July 10, 2020
Please find a list of abbreviations and glossary terms (italicized through the text) at the end of this post.
What was #ShutDownSTEM and why did some participate?
On June 10th, 2020 thousands of scientists paused the endless hustle and bustle of research, data collection and analysis, grant writing, and teaching to direct their attention to how they can better support, include, and engage Black individuals in STEM fields. This day was used across the United States for universities, museums, and other educational institutions to think through meaningful and actionable plans to better support and include Black researchers and students. One of the goals of this day was to increase accessibility and transparency within STEM fields on diversity efforts and begin to make plans to dismantle barriers both big and small in these fields. Other goals included increasing self-awareness of systemic racism and allowing room for healing surrounding these difficult conversations. These actions taken by those involved in #ShutDownSTEM represented a big first step through which systemic racism in STEM can continue to be deconstructed. More than two dozen members from the Jackson School of Geosciences, including graduate students, staff, research scientists, faculty, and administration, came together to have these same discussions. The discussions highlighted ways in which Black individuals may be excluded, barred, or unintentionally neglected in the school, and generate a plan to break down those barriers.
History of Black representation in Geoscience
Although there have been efforts to increase racial diversity, Bernard and Cooperdock (2018) showed that there has been little to no progress in the number of underrepresented minorities earning doctorate over the past 40 years. This study was authored by former PhD students at the Jackson School of Geosciences and stemmed from Dr. Bernard’s post here on Science, Y’all from November 2017: “Who gets geology PhDs?”. The Jackson School of Geosciences (JSG) is no exception to this trend. For example, in 2019, the number of JSG Black students (undergraduate and graduate) is less than 5 (out of 378), and no Black faculty are listed on the JSG website. The JSG has an ongoing commitment to increasing diversity, with exceptional programs such as GeoFORCE, EDGE, Geoscience Ambassador Program, and the Geoscience Empowerment Network (GEN) (see next post for a full list of efforts). This signals that even with these current programs, there is more that can and should be done at the JSG and within the Geoscience community as a whole. Alongside attracting higher numbers of Black students to the field, efforts also need to be made to support them when they get there. It has been shown that a lack of inclusivity, belongingness, and failures to recognize bias leads to minorities leaving the field at a higher rate than the average scientist (Dutt, 2020).
Reflections on the #ShutDownSTEM experience at JSG
Alison Tune, PhD 2021
I was excited to see the email from Hima organizing a meeting for #ShutDownSTEM #Strike4BlackLives. I did not know what to expect from the meeting but was pleased to see that quite a few people planned to attend. Between the initial emails outlining ways to make the meeting a safe place for discussion and the opening activity of writing our feelings on a slide, I thought the meeting was organized very thoughtfully in order to discuss anti-Black racism at the Jackson School of Geosciences (JSG). Because there were a significant number of people, we separated into small breakout groups, each with representative members from different levels in the academic hierarchy (grad students, faculty, staff, administration). In the group that I was placed in, we discussed ways we could change JSG policies (culture) and JSG environment (climate). We brought these ideas back to the larger group discussion and incorporated them into the larger letter/document sent to the JSG leadership. This meeting was a starting point to brainstorm actions and organize members of the JSG with the goal of eliminating systemic racism at the JSG. The meeting made me feel connected to others and re-invigorated me to continue involvement with the brainstormed initiatives through GEN.
Jasmine Nelson, MS 2021
The experience discussing ways the University as a whole, the faculty and staff, and students (myself included) can be better at dismantling racial injustice in STEM and encouraging a positive and inclusive environment was more than exciting. It was nice to see that students and faculty alike saw this as an important and time-sensitive topic to open for discussion and brain-storming. As a Black geoscientist / paleontologist, I have overcome some of the many barriers posed to Black individuals within the field and have often felt that I cannot be myself within the field as it may be perceived in a negative light. Thankfully, with a supportive advisor, friends, and a great lab group at the Jackson School, I am succeeding despite lacking some support structures that would have been beneficial upon entering the field. I am extremely excited to keep the momentum of the conversation, to keep sharing my experiences, and continuously learn about experiences of other people of color within STEM fields and geosciences specifically. This experience really meant a lot and will stick with me, especially if we keep making changes to create more equitable access in our school and our field!
Hima Hassenruck-Gudipati, PhD 2021
I sent out an email to the graduate students and GEN at 10:25 am on June 9th, looking for colleagues to brainstorm action items for #ShutDownSTEM. I was craving the collaborative nature of science after ~100 days of stay at home. Also, through a group discussion, I would maybe feel a little bit more like I belonged. I became excited when I received the first five requests to participate. This would make for a great discussion group size. By the next morning, more than 30 people were interested. Many of whom I had not talked to about DEI. Professor Goudge volunteered to co-lead. We brainstormed a meeting structure, practiced break out groups, and collectively annotated slides. I figured out the new settings minutes before my Zoom gallery started filling with participants.
