#ShutDownSTEM; fighting racism in academia

The last few weeks in the US have been a political and emotional tornado. As protests spread around the country and beyond, I compulsively read the news, went to a local protest and watched Ava DuVernay’s chilling documentary 13th. I also thought a lot about the different ways in which societal and systemic racism manifests itself in the US vs. in Europe. I’m most familiar with the situation in The Netherlands, where (after some initial squabbling about social distancing during a large Amsterdam protest) there has been a more serious conversation about structural obstacles facing people of color and those without traditional Dutch last names (see e.g. here and here).

After a week or so, the conversation among academic on Twitter rightfully shifted. People went from focusing their outrage at police brutality, to examining the many problems with racism that take place in our own professional spheres. On Twitter, #BlackInTheIvoryTower launched a much-needed, painfully honest conversation about the many ways racism pervades academic culture.

I’m here sharing my thoughts, personal commitments to fighting racism in science, and resources.

I joined the #ShutDownSTEM strike on June 10th 2020, setting aside neuroscience for the day to work on educating myself, examining my biases, and making concrete commitments to doing better. I participated in the Growing Up in Science’s event, and discussed and debriefed with the International Brain Laboratory and also with the Churchland lab. Thanks to everyone who participated in the day for discussion and ideas.

I pledge the following:

  • When participating in or organizing  a meeting/conference/panel, I will speak up to have a diverse representation of speakers (for example by asking for speaker suggestions that include at least one URM scientist).
    • In journal clubs, meetings and at conferences, I will tally the demographics of people who speak and ask questions. I will use these data to address bias in the voices that are being heard.
    • When chairing or moderating a meeting, I will encourage trainees to speak first, and work to reduce the overrepresentation of those same old white male professors (you know who).
      • When people are interrupted, I will speak up (e.g. ‘can we let them finish?’ / ‘I’d like to hear the end of that thought’ / ‘I’d like to hear what they’re saying’; thanks to Yael Niv for these suggestions).
  • When suggesting/inviting scientists as reviewers, I will not just aim for gender balance but also aim for diverse racial representation.
  • When doing outreach, I will focus efforts on underrepresented communities (e.g. high school students).
  • When starting my own lab, I will post an explicit diversity statement on my website and in job ads. I will also reach out to URM students directly, and set up a set of lab practices that focus on inclusivity and mentoring (example).
  • When organizing lab meetings, journal clubs and seminar series, I will include papers on structural bias (and potential solutions) in academia.

I also entered these plans on Quantum for Black Lives, which keeps track. I encourage you to do the same, and hold yourself to public accountability.

Here are some databases of diverse scientists (neuroscience, psychology and academia generally) that should make it easier to reduce bias in selection/invitations for reviewers, speakers, panelists etc:

And for completeness,  a few more databases that focus on women in neuroscience (see also this post):

And here are more resources that I will be diving into over the next weeks and months:

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