At RockEDU, we take pride in our work to support students, teachers, and scientists through the creation of thoughtful science outreach programming. We have spent years shouting from rooftops “Science is for everyone!” and have put in countless time and effort to build programs that firmly uphold this ethos. Yet, something about this strategy has always given us pause because in our heart of hearts, we know that science should be for everyone, but the reality of our situation strongly shows otherwise. In reflecting on the context of our work, it is time to admit that we have been operating in a chamber of optimistic denialism when we tell our Black students and non-black students of color that science is becoming more equitable, and they will be welcome in academic spaces in the future. A hard look at the stories shared via the #BlackintheIvory hashtag showcases the reality for Black academics, and it is not one of inclusion.
Science has always had a racism problem, and if we are not actively working to dismantle the power structures that build and maintain systemic barriers to participation for minoritized groups, then we are complicit. As Ibram X. Kendi writes in his book How to be an Anti-racist, “There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”
RockEDU will NOT hold a neutral stance, and pretend that the scientific enterprise will fix itself. Everything about our system is shaped by culture, and that culture, while difficult to specifically pinpoint or define, has been shaped for hundreds of years exclusively through the lens of the white experience. Until we hold ourselves accountable and enact real change, efforts to improve diversity in science can never reach full potential. In our optimistic denialism, we have allowed egregious past injustices to serve as the starting point for progress. “At least we do not take uterine cells from a Black woman without consent anymore” is NOT a suitable baseline for comparison.
At the same time we cannot not sit here and suggest we have all the answers, or even a few of the answers, for creating a more just scientific landscape. There is so much that academics will need to learn — and unlearn — in order to do better. On June 10, 2020, RockEDU will participate in the movement to #ShutDownSTEM, and mark our lifelong commitment to actively work to eradicate anti-Black racism in academia and STEM. We have canceled all RockEDU events and meetings for that day so that our team can reflect on how our program can work with our colleagues toward real change, locally and globally. We encourage you to do the same with your colleagues at your institution.
It goes without saying that it should not have taken so many acts of violence, including the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery — just in 2020 — for the scientific community to finally respond. Yet, here we are.
It’s time for real change. We are here to support our Black community because Black lives matter, yesterday, today, and every day in the future. #Strike4BlackLives #ShutDownSTEM #ShutDownAcademia
To read more about the #ShutDowSTEM initiative, head over here.
Selected Writings and Resources for Academics and Families
- #BlackintheIvory — experiences shared on Twitter from Black academics that chronicles overt and systemic racism in academia
- Mentoring Underrepresented Students in STEMM: A Survey and Discussion by Ebony McGee, Associate Professor of Diversity and STEM Education, Vanderbilt University, Peabody College
- 158 Resources to Understand Racism in America — Smithsonian Magazine
- Science has a Racism Problem — Cell Press
- Anguish and Action — Obama Foundation
- Talking About Race — National Museum of African American History & Culture
- A White Families’ Guide for Talking About Racism — Education with an Apron
- The POC Families’ Guide for Talking About Racism — Education with an Apron
- Sesame Street’s Guide to Black Lives Matter — Sesame Street
- How to Explain Systemic Racism — Juvee Productions (via Viola Davis on Instagram)
- Why Can’t Teach Slavery Right in American Schools? — NY Times
- Can Biology Class Reduce Racism? — NY Times
- Just Science — Teaching Tolerance
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack — Peggy McIntosh