The recent racist murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others have rightfully reignited an international conversation about institutionalized racism and oppression of the Black community. As members of the Ginder-Vogel lab group, we share the outrage at the mistreatment of Black people and the marginalization of Black voices. As a catalyst of systemic change, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has inspired us to collectively reflect on our role as a lab group in creating and fostering a safe, just, and equitable working environment for all people. We recognize that to simply acknowledge these brutal acts is insufficient; to instigate change, we must actively work to dismantle the oppressive culture that has resulted from the racist roots upon which our society was founded. Silence is not an option. We stand in solidarity with the BLM movement.
We thus affirm our identity as an antiracist academic unit, dedicated to providing a space for, and amplifying the voices of, Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) scientists. We stand committed, through individual and group examination of implicit bias and systemic oppression, to develop and implement strategies that foster equity, diversity and inclusion within our laboratory spaces. We further commit to elevate these objectives beyond our research group, and to pursue antiracist action at the programmatic, departmental, and university levels.
We acknowledge that the aforementioned events reveal only a small piece of the racism ingrained within our society. Underrepresented groups face additional difficulties in academia, especially in STEM fields, which are reflected in recruitment and retention. In 2017, only 9% of the U.S. academic doctoral workforce was composed of underrepresented groups, and in 2018, only 5.7% of U.S. doctoral degrees in the science and engineering fields were awarded to Black students.
At UW-Madison, these issues present substantial hurdles for underrepresented students, as recently highlighted by Brandon Taylor’s article and book. In the 2019-2020 academic year, only 14% of admitted UW-Madison graduate students were of underrepresented backgrounds. Among the Earth Sciences, ethnic and racial diversity are extremely low with little increase in the number of doctorate degrees awarded to underrepresented scientists in the last 40 years. Although this statement is meant to address the underrepresentation of BIPOC in the STEM fields, we feel we also must acknowledge the tragic consequences of other hostile, non-inclusive academic environments. This is unacceptable, and as a lab group we are committed to providing an inclusive environment.
Diversity in STEM is critical for the development of an equitable society, the future of science, and the quality of life for BIPOC communities and individuals. Irrespective of these benefits, all people inherently deserve safe, inclusive work environments. The following justifications only amplify the need to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion practices and policies in STEM fields.
BIPOC representation in academia and the STEM industry is critical to recruiting and retaining BIPOC presence in STEM fields. If institutions wish to diversify STEM, they must create and foster inclusive, equitable workplaces aimed at retaining BIPOC scientists instead of solely focusing on recruitment. Seeing these leaders builds BIPOC’s sense of belonging both in STEM and at an institution or workplace, and improves chances of long-term career success. Diverse teams of scientists achieve more innovative scientific outcomes through new ideas and collaborations in comparison to homogenous teams. The complexity and immediacy of environmental issues like climate change and pollution demand a concerted effort to diversify STEM research, education, and outreach.
It has been well established that Black and Indigenous communities disproportionately suffer the consequences associated with environmental problems. In Wisconsin, equal access to clean water for consumption and recreation, as well as water-related food sovereignty, are major environmental issues. In particular, the City of Madison has a history of environmental injustices related to water contamination. While our research group focuses on understanding the science associated with such problems, we acknowledge the underlying societal implications of our work. Specifically, we recognize that the research we conduct is intrinsically and disproportionately tied to the quality of life for BIPOC communities. Moreover, we strive to cultivate awareness of these related issues and incorporate that awareness into our research communications.
Further, we recognize that an intersectional framework is critical to addressing the crossroads of marginalized identities and their complexity in STEM workplaces. People that hold several marginalized identities often experience multiplied prejudice and descrimination. For example: because of the intersection of their identities, Black women in STEM often face the challenges associated with being a Black person in STEM in addition to the challenges associated with being a woman. This is applicable to other identities and characteristics including LGBTQI+, income-level, colorism, and education level. Our lab is committed to applying an intersectional framework to all the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) work we do.*
*this is a living document