) are still very US-centric and do not represent much racial and ethnic diversity. One of the difficulties in addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues for ASPT, though, is we have not historically gathered demographic data, and so we have difficulty in really addressing issues of inclusion and representation as we do not have a clear understanding of who we are in the 21st century.

Further, we have also had a consistent, some might say traditional, approach to society awards and social events. We have a few named awards, predominantly named after white men, and eligibility for these awards is not clearly articulated. Additonally, the barriers to nomination are high with a large body of documentation typically required. For our social events, we have a yearly banquet at the BOTANY conference which has a significant financial cost to attendees. While most of the celebration focuses on late career-focused awards, in recent years we have worked to provide more recognition of graduate student research awards, and we have begun to try to diversify our award structure.

ASPT has valued the opportunity to participate in Movement training through the ROOT & SHOOT RCN, and we have used the Capstone project to address issues of inclusion in our awards and social events. The timing of this work has been particularly beneficial: ASPT leadership recently engaged in strategic planning, and defined our core values relating to scholarship, inclusivity, biodiversity collections, education, and mentoring. One particular weakness noted in the strategic planning document (circulated to leadership as part of the annual report in summer 2022) was “Room to be even more welcoming/inclusive in membership and leadership.” Indeed, while many strengths of the Society were noted through strategic planning, it was well recognized that we need to foster diversity and increase our inclusivity to remain vibrant as a professional society and grow. This Capstone work thus builds on a foundation of identified needs and takes places within a context of desired improvements for ASPT.

Through our Capstone project, we have explored inclusion issues in our awards and social events. Goals of our project are to: (1) Identify and reduce barriers to eligibility and nominations for society awards; (2) Design and host an ASPT annual celebration that is inclusive and welcoming for all; and (3) Incorporate broadening of ASPT’s award roster into society strategic planning and future Council meetings.

Our Capstone Report serves as an important planning guide moving forward. The structure (Introduction to the Society and broad topic; Description of the selected issue; Description of the process; Description of the proposed solution; Action plan / Timeline; and Conclusion) document our Capstone activities and provide important background and rationale for planned steps. Of particular importance is the “Action plan / Timeline” section, which outlines steps to be taken. This work begins immediately (spring 2023), with focused work through summer 2024 and additional work beyond that time point. We note that we have incorporated as part of these steps the gathering of feedback from the broader leadership group and from the Society at large, as well as an ongoing iterative process of evaluation. We view this as a “living” document, and look forward to gaining feedback, moving forward with plans, and further developing additional plans.

ASPT gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Movement Consulting leaders as we have explored issues for the Society, as well as the support of the ROOT & SHOOT RCN.

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