SciPolBites: Recognizing Efforts

Feb 27, 2021

SciPolBites is a series of reflections from NSPN members about current issues in science and policy. In this SciPolBite, four members share their perspectives on the advocacy, history, and educational perspectives of recognizing BIPOC for their work.

William Gaieck (@WilliamGaieck)

Recognizing Efforts: An Advocacy Perspective

In the United States, there are specially recognized months to celebrate the rich history and heritage for many minoritized groups. These specially recognized months can be very powerful means for amplifying voices, raising awareness of disparities and discrimination, creating community, facilitating cultural exchange, and celebrating the achievements of those in the community. However, simply recognizing these communities only when their month comes around is not good enough.

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are often minoritized and disproportionately under-represented in spaces, fields, and positions of leadership compared to their counterparts. To reach the same achievements or recognition, they will have had the added work of trudging through systems of racism and colonialism. Additionally, members of these communities are often asked to shoulder the burden of dismantling racism and colonialism within their organizations and institutions. Furthermore, their contributions tend to be undervalued and more often than not, take the form of volunteering (i.e., uncompensated work). Unfortunately, uncompensated experiences do not pay bills – they often do not get weighed as heavily in recruitment and promotion metrics if they are factored in at all.

That is why we need to recognize the humanity and the contributions of the BIPOC communities through engagements, acknowledgements, financial compensation, and, by all of us, helping to shoulder the burden of bringing about cultural and institutional change – not just one month out of the year. Some of the specific ways that NSPN, as well as other organizations, can help recognize the work of the BIPOC communities are by continuing to bring in and pay for speakers of diverse backgrounds, through honoraria; supporting activities like #BlackInSciPol, Black History Month Celebrations, and the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) College Tour, where we can amplify their voices and reach; publicly acknowledging the successes and contributions of members; helping members navigate and move into more leadership roles; and more generally paying people for their work.

We want each one of our BIPOC members within the NSPN community to know that they are valued, seen, and heard every single day. We are grateful for the many contributions BIPOC members have made and continue to make for our community. Our successes, from chapter to national symposia, would not be possible without you. Thank you. We look forward to working alongside you to bring about positive change and to ensure an inclusive, equitable, and diverse future for science and science policy.

Tiffany Harrison

Recognizing Efforts: A Historical Perspective

The history of a people and the pride associated with cultural backgrounds, accomplishments, and struggles cannot possibly be summarized in a few days. It must be explored and appreciated continuously. Nevertheless, we often find ourselves succumbing to trendy awareness weeks or months that briefly highlight the achievements and resilience of a community. When reflecting on Black History Month, a staffer of color for an elected official listed some concerns and requests. The request was to not be tokenized and summoned to present Black History Month as an icebreaker by requesting cultural poems at staff meetings, informative articles or the creation of public statements saturated with buzzword language like racial justice in equity. To be frank, solidarity statements produced by the same people that inhibit the actions within the statement from happening fall on deaf ears. What matters now more than ever is acting upon the research and initiatives that have prepared the way to create equity. I was asked to provide the historical context of BIPOC in science policy for this blog. But instead of reviewing the lineage of historical barriers in academia that have masked many hidden geniuses, I choose to highlight the work of those advocating for stronger science policy.

Meet Dr. Quincy BrownDr. Brown is Director of Systems Change at AnitaB.org. Prior to joining AnitaB.org, she served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and also as a Program Director for STEM Education Research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Her passion to provide safe spaces for women of color in computing and technology led her to co-found blackcomputeHER. The mission of this organization is to support computing and tech education and workforce development for Black women and girls. For more information on blackcomputeHER, please visit blackcomputeher.org.

Meet Dr. Kendrick DavisDr. Davis is currently the Chief Research Officer at the USC Race & Equity Center and an Associate Professor in the Rossier School of Education. Prior to joining USC, he served as the vice president of policy research at the Campaign for College Opportunity and also as the policy advisor for former U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris. Dr. Davis is an advocate for policy and programs that improve the STEM education pipeline. He remains dedicated to research and initiatives that will achieve this goal outside of the work that he’s doing within his profession. To connect with Dr. Davis, please reach out at kdavis01@usc.edu.

While history matters, so does action and implementation as well. We are living through an economic recession and pandemic that has exasperated BIPOC communities already travailing through socio-economic injustices. Providing awareness to BIPOC history in science policy is the prerequisite to the road to achieving equity and inclusion. The commercialization of awareness and the arguments of how to achieve equity often steer advocates and enthusiasts away from the true objective. Some may think the best method is passing legislation while others may think the best method is funding initiatives and research. We cannot get lost in the nuances of strategy and lose sight of the real goal, implementation. The methods of solving systemic problems are debatable, but the need is not.

Alessandra Zimmermann (@AlessZimm) and Megan Damico (@MicrobialMeg)

Recognizing Efforts: An Educational Perspective

If you asked for advice on how to select a graduate program to pursue a PhD, some might say you can get one of the three: 1) the location, 2) the research topic, or 3) the advisor. If you get a combination of these, you’ve hit the jackpot and you’re on your way to scientific greatness. 

However, these three pillars leave gaps in other aspects of graduate programs that you should investigate, like the policies and resources that a school offers its graduate and professional students. For example, does the school offer medical leave for graduate students? Does the financial compensation continue through the leave? Do they have accessible mental health resources for BIPOC students or an effective disability office that will advocate for you? Some department handbooks are available publicly, but their guidance as to the resources the school offers or the policies that directly affect your student life are typically left out. And to complicate things further, a policy that exists at your school can oftentimes only apply to certain departments or programs, leaving students high and dry when it comes to support. Not to mention if you belong to a marginalized identity, and people’s dismissive attitude towards a policy (or its absence) leads to additional barriers for you. 

In a world where the internet connects us all, and data can be easily collected – this is no longer acceptable. Graduate students should not be relying on word of mouth and hope to secure an educational experience that would support them. 

So members of the NPSN Graduate Education Committee have teamed together to map the landscape of the policies available to graduate students, and their perceptions of them. This landscape, chartered by a survey that is available now, aims to help advise institutions on how to better protect their graduate students in an effort to increase retention of these high skilled, and often highly stressed, workers. 

Help us in our efforts by filling out our survey, and share it with other students so we can get a sample size that can effect change. Let graduate students be an overlooked population no longer.


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