For Scientists New to Activism

In the past 24 hours, a movement for a March for Science has emerged. Many scientists are new to activism, and thankfully, people with skills in expertise in organizing have come forward and are providing leadership. March organizers have affirmed there will be a diversity committee, and that the goal is for the march to be inclusive. All of this is great.

At the same time, there were those in the community who made comments suggesting that the march should avoid being “hijacked” by “identity politics”.


This reminds me of a meeting that I attended last semester on planning a seminar series with a social justice theme. The discussion included words like intersectionality and essentialism. One of my colleagues expressed how it was difficult to engage fully in the conversation by saying something along the lines of “I don’t know those terms; I’m a scientist.” My first thought: I am a scientist, and those words are familiar to me, so is this a valid excuse? The tools exist for all of us to get prepared to fight for social justice, and it is our responsibility to take advantage of them.

This morning I wrote the following comment in another forum:

Pro-tip: if you didn’t understand optogenetics would you @ Deisseroth and demand that he explain it to you on Facebook? Of course not. You’d read a paper, go to a workshop, or learn from your network. Same goes for those who don’t understand social justice terminology like intersectionality. Don’t demand that people from minoritized groups do the uncompensated labor of educating you. There is an ABUNDANCE of resources out there (including work in peer-reviewed journals!) so take responsibility and educate yourself.

Here are some resources to get you started

How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101

Decolonising Science Reading List by astrophysicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

The Urban Scientist, a Scientific American blog by biologist Danielle Lee

VanguardSTEM, conversations with women of color in STEM, founded by astrophysicist Jedidah Isler

Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM), a national society dedicated to educating and fostering leadership for LGBTQA communities in the STEM fields

Diversity Journal Club, a blog, newsletter, and twitter chat devoted to discussions of diversity in academia

University and Corporate Diversity Offices. If you work at an American university, government institution, or large corporation, chances are there is an office for professional staff to serve as a resource on diversity issues. Reach out to these people. Find out what they do. Schedule a training for yourself and your colleagues. Ask how you can support the work that they are doing.

We all have a role in making sure science is inclusive, and we’re not all in the same place in the journey. Start where you are and proceed.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

2 thoughts on “For Scientists New to Activism

  1. Awesome, love it. I think we DO all have the same message, that humanity agrees that science is vital and needs to be vigorously protected to thrive and shape policy. I have been thinking that in my experience, diverse organizations and movements are an accurate representation of reality, because the world IS actually diverse, as biology makes clear. So when I observe diverse organizations, my brain feels accepting, and I listen to the content of their message. On the other hand, movements led by a more narrow sampling ARE distracting, because I get distracted wondering why the sampling is so un-resprensentative, and then I don’t receive the message, even if it’s otherwise great.


Comments are closed.