Being a better ally: March discussion recap.

If we agree that diversity matters in science, then it’s also important we talk about how to get there. A critical part of that is learning how to be an ally for underrepresented groups – and this was the topic of our March DiversityJC.

What does being an ally really mean? I think a good ally:

  1. Recognizes their own privilege* and takes responsibility for it.
  2. Calls out behavior and issues, speaks up – but never over.
  3. Knows how to listen.
  4. Sees it as a personal responsibility to educate themselves on the issues around the underrepresented group they hope to work with.
  5. Is ok with being wrong, can apologize when that happens, and then move forward.
  6. Knows ‘ally’ is a verb.

In addition, Judy Booth (@BotanoCan) noted a simple way we can act as allies..

…and Ian Street (@IHStreet) reminded us that allies don’t take on that title themselves. It is not a self-proclaimed identity. We can aspire to be allies, we can want to operate in solidarity with, but we don’t get to call ourselves an ally. More on what it means to be an ally available here, here, here, here, and all the resources here.

Ian Street (@IHStreet)  also got to the more nuanced difficulty in identifying situations where we need to call out behavior or language. This can be challenging, as our privilege means those situations don’t affect us and therefore aren’t always visible to us. While it isn’t our ‘fault’ we are less aware, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the issues and learn to see those situations – either by reading, connecting with others on social media, or talking about them with people in those groups. That is, actually, how having a black friend can make you less racist.

However, it can also be challenging to navigate this if speaking up is difficult for us all by itself, if we’re more introverted. It’s also tough if we’re more junior scientists. Calling out a culture or a senior scientist can have real ramifications. For that reason, we need allies at all institutional levels, who are educated and willing to speak up. In addition, we can think of other ways to act as allies:

Ian also had another idea:

But others disagreed.

Moreover, if we choose to leave a field because it’s not diverse, it’s just as likely another white het/cis person make will take our place – potentially one less educated and ready to enact change. Plus, I really feel the issue is in changing the societal structures within our fields, and the responsibility should be with institutions to 1) recruit deeper applicant pools, and 2) retain and support more diverse employees. If we simply vacate the field, this doesn’t ensure that happens, and it seems (to me) to absolve those institutions of those responsibilities.

What we can do is choose to take our skills and experience to those institutions committed to making change –

 

Finally, it is really vital we know being an ally isn’t going to be warm fuzzies all the time. To be an ally, you also need to understand that you’ll be uncomfortable at times, you will make mistakes and say the wrong thing. Also, people are going to be angry when you move into these spaces – and they often have a right to be. As we know, bias and discrimination can impact not only our personal lives, but also so much of our careers as well, from letters of recommendation to our representation in the field, even in student evaluations. Being aware of the discrimination you face every day, and that it has nothing to do with you skills and talent and everything to do with things you can’t change, is really really frustrating. People get angry.

Another of the most difficult things is that acting in solidarity with does not means there may be LGBTQ+ or POC or women-only spaces that are less welcoming to you, even when you’re an excellent ally. We must understand that, until we are actually in the post-racial, post-patriarchal, post-homophobia, post-etc society, those spaces need to exist, and not  take it personally when we are, for once, excluded.

As an example of how this shouldn’t happen, in the year before I arrived, some female grad students at Princeton decided to have a women in science sleepover, women only. The male grad students were very hurt they weren’t invited, and responded with anger. As a result, at almost every meeting on women in science I attended at Princeton, someone always asked “what about the men?

The reason these spaces are tough is because as white, cis-gendered, heterosexual people, we have been allowed in and felt safe in every space we want to access. When we are first excluded, it can feel hurtful or insulting. We need to learn it is neither, and that other groups feel that way regularly – it’s a white, male, cis/het world, people.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the ally discussion or followed along! Feel free to add thoughts in the comments!

 

Emily (@DrEmilySKlein)
Ian (@IHStreet)
Doctor PMS (@Doctor_PMS)

 

* Important! Privilege means you won’t experience something (racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamaphobia, etc, and how they translate into our daily lives) usually because of something you have no control over – your skin, gender, sexual orientation – but also things you do but should be your choice – your religion or wealth. It does not mean you’ve had it easy, or haven’t experienced discrimination in another way.

 

 

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