Next #DiversityJC: Social justice and research beyond safe walls.

I have a list of articles and posts I’d like to share for discussion with the Diversity Journal Club, but this week Somali militants attacked a university in Kenya and killed close to 150 people. I understand that this was an act of terrorism, and possibly less about attacking a university… but.

The militants separated Muslims and Christians, killing the Christians. It also happened in Africa, which means it’s a blip on our radar over here in the US, and not much more.

It reminded me of the 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, just because they were girls going to school. It reminded me of the village the same group wiped from the map – and we generally ignored that, too.

These topics may seem only loosely connected, and not connected at all to the Diversity Journal Club, but they also got me thinking about a discussion with my advisor a few months back. A friend had forwarded an opportunity to teach summer school to me as a “resume builder“. I couldn’t go, so I forwarded to the lab. My advisor responded: “You realize that this a a challenging situation for females, don’t you?

The opportunity was to teach in Saudi Arabia.

The exchange that followed was about how, first, my own privilege-blinders meant I hadn’t even gotten to his point, to even consider it, before I forwarded the email (that alone speaks volumes). Also, it was a teachable moment about how “females” is an adjective referring to the ability of a individual of any species to produce offspring, therefore it reduces women to their reproductive organs as well as being incorrect, and how not all women are biologically female.

It also sparked a conversation about the conditions such a teaching opportunity involves – and if that “challenging situation” is worth having women (or anyone in the minority – Christians in parts of Nairobi for instance) as role models, as teachers – especially if putting yourself into such a situation could be detrimental to your safety, in addition to your career.

This week for Diversity Journal Club, we’d like to have a conversation that draws these threads together. That challenges us to think about what social justice and diversity work looks like beyond the sheltered boundaries we tend to operate within, to think about what it means to do social justice work beyond those borders.

Is it important for people to teach or do research in places that are any where from uncomfortable to downright dangerous? If given the opportunity – would you? Why or why not?

Finally – even if this all seems abstract, even if we will choose never to leave our safe borders – how does it still affect research and scientific advancement?

We don’t have the answers here. We don’t even know this is a fully formed topic for discussion. It just struck us as important, and that we should have these conversations, as they don’t happen very often. People do move on, or ignore these very real issues with real significance. They’re a blip on the US media radar screen. Despite all those celebrities, we never did #BringBackOurGirls.

For reading to spark inspiration, check out the links in this post, but especially the one about the conditions teaching in Saudi Arabia that my advisor sent me, as well as this one on the Nigerian girls who still risk their lives to go to school, but please add recommendations in the comments or on twitter under #DiversityJC.

And – let’s keep in mind Pippa Biddle’s musing on privileged people doing international work:

I want her to have a hero who she can relate to – who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.

It’s a complicated picture, but we live in a global scientific community. Or do we?

We will discuss MONDAY 6 APRIL at 2PM ET – and don’t forget to add #DiversityJC.

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)

Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)


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