Challenging the March for Science: Intersectionality at the Coal Face

This is the first of two talks I was invited to give in New Zealand in September 2017. It is fitting to share this today, on the second March for Science event happening in over 200 cities around the world, including Australia. I have throughly documented the equity and diversity issues with the last year’s March for Science. This talk was a reflection on the problems and costs of this volunteering work that I and many other people of colour, disabled scientists, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) researchers did to try to make the marches more inclusive. I note that Black women scientists bore the worst abuse both within the March for Science movement and by the public advocacy they did.

I’m afraid that discussions this year were no better. Last week, I was one of a few Australian women reflecting on issues from last year’s March for Science, and the lack of transparency over plans for this year’s event. On my Twitter threads, in discussion with other minority women, organisers from the Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra marches reproduced many of the problematic arguments detailed here, all over again.

Some of the organisers of this year’s march blamed the lack of diversity amongst the committees and speakers on the low number of volunteers, while also insinuating that minority people should have volunteered in greater numbers. I noted that the same issue was raised last year to deflect minority researchers’ concerns with equity and diversity. In fact, the minorities who did volunteer and offered countless hours of free advice and public resources (as in my case) were met with anger. Women of colour were especially made to feel unsafe and unwelcome. Other organisers of this year’s march said they valued diversity but didn’t know how to improve things. I noted that there had been a plethora of free resources published last year as well as other resources that exist on how to make events more inclusive.

There is really no excuse for reproducing inequality in science or academic events, and in other spheres.

So with all these wounds freshly scratched opened, below are the notes for the talk that I gave at the University of Auckland, titled: Challenging the March for Science – intersectionality work at the coal face. I was a guest of the The Women in Science Network. Throughout this post, I provide tips for how to make science events (and other events and protests) more inclusive. At the end, I include a visual resource that summarises some tips for best practice that you can print off as a reminder. Feel free to put it up at your home office, work, school, university, or any other community space!

Continue reading Challenging the March for Science: Intersectionality at the Coal Face

Better Leadership through Diversity: A Case Study of the March for Science – TheHumanist.com

My latest on The Humanist discusses the leadership lessons from the March for Science for the humanist movement, on equity, inclusion and accessibility.

The best way to redress the inequities in science is through structural reform. This means reviewing policy through an evidence-based process. A more productive approach to diversity focuses on responsibilities of leaders to enhance measurable results. In other words, for science to make the most of everyone’s talents, leaders must “walk the talk,” modelling best practice and promoting accountability for themselves and other managers.

A vision for social change that eliminates existing inequalities must incorporate the leadership, professional expertise, and lived experiences of minorities from diverse backgrounds. Without decision-making power to shape the strategy and planning of any event, program, or organization, minorities remain on the margins. Subsequently, lacking the active representation of humanity, the full benefits of science and social justice endeavors will be limited in influence and impact.

Read more on The Humanist.

Better Leadership through Diversity: A Case Study of the March for Science – TheHumanist.com

Scientists and Activists Look Beyond the March for Science

I was interviewed by The New York Times on issues of equity and diversity in the March for Science: 

‘It set off alarm bells,’ said Zuleyka Zevallos an applied sociologist from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. ‘How can we trust them to look after inclusion and accessibility if they are going to buckle under pressure?’

The statements from the organisers in this article are easily disproved from public record. For example, the organisers resisted the idea that science is political, and they have created a series of sexist, racist and ablesit problems (discrimination against people with disabilities). They have completely ignored the needs and representation of LGBTQIA scientists. 

The organisers have also inadvertently created an anti-diversity discourse the fuels exclusion amongst their supporters.  

Most tellingly, several women have left the organising committee due to a toxic organisational culture, with influential women of colour in particular leaving after months of problems.

The problems with the march reflect broader issues of discrimination in science and academia. This includes a lack of awareness about the structural barriers inhibiting the full participation and success of minorities and White women in research. The march is also plagued by ineffective leadership, policy and practice responses to diversity, which is another troubling hallmark of science.