At the JSG #ShutDownSTEM #Strike4BlackLives brainstorming, we first discussed our mission towards education, action, and healing. We asked everyone to share how they were feeling by anonymously annotating a slide, an idea taken from Dr. Thomas’s GeoVISION discussion. The first 30 seconds were terrifying. The page was completely blank. Slowly, it filled with words and checkmarks, amplifying each other’s feelings. I then randomly assigned participants to breakout groups and my screen was empty again. Part of me would have liked to actively participate in one breakout group. Part of me was grateful for the pages of ideas. All of the participants came together after 40 minutes to discuss what their group found most important. It felt different from the this-is-not-my-problem-to-fix mentality. I will stay connected to this moment and GEN, organized by Professor Catania, with the renewed realization that I am not alone and that my feelings are valid.
Kiara Jeannelle Gomez, PhD 2021
I was initially not going to attend the #ShutDownSTEM as I was emotionally exhausted and upset from everything happening in our nation. After thinking and speaking with Hima, I decided to commit to going, and I am glad I attended. The experiences I had during the brainstorming session during #ShutDownSTEM were informative and supportive. The overall group consisted of post-docs, graduate students, faculty members, and the dean. Within the breakout groups that were organized by Hima, we spoke about clear actions that the administration can take to support BIPOC students at JSG. We also spoke about recognizing and highlighting the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts that some faculty members and staff are leading and continuing. I also had some input on my personal experiences, and this was the first time I shared since starting my PhD in 2016.
One new idea from the group that I strongly support is JSG recruiting from different STEM fields through their main annual conferences. We as geoscientists know of AGU and GSA as large conferences where we network with old and new connections. What are the annual AGUs and GSAs of biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and engineering? Of course, this requires a considerable amount of work, but it is an idea that we can start from. My hope is that JSG can continue to move forward with their current efforts while also considering the recommendations and ideas that were brainstormed during the #ShutDownSTEM session. This is the time for all of academia to change.
Sophie Goliber, PhD 2022
I was immediately interested by the idea of a #ShutDownSTEM brainstorming meeting when Hima sent out the email. I knew I wanted to spend the day reading and reflecting on the experience of Black people in geosciences and academia in general, but I was excited by the prospect of being in a (zoom) room with other Jackson School people interested in doing something to change the culture of our school. Geosciences has a long way to go in terms of racial equality and this was a good first step to moving forward in a more meaningful way. The ideas that came up were all thoughtful and explicit in their goals to support BIPOC in our school.
I feel more connected to others at the Jackson school, particularly the graduate students, after this experience. I am looking forward to moving forward with the Graduate Student Executive Committee (GSEC) and GEN in an active role while working with the administration to make geosciences more inclusive. As a white woman, I have seen myself represented by my advisor and other students, but I need to look outside my own experience to work towards a more inclusive community at the Jackson school and I am happy to have this group to work with.
Concluding discussion and what we took away
After more than 40 minutes of discussion within breakout groups, we came together to synthesize our small group discussions within the larger group. All ideas were recorded in this google doc with green highlighting the points we talked about as a whole group. From this discussion and subsequent discussions with GEN, we would like to present the action items (below) written by those who participated in #ShutDownSTEM and close with several takeaways from our experiences.
1) Short-term action items:
2) Long-term goals that build on existing efforts and may require persistent commitment:
After developing our action plans, these are some of the things we took away from the discussion:
Though #ShutDownSTEM was a productive day, it should not be the end of conversations surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion in the JSG. We encourage all JSG members to be active participants in diversity and inclusion efforts and education moving forward. It takes time, resources, and great coordination to accomplish many of the long-term action items set forth after this meeting, but we can all make small changes in our lives to improve the overall climate in the school.
If you would like to continue your anti-racism education, you can use the #ShutDownSTEM website as a resource. GEN is also currently hosting monthly reading groups on systemic racism in the Geosciences, you can find out more on how to join at the GEN Website. The next post here on Science, Y’all will highlight the ongoing and developing efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in geoscience at the JSG. At the University of Texas at Austin, Professor and VP for Diversity and Community Engagement, Leonard Moore, is also currently teaching a History of the Black Experience 6-week free webinar.
Bernard, R. E., & Cooperdock, E. H. (2018). No progress on diversity in 40 years. Nature Geoscience, 11(5), 292-295.
Dutt, K. (2020). Race and racism in the geosciences. Nature Geoscience, 13(1), 2-3.