Note from Meghan: This guest post is a revised version of one that briefly appeared last month.
Over the past few months society has once again had to face the stark inequities that disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and other racial minorities. The senseless murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Chantel Moore highlighted police brutality against Black and Indigenous people, and ignited protests across the globe. The disproportionate impacts of COVID 19 on people of color are highlighting systemic racist structures in access to health care and other social networks.
These events have prompted renewed calls to examine systemic racism in all sectors of society, including academia and its many subdisciplines. The fields of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) are overwhelmingly white. Minorities in the biological sciences and EEB face many different types of discrimination. Personal stories shared on Twitter using hashtags such as #BlackinSTEM and #BlackinNature have highlighted the unique risks of conducting field work as a Black scientist. Within ecology we need to confront not just the current systematic bias, but also the legacies of colonialism.
Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) have once again faced calls to educate the majority on how to address these problems. Doing so can require revisiting deep wells of pain and trauma. Much has been written about what has to change, on how to be a better ally, and on how to self-educate. This is important and necessary, yet much of what has been written centers whiteness, and focuses on the work the dominant majority should undertake.
What remains unsaid is how current BIPOC researchers can navigate their careers while biased and racist structures are not yet dismantled. An unspoken premise for the careers of BIPOC is that they will figure out on their own how to navigate systemic bias, while also performing unpaid or unacknowledged labor to help educate their scientific peers about these issues.
A group of us decided to take a different approach. We are a group of ecologists and evolutionary biologists. We are minorities of varying backgrounds, and at various career stages. We asked ourselves how we can support each other and other BIPOC during this time.
Some of us collaborated to write a comment for Nature Ecology and Evolution about strategies that have helped us navigate our careers in a racist system. We listed a range of strategies including taking care of mental health, finding supportive communities and mentorship, questioning tokenism, and picking one’s battles according to career stage. These are by no means exhaustive, and might not apply across all situations. We hope that this inspires others to share their strategies.
It must also be noted that women BIPOC can experience both racism and sexism in their careers, making it even harder to advance, and requiring targeted strategies to protect and create spaces for women of color (WOC). If you are looking for ways to make your workplace better for WOC visit A WOC Space. Also, please check out this essay by Dr. Aisha Ahmad. Although not in EEB, her experience and advice is broadly relevant to women BIPOC in academia.
Writing this comment highlighted to us the importance of a community and collaboration.
Collaborations are one of the joys of working in ecology and evolution. We need collaborations in order to address our most pressing ecological and evolutionary questions. They are also critical for career progress. Yet BIPOC researchers are routinely excluded from collaborations, and our work is not as well cited as our white colleagues.
As a direct action to address this important problem, a group of us started a twitter account to advertise and highlight work by POC in ecology and evolution (@EEB_POC). This account re-tweets scientific articles and pre-prints written by authors who self-identify as EEB researchers of color. If you are Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander, or *any* race or ethnicity where you identify as a person of color, and you are publishing in EEB, just @ us, and we will quickly scan your paper and retweet it.
Why did we do this? As we state in our official announcement, “It’s also simple – we’re not being cited, funded, invited to join multi-author papers, or hired at the same rates as our peers. We’re also doing excellent scientific work. The goal of this initiative is to find alternative paths for disseminating research of scientists of color that are immediate, and do not require waiting until the field increases diversity and representation.”
How can you support us? To start with, you can follow and interact with the @EEB_POC account, liking and retweeting interesting articles. Share the account with colleagues and students. You can also recommend papers by others, as long as you have the author’s permission. But your support should not stop there. While likes and retweets can increase the reach of a publication, lasting change will not happen without a change in representation in EEB. Use this account to discover work by scientists in your area, and cite their work. Use these papers to diversify your course syllabi. Use the account as a resource to diversify existing and future research networks, seminar series, and thesis committees. Engage with us as fellow scientists, as EEB colleagues, and not as tokens.
Ultimately we started @EEB_POC so that we can support each other. Too many BIPOC have been lost through the leaky pipeline, and we refuse to wait for the slow structural change needed in our institutions. We know from our diverse experiences that supportive communities are necessary for our science, productivity and wellbeing. We hope that BIPOC in ecology and evolution will use this account to connect with each other, and to start collaborating with each other. We look forward to your support.
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I am looking for literature (both peer-reviewed articles as well as broader audience science writing) by BIPOC to use in my EBIO courses. Is there a resource for this you can direct me to?
Hi, that’s great! We are actually working on a database compiling these. We’ll be sure to post an update here when that is launched, ideally soon enough to be ready for next semester. Thanks for this work you are doing, we’ll provide resources as soon as we can.