Reflections from NSPN Town Halls: Members Discuss Anti-Racist Actions and Next Steps for Equity and Justice in Science and Policy

The National Science Policy Network (NSPN) recognizes that change is needed in all levels of society, in every organization, to ensure that Black lives matter. NSPN supports the growing movement in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others. To make lasting anti-racist policy changes that address persistent inequality, NSPN is committed to advancing an inclusive and anti-racist environment that recognizes, respects, and supports people of all backgrounds and experiences.

On June 11 and 17, 2020, NSPN held two public town hall meetings at which participants shared their concerns, experiences, and suggestions for NSPN moving forward. The goal of the town halls was to listen to the voices within our science policy community, especially those whose experiences can inform a more anti-racist environment. These conversations were a step forward to ensure that NSPN members can be better allies and resources for Black and brown members of the science policy community. 

“As a Network, our members are the most integral component that make us who we are and move us forward as an organization. In this framework it is always essential that we hear from our community, particularly those who are often silenced, to ensure that any actions we take are intentional and informed. It is only in knowing what our members actually NEED that we can truly support them, now more than ever.” – Holly Mayton, Director of Membership

From the town halls, NSPN leadership will identify several key pathways through which NSPN, its chapters, and its members can continue to be allies and advocates for change, both in academia and the broader science policy community.

Town hall participants identified 4 key themes that resonate as important considerations moving forward:

  1. Those of us who are allies must be amplifying the voices of our BIPOC peers, re-educating ourselves, and advocating directly. Many members identified feeling worried and overwhelmed, but also cautiously optimistic about an opportunity for real change. Amidst this was a desire to balance listening and learning with acting and advocating. It became particularly clear that Black voices need to  be heard and not silenced, but the responsibility to act cannot fall on the Black community--especially when it comes to educating allies and deciding where we need to start. 

  2. Many organizations’ responses and suggested actions have felt performative. Without including concrete and specific actions to improve not only diversity and inclusion, but also equity and justice moving forward, people are dissatisfied with many of the responses from organizations and academic institutions. A commitment to change should be seen across all levels of institutions and societies. Beyond this, many statements do not emphasize racism as the root cause of the injustices to which they are responding, inadvertently perpetuating the problem. 

  3. DEI should be a focal point of admissions, hiring, and every aspect of decision making. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) must permeate all efforts. Achieving a diverse workforce and community cannot be relegated to the respective committee (on an NSPN level) or office (on a university/administrative level). Within NSPN our committees should work together to ensure that all NSPN members and teams are engaging in and supporting DEI. This underscores the importance of not leaving the DEI tasks to the Black community. People, especially POC, involved with DEI efforts in official or voluntary positions are already overworked and under-thanked. 

  4. NSPN can (and should) facilitate connections to DEI resources within and between universities and community organizers to expand each group’s DEI actions. We are fortunate that no one needs to reinvent the wheel; there are many existing programs and community organizations that have already figured out the best ways to achieve equity. We at NSPN have the capacity and reach locally and nationally to connect these efforts and push for equity and inclusion across a wide range of institutions.

“Addressing racial injustice, especially in STEM, is long overdue and I believe that change will only occur if early career scientists take the lead on the issue. I believe the NSPN town halls provided a safe space for members to start talking about these issues and to start learning from each other. It is my hope that NSPN will continue to facilitate these important conversations.” – Grant Hisao, NSPN Member

Building upon the priorities identified at the town halls, NSPN’s committees have started stepping up to advance DEI in several ways. The Grants and Finance Committee has been working on developing a new set of funding opportunities aimed at: offering funding to purchase anti-racism learning resources, developing partnerships with minority-serving institutions and organizations, and hosting racial justice workshops and other trainings. The Diplomacy Committee is discussing ways to expand their programs to include more communities around the world and outside of NSPN (e.g., bringing in local community colleges to local chapters’ events). In the 2020 Election Committee, the Wikipedia Track is working on pathways to highlight, uplift, and celebrate Black (and BIPOC) voices and work by building a list of scientists and/or topics helmed by BIPOC scientists that need to be created/edited on Wikipedia. The Op-Ed Track, also within the 2020 Election Committee, is focusing on supporting Black scientists and engineers at academic institutions, and has released a call for writers to share strategies with their communities. Lastly, the Communications Committee is committed to collaborating with the DEI Committee and uplifting the voices of underrepresented members of our community.

In addition, the town halls called attention to the need for local science policy groups and individuals to take action within their own universities and communities. Groups should incorporate anti-racist work and other DEI actions into their regular activities by continuing to advocate for non-performative actions at their host university, including developing and maintaining regular contact with their administration. Groups can also increase engagement with the broader community beyond their university. They might invite students from local community colleges, HBCUs, and other minority-serving institutions and organizations to join the group’s activities, or act beyond the university level by engaging with local communities, organizations, and representatives.

As a young organization we recognize that we are new to these conversations and necessary actions to advance antiracist policies and institutions. There are countless leaders and organizations who have dedicated their lives and missions to advancing racial equity and justice in science and society. In recognition and support of their work, we have decided to make donations to the following organizations and hope you might consider also supporting their work in any capacity that you are able: Black Girls Code, Hidden Genius Project, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Society of Black Engineers, National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. NSPN is committed to advancing antiracist policies and an inclusive community that recognizes, respects, and supports people of all backgrounds and experiences. We are listening critically to the experiences and ideas our members expressed in these town halls and elsewhere to develop a set of prioritized, strategic actions that our organization will take to further this mission.

“The actionable change now has been a long time coming. We are still learning, many of us are, about ways we can do better and be better in our allyship and advocacy for equity and justice. We hope we can meaningfully support not only our peers and colleagues, but also people in our lives who have unjustly had to live with racism and discrimination. They’ve done their part; let’s do ours.” – Annabelle Lolinco and William Gaieck, DEI Committee Co-Chairs

. . .

To help NSPN achieve its goals of fighting against racism and creating an inclusive community, please join the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee’s monthly meetings (next one this coming Monday, July 27th, 6 PM EDT // 3 PM PDT). The DEI Committee has had a critical role as one of the founding teams of our organization. Please also fill out this feedback form to share your (anonymous) questions, comments, and concerns with NSPN Leadership.


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