Dissemination, Guest blog

Guest Post – Anti-Racism in STEM

Post by Maya Gosztyla

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Guest Post – Anti-Racism in STEM

While observing and participating in recent discussions about the racism that pervades institutions, departments, and scientific discourse, Maya Goztyla, and her coauthors, observed a set of standard arguments levied against anti-racism action within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Maya started to create a document to act a as a repository for scholarly literature surrounding the experiences of BIPOC (defined in the document) in STEM, but this quickly evolved into a more formalised, evidence-based reference paper. The goal of this document is to facilitate more productive conversations (and in turn, tangible systemic changes) toward addressing racial discrimination within STEM.

We recommend everyone take an hour to read and digest this document

Responses to 10 Common Criticisms of Anti-Racism Action in STEM

What does BIPOC mean?

BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. According to the BIPOC Project, this term was created in order to “highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.” The origins and usage of this term are described here.

Conclusions and call to action

Both individual and systemic racism are major barriers for BIPOC in STEM. Inequity in STEM limits scientific innovation and upholds the broader structures of racial discrimination that exist beyond STEM. Even in the absence of racist intent, non-BIPOC faculty, administration, and students perpetuate racial discrimination through their inaction. It is our moral responsibility to leverage our position of privilege and become actively anti-racist. Self-education is a necessary first step. See our website (as well as the citations throughout this document) for many resources to learn about the historical and modern contexts of racial discrimination. Educating ourselves, however, is only the first step towards anti-racist action. To move beyond passive “learning and listening,” we must hold ourselves, our colleagues, and our institutions accountable for promoting racial equity in concrete ways. Many BIPOC have written extensively about steps to address racism in STEM. A few of these calls to action are outlined below, and are described in greater detail in the cited resources.

Hire more faculty of color.

Institutions frequently prioritise recruitment over retention, which ends up doing more harm than good. It is irresponsible to recruit faculty or students of color into an un supportive culture. Fostering an inclusive workplace culture is a complex task and must be constantly maintained to ensure retention of BIPOC. This includes providing faculty and students with diversity and inclusivity training, defending BIPOC against microaggressions, offering outlets for the negative experiences of BIPOC to be heard and addressed, hiring BIPOC mental health providers, and promptly removing individuals who create an unsafe or hostile environment for BIPOC.

Create a welcoming environment for BIPOC.

This requires actively seeking out BIPOC candidates and ensuring that the hiring process does not place BIPOC at a disadvantage, particularly through the implicit biases of the hiring committee members. Cluster hiring, which involves advertising multiple positions simultaneously without specifying the fields, is one strategy that
shows promise for improving faculty diversity. In the long-term, increasing faculty diversity also requires efforts to address racial barriers that arise earlier in the educational pipeline,such as the increased likelihood for BIPOC in STEM undergraduate majors to switch majors or drop out.

Listen to BIPOC colleagues and believe them.

BIPOC who raise complaints about racial microaggressions or point out instances of structural racism are frequently disregarded for being “overly sensitive” and “making everything about race.” If BIPOC say that they have experienced racial discrimination, we must believe them and take steps to address the problem. Furthermore, individuals against whom these complaints are frequently raised should be removed from their positions of authority, and not have their behaviour excused with “that’s just how they are” or“they don’t mean to offend”.

Remove the disproportionate service burden for BIPOC.

BIPOC who take on diversity and inclusion projects should be fairly compensated for their labour, and such efforts should be recognised during decisions for hiring, promotion, and awards. Furthermore, non-BIPOC should step up to shoulder more of the workload for diversity committees and other unpaid service burdens. Note that this does not mean that white scientists should insert themselves into positions of leadership to the exclusion of BIPOC; when BIPOC organisers are present, allies should listen to their ideas and volunteer to contribute where help is needed. Non-BIPOC who participate in diversity initiatives should prioritise listening to BIPOC colleagues and trainees to ensure that their needs are being heard and solutions are oriented towards their benefit.

Allocate funding at the institutional level toward diversity initiatives.

Notice when BIPOC are underrepresented among grant or scholarship awardees, positions of leadership, conference panellists, or research study cohorts. Do not leave it to BIPOC to bring attention to these issues; point out instances of inequity and seek to address them directly. Reject “color-blindness” and maintain an awareness of racial inequities in all contexts. These may include scholarships and travel grants for students of colour, BIPOC mentorship and professional development programs,seminars highlighting the research of BIPOC, and diversity training courses for faculty and students. Hire experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion to facilitate this work,rather than expecting BIPOC to provide unpaid labour.

Incorporate anti-racist principles into your pedagogy.

Highlight the contributions of BIPOC to your field and point out instances where scientific research has been used to perpetuate racial discrimination. Educate the next generation of STEM leaders to be aware of racial inequity and empower them to take action.

Accept criticism with grace and use it to grow.

If a BIPOC colleague or student takes offence to your words or actions, do not try to defend yourself or justify your actions. Instead, apologise and use this as an opportunity to examine your own biases and improve in the future. Remember, your intent does not matter; it is the impact of your actions that matters.



Maya Gosztyla is a Graduate Student in the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at the University of California, San Diego working on Assay development for Niemann-Pick Disease (aka “Childhood Alzheimer’s”).

You can follow Maya on Twitter         

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