Reflection: Inclusive Science Communication Symposium at University of Rhode Island

In September 2018, I attended the Metcalf Institute’s first science communication event focused entirely on inclusion. The first thing I noticed was the friendliness of everyone in the room. Everyone was there to make new friends and find more support in their fight for better communication in science. Here, I am ruminating on the experience and would love to converse with you about the topic (via my contact page or on Twitter). I am committed to rooting out my blind spots and biases, but I need help to do that well. I consider this my immature first foray. 

First! It was great to see some fellow FOBJIs/NPR Scicomm-ers! Including Jen, a new FOJBI that we aggressively searched for (can we be forgiven because we just want more IRL #scicomm friends?). Check out Regina’s Spark Science podcast!

We began with the premise that all people should be welcome in science, but our current world makes many people feel unwelcome, unvalued and unwanted. What can we do to solve this problem?

Key Takeaways:

  • A feeling of belonging is crucial for anyone to stay – and we have done a terrible job of fostering this feeling of belonging in science for everyone except cis, heterosexual, able-bodied males. Long past time for change!
  • There are clear active practices that foster inclusion. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to implement these practices.
  • Institutions need to value science communication contributions. If it doesn’t count in a tenure and promotion packet, then it’s very difficult to get early career scientists to do it.
  • White allies need to support from the background. Amplify ideas, make phone calls, provide resources. Don’t take over.
  • White allies need to actively check our colleagues’ behaviors, bias and assumptions. Use scholarly sources to call out white fragility.

As summed up by the fabulous Mónica Feliú-Mójer on Twitter:

The Inclusive Scicomm Symposium was structured around four areas of focus: Frameworks, Challenges, Media and Strategies. Using these areas of focus as a guide, we each took part in 3 breakout sessions. In the first two, we heard from successful people doing inclusive science communication. In the third, we brought together the new ideas we had from the day in small groups to brainstorm how to be better and more inclusive in the future.

In these sessions. we heard from some people who are making a huge difference for people usually excluded from science.

  • Station1 hosts students in Lawrence, MA, for a 10 week summer internship that provides underserved college students access to biotech internships and connections in a holistic educational setting.
  • NOVA at PBS is working with SACNAS to build relationships to ensure that diverse people are embedded in their documentaries and other content, and that issues like the Flint water crisis are covered completely and thoughtfully.
  • Michael Estrada, founder of the Brown Environmentalist Media Collective, is posting photos and forcing people to confront (and hopefully rethink) their biases.
  • Rackeb Tesfaye, graduate student at McGill University and founder of Broad Science Podcast, is using audio storytelling as an active tool of resistance. Kids interview scientists for podcasts. Broad Science is partnered with community groups to ensure that their efforts are centered on the kids in those communities.

In everything I heard on that cold rainy Friday in Kingston, RI, I heard exasperation AND hope. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Station1 has created a program that provides access to economic value their students didn’t have before. Value community knowledge when building partnerships. Graduate students in Chicago worked with Boys and Girls Clubs to mentor middle schoolers. Don’t forget that you didn’t always know about intersectionality (what’s your wokeness origin story?). Recent successes framed our discussion of what we need to do to be better.

All science communication should be inclusive. It is up to us to ensure that it is.

About Torrey Truszkowski

Torrey is a sixth year PhD candidate in neuroscience at Brown University. Her research investigates the connections between brain cells that process sensory information. She hosts the Providence, Rhode Island Nerd Nite (nerdniteri.com) and teaches science communication. After graduating, she plans to embed science communication into her work. Find me on Twitter @TorreyTruszko
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