This past weekend was the Australia Day long weekend. The holiday marks the genocide and dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This day will never be inclusive or live up to ideals of multiculturalism, as it is a Day of Mourning for First Nations people. We need to not just change the date but also #ChangeTheNation. This is time for truth-telling of our national history, a Voice to Parliament and Makarrata (treaty), as outlined in the Uluru Statement From the Heart.
This year marks 230 years since the British invaded Australia, leading to the decimation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with inequities continuing to this day. It is also the 80 year anniversary of the Day of Mourning protests, organised by the Australian Aboriginal Progressive League.
Today’s post reflects on the protests on the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation (Gadigal is the city now known as Sydney). I then provide a visual sociology of the culmination of the protest march, which ended at the Yabun Festival.
I marched at the Marriage Equality rally in Sydney on 10 November, among with 30,000 people! It was the biggest LGBTQIA protest in Australian history and also the biggest rally ever in Sydney. Over three quarters of Australians participated in the voluntary postal vote on marriage rights. The Opposition and most other major parties opposed the postural vote as it is very expensive ($121 million) and unnecessary (the vote should have been held in Parliament, where it likely would’ve passed by majority conscience vote).
In the iconic Martin Place in central Sydney, people who are homeless are camped out in protest over the lack of housing for the city’s underprivileged groups. The not-for-profit initiative also provided food, clothes, books and other support to protesters. In a press release on their Facebook account, #247StreetKitchenSafeSpace, emphasised that services need to better cater to the material reality of Sydney’s homeless as well as providing appropriately priced and positioned housing options, rather than prioritising rich developers.
As long as poverty and inequality persist in our world…
There have been an increased number of public attacks on underrepresented academics for their education and activism on social media. The term “activist academic” describes the longstanding tradition across nations where intellectuals engage in conscious protest in support of social justice and dissent against the status quo. Activism by academics asserts that the university has a social function beyond the provision of education and scholarly critique. Activist academics see that their role serves a social purpose to provide independent social criticism through volunteering, program interventions, public engagement outside academia, protests, and beyond. In some circles, the profile of activist academics has declined, particularly amongst White academics from majority groups. This led to the misperception that recent international protests by scientists were novel. This is misguided, as minority academics are often inextricably activist in their pedagogy, not-for-profit service work, and activities.
Sociology is centrally concerned with activism, especially in applied contexts. Our social justice focus is misconceived as bias or as an attack to those not used to having history, culture and politics viewed through a critical lens. Sociology is centrally concerned with social transformation. We do not merely observe the world; we aim to challenge existing power structures and to reduce inequity. Having said that, women academics in general are penalised for their work, and the outcomes are even worse for minority sociologists as they seek senior roles. The stakes for minority activist academics is therefore higher, as I will show below.
Despite its special focus on diversity, the evolution of the March for Science shows that diversity has been an afterthought. Science and academia continually places scientists from underrepresented groups in the position of arguing for our rights. The issues for the global March for Science, as well as the national marches in Australia, are fundamental to issues of diversity in STEM around the world. The march is a microcosm of the battle to create a more inclusive culture in STEM that truly values and promotes diversity.
Over the weekend, thousands participated in the March for Science, both in Australia and globally. Influenced by the Women’s March, the March for Science has struggled with reflecting the highly diverse scientific community. In today’s post, sociologist Zuleyka Zevallos provides a brief history of the controversies, explains why diversity in science is important, and provides practical suggestions for moving forward on stronger footing.
I was interviewed by Dr Heather Goldstone for Living Lab Radio, along with my colleague Dr Caleph Wilson:
“They [March for Science Los Angeles] Tweeted in February that they’d been hearing from scientists that there might be problems with violence in connection with their focus on diversity,” said Zuleyka Zevallos (@OtherSociologist), a sociologist at Swinburne University. “That’s a dangerous historical connection that they are making from having minorities attend a science event to having it lead to violence. There’s actually no correlation between the two.”
Zevallos walked away from the March, as did Caleph Wilson (@HeyDrWilson), a biomedical researcher and digital media manager for the National Science and Technology News Service. They took to Twitter, instead, helping build hashtags – #marginsci and #AltSciMarch – that have developed into a vibrant public discourse about diversity and equity in science.
“One of the things that the hashtags were able to do is allow people to have those conversations in a way that can be visible,” said Wilson. “We could see each other having these conversations, as well as we could point the March for Science to these conversations.” […]
Zevallos says there is a silver lining, though.
“I do think that there’s a positive momentum in that these conversations have been happening for a very long time,” Zevallos said. “Underrepresented minorities have been doing activism for decades. But I guess the hashtags, in particular, allowed these conversations to converge, and for different networks from different parts of the world to join their voices together.”
As March for Science organizers work to foster a more lasting science activism movement, Zevallos and Wilson hope that the conversations started by the March can be leveraged into more awareness and meaningful changes in the science community’s prevailing attitude toward diversity and inclusion.
I was interviewed by WIRED on the disunity caused by scientists who have tried to split the March for Science from social justice activism. The case study in this article is the appalling treatment of organisers in Memphis, USA. Scientists split from the Memphis March to form a separate rally in the same city. Both groups have scientists but the March has centrally been led by women of colour activists with more experience in social movements, and they incorporate a focus on inclusion of minority communities. This is symbolic in their decision to march to an historically Black university. Participation of minorities in science is not mutually exclusive to the goal of enhancing evidence-based science policies. I’ll point out what I said in my interview: scientists from underrepresented groups have always been part of, and learned from, social justice movements.
“Both groups feel that their work isn’t done—and with the perception that science is under attack in the US, they wish they could show a united front. But ‘that in itself is a false picture of science, because we are not united,’ says Zuleyka Zevallos, a sociologist at Swinburne University in Australia who has studied the online reaction to the March for Science’s shifting messaging. Saturday’s marches, rallies, and other events around the world will surely pull some science supporters together. But they’re just as likely to highlight the clash over science’s priorities. Should the science community focus on fighting back against a hostile administration? Or on improving itself from within?”
Over the next couple of days, in the lead up to the March for Science, happening globally on 22 April 2017, I’ll be republishing a few of my articles and analyses of the March here on my blog.
On 13 April 2017, an article in Science Magazine featured the academic research planned about the March for Science, and interviews with one of the march co-chairs. The journalist reported that George Mason University was seeking email addresses of supporters for a planned study.
Scientists around the world who have been holding the march organisers accountable criticised the ethics of such a proposed study. This eventually led to the organisers requesting a correction from the journalist.
How did this major error happen?
Two days later, on 16 April, the March for Science was forced to issue a public apology after appropriating African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in a now-deleted tweet (below). This was heavily critiqued, especially by Black researchers, who pointed out the hypocrisy of using AAVE when Black scientists had been marginalised by the march, and received abuse for speaking out on inequalities within the march. Black scientists were also ignored when they encouraged the organisers to work with established social justice groups, including Black Lives Matter. Cultural appropriation of AAVE is doubly offensive in given these patterns of exclusion.
These are just two recent examples in a long line of problems. The organisers have established a damaging cycle of communication failures and weak apologies since the March for Science was first promoted.
I was interviewed by the 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. Most tellingly, several women have left the organising committee due to a toxic organisational culture.
As I’ve said from the beginning: 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.