Orlando matters: Social identities and science.

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Image from Denis Carrier, Nature News: http://www.nature.com/news/diversity-pride-in-science-1.15924

 

How does the Orlando shooting intersect with our lives as scientists? Should it?

 

Certainly, we could have a had friends at Pulse. We could have been at Pulse. In case I haven’t been clear about this, I identify as bisexual. I have frequented gay bars and been a regular at women-only tea dances. Yes, it could have been me.


But while it could have been me seems somewhat superficial – it’s not. There are deep implications of this statement. As Ian Street pointed out in an email on this topic, yes we are scientists – but we’re also people doing science. And as people, our social identities actually do matter. They do impact where we go, and how productive we can be.

First, let’s talk about how ‘out’ LGBTQ+ scientists really are.

I can attest to this. When I first arrived at Princeton, we had not a single staff or faculty who publicly identified as LGBTQ+ in my department. This had directly impacted students, several of whom told me they didn’t feel comfortable being out as a result.

Who we see in our communities matters if we are to feel safe, both personally and professionally, in addition to being critical for finding mentors, feeling inspired, and that you belong. Further, we feel less valued if critical aspects of our identity must be hidden or removed in order for us to function within a scientific community.

But the tragedy in Orlando also drives home the point on our personal safety. That this is beyond bias in the workplace. It can actually be about life and death (we could have been at Pulse) – and  whether we feel safe has direct implications for science itself:

Several people commented on how this affects how and where they seek jobs – which absolutely impacts the quality of scientists an institution and a community can attract. How events and sentiment within our culture translates to personal safety is also clearly evident in violence against black men and women in the US, xenophobia and Brexit last week, and Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants. For the LGBTQ+ community globally, being out and gay translates to personal harm. It can literally be a death sentence.

 

If you do not feel safe in your communities, how can you do your best work? How can you feel valued? The fact that the violence and the rhetoric happens out there does not matter.

 

In fact, how much or how little such an act of hate matters within a scientific community is important, too. It says something  about how that community values LGBTQ+ identified students, faculty, and staff. Pretending these acts and comments are irrelevant, that they do not require even a dialogue, a check-in… this, to use an overwhelmingly underwhelming but somehow appropriate analogy, is to add insult to injury.

 

Yes, immediately after Orlando there was an outpouring of support in the US and globally. This needs to translate into long-term and institutional change that doesn’t “accept” or “tolerate” social identities – but understands the importance of embracing them. It can’t be lipservice paid in the face of tragedy – and it can’t just be out there, beyond lab and office walls, either.

 

There are further implications for the community at large, including allies. Orlando matters in how we mentor students, and how do we provide safe spaces, for graduate students, for faculty, and for staff.

 

We can no longer pretend our social identities as LGBTQ+, as black, as latina, as immigrant, as Muslim, are divorced from our identities as scientists when people are literally being gunned down for those social identities, in addition to the fact that science itself is consistently demonstrating we are still paid less, hired less, and given fewer opportunities as a result of those social identities. The evidence is overwhelming, my scientist friends: Our social identities matter.

But in understanding this, and embracing it – this is also how we revolutionize our institutions. It can fundamentally alter the discussions we have, the spaces we create, the people we embrace, the way we address structural and systemic bias at multiple levels – understanding that we do not perform science in a vacuum, that we are all people doing science. Science only stands to benefit from safe, fully flourishing scientists who are their true selves, who feel safe and valued, and focus on the science they do best.

This is why Orlando matters, to us as scientists, to science itself.

 

Resources (etc) shared:

Mentoring Program for LGBTQ+ students from The National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists & Technical Professionals, Inc.

LGBT STEM aims to increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ scientists in STEM, with accompanying interviews from scientists, alongside other resources. You can fill in “Tell Your Story” to be included in the network!

Take the Queer in STEM 2.0 survey! Open until Fall 2016.

Links shared:

The (not-so-fabulous) life of gay academics  and Where are Canada’s queer scientists? from The Lab & Field

The Objectivity Myth in Research from Feminist Reflections

 

** Note: The Diversity Journal Club will take our summer break in July. We’ll be back with a new topic in August.

 

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2 thoughts on “Orlando matters: Social identities and science.

  1. […] We also started out 2016 talking about what “diversity” means. That conversation had me reading some posts that were challenging and eye-opening (for me anyway), and thinking about why diversity matters beyond being the right thing to do. We also discussed what it means to be an ally, and why Orlando is poignant not just for us as people, as citizens, but also as scientists. […]

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