You Don’t Have to March to Stand for Science

I remember when the ‘March For Science’ was first announced. I was on board, immediately. I joined the Facebook groups, requested to be informed of volunteer opportunities, and began to pay attention to the communications sent from the march planners. My body was ready.

The planners made it a point to put diversity and inclusion concerns at the forefront of the march, in an effort to learn about what went wrong (and right) with the Women’s March. I thought this was the smart thing to do- learn from the not so distance past.

Then, I began to notice in the group forums (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), when Persons of Color began to speak their concerns and ask questions about representation, they were swiftly silenced. Not from the moderators of the group, but from other science enthusiasts and community members.

When I say that the individuals were silenced, I don’t mean that they physically stopped them from talking, but rather they proceeded to give reasons why they didn’t think that the individual should be concerned with such matters- that the science march would fall apart if they got “political.” “Science isn’t about politics,” “the March is no place for identity politics,” etc.

I know I shouldn’t let a few spoiled grapes ruin the vineyard, but these repeated interactions began to cause me to fall back. This wasn’t about a few spoiled grapes, but an antiquated, pervasive fallacy that science as a profession and discipline exists in a magical realm where its practitioners are without a world view. That they have transcended all prejudice and human experience, only to have been left with numbers and pristine, unfiltered reason. They also ONLY produce work for institutions and organizations that are equally objective. Where is this place?!

While the goal in science practice may be objectivity, the scientist (usually a human) may still be viewing and interpreting results through their human experience and cultural lens. There are countless records that reveal the use of scientific data to uphold fallacies, justify injustice, and, for lack of a better term, support garbage theories and policy. This is why replication and peer review are critical.

However, the advancement of science has not been pristine, objective, or without detriment. Check out the history of grave robbing, the work of J. Marion Sims, the case of Henrietta Lacks, Tuskeegee Airman, Puerto Rico and birth control pill testing, and the list goes on.

It also, certainly, has not been inclusive and diverse. Exclusion of women, People of Color, the LGBTQ+ community, and individuals with disabilities has been well noted, and continues to be a salient issue today. Many scientists and future scientists identify as a member of one or several of these groups.

Just a couple of months ago, a black student studying engineering was pulled over in his car by police and beaten for no reason.

Dr. Henry Gates was arrested at his own house, accused of breaking in.

Nobel Prize winner, Tim Hunt, said that women in the lab were a distraction.

Nicholas Wade still has a career and an audience.

Incidents like these aren’t new. How can you march for science without standing up for the safety and security and just treatment of those engaged in the work of doing science?

Why would my right to safe study and practice be secondary to the actual participation in science?

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Those of us who have to deal with ‘-isms’ cannot shed our skin, remove chromosomes, scramble our DNA, etc. in order to slip on a lab coat or write words, and be taken seriously. Moreover, we shouldn’t have to, nor should anyone want us to do that. Our experience and perspectives only add value and impact to skill. Almost anyone can learn a skill, but to consider and imagine the multitude of ways that a skill can be utilized, especially when we are thinking about human and animal interaction, we must have a multitude of perspectives. We must also insist that brilliant work does not go unrecognized because it’s from a person that complicates the narrative of science as a pure discipline- free from sexism, racism, etc.

The presence of lipstick, hair dye, piercings, wheelchairs, a vagina, a penis, melanin, curly hair, turbans, hijabs, yamulkes, high heels, tweed, blue eyes, afros, brown eyes, etc. does not stop a brain from working or keep a person from excellence. These things do not impact the seriousness, passion, or diligence of a person in the field. However, they have been the excuses that were used for the exclusion and belittling of those of us who deal with the daily struggles of marginalization. These struggles don’t end when we decide to go into the sciences and social sciences. In fact, these issues are so real and demoralizing that many give up.

There is no way to March for Science without facing and including scientific history, and calling out the scientific community and its apolitical myth.

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Marches are powerful because they require collective strength. Those that are attempting to tell other marchers not to include their experience as a person, diminishes that individuals achievements. It is not up to you to dictate what should be important to them just because you don’t have to face or can ignore it. That’s not how that works. Diversity, inclusion, equity- are NOT just buzz words.

The hashtags #marginsci, #blackandstem, and #disabledandstem should be read, highlighted and taking seriously. They point out, not only the failures of the March for Science organizers, but larger, persisting concerns and issues that consistently fails non-White/ heteronormative/ disabled/ indigenous scientists and students.

Science has always been political. However, the March for Science is/ was a chance as a discipline that continually exalts itself as being “for the people,” to be for all people. It would have been a great opportunity to lift the voices of those who have been doing the work AND navigating the complexities and injustices of marginalization to the front.

I certainly identify with #marginsci, and in looking through those conversations, I found community and felt validated. I nodded my head, cried, smiled, clapped, and saw aspects of my own academic and professional journey in their words.

How can you ask to use my body, but not want my words? I’m not a fan of ‘show up, but shut up.’

I understand and support anyone who will NOT be marching.

Yet, I am in conflict. I want to be clear. I EFFING LOVE SCIENCE! I love it across all disciplines and fields. I value the importance of critical inquiry and encourage it, deeply. I want to be sure that science integrity is upheld and state, loudly, that I do not support the cutting of funding to science or the humanities. I do not support this administration’s attack on science and education. This WILL ONLY result in terrible outcomes- nationally and globally. Additionally, the cuts, in comparison to the larger budget, will make very little impact on saving money. These decisions are clearly not based on economics.

I understand and support anyone who WILL be marching.

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As for me, while I finally decided to cancel my trip to DC to participate,  I made posters for marchers to use, share, and distribute. I tried to include a variety of options, but I purposely included a black female because so many posters I saw, didn’t. (She has a whole backstory BTW. Her name is Aisha, 34, from Brownsville, Brooklyn.) Also, check out the work of Paul Sizer!

I will also be spending the rest of my week, volunteering in local schools to be an “On Call Anthropologist.” I hope to have some fun times talking with youth who don’t normally get the chance to hang out with science folks. I won’t be actively presenting, but I will be answering questions, having lunch with them, listening to their plans and trying to get them support to make their goals happen. I hope one day, a few will be my colleagues.

I do plan to attend a local march, and I definitely will be attending a symposium on Black Radical Women being held in Brooklyn this weekend.

Representation Matters! If you can, please consider contacting a local school and doing a science presentation, maybe surprising a classroom with some pizzas and a science chat. Carry a sign to a local town square or park and have a “Ask A Scientist” booth. Meet up with fellow #marginsci and make a plan to further organize. Maybe get a group of 10-15 of you and each of you write an essay on the importance of science, equity and inclusion and then publish it as an ebook, or pick your favorite resources and create a public syllabus.

Throw a BBQ or potluck, and just celebrate your awesomeness, your contributions, and your intent to continually fight for a science integrity that is inclusive and representative of you as a whole person, not just your skills with pipettes or pushing dirt.

I appreciate all the voices and perspectives that have made this march valuable. This includes those who will not participate or have reservations about how this march was organized and the values that it represents. Thank you for those who are showing up and those who aren’t. I am listening and I am hearing. I’m learning from your examples- politically, socially, consciously, and professionally.



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