We must do better to ensure everyone can achieve their full potential in science.

Scientists and Activists Look Beyond the March for Science

The idea that science is not political leaves undisturbed the norm that White men’s interests are the default universal position that should remain unchallenged. It might seem counter-intuitive that women as well as men are equally likely to see that diversity was politicising science, but not so when considering that Whiteness was the distinguishing feature driving this logic. 

My analysis of March for Science supporters’ comments about inclusion and accessibility shows that  a weak commitment reinforces the existing discourse that science does not really have to change. It does.

Read more: Analyzing the March for Science Diversity Discourse, on DiverseScholar.


[A Black woman speaks at a podium as other women look up and smile at her. With quote from “a weak commitment…”]

Moral Panic

March for Science is a global protest scheduled for 22 April 2017. There will be 400 marches internationally. One stands out for the wrong reasons: Los Angeles and its attempt to generate a moral panic about minorities. 

A moral panic refers to social fear that becomes attached to everyday behaviour. Moral panics can emerge from seemingly mundane behaviour. For example, a group of minority youth congregating in a public space can be read or reported on as “a gang,” using negative stereotypes to whip up fear.

In a now-deleted tweet published on 2 February 2017, the March for Science LA Twitter account indulged in a thinly veiled attempt to test the waters of racism. The tweet read: “Some scientists are concerned with the march turning into political event and losing its focus. What do YOU pledge to do to keep it peaceful.”

image

I retweeted this on 2 March, and data science student Paulette V-R then questioned the Los Angeles organisers: “So political = violence?”

March for Science LA promptly dismissed the conflict. They argued they hadn’t made the connection between politics and violence. Yet, in effect, they had—by implying that politics leads to non-peace.

By 3 March, March for Science LA had already deleted its tweet, so I retweeted a screen grab. As the Storify below shows, the Los Angeles organisers denied they were giving into racism, but then made the situation worse with poor excuses about their concerns for peace.

The idea that science and politics can be separated is a political idea; it is the outcome of historical dynamics in science. White men’s dominance in science is so deeply entrenched that their identities, experiences and status have become established as the norm. In other words, White male politics in science is not questioned. Instead, everyone else’s identities are the Other: the point of difference, the “identity politics” that are threatening to White men’s interests in science.

March for Science LA decided to elevate the racist views of “some scientists,” thereby normalising this moral panic and challenging their followers to maintain peace. This follows weeks of vocal opponents arguing that diversity undermines the goals of the march.

Other scientists were clear of March for Science’s dog whistling. They understood that the March for Science LA posts were unfairly targeting minority groups.

My article below includes discussion from scientists on the problematic notion that science is not political. They encouraged March for Science LA to work with established social justice movements. Others noted that the dynamics of “peaceful” protests were driven by racial relations. Learn more examples of how moral panics work, and how the march needs to better address issues of equity, inclusion and accessibility.

[Image: March for Science LA tweet as described above, with reply by Dr David Shiffman, showing an image of the “Clipppy” meme to say: “You seem to be suggesting that letting minority scientists voice concerns means ‘violence.’ Would you like to rephrase?”]

Accessibility in Urban Planning

When I first arrived in Brisbane for a work trip, I was impressed to see braille on every major street sign. Sydney has many such signs; Melbourne and other cities have fewer or none.

On my second day in Brisbane, I came across an elderly woman who said the lift to cross this major bridge was broken and she was braving up the stairs to get to her bus stop. I asked if she wanted help but she said “I can do this. I’ll just go slow.” She said she couldn’t believe the lift had not been looked into. Many other people were struggling without the lift. 

Brisbane is not alone here;

I travel a lot around Australia and few major cities are planned around accessibility, despite our diverse needs as a society, and in spite of the fact that our population is ageing rapidly. This is as much an issue of urban planning as it is about equity and social inclusion. A ripe area for applied sociology to make a useful contribution.

Source: The Other Sociologist.

[Photo 1: street sign at night with braille reads “George Street to Brisbane Square. Photo 2: Aerial view of busy Brisbane road.